In the spirit of the celebration of 60 Years of FEMALES IN MILITARY SERVICE in Ghana, we are privileged to have the first ever General of the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF), BRIGADIER GENERAL CONSTANCE EMEFA EDJEANI-AFENU, in an exclusive interview.
Please enjoy a conversation between Kofi Ampeah-Woode for Ghana Peace Journal (GPJ) and BRIGADIER GENERAL CONSTANCE AMA EMEFA EDJEANI-AFENU (who for the purposes of this conversation, would be referred to as BGEA):
Brigadier General (Brig Gen) Constance Emefa Edjeani-Afenu was commissioned into the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) on 25 April 1980 as a Second Lieutenant, after eighteen months regular training at the Ghana Military Academy (GMA).
Constance served first as a Platoon Commander and then Adjutant at the 2nd Infantry Battalion in 1980 for her regimental training, was next posted to the 3rd Border Guards Battalion from 1981 to 1982 as a Platoon Commander and Adjutant, subsequently appointed General Staff Officer Grade 3 Training and then Personnel Staff Officer at the Border Guards Headquarters from 1983 to 1984 and became the Adjutant at the Border Guards Training School, Kpetoe in 1984.
In 1995 she was appointed the Second in Command (2IC) of the GAF Pay Regiment, and in 1999 was appointed the Commanding Officer (CO) of the same Regiment and was the first female in the Armed Forces to occupy these posts.
Other staff appointments held thereafter are: Service Financial Controller at the Naval Headquarters,
Director Audit at the Defence Financial Controller – General Headquarters, Director Pay & Accounts at the Defence Financial Controller – General Headquarters.
In 2013 she became the first female officer to be appointed as the Deputy Military Adviser (DMILAD) at the Permanent Mission of Ghana to the UN, New York till 2016. Whilst serving as the DMILAD, she was promoted in March 2016 to the rank of Brigadier General, becoming the first female to be ever promoted as a General in the history of GAF and is currently the GAF Representative to the Controller and Accountant General’s Department.
Brig Gen Edjeani-Afenu also participated in United Nations peacekeeping operations as the Ghana Battalion’s Finance Officer mainly in:
United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) – 1994 & 1998, United Nations Monitoring Force in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) – 2007 and United Nations Military Force in Liberia (UNMIL) – 2009, Military Observer in MONUSCO – 2003 to 2004 (First Female Team Leader).
Brig Gen Edjeani-Afenu holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting from the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), a Post Graduate Diploma in Management Practice from the Paris Graduate School of Management, Diploma in Public Relations and Advertising from the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ), Certificate in Public Administration; Certificate in Budgeting and Financial Management, both from GIMPA, Certificate in Wealth Creation from the Swiss eLearning Institute.
She is a product of Wesley Girls’ High School, Cape Coast where she obtained her O and A Level Certificate.
She has undergone all her military training courses including Junior Staff Course (JSC) and Senior Command and Staff Course at GAFCSC, Diploma in Finance Captain Career Course, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, USA; Young Ordnance Officers Course- GAF School of Ordnance, both the Public & Non-Public Accounting Course and the Military Accounting Course at the Haizel Finance School and the Senior Staff Officers Communication Course. She is married to Capt (Rtd) Fred Afenu and they have 3 children.
GPJ: There was this coverage that our outlet did on the Honourable Minister for Defence and Member of Parliament for Bimbilla – Dominic Nitiwul, when he paid a visit to the Ghana Battalion with MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to the effect that you, our distinguished General, had been appointed to the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), as the Deputy Force Commander, could you please throw a bit more light on it, General?
BGEA: That is part of the success story of females in military service. UN has appointed me as the Deputy Force Commander, in Western Sahara, in the UN Mission there called MINURSO. That will be the first time a female officer is taking that position in that mission, and in Ghana, it would be the first time that a female is taking such a post.
GPJ: WOW! That’s great! Now, how did you join the mighty Ghana Armed Forces, how did it all start?
