From Buga-Buga Soldiers to Officers and Gentlemen – Københavns Universitet

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Institut for Antropologi > Om instituttet > Nyheder > From Buga-Buga Soldier...

05. april 2016

From Buga-Buga Soldiers to Officers and Gentlemen

New PhD-thesis from the Department of Anthropology looks at how notions of professionalism and civility transformed the Ghanaian military

Post-independence African militaries are known for their incursions into the body politic of their various nations. Similarly, the Ghana Armed Forces successfully intervened five times in the administration of its host nation. Not only did these political incursions deplete the institutional structures of the military, they also eroded the trust within the barracks between officers and soldiers. In addition, the already negative public image of the Ghanaian military due to its colonial past, took a further battering as soldiers went on a rampage against their officers, while others used their uniform to extract scarce resources from the civilian population. The crumbling structures and the poor public imagination did not sit well with the political and military leadership of the Ghana Armed Forces prompting the initiation of the transformation process in the Ghanaian barracks.

15 months in the field

The PhD thesis “From Buga-Buga Soldiers to Officers and Gentlemen” by Humphrey Asamoah Agyekum is based on fifteen months of extensive fieldwork and deals with how the Ghana Armed Forces transformed from institutions responsible for societal unrest to stable social institutes. In addition, it deals with the factors and conditions that contributed to steering away the military from coups and transforming it to an institution that values peaceful civil-military relations in Ghana. And finally it looks at what roles “civility” and “professionalism” play in the ongoing transformation process.

The thesis takes its analytical point of departure from the temporal breakdown of everydayness in the Ghanaian barracks, due to complete lack of trust between soldiers, at the beginning of the 1980s. Human interactions, as a result of the breakdown of discipline, further deteriorated leading to abuse and in some cases murder of officers and senior non-commissioned officers. The thesis explores measures taken by the Ghanaian political and military elites to transform the Ghana Armed Forces.

Hierarchy and Trust

Military order and human interactions were resuscitated to enable other steps to be initiated. Furthermore, the military leadership re-emphasized soldierly values, by reminding soldiers: they are guided by rules and regulations, operate under the authority of a superior, appreciate authority and respect the rank. The temporary breakdown of discipline also meant a temporal breakdown of hierarchy in the barracks. The thesis further examines how military order was restored by reproducing hierarchy through material military culture. In the thesis Humphrey Asamoah Agyekum argues that “hierarchy” as an expression of military order, and “trust” as an expression of human relations in the barracks, are intimately related. A well-functioning hierarchy generates trust and trustful/trustworthy relations in turn produce and strengthen hierarchy.

Blood Donation and Open Days

The purpose of transforming the Ghanaian military is to steer it away from engaging in coups and to improve existing civil-military relations. To assess how far the transformation process has reached, the thesis examines not only the effects of the measures taken geared at within the barracks, but also looks at the intercourse between the military institution and its host society. The main theoretical underpinning of this thesis are the notions civil-military relations, militarisation, professionalism and civility. The Ghanaian military is conscious of the importance of public opinion and seeks to positively affect civil-military relations by actively engineering a (positive) public imagination. A military which has its structures and norms in place and which is predictable in behaviour is the first step of generating trust within its host society. Yet, to actively improve civil military relations, the Ghana Armed Forces undertake a range of civility activities to influence the perception of Ghanaian society, such as donating blood, disaster relief and organizing Open Days, which connect the Ghanaian military to the civilian population by performing the institution’s openness, usefulness, and crucially, its professionalism.