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General News of Sunday, 19 January 2003

Source: Accra Mail

We Are Not Savages - Chief Nana Kwa Bonko V

The Chief of Biriwa near Saltpond, Nana Kwa Bonko V, angrily declared in New York that his people, and indeed Ghanaians are not savages, and that he takes personal exception to the lies being peddled in the news media in the U.S. about Ghanaians.

In an exclusive interview with this correspondent, Nana Kwa Bonko V looking visibly angry at the horde of reporters who descended on him during his appearance at the US Supreme Court in Brooklyn last week, defended the honour of his town and Ghanaians by telling reporters that Ghanaians are civilized people who do not practice human sacrifices, neither do they engage in Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as a way of punishment.

"As a matter of fact, we Fantes do not practice female genital mutilation either as a custom, or as a way of punishing anybody," he said. "We are peace-loving people who believe in the sanctity of human beings, and I cannot imagine anybody slandering Ghanaians for a practice that is foreign to my tribe. I do not wish for her to be punished for blasphemy, but I take exception to a lie of this magnitude, where a whole community and country are portrayed as cannibals," he concluded.

Nana Kwa Bonko V was in New York to testify in an immigration case involving Regina Danson, a native of Biriwa in the Central Region who claimed in an asylum petition that she was a disgraced Princess of Biriwa and that she would face sexual mutilation if deported to Ghana. Ms. Regina Danson arrived in the U.S. in April 1997 with a false passport bearing the name of Adelaide Abankwah, a name she swore was her true name until 2000 when her true identity was unmasked.

At her asylum hearing in 1997, Ms. Danson, 33, claimed that as a Queen mother-to-be, she violated the laws of her village by converting into Christianity and losing her virginity by engaging in premarital sex. If she were returned to Ghana, elders of her village would punish her by cutting her clitoris and possibly killing her, she said.

"I will be mutilated, and my boyfriend will be executed," she claimed. "After that, I will have to live the rest of my life in perpetual shame."

Narrating how she ended up in New York, Ms. Danson claimed that she was accused of theft at her place of work but since she could not refund the money, she fled her village to Accra where she took refuge with a friend.

In addition, she was afraid to go back to her village, where she feared she would be killed because she refused to be made Queen mother of her village.

While in Accra, her host gave her a passport that bore her true name of Adelaide Abankwah, but with someone else's picture to travel to the US.

Unknown to her however, the US Immigration Service had Adelaide Abankwah in their database as someone who had been to the US on several occasions, and when she was asked the last time she was in the US, she claimed that April of 1977 was her first time.

This inconsistency in her story coupled with the falsified picture in the passport sent a red flag to the Immigration officials at JFK International Airport, who detained Ms. Danson for further questioning.

Ms. Danson however swore during persistent questioning with Immigration officials and in court that her real name was Adelaide Abankwah.

Her sordid tale of killings by her tribal village with human heads dripping blood being paraded in her village, coupled with forced female genital mutilations of young girls, outraged the U.S. public, some of who saw Ghana as another backward, barbaric society where even cannibalism was being practiced.

As a result, feminists in the US, including Gloria Steinem, actress Julia Roberts and the former first lady, Hillary Rodman Clinton, took on her case, and hit the airwaves denouncing Ghanaians for barbarism, while rallying to Ms. Danson's cause.

Ms. Danson's appeal for asylum was denied in 1997, when the judge noted that Ghana had outlawed genital mutilation in 1994, and that her identity was in question. An appeals court however caved in to political pressure from the feminists and Mrs. Clinton, and reversed the decision in 1999.

In 2000 however, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service concluded that Ms. Danson's story was a figment of her imagination. The INS investigators alleged that she was a former hotel worker who assumed the identity of another person named Adelaide Abankwah, and that her real name is Regina Danson.

Ms. Danson was indicted last year for perjury, making false statement and obtaining passport through fraudulent means.

On January of this year, Ms. Danson was brought to the US Supreme Court to face criminal charges, during which Nana Kwa Bonko testified that Ms. Danson was not part of the town's royal family and that female genital mutilation is foreign to the customs and practices of his village.

A Federal grand jury in Brooklyn last week found her guilty of lying and falsifying official document, after deliberating for only five hours.

Ms. Danson is free on $200,000 bond, but she will be sentenced on March 23 of this year for up to 16 months in prison, after which she will be deported to Ghana.

A cross section of Ghanaians who were in court to witness the trial, heaved a sigh of relief and started clapping and dancing when Ms. Danson was found guilty.

One Ekow who claimed he hails from Biriwa, praised his Chief for restoring honour and dignity to his town.

"I am proud of my Chief, and today, I feel exonerated because tenants in my apartment complex have been teasing me and asking me whether I have a human head under my bed," he said. "You have no idea how shameful we felt as Ghanaians when this woman's story broke in the newspapers and on the various TV networks, but today, they will all eat their words," he concluded.

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