Lessons from the past
Many scenes from the past have been playing in my mind these past few days. Two recent or, maybe I should say ongoing events have triggered this journey into the past. Last Friday evening’s attempted coup d’ état in Turkey certainly brought memories flooding to the time when ours was a country where coups and attempted coups were normal occurrences.
I am not trying to tempt fate; but it seems to me that staging a coup d’ état in Ghana now would not be the simple thing it used to be. When the news first broke about the coup in Turkey, I said to myself, what an odd time of day to be staging a coup d’ état; ours used to be at dawn.
The first anybody knew there was anything untoward happening would be at 5.30am when Radio Ghana would come alive with a strange voice telling the country that the government had been overthrown. The announcement always started with “fellow Ghanaians..”
I realise of course I have to explain to people of a certain generation that there was only Radio Ghana available as a radio station for the whole country and Radio Ghana would shut down transmission between midnight and 5.30am.
The Coup Drill
As the events in Turkey unfolded throughout the night and early the next morning and as President Erdogan resorted to social media to marshal support and urge the citizens to rise against the coup, my mind went to one of the campaigns I had tried to mount and which had not got any visible support from the public.
I remember I called it the Coup Drill and the idea was for all of us to face up to the fact that someone or some people would try to stage a coup and we the citizens should practise what we should do to resist it.
As I watched the images on television of Turkish citizens going out into the squares to confront the tanks and the soldiers, I held my breath. Once upon a time in this country, our soldiers would consider that extremely provocative and there would have been blood on the ground.
Some of the events though have an uncanny resemblance to things that used to happen here. In my experience, the only thing worse than a coup d’ état is a failed coup d’ état. At the last count, the Turkish authorities had taken more than 6,000 people into custody and had sacked a number of judges and magistrates.
In Ghana, after one particular failed coup, a group of people, termed JUBILANTS, was arrested and detained for months. If you were deemed to have shown any sign of rejoicing at the news of the coup before it failed, you were a jubilant and you were taken into custody.
You had better not have strained relations with your neighbour because he might simply tell the authorities that you were seen waving a white handkerchief or with a wide smile on your face as the announcement of the coup came on the radio, and that would be enough for you to end up in jail.
A failed coup provides a perfect opportunity to round up all opponents, real and imaginary, and it is obvious President Erdogan is playing up to the script. God save the Turkish jubilants.
There might have been a lot of things wrong with the government that the coup plotters had tried to overthrow, but once the coup did not succeed, nobody is going to even entertain the possibility that there could be anything wrong. And it is not only jubilants that would be at risk; ordinary citizens would discover they dare not complain about anything.
The triumphant government would not entertain any suggestion that there could be anything wrong that they had ever done. Any criticism is equated to being against the revolution, as it was in Ghana, or in the Turkish case, against democracy.
The truth is a country should never find itself in a position where a coup is held out as a solution to bad governance or as a solution to difficulties.
My mind goes back to the time of the miners strike in Britain. I recall an article I wrote in the Talking Drums in London pointing out that all the ingredients for a coup d’ état were ready and available. There was insecurity, a large section of the population was extremely and volubly unhappy, and the evening news was filled with images of a nation in turmoil.
All it needed was for some Colonel to go on the radio and announce that the Army was doing its patriotic duty and had taken over the government; Parliament was dissolved, all Ministers would have to report to the Police.
I made the point in that article that if what was going on in Britain at that time had been going on under a constitutional government in Ghana, some military adventurer would have seized power and would have been accepted as a head of state and accorded all the protocols.
Of course, my British friends were horrified that I would dream of such a scenario. It was accepted that an elected government, working under an agreed constitution, is best placed to deal with whatever problems the country faced. That was that.
Ingredients for coups
It all leads me to thinking just how lucky I am to have lived long enough to see democracy take root in Ghana and benefit those who claim not to believe in it.
Let’s face it, all the ingredients for a coup speech are here: DUMSOR, unemployment, three plantains for GH¢10, corruption in government and high electricity tariffs. We have had coups justified for less.
But I have no doubt that no one would think of a coup as a solution to our problems today. I can think of many reasons why a “fellow Ghanaians” speech would not work today. Our soldiers want to be soldiers, and young men no longer think entering the Army would be the fastest route to becoming a head of state. We now have over 300 FM stations and it would take more than seizing GBC to make that speech.
The President would not have to take to Facetime to tell us to oppose the coup. Those of us who are the most displeased with his performance will lead the charge against any attempt to overthrow him. President Mahama will stay in office, go to the polls in November or whenever the election will be held, and lose the election based on his track record. Then I will know we have come of age.
Back in 1981, we had a government that was not doing well and was a little over halfway through its mandate. We were denied the opportunity to vote out that government as it was overthrown and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. It has been a long time coming, but we have come of age and Turkey can now come to us for some lessons in democracy.