Ghana’s former president Kufuor urges soldiers to reject ‘shortcut’ to power

By Kent Mensah
Posted on Monday, 28 February 2022 15:44

Ghana's former president John Kufuor has some advice to African soldiers following a string of coups on the continent. In an exclusive interview with The Africa Report, the former two-term president recalls his youthful ambition to join the military, saying that those who wear the country's uniform must respect the oath to protect the constitution.

Soldiers who develop an interest in politics must do so through the right channel instead of “using the backdoor”, Kufuor says. “It’s an honourable institution designed to protect the territorial sovereignty of a country,” he says in reference to the military.

Soldiers “take an oath. Let them play their role as protectors of the territory [while operating]  under the government of the people and selected by the people”, he tells The Africa Report.

“Any man … admitted in there as a private or a non-commissioned officer, thinking just because he has a gun and got some uniform [that] he can break into government and take power from the people — no, that’s not allowed,” Kufuor says. “Please don’t get in there if you think it’s the shortcut for you to become whatever. Let the people decide. If you’re interested in politics, come and face the music.”

‘Epidemic’ of coups

The 83-year-old former president hosted The Africa Report at his serene hillside residence on the outskirts of the capital, Accra, following what United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has termed an “epidemic” of coups in places like Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Sudan and Guinea. Having ruled Ghana for eight years – between 2001 and 2009 – and chaired the African Union in 2007, Kufuor says the democratic backsliding across the region is troubling and must be stopped.

Coup makers (are) like burglars coming under the cover of the night … and usurping authority

“Coups can’t be justified,” he says. “Coup makers [are] like burglars coming under the cover of the night, breaking into government premises and then usurping authority. Many nations that have suffered a coup show that they don’t come to better the lot of the people.”

According to Kufuor, many coups are manipulated by external actors, which adds to their lack of legitimacy.

“In the world as a whole, there are some states that want to impose themselves on others on hegemonic basis or want to create spheres of influence or dominate places where they shouldn’t have the right to dominate,” he says. “So if you’re a government, you should be aware of the powers that might want to get … influence in your area of sovereignty and how to anticipate such forces.”

He says citizens should not underestimate the power they wield through their ability to elect leaders. “The citizenry must be the real authorities to ensure their constitution is not violated by anybody – not just the adventurer, but even the sitting president who would want to tamper with the constitution when it’s the eve of the time for him to leave.”

Kufuor says: “If the time comes for him to leave office, then he [may try to] cleverly go and try to change [the] constitution, but for the citizens to be able to [stop] this they must be well informed, united to take on the violator. We must empower the citizenry to be the vanguards of the constitution.”

Stolen future

Recalling life under military rule in two separate insurrections in the early 70s and late 80s, Kufuor says: “It’s not an experience I’ll recommend [for] any generation.”

“A coup will deprive you of your rights as a citizen,” he says. “The man that will come and usurp power did not seek your opinion about anything. That person will impose himself on you and run the state unaccountably; and you dare not ask him anything and when they collect taxes you wouldn’t know what they used it for. So how can anybody support people like that?”

All these people coming here now are not here for partnership, but to largely exploit us and take whatever they can, almost for free, and leave.

Kufuor urges regional blocs and the African Union (AU) to impose tougher measures to deter the men in olive green from leaving the barracks to take over power.

“The coup maker might chance his opportunity chiefly because he knows that he … will get away with it,” Kufuor says. “The AU or any of the regional groupings should begin to do the things that will give them the muscle to implement the constitutional provisions against the violators of the constitution. Their sanctions must bite. Until we get there, the adventurer will continue to risk it.”

Moreover, he tells The Africa Report that state institutions, such as the judiciary and the legislature, must be more proactive and strengthened to resist military takeovers. He also criticises the media for being too sensational while failing in its watchdog role, giving room for insurgents to capture state power.

“The citizenry must come together and believe that it’s their right to defend the constitution,” he says. “They must ensure that governments respect the tenets of the constitution they promulgated. When you’ve seen these things coming together to challenge the violator of the constitution, it becomes difficult for people to take a nation to ransom.”

Tackling poverty

Kufuor says he looks forward to an Africa where poverty and unemployment, two root causes of military coups, are largely eliminated. This will only be possible if leaders enter into trade deals that benefit the people rather than their parochial interests, he says.

“Our continent, perhaps in terms of natural resources, is the richest on the face of the earth, but it has been so exploited from outside the continent by nations for their benefit with the people of Africa being enslaved for so long,” Kufuor says. “Modern education is crucial and awareness of the global market is key. We must also add value to our natural resources.”

The world, he concludes, needs Africa. “We must enter partnerships that will enrich Africa and better the lot of the people so that Africa takes its rightful place in the global community,” Kufuor says.

“All these people coming here now are not here for partnership, but to largely exploit us and take whatever they can, almost for free, and leave. And then turn around to talk to us with disdain. Leaders should come not to lord themselves over us, but to serve to better the lot of the people.”

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