BGEA: I joined the military with Regular Intake 21 from Sixth Form, in 1978-1980, most of us who joined the Regular Intake were Sixth Formers. It is now that the requirements have changed to First Degree.
GPJ: So from there you went directly into the military?
BGEA: Yes, the same year – I finished Sixth Form in June and in November the same year, I went to the Military Academy. Regular Intake 21, we trained for 18 months and it would interest you to know that I was the only female in my intake. We started as 2 females, but in the early weeks, the other lady had to leave.
GPJ: And your batch had how many?
BGEA: We were forty-one men and two powerful ladies but one left and so I just became the single lady
GPJ: Did you have any interests initially or it was developed due to some circumstances for you to join the military?
BGEA: Well, my Dad was a soldier and we lived in the barracks. The uniform, discipline and physical strength of the soldiers attracted me. In the final year, in fact the final term of my secondary education, as we were thinking of what to do after school, some people were saying ‘Medico or I die’, that is to say “it is medical school or I die”, others were like “Archito or I die” to wit it has to be Architecture or I die, others were saying “Admin or I die”. Three of us also said “military or I die”. And for me, I meant it but they just said something. Soon after school, the adverts came in the papers and I applied. When we were called to start the selection process, I was hoping to meet my mates there, but they were nowhere to be found.
GPJ: Was Daddy aware?
BGEA: Oh, my Dad was aware, but interestingly enough, he did not say “go” or “don’t go”, neutral gear, and so he left the decision taking to me, but when I went through one process and I passed and went back home, we jubilated together.
GPJ: You were a family of?
BGEA: We were a family of 10 (8 girls and 2 boys)
GPJ: Which part of the country did you grow up?
BGEA: I grew up in Tamale, Kumasi and then ended up in Accra
GPJ: As the movement of your Dad was?
BGEA: Exactly, Exactly, I started Class 1 in Tamale in the year 1965, actually
GPJ: How about your siblings, did anyone of them join the military?
BGEA: two of them did, unfortunately, they have all passed on. One of my sisters became a Colonel in the Service, before she passed on three years ago – Col Peggy Edjeani and my brother, who also joined the Air Force – Flight Sergeant Eli Kwesi Edjeani. He passed on a year ago in 2018. May their souls continue to rest in perfect peace! They were motivated, I want to say, by my achievements and the way I went about things.
GPJ: You were the eldest?
BGEA: In the family?
BGEA: No, I’m in the middle, actually, I’m 5th or 6th, whichever way. We had twins, so depending on whether you are counting twins as 2 or 1, then it changes.
GPJ: Now, let’s zoom in on some details. How was growing up like?
BGEA: Growing up, my parents treated us equally, and so duties which were shared in the house rotated – maybe today you are weeding, the next day you are washing and stuff like that. So we all became all-rounders. As I’m talking now, my surviving brother knows how to cook. And so they built in us that confidence and that feeling of I can do everything.
GPJ: So there was nothing like you are a female so stay within this domain or that domain?
BGEA: No, no, no, no. And I remember very well, even though I was young, when we were in Tamale, there was something called Barracks Inspection. And I want to believe that that Barracks Inspection is different from what we have now. For Barracks Inspection, you would clean and clean really hard, scrub and scrub really hard and at that time, all of us had our hands on deck, scrubbing gutters, cleaning shelves, doors, I mean you clean doors and they become as though they’ve just been painted. And so everybody was involved, it was nothing like ‘boys come and do this and girls go and do that’. So we grew up knowing that when there is work, you must work.
GPJ: To the educational side. You went to Tamale, Class 1?
BGEA: Yes, I was at the Kamina Barracks Primary School from Class 1 to Class 5, well, I skipped Class 4. From there we came to Kumasi, Uaddara Barracks.
GPJ: Why did you skip?
BGEA: Those days, when you did well in class, you could be skipped, so by the grace of God, I was skipped.
GPJ: I really disliked that policy because I was never skipped, try as I did (laughter).
