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Ghana Army History - Nkrumah

Ghana has a rich and varied military history. During the nineteenth century, the Asante, one of the major ethnic groups in the country, relied on military power to extend their rule throughout most of what eventually became the modern state of Ghana. The Asante also engaged in a series of military campaigns against the British (in 1873, 1896, and 1900) for control of the country's political and economic systems.

The Ghana Army started as military unit organised by the European merchants in the nineteen century to protect their trading activities in the then Gold Coast. After the British established a protectorate, thousands of Ghanaians served in the Royal West African Frontier Force. In 1901, the various protection units were consolidated into what came to be known as the Royal West Africa Frontier Force (RWAFF), offered secondment from the British Army. The RWAFF comprised regiments from the Anglophone-English speaking West African countries namely then Gold Coast, Sierra Leon, Gambia and Nigeria Gold Coast, and all former colonies of the British Empire. In the two world wars of the twentieth century, tens of thousands of Ghanaians fought with the Western allies. From 1945 until 1957, the British used the Ghanaian army to maintain internal security.

Even though RWAFF ended in June 1960, the Gold Coast Regiment (GCR) which had undergone considerable changes was survived by the Gold Coast Military Forces on 01 July 1956. At independence in 1957, Ghana's armed forces were among the best in Africa. However, President Kwame Nkrumah (1960-66) gradually destroyed this heritage by transforming the armed forces from a traditional military organization into one that he hoped would facilitate the growth of African socialism and Pan-Africanism, would aid in the fight against neocolonialism, and would help implement Nkrumah's radical foreign policy. Nkrumah also Africanized the officer corps as rapidly as possible.

The command structure for the Army in Ghana originally stemmed from the British Army's West Africa Command. Lieutenant General Lashmer Whistler was the penultimate commander holding the command from 1951 to 1953. Lt Gen Sir Otway Herbert, who left the West Africa Command in 1955, was the last commander. The command was dissolved on 1 July 1956.

In 1957, the Ghana Army consisted of its headquarters, support services, three battalions of infantry and a reconnaissance squadron with armoured cars. Total strength was approximately 5,700 men. Partially due to an over-supply of British officers after the end of the Second World War, only 12% of the officer corps in Ghana, 29 officers out a total of 209 in all, were Ghanaians. Under Major General Alexander Paley, there were almost 200 British officers and 230 warrant officers and senior commissioned officers posted throughout the Ghanaian Army.

In 1959, after the attainment of independence, this Force severed itself from the RWAFF and became the Ghana Army which consisted initially of an Infantry Brigade. A second Infantry Brigade was created in 1960. This was followed by conscious and well-orchestrated efforts to Africanize the officer Corps of the Army, aimed at equipping the institution to assert itself completely, as well as champion the cause of the liberation struggle in Africa.

The Ghanaian army had grown in size and complexity, moreover, and the government created a separate air force and navy. The military's ostensible mission was to aid the national police in maintaining internal security; however, Nkrumah wanted to use the armed forces to buttress his foreign policy and Pan-Africanist goals. British officers who served in the Ghanaian armed forces thwarted Nkrumah's plans to use the military as a political tool.

In September 1961 Nkrumah dismissed all British military personnel and ordered the Africanization of the armed forces. By removing the British from command positions, Nkrumah destroyed an apolitical safeguard and exposed the military to political manipulation. However, much of the British-trained Ghanaian officer corps resisted Nkrumah's attempts to indoctrinate them with the political ideology of the CPP. Moreover, the officer corps shunned the political commissars whom Nkrumah had introduced into all units.

Ghanaian Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah wished to rapidly expand and Africanise the army in order to support his Pan-African and anti-colonial ambitions. Thus in 1961, 4th and 5th Battalions were established, and in 1964 6th Battalion was established, from a parachute unit originally raised in 1963. Second Infantry Brigade Group was established in 1961 to command the two battalions raised that year. However, 3rd Battalion was disbanded in February 1961 after an August 1960 mutiny while on Operation des Nations Unies au Congo service at Tshikapa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The changeover from British to Ghanaian officers meant a sudden lowering of experience levels, training and professionalism. 4th Battalion was raised under a British commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Cairns, from the single company of the 3rd Battalion that had not mutinied.

Initial British planning by Paley before his departure in 1959 had provided for all British officers to be withdrawn by 1970; however, under pressure from Nkrumah, Paley's successor Major General Henry Alexander revised the plans, seeing all British personnel to depart by 1962. However, in September 1961, Alexander and all other British officers and men serving with the Ghanaian armed forces were abruptly dismissed. Nkrumah was determined to indigenize his armed forces fully, after some years of accelerated promotion of Ghanaian personnel.

To break the power of the traditional Ghanaian military establishment, Nkrumah created his own private army in violation of the country's constitution. The Soviet Union supported this effort by providing military advisers and weaponry. After an unsuccessful attempt on his life, Nkrumah ordered the expansion of the presidential guard company to regimental strength. On the recommendation of Soviet security advisers, Nkrumah also added a civilian unit to the bodyguard. The military and civilian wings formed the Presidential Guard Department.

In 1963 Nkrumah changed the name of this organization to the Presidential Detail Department. By February 1966, this unit's First Guard Regiment included a 1,500- member battalion, and the Second Guard Regiment was in the process of being formed and trained by Soviet advisers. The Presidential Detail Department also supervised secret storage depots and training camps for Nkrumah's constantly expanding private army. These facilities were located at Elmina Castle, Akosombo, Afianya, and Okponglo.

After Nkrumah's downfall, Ghanaian authorities discovered an array of weapons, including heavy machine guns, mortars, and artillery, at these sites. Anti-Nkrumah elements insisted that such weaponry, which exceeded the needs of the Presidential Detail Department, was destined for Nkrumah's private army.

Apart from trying to create a parallel military establishment, Nkrumah also established a multifaceted intelligence apparatus. In early 1963, one of Nkrumah's closest supporters, Ambrose Yankey, established the Special Intelligence Unit to monitor the activities of anti-government individuals and groups. By 1966 this unit included 281 people, all of whom reportedly received training from Soviet and other communist advisers. Another intelligence unit, Department III, Military Intelligence, was not part of the Ministry of Defence. Instead, its task was to check independently on the loyalty of the regular armed forces. Department III, Military Intelligence, maintained an interrogation center at Burma Gamp.

The Bureau for Technical Assistance conducted espionage in other African countries. Additionally, on October 1, 1965, the bureau established an all-African intelligence service known as the Special African Service (also known as the Technical Unit), which was designed to penetrate the intelligence services of other African countries. By 1966 this organization had grown from forty to sixty-seven personnel.

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