Coup what? Alleged coup plotters arrested in Ghana
Authorities in Ghana claim to have foiled an attempted coup d’état, arresting three men and seizing a small number of (primarily locally manufactured) weapons.
A joint investigation by the Bureau of National Investigation (BNI) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) against the alleged coup plotters had apparently been ongoing since June 2018 and led to an operation that culminated in the arrests on 23 September. This was the first that the public had heard of the alleged plans. The reports of the plot are scant but some suggest it involved plans to use explosions to create a diversion at a public event, in order to produce an opportunity to kidnap the president, vice president and head of the armed forces.
The alleged plotters have been charged with various counts of illegal manufacture and possession of weapons rather than treason, as the authorities had initially intended. However, the deputy attorney general has said that a treason charge could still be brought upon further examination of all the evidence.
Whatever the level of planning may have been, the means at the disposal of the conspirators appear to been woefully inefficient for mounting a successful attempt at overthrowing the government. Such is the lack of credibility of the threat among the general population that there is even an ironic #coupchallenge hash tag trending on Twitter mocking the plot. Whilst it does appear that some sort of plot or planning definitely took place, the inadequacy of weapons, and inexperience and size of the team, suggests this was not a serious coup attempt.
Ghana is of course no stranger to coups. The country is widely seen as a bastion of peace in a turbulent region, but this has not always been the case. The country’s stifled development can be attributed to the series of coups that followed the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah in 1966, and subsequent coups were held in 1972, 1978, 1979 and 1981 before a return to democratic rule under the 4th Republic in 1992. There have been no real notable attempted coups under this present 4thRepublic, although one episode in 2003 saw a Lieutenant Corporal accused and arrested but no charges were brought. Earlier, in 2001 rumours of a plot circulated but nothing was confirmed by the government and no arrests were made.
The majority of the previous coups emanated from the senior ranks of the armed forces and involved senior government figures, unlike this latest attempt. Given the significant hardship brought about by previous coups, there has been some anger at the labelling of this development, particularly from those who were adversely affected.
A retired army colonel with whom we spoke and who was personally involved in a coup in Ghana failed to see any credibility in the plot allegations. However, reflecting on the rumours around the plot he raised some concerns over the lack of security at some key institutions: “Jubilee House [the seat of the presidency] and parliament are well protected, as are the president, his vice and many ministers. But, something like GBC [Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, the state broadcaster] would potentially be a very soft target. Whilst I’m not an advocate for a militarised state, the police lack some of the crisis response training that is standard in the military, in the short term some army escorts might be prudent.”
Importantly, no links have yet been drawn between the alleged plotters and any political party. With elections just a year away, this is significant. If there were any suspicions of party involvement, the ruling party would waste no time in highlighting these to capitalise on potential political gains. There have already been accusations from members of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) that the government’s is seeking exactly that, with the party saying “quick political gains don’t help the system and [national] development.”
The deputy attorney general claims that there is more evidence to come, reportedly audio and video from when the conspirators were under surveillance. The longer this takes to reach the public domain, the more likely that political opponents will give it less credence than it may be worthy.
In the meantime, the government is likely to take some short-term steps in response, such as increasing deployment of security services to sensitive sites such as parliament and the seat of the presidency as well as others such as major barracks and the state broadcaster.
Broadly, the likelihood of a coup remains very low. Other security issues may be a concern in the period preceding and during the December 2020 vote. These will centre around sporadic, localised clashes along party lines, something for which the security services are well prepared, usually by identifying potential flashpoints well in advance and ensuring appropriate protection.
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