BGEA: (Laughter) Sorry. In Kumasi I attended the Armed Forces Experimental School – that was when this International School thing was on and the Armed Forces was also experimenting. I did up to Class 7 and then I went to the Secondary School, as it was then called, to Wesley Girls High School, Form 1 to Upper 6 and then I joined the military.
GPJ: So during school, there was nothing like this ‘masculinity, femininity’ stuff that dissuaded you from trying to join the military?
BGEA: No. At Wesley Girls, because we were all girls, every work that was there was for the people who were in school. So if there is scrubbing or weeding or whatever job, it is for girls, you understand. So right from the house some discipline had been established, and at Wesley Girls at the time, high level of discipline, and from there to the military where discipline was demanded from us, it sort of, was a seamless flow, it’s just that in the military now, the demand was higher.
GPJ: Let’s come to your philosophy, I guess there should be some ideals, principles that have pushed and helped you, what do you think they are?
BGEA: I think discipline would send you places – in discipline, we have hard work, respect, timeliness, law abiding, turnout and so on. And so I think that one has to be disciplined. And in life, I think that it is easier to be disciplined than to be undisciplined. You need so much effort to say that ‘I’m going to scatter things in this room’, ‘I’ve seen an elderly man and I’m not going to pay respect’. But it is rather easy to say ‘I’ve seen an elderly man, so I’ll just pay compliments’, somebody has done something for me, so I should say, ‘thank you’.
GPJ: What are your personal aspirations, what would make you fulfilled, beyond where you have gotten to?
BGEA: Oh! So I feel that this profession is a calling. As I see life’s events unfold, (interjection)
GPJ: Let me interject you and ask this, I have heard it a number of times that ‘the military is a calling’ and I hear you say that now. What does it mean?
BGEA: I did not know that in the beginning, but as I grew. Joining the military was my decision, but l think that even before I made that decision, God knew that His daughter was going to join the military, and so it is He, who has fashioned out my paths, in the military, because for me to be a General today, I mean, it’s amazing. And it is the doing of God, and also for the assignment ahead as DFC, it just had to be God. That is why I say that it is a calling. I look at the Bible, where Hannah in looking for a baby, pledged or vowed the baby to God. What she did not also know was that God also needed a prophet, and so it just fitted in. That is the way I see it, that yes, I wanted to join the military, but God needed a female officer who would stay in the service for a number of years, who will become a General. At the Academy, I remained the only female. Four of us became Generals in my Intake, people thought that I would have been the first to fall off, because I am a woman, but do you know that I am one of the last two still is the service?
BGEA: Two of us are left in the service now. Most went out of service because they were due for retirement and not because of any negativity. And so here I am, the woman who should have fallen off first is still standing, and that is why I believe it is a calling.
GPJ: When you look at the GAF generally, there are things that have been done here that have not been done in other places, like the encouragement of women to various positions and others. How far do you think we can go, would we soon see a female Commanding Officer (CO), in the immediate terms and others like that?
BGEA: Well, I have been a CO before (interjection)
BGEA: Oh, oh, I have been a Commanding Officer before. People would say it was not of an Infantry Battalion, but whether it is an Infantry Battalion or not, it is a unit to the Ghana Armed Forces. I was the Commanding Officer of the Forces Pay Regiment from 1999 to 2002, before I went on my next Duty Tour. And before then, I was the 2IC, and if you know the military, you would know that that is what we call ‘Command’. So if I have been a CO before, then that myth is broken, but if you are talking about an Infantry Battalion, then I will say, we shall get there, we shall get there. Last year, we had a number of female officers posted to Infantry Battalions and we have two 2ICs at Combat support Units, Signal Regiment and Motor Transport Battalion, anything can happen.
GPJ: We have this saying in local language which suggests that the women who join the military are ‘man-woman’. Is that perception right, General?
