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Opinions of Friday, 5 July 2013

Columnist: Adams, John Kwame

Free Speech Means Nothing to Ghanaians

Professor Kweku Asare, Free Speech Means Nothing to Ghanaians

Professor Asare, I have been following the supreme court case and I have been following your write-ups about the issue and I have found them extremely well-written and fascinating. Recently, you have devoted a lot of ink and time to writing well-researched op-eds about the contempt cases that have come before the Court. While I believe that some of your pieces should be required reading at the Ghana Law School, you are wasting your time if you hope to convince Ghanaians about the validity of your points.

Professor Asare, your article has been met with all sorts of vitriol in the comments section of Ghanaweb. Many are those who have called you “Sabi Sabi Lawyer”, “Educated fool” and “Book-long”. The reason for this is simple. The majority of Ghanaians are unable to conceptualize the things that you talk about. It makes no sense to them when you refer to arcane concepts like “Democracy”, “Free Speech”, “Due Process” and “Judicial Overreach”. Can you blame them? You must admit that these are very foreign concepts to the average Ghanaian. They do not form part of his world-view.

You may be surprised at my inclusion of democracy among the concepts that the Ghanaian cannot grasp, after all, we vote every four years. So let me justify why I included democracy on the list. A question was posed on the BBC asking if deomcracy was good for every nation. I reproduce the answer of the British Historian Andrew Roberts below:

*No. Some societies are so mired in obscurantism, feudalism, superstition and ignorance - often as the result of the deliberate policies of their governments, in order to stay in power - that universal suffrage would merely mean a census on the size of each tribe... One-person-one-vote happening once is not democracy. *

Reading his answer, you see that the situation in Ghana cannot be called a democracy. No one can deny that our elections is just a census of tribe. Tribalism dominates our national discourse. So you see, the Ghanaian does not understand democracy.

Now moving on to Free Speech, it is clear that the Ghanaian neither understands nor appreciates the importance of such a right nor does he believe that the right is given by God. Many are those who have made comments like “Freedom of speech does not mean Freedom after speech” or “Freedom of speech causes wars” or “Freedom of speech does not mean criticizing by heart” or “The right to speech is meaningless when compared to the security of the state”. Some Ghanaians blame the post-election unrest in Kenya on Free Speech and others have gone so far as to blame the Rwandan genocide on Free Speech. If you do not believe me, just read the comments section on Ghanaweb. So why doesn't the Ghanaian appreciate Free Speech? I believe that it is culture. The Ghanaian culture is beautiful but one cannot deny the elements of it that make the Ghanaian timid in the face of authority. Right from infancy, we are told not to challenge our elders. We are told to accept whatever an adult says as the word of God. I even heard once while growing up that if a child is with an adult and the adult farts, the child must admit that it was he (the child) that farted. Our educational system in which children are brutalized into submission by teachers also reinforces this timidity in the face of authority figures. By the time we are adults, we have learned not to insist on our rights or be shown where the power lies. So how can a person who grows up in an environment like this possibly believe that any sort of speech can be free? He, of course, will insist that speech must have dire consequences!

Now if Democracy and Free Speech do not make sense how do you, Professor Asare, insist that Due Process and Judicial Overreach make sense? I won't say much about these two for fear that I might mention specifics of the recent contempt proceedings and be summoned myself for contempt. So let me just mention this anecdote. The evening of the day that Ken Kuranchie was sentenced, I was listening to one of the talk shows on our airwaves. One of the panelists was asked about the issue of process that you had raised. His answer and in fact, his answer to just about every question was and I paraphrase “The Justices are so powerful, the Justices are so powerful, they are above...”. Generalizing this to all Ghanaians, one must ask that if Ghanaians believe that the Justices are second only to God, then does it make sense to talk about process or overreach? No it doesn't. After all, if an institution is endowed with such extraordinary powers, then it may do whatever it wants.

Professor Asare, I hope I have been able to give you an idea of why your well-written articles are meeting with only disdain from the majority of Ghanaians. For the articles to have any chance of convincing someone, the person must understand and believe in Democracy, Free Speech, Due Process and Judicial Overreach but these terms mean nothing to the majority of your fellow citizens. Till the time which these terms will mean something to Ghanaians, I suggest you save