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Opinions of Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Columnist: African Spectrum

Editorial: Ghana’s Armed Robbery Madness

Armed robberies continue to plague the once peaceful Ghanaian landscape. A terrible social phenomenon that no one would ever have imagined could rear its ugly head in Ghana, armed robberies have been a serious problem in the country for several decades. Ghanaian administrations over the years have tried to address the issue, but their efforts didn’t amount to much because they failed to put any teeth into them. Now there is an upsurge in the violence. The criminals have become more audacious and are behaving very much like the savages they are. And they are everywhere.

The chief targets of the bandits are – you guessed it – people driving nice and expensive cars and SUVs. The criminals attack their victims and dispossess them of their vehicles, money, and other valuable items that might be found on them. They kill when their hapless victims offer even the slightest resistance, making the purely ordinary act of sitting behind the steering wheel of a nice vehicle in Ghana these days a virtual invitation to disaster. Instead of savoring the pleasures of owning or driving their dream cars and SUVs, people become nervous wrecks every time they hit the road in these vehicles, anxiously watching out all the time for that mortal danger that might materialize in the middle of the roadway out of nowhere or might be lurking in some dark street corner, guns at the ready, all set to pounce.

The other favorite targets of the armed robbers are people who have just arrived in Ghana from overseas, including foreigners, particularly the business men and women and tourists, as well as local residents who look affluent or are considered so by the murderous thugs. The killers raid their victims’ homes or hotels, either in broad daylight or under cover of darkness. When they attack, almost everyone in the household or hotel room is fair game. Not content with merely stealing, they rape the females whom they encounter during the raid in the presence of husbands and children. That’s how depraved Ghana’s gun-toting thieves have become.

The armed robbers have claimed a number of innocent lives, including a parliamentarian who was killed earlier this year when they broke into his house intending to rob his white foreign guest. Fortunately for the guest, the thieves came while he was out of the house, but that didn’t stop them from fatally shooting his host, the MP.

It is tempting to assign the cause for the armed robbery spree to societal failure such as unemployment, but we believe that unemployment is only part of the problem, an insignificant part of it. As we argued on this page before, the armed robbers in Ghana, for the most part, do what they do simply because they are evil. They are in the same immoral league as the Mafia mobsters in the U.S. who don’t need a bad economy as an incentive to commit crimes. Like the mobsters, the motivation of the armed robbers in Ghana is quick and easy money, lots of it. Even if jobs were easily available in Ghana, those wretched criminals wouldn’t be weaned from their life of crime, just as economic prosperity in the U.S. has never resulted in a decline in the criminal activities of the mobsters. Gainful, honest labor is not a virtue among money-minded criminals who love to make money but don’t find the old-fashioned method appealing enough.

So the lack of employment opportunities in Ghana is really not the driving force behind the armed robberies. There might be some among the thieves who do it as an existential necessity because they cannot find legitimate employment, but this is just as indefensible a rationale for committing serious crimes as any other. No one has the right to deprive another human being of his or her life for the sake of money.

President Atta Mills should make the elimination of this long-running problem a central focus of his administration, given that, besides making life such a nightmare for Ghanaians, armed robbery has national security implications. Nothing could destabilize a nation more than when there is a general anxiety among the population about the safety of life, limb, and property. The activities of the domestic terrorists could adversely impact everything from the economy to the daily routines of life as people are forced to scale back certain regular activities and disengage from others altogether due to security concerns.

Since the police in Ghana have proven so ineffectual in combating the criminals, we would suggest that the government consider bringing in the military to help. Of course, to have soldiers patrolling the streets and manning roadblocks may be distasteful for a democratic government, but then, dire situations do call for dire responses. Ghanaians must be saved from the bloody hands of dangerous criminals by any means, including the use of the military and perhaps even local vigilante groups. In fact, the take-no-prisoner, no-nonsense approach of the vigilantes might be just what the doctor ordered for treating the madness commonly known as armed robbery.