BGEA: Noooo, no Sir. That perception has changed drastically. You know the world is changing, everything around us is changing and that perception is gone. Yes, when I joined the service, I could count the number of females who were in the service, but now there are so many and that means that that cultural belief is broken, the myth surrounding the woman wearing khaki is broken totally, so many females come out for recruitment, but the vacancies are limited. At my time, I think we were only three who tried.
GPJ: But I guess the ‘called’ would be separated from the employment seeking ones?
BGEA: Well, that is it, whether they are people who really have the passion or people who want employment, you cannot say, but sometimes you could be looking for employment and the passion will be aroused. If only all the people who are coming would have that passion, then that would serve us well. But some have just heard of people going on peacekeeping, they come and they see that they are well endowed a little bit, they have this or that, and they also want it. Or people’s parents are pushing their children and it is like ‘this person has done it, so you will also do it’. That is the difference between that group and I. For me, my parents had no say, I wanted it, I went for it and I am in it.
GPJ: What do you say to the young ones, particularly the females who are coming, what sort of advice would you have for them?
BGEA: The young ones, these days, seem to just want everything in life fast, but life is not like that. You have to work at everything in life. So I would tell them that they should be purposeful and remain focused. They should determine what they really want, think through it and work at it. And I believe that with hard work and God on their side, they will make it in life.
GPJ: GAF FEMALES @ 60. Give us a little message, General.
BGEA: Well, so Ghana Armed Forces is celebrating sixty years of females in military service we first had a female officer in GAF in 1958, in 1963, we had twelve Other Ranks. We have grown into hundreds and now in the thousands and counting. It is time to showcase our capabilities and achievements in a male-dominated institution. We have proved that what men can do, women can equally do, and the fact that the traditional roles females were playing, mainly nursing and clerical duties are changing. We have professionals coming in, we have doctors, engineers, pilots, females in the ships, we are everywhere, and with the Other Ranks, we have artisans, drill instructors, mechanics, PTI’s, these are male-preserves, we are doing exploits. I cannot name them all, we have chaplains. As we celebrate, we strengthen each other and hope we inspire a girl out there to pursue their dreams. The sky is the limit.
GPJ: I know one particular Drill Instructor at MATS, very hard
BGEA: Yes, WO Logah. She is the first female Drill Instructor that we have. We are getting Physical Training Instructors who can take men on Road Run … (interjection)
GPJ: The one who led the 60 years celebrations route march
BGEA: Yes, so women are doing many things, we have auto mechanics, office machinery mechanics, women in the armoured unit, horse riders, what is it that the women cannot do now? Give us the opportunity and we would prove to you that we have more than enough (interjection)
GPJ: More than enough activism (laughter)
BGEA: (Laughter) For the activities lined up, we had a route march, which was a huge success., we had the Chief of the Defence Staff, Service Chiefs, Chief of Staff, Director-Generals joining us, that was a big surprise and let me say and that it boosted our morale. There were skeptics who said, ‘these women, what can they do?’ We have proved them all wrong. Now I think that there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that, we can do anything when given the chance. We did the planning and it was all female. We also have exhibitions, documentaries, female convention, anniversary lectures, an all-female parade with a difference and a thanksgiving service.
GPJ: What is the theme for the celebrations?
BGEA: Empowering Female Participation in Peace and Security for National Development. We pray increase in recruitment, capacity building, opportunities, appointments and promotions particularly to the high echelon. We expect policy change and gender mainstreaming for full female integration.
GPJ: So if I should say “GAF Ladies“, what would be the response?
BGEA: We would say that “We are well able”, and then you would again say, “Yaa Asantewaa” and we would say “We are Courageous and Dependable, Ahua!”
GPJ: That’s very impressive. You are a trendsetter and we hope that you still blaze the trail and not rest on your oars for the sake of those who are following. Thank you very much, General, for this opportunity and congratulations, once again to all the Females of the Distinguished and Respectable Ghana Armed Forces, who defend the tranquil of Ghana, by land, sea or air, even to the peril of their lives. AHUA!!!