Some recruits marching as they pass out
Some recruits marching as they pass out

For God and country

Sometime in 1996, when I lived in the UK, I once had an ‘eureka’ moment, fancying a military career. ‘General Nkrumah-Boateng’, with assorted medals dangling on my chest, did seem quite like an attractive idea.

So off to the Army Careers Recruitment Centre on London’s The Strand I went one summer afternoon, hopeful and confident.


A video of the military training process for recruits was showing in the seating area. After watching for a few minutes as I waited to see a recruitment officer, I rose and left the centre quietly. I had seen enough. My ‘eureka’ vapourised in a flash.

This week, my guest columnist is Laila Abubakari, Special Assistant to the Energy Minister and a trusted colleague, friend and ‘niece’.

Her thoughts on a family member’s recent passing out of military training bring back recollections of my dreams of yesteryear.

Gruelling training

The other day, my mother called to inform me that some family members from the Upper West Region were coming down to Accra for the army passing out ceremony of my nephew I had never met.

Private Kanton was one of the 753 new soldiers who passed out that morning, on October 21, 2022 at the Army Recruit Training School, Shai Hills.

They had been in camp for six months and had been taken through the hardest training they had ever experienced. I was familiar with snippets of this training to the extent that a couple of friends of mine have been through same.

Interestingly, they were never able to explain to me in detail what they went through.

It was as if they had blocked some of the memories off, especially the most painful ones and would only say things like “hmmm I don’t know how to explain the experience unless you go through it yourself”.

They said they were starved most of the time, and barely had three hours of sleep at a go.

The recruits had been taken through assault training and put their bodies through some of the most physically tasking activities such as jogging for 15km with full gear (fully loaded weapons and essential supplies) plus an additional weight (to mimic a body) to prepare the soldiers to carry wounded comrades on the battlefield.

They were without their phones and were literally cut from the rest of the world in the wilderness of the Shai Hills.

We were told most of them had lost a third of their weight and some had darker complexions due to their exposure to the harsh weather. Some had visible scars from wounds sustained during the training.

One person from my nephew’s batch died and three left within the first few days of the training.

Mixed emotions

We arrived at 7a.m., one hour before the start of the procession but the grounds were already full and all seats except those for the VIP were taken. My mother was shocked and hilariously asked, rather rhetorically, “Ei so Ghanaians can be on time like this?”

At exactly 8a.m., the event started with a scream from the commander, calling the new recruits to order. The band began to play and the recruits lined up in perfect formation.

Many people started shouting and clapping in excitement as they spotted their wards marching smartly.

I have never understood the ceremony of marching; albeit beautifully choreographed, what is its essence? After all, who marches in a straight line to battle? I allowed my thoughts to float idly in my head.

Anyway, after all was said and done and they were officially initiated into the service, they were dismissed. People rushed on to the grounds in search of their wards.

We tried to find our brand-new soldier, Private Kanton. The soldiers still were without their phones so it was a hide-and-seek game.

Some families looked almost restless, because they had not seen their wards yet. Some were quite a distance from theirs so they shouted their names to get their attention.

Others had also found their wards and were taking them to the family’s waiting area. There was so much excitement from some of the family members who jumped into their wards arms and screamed “Hallelujah! Thank God!!”

Some of the soldiers also looked sad, obviously looking through the crowd to see a familiar face and beginning to think no one came for them. I teared up slightly at that thought.

Someone shouted. “Our son is now a soldier oh!” as if to say, if anyone dared them, ‘we have the men!’

One soldier broke down when his father hugged him. He wept uncontrollably while his mum tried to comfort him. I guess he was happy to be done with training and had certainly come to appreciate his family.

Recruitment realities

Through all the drama and emotions and spotless uniforms, the question that kept ringing in my mind was, “do these young men know that they have just signed up to literally die for Ghana?”

Do they know that (God forbid), if Ghana were to engage in active war, they would be the sacrificial lambs?

There is no doubt that with the unemployment situation in the country, many rush to apply for armed forces vacancies – including degree holders who are prepared to hide their degrees and join at the ranks.

I have seen the televised scenes capturing endless queues of weary, yet hopeful faces at the El-Wak Stadium in Accra, when these would-be recruits are further shortlisted and have to go through the next hurdle.

I know people who are over 35 years old, who still apply to services such as the army and police even though they have overshot the cutoff age by a decade. The desperation is real and the scenes are heart-breaking.

I can, therefore, understand why some family members were excited to have their wards officially inducted into the army. These “lucky” young men and women, who beat several thousand others, can now be assured of a monthly income and accommodation for the next 25 years.

Some will rise through the ranks and make a name for themselves and their families and bring honour to this country.

Others will perish during one operation or the other. Some, for the rest of their working lives, will never experience combat.

‘God is in control’

Private Kanton was beaming with pride. “Are you ready to die for Ghana?”, I asked him. A faint smile broke on his face. “Yes, I have trained for it”, he replied.

“For the next six months, I will continue to prepare. We were told to be ready to die. In spite all this training, I am not sure how I will behave on the ground when the reality hits, but God is in control.”

‘God is in control’. Spoken like a true Ghanaian. But what does “service to God and country” really mean?

In reality, when (if?) the bullets start flying and the blood-soaked bodies begin to pile up on the fields and in the trenches, I suppose that ultimately, it will be each for himself… and of course, God for us all.

May God bless those gallant men and women who have put themselves up to defend this country with their lives, if need be.

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