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Opinions of Monday, 18 May 2015

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Are Ghanaians Barbaric?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK May 17, 2015

Let me apologise for the title and assure readers that I have no intention to insult the good people of Ghana. This is a rhetoric question for discussion and if any Ghanaian feels offended by it, my since apology.

This article was generated by what a story I read on Ghanaian media websites on Friday May 2015 (Ghanaweb, Starrfm, Modernghna, Daily Guide and others). The report claimed a suspected transgender witch was caught with a womb in Madina, a suburb of Accra. I concluded that the woman in question had mental health problem, suffering from Alzheimer or dementia because she looked confused. I also observed that the woman must come from a good family and probably lived abroad because her physical features were signs of a person who had lived a well deserved life. The story made me sad because instead of Ghanaians, especially, journalists seeking help for the unfortunate woman, she was accused of being a witch, stripped naked with the youth ready to lynch her to death.

I did not think much of the story until in the night when I tuned in to Rainbow Radio’s “Wo Haw Ne Sen” programme to hear strong condemnation by a listener called “Koo Boye” from the US with a passionate appeal to all who had the naked picture of the woman on their mobiles and social media to delete it. Within minutes, someone called from London to say that it was confirmed on Adom Fm that the woman is a Canadian citizen of Ghanaian origin with four adult children in Canada. She came to Ghana to seek medical health but had disappeared from Ankaful Mental Hospital. I immediately logged on to the Adom Fm website and lo and behold, the confirmation was there with 37 seconds clip of interview with one of her children in Canada. According to the daughter who spoke to Adom Fm from Canada, Crystal Maame Broni, her mother, Madam Barbara Boakye-Yiadom went to Ghana three years ago to seek medical treatment after experiencing mental health problems (see, “My mother is not a witch – daughter of Madina witch speaks”, Adom Fm, May 15, 2015). This did not come as a surprise to me but really disturbed and made me ashamed of my Ghanaian roots. How can people in the 21st Century behave like this towards an elderly and respected member of society?

Those who called into the Rainbow Radio programme, added that the woman was allegedly arrested by a pastor who ordered her to be shaved because she was witch. If it is true that a pastor did that, then her children must seek justice for their mother by suing the pastor for wrongful arrest and detention; degrading and inhuman treatment. This should not be “fama nyame” case because it’s high some of these fake pastors are taken task for the lawless in Ghana but particularly, for the global humiliation their mother and the family have suffered. What baffles me most is that even if the woman was witch why shave her and strip her naked? Those who shaved her and stripped naked must also be identified and sued for the same offence of wrongful arrest, detention, degrading and inhuman treatment. If Canada has a High Commission in Ghana, the children should approach the mission for their assistance to seek justice for their mother since she is a Canadian citizen.

The greatest blame goes to the media/journalists in Ghana. I cannot fathom why journalists reported this story with the naked picture of the woman without investigating the veracity of the allegation. As journalists, they should have known better and not report superstitious stories and published the naked pictures of an innocent person. They ought to have known that the woman had a mental problem and should have arranged for her to have been taken to a safe place, given time to rest, food to eat and enquired from her what brought there. They would have been able to piece together her unfortunate story and trace her family member instead of subjecting her to World Wide Web ridicule by publishing the story and her naked picture on their websites. What is also disturbing is that after Adom Fm confirmed that the woman is not a witch none of media houses that reported the original story retracted or corrected it with the new development. Madam Barbara Boakye-Yiadom is a victim of journalistic failure and false prophesy of a pastor.

What makes society to accuse it’s innocent but ill and ageing members of witchcraft, subject them to degrading and inhuman treatment? When I was a teenager in Accra in the late 1960s early 70s, when women saw a naked woman suffering from mental health problems in public, they took off one of the pieces of their “kaba cloth” and covered their nakedness. I saw this happen at least twice in Accra on the streets of Kaneshie and Adabraka. These were total strangers and never accused the women of being witches for the public to lynch them. Today, 2015, Ghanaians, accuse such women of witchcraft, shave and strip naked them naked. What went wrong in Ghana and are Ghanaians becoming barbarians?

Just imagine how the children and the family members of the Madam Barbara Boakye-Yiadom felt when they saw the naked pictures of their loved one on the internet circulating on social media across the globe? She is a mother, a sister, an aunt, a grandmother whose only sin is that she is unwell and needs help and protection from society. Is that how a civilised nation should treat her weak and vulnerable members? Where is our humanity and civility or are we only capable of exhibiting the animal instinct in us? Even animals would not subject their own kind to what Madam Barbara Boakye-Yiadom was reduced to.

It’s high time Ghana as a nation addressed the difficult and thorny subject of superstition, the question of witchcraft, the accusation of especially, elderly women of being witches and their subsequent treatment of being banished into witch or prayer camps in chains. That is the lucky ones but those who are not lucky such as Madam Barbara Boakye-Yiadom are subjected public humiliation, lynching and execution by mob mentality. What are human rights organisations such as CHRAJ and the Ministry Women and Children Affairs doing to rescue victims and prevent such harsh punishment befalling the elderly such as Madam Barbara Boakye-Yiadom and her family? Yesterday, it was Madam Barbara Boakye-Yiadom but we should that tomorrow it could be your own mother, grandmother, sister, aunt or a distance family member.

Ghana as a nation owes Madam Barbara Boakye-Yiadom, her children and family a big apology for what they been subjected to. It’s a national disgrace of global proportion. This is not the Ghana I am proud of. What happened to Madam Barbara Boakye-Yiadom on Friday May 15, 2015 is Ghana’s Day of Shame.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK