The "Working in Ghana" Project

Army Officer

[Lt. Col. Braimah, who is approaching age fifty, has served in the Ghanaian Armed Forces for more than 25 years. He was interviewed in his office at the post he commands in eastern Ghana. He lives with his wife and three of his six children. The lieutenant has completed the advanced level of the General Certificate of Education. His interview with Philip Awekeya focused on foreign peace-keeping assignments, a frequent duty for Ghanaian forces.]

On peace missions, our duties may include monitoring a cease fire, helping to disarm warring factions, or facilitating the exchange of war prisoners. An example is my recent duty in north Africa, where we sought to promote peace in the Morocco-Spanish Sahara border dispute. Sometimes I and my men have to go to the trouble spot to maintain law and order before general elections are held. We recently performed this duty in Lebanon.

I am now an old-timer. I have on many occasions come face-to-face with real war situations where human beings were firing at each other with dangerous weapons, as if they were dealing with wild animals in the forest. Warring factions may seize each other by the throats and slaughter one another as though they were sacrificing fowls to the gods or the ancestors after a big harvest. From this experience I have come not to fear facing any bloody situation. I am always prepared for the worst, trusting in my long experience in guerrilla and modern warfare.

One of the frustrations of peace-keeping duties is that international military regulations prohibit us from fighting back, even when openly attacked or provoked. Warring factions may launch an attack on us for no good reason. The regulations say that peace keepers can use minimum force when attacked, but in fact, if we do respond in that way, we receive prompt and harsh inquiries from the international community and from the media. Yet we face real dangers while on duty. We may be attacked by warring parties and have to flee to bunkers.

Conditions on assignment can be quite harsh. In the Morocco-Spanish Sahara border area there was very little vegetation or cover. We were there to keep the armies of the two sides from clashing. It was an unpleasant, difficult experience for me and my men. I don't think I will forget that scene. Risks and frustrations are simply part of normal military life, however. I would rather be in the field putting my experience and skills to work than sitting behind a desk pushing files around.

Overall, this is a spectacular job. I want to keep it as long as I remain physically and mentally healthy. I even dream of dying in uniform with my gun beside me. It is a fantastic job, full of thrills. You can never be bored serving in the armed forces.

I would welcome any young men interested in this type of work. It is not, as most civilians think, a job having benefits without any duties. When you become a soldier or officer, you are expected to defend your country or take on other assignments such as peace keeping. I would advise anyone considering a military career to get a good education or professional training so that if he is demobilized he can get a job in the public sector, rather than taking a security guard position as most of our predecessors have done.

Unlike the civilian sector where people work eight hours a day, five days a week, we in the military are on duty around the clock, regardless of whether we are stationed.

I would say that we are well equipped in the unit under my command. We have in stock AK-47's, machine guns, and other arms that can ward off the enemy.

As for my own performance, I find it difficult to blow my own horn. However, when pressed to do so, I must say that it has been remarkably high--certainly above average, or I would not have risen to the present rank or be in command of this unit. And if I had not performed well in the field, I would have been long dead or maimed during one of the peace-keeping assignments. A lot of my contemporaries have not risen to my level, and some have been killed during operational duties. This can be due to a lackadaisical approach to their profession. I feel pleased that my performance has not only pushed me up in the ranks but has allowed me to safeguard myself from the enemy's swords and bullets.

I rarely smile, and I appear to my subordinates as strict. However I can handle my men with a human touch. Most of them seem to like me--to regard me as a brother or father. And my relationship with superiors at headquarters has been quite cordial.

There is some possibility for me to advance further. However, I do not dream of being promoted to the next rank, and won't be disturbed if I'm not. After all, I'm a lieutenant colonel and head of this entire unit. What else does a man need in life?

Although most Ghanaians feel highly dissatisfied with their pay and often engage in demonstrations and strikes to press the government or private agencies to raise their salaries, I seem to be among the privileged few who enjoy very good pay and allowances. For example, my family and I enjoy free medical care and free accommodation. I am happy that with these benefits, I am able to meet my family commitments.

My family members miss me a lot when I'm away, especially during long assignments outside the country. They may become afraid when they hear frightening stories about the places I have gone on duty with my men. This is a real fear, because some of the men and officers who go on missions may be killed or injured for life. Being their loving bread-winner, I am treasured highly, which explains their utmost care and concern for my welfare. They express joy when I return. And they take pride in my present rank and position as head of this unit.

This job has allowed me to meet very many people in military circles and in the civilian and public sectors both in and outside Ghana. I have succeeded in making many friends during peace keeping assignments, which pleases me. I have a simple and easy mixing nature. I am proud that many people like my manner, and thank my star for bestowing me with this rare luck.

As a successful military officer, I would say that a man must constantly be prepared to perform well in whatever job he is assigned to--otherwise he may perish. Never do things in halves but to the full, and to the satisfaction of yourself and the community at large. Above all never give up or complain in the face of difficulties or danger. Remain calm and committed to your cause.