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Opinions of Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

"Apartheid" Ghana?

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

His case has been over for some three months now, but the imprisonment of the editor of the Daily Searchlight, Mr. Kenneth Kuranchie, is likely to continue to intrigue scholars and avid observers of the Ghanaian political scene about the manner in which justice is administered in our Fourth-Republican dispensation. And here, it may be recalled that Mr. Kuranchie was sentenced to a 10-day prison term for what was then described as a contempt-of-court breach, involving his publication of a newspaper editorial that mordantly carped the shlocky manner in which the Supreme Court, presided over by Justice William Atuguba, handled the 2012 Presidential Election Petition, initiated by the presidential candidate of the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

We have already had occasion to adequately discuss the flagrant usurpation of the constitutional powers of both the Attorney-General and the Inspector-General of the Ghana Police Service by Justice Atuguba, and so do not feel the necessity to reprise the same at this juncture. What is significant to point out here is the neocolonialist manner in which the entire affair was conducted by the Atuguba-presided panel of the Supreme Court, with the apparently tacit consent, and/or complicity, of Chief Justice Georgina Theodora Wood.

For the 10 days that Mr. Kuranchie was sentenced to serving a prison term, the convict was reportedly moved at least three times around two regions, namely, Eastern and Volta regions. The third, of course, was the Greater-Accra Region, where the sentence was passed. First, Mr. Kuranchie was imprisoned at the world-infamous Nsawam Medium-Security Prison; and then a couple of days later, Ghanaians learned to our utter bewilderment that the quite locally renowned convict had been transferred to the Ho Central Prison, in the capital of the Volta Region.

As we noted back then, Ho is not exactly a hospitable location in which to house the editor of the Daily Searchlight. It is immitigably hostile towards Ghanaians of Akan descent, particularly those with ideological leanings partial towards the main opposition New Patriotic Party, of which the convict is a staunch sympathizer and/or a member. We must also promptly note, at least in passing, and in retrospect, that Justice Atuguba is also a former staunch member and local operative of the New Patriotic Party. What prompted Mr. Atuguba to leave the NPP and when has yet to be fully examined. Anyway, another couple of days later, we further learned to our annoyance that Mr. Kuranchie had, once again, been moved to the Kete Krachi area of the northern Volta Region.

In each of the three instances of his movements, concerned Ghanaians were told by prison authorities that Mr. Kuranchie was being constantly perambulated for his own personal safety. Now, this is rather strange; for it implicitly presumed that almost no prison facility around the country was safe enough to house Mr. Kuranchie. If such observation has validity, then the most logical question to ask is as follows: Why sentence the man to a custodial prison term, when almost no prison facility in the country seemed to be adequately secure to house him? There is also no evidence that in all three instances of his transfers, the convict was airlifted for the several hundred miles that he had to be moved.

And so, it clearly appears that having Mr. Kuranchie tortured was part of the imprisonment package negotiated between Justice Atuguba and the key operatives of the Ghana Prison Service and, also perhaps, some well-positioned elements of the ruling National Democratic Congress. This bizarre state of affairs eerily reminded me of the Biko Saga in the erstwhile Apartheid South Africa. For those of our readers who are too young to remember, Mr. Steve Biko was the world-renowned Black Consciousness leader who was literally bounced around from one prison establishment to another until he could no longer survive the ordeal.

And that ordeal, of course, was his being tied, stark naked, by shackles to a rock in a prison van and having his head banged against the rock from one thousand-mile prison journey to another, as Mr. Biko bled profusely. For those of our readers who care for documentary flicks on this saga, the Denzel Washington-starred "Cry Freedom," directed by Sir Richard Attenborough, is the finest exemplar.

Needless to say, I am quite certain that Mr. Kuranchie was never confronted with any ordeal even half as unpleasant and excruciating as that which the immortalized Mr. Biko had to endure. Still, the concept and objective of the several jailers of Messrs. Biko and Kuranchie appear to have strikingly been the same - that is, to instill a morbid fear of authority in these human rights activists made criminal convicts. For both Messrs. Biko and Kuranchie had been criminalized for daring to challenge the proverbial oppressor's rule.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Department of English
Nassau Community College
Garden City, New York
Oct. 4, 2013