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Opinions of Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Columnist: Aoaeh, Brian Laung

An Open Letter To My Countrymen And Countrywomen

"I promise on my honour to be faithful and loyal to Ghana my motherland. I
pledge myself to the service of Ghana with all my strength and with all my
heart. I promise to hold in high esteem our heritage, won for us through the
blood and toil of our fathers; and I pledge myself in all things to uphold
and defend the good name of Ghana. So help me God."


"God Bless our homeland Ghana,

And make our nation great and strong,

Bold to defend for ever the cause of Freedom and of Right.

Fill our hearts with true humility

Make us cherish fearless honesty,

And help us to resist oppressor's rule

With all our will and might for evermore."

As a teenager in secondary school at St. Francis Xavier Junior Seminary in
Wa, and Presec, Legon respectively, I recited and sang those words on many
occasions. I learned to take them seriously, and I learned to take my duty
to our motherland seriously.

It is my abiding belief in Ghana that has driven my outrage over the
incident that occurred at Mensah Sarbah Hall, on the campus of the
University of Ghana, Legon on March 31. If you have not yet heard, a young
lady was brutally attacked and sexually molested by a mob of men on the
campus of the University of Ghana, Legon, in Accra. They allege that she
stole some cellphones and a laptop. As I write this we do not yet know if
her attackers have been apprehended. Her attackers filmed their actions, and
distributed it. One of the radio stations in Accra got a hold of the video,
and other media outlets in Ghana picked up the story and reported on it
immediately after the incident.

Thanks to a childhood friend, I watched the video in shock and horror on
Friday while I was at work. What I saw first brought tears to my eyes, and
then filled me with outrage. What I saw can only be described as despicable.
That such violence was directed against a woman makes the crime all the more
monstrous. No Ghanaian, man or woman, should have to endure what the victim
went through. No, not in the face of allegations of any kind.

My first opinion piece on this matter, titled We Must Hold Ourselves To A
Higher Standard, has been greeted with many different reactions. Obviously,
I have no quarrel with those that feel as outraged as I over this incident.

I will address some of the rebuttals I have encountered and let you judge if
a Ghana in which incidents like this seem acceptable is the Ghana whose
pledge you recite, and whose anthem you sing.

When the video was posted, many protested on the grounds that sharing it
widely violated the dignity of the victim and infringed upon her privacy. I
understand that sentiment. If it were obvious that her attackers would be
brought to justice no matter what, I would agree with that argument.
However, it is not until you feel the horror I felt, or experience the anger
that welled in me when I saw the incident in video, not till then will you
realize that you can no longer simply sit there and do nothing. You can not
just stand idly by and wait for some one else to do something. While I
understand the position of those who protested the sharing of the video, I
do not know that we had much choice. Seeing the video is what prompted my
outrage, an oral or written narrative would have been far less effective.

Another group has suggested that the victim brought this upon herself. What
did she expect? It serves her right. It is unfair that these poor students
lost cellphones and a laptop through her theft. What about their project
work for school that was saved on the laptop? To this group I have one
question. Is it their intention to suggest that a human life, the dignity of
another human being and the sanctity of womanhood is no more significant to
our Ghanaian society than the value of some cellphones and a laptop? Do we
know that she is in fact guilty of the allegations leveled against her. I
vigorously reject the notion that unprovoked and wanton violence that is not
in self-defense and dehumanizes any one is ever justifiable, under any
circumstance.

Yet another group argues that this has been going on for ages. Mob justice,
they say, is nothing new in Ghana, but now that it is a woman people want to
make this bigger than it is. Why do we care now? To that I have this
response. When I was a boy, I heard stories about mob justice. I could do
nothing. I felt powerless and filled with fear. Now I am a man. I can do
something. I am not afraid. The point is, mob violence against any person is
wrong. I would have felt the same sense of outrage, had the video been one
in which a man was attacked and molested by residents of Volta Hall. I hope
we can agree that wanton violence against a woman is wrong. Wanton violence
against a man is wrong. Wanton violence against any of us is wanton violence
against all of us. That can not be allowed to stand. Shall we stop trying to
solve our current and future problems merely because we failed to solve
similar problems in the past?

There's that group that wishes to make this about political affiliation.
There is not one notion that could be more wrong. I reject with absolute
contempt the idea that we should let our response be governed by our
political affiliation. This is about all of us. This is about all Ghanaians.
This is about the nature of the society we wish to leave behind for our sons
and daughters. This is about the reverence with which we should treat our
mothers and our fathers. This is about the respect we should have for one
another as children of our Motherland, Ghana. This is about seeking to make
our country a more just and equitable one because of our difficult history.
This is about revering the sacrifices that others have made on our behalf.
This is not about ideology. It is not about ethnicity. It is not about
religion. It is not about gender, and it most certainly is not about the
current state of our political dialogue. This is about us, all of us, all
Ghanaians.

Still another group accuses the police, other law enforcement entities, and
those in power of never doing anything to right the ills of Ghanaian
society. They seem to assert that nothing should be done about this because
many in authority go unpunished for crimes and offenses that far outweigh
this. Why they ask should these "small boys" be punished when "big men" get
away with far worse? To them I say, we have to start somewhere. Let this
mark the day when we stood up as one people, and said we will hold one
another accountable. Let us channel our President Mills' outrage at the
rampant corruption in sections of Ghana's Customs Department. Let us say
with one voice, in unequivocal terms, that we wish all Ghanaians to be held
accountable for their actions. Let us promise ourselves a future in which we
are answerable to the constitution and all the other laws of our dear
nation.

It is easy to find excuses. It is easy to do nothing. After all the victim
is merely an anonymous individual that most of us will never cross paths
with. Who cares? We should all care. Rwanda. Liberia. Sierra Leone. Zaire.
Uganda. Zimbabwe. Uganda. La Cote d'Ivoire. Societies slip into sustained,
protracted and violent conflict when small injustices are overlooked. Every
one looks the other way. People in authority renege on their responsibility
to insist that the right thing is done. Society collectively turns a blind
eye when wrongs go unpunished, and victims are denied justice. Eventually
small injustices become big injustices. Society erupts, and violence upends
the idyllic lives that the privileged sought to protect by doing nothing. We
must not let that happen. We must start somewhere. We must start today. We
can start with this incident.

I am a son of privilege. My parents are not rich, not by any stretch. But I
am a son of privilege because others in Ghana were denied something so that
I could go to school. Others were denied something so that I could receive
an education. Others were denied hospitals, roads, schools, electricity and
many other social amenities so people like would receive an education and
one day make a contribution towards the improvement of our collective future
as Ghanaians. That is not a privilege I take for granted. Nor is it a
privilege that I should abuse. If you are reading this you are a son or
daughter of privilege too. I implore you do not waste that privilege.

We may have our differences on many issues. I am hopeful that we can agree
on this. If Amina is guilty of theft, then she must be held to account for
her actions. That she is guilty of the allegations against her does not
acquit her attackers. I do not accept the notion that our society cannot
ensure that justice is served on both sides of this incident. The mob that
attacked the victim too must be held to account. In attacking her they
attacked all of us. They brought shame to our beloved Motherland. That can
not be allowed to stand. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard. Ghana
demands that of all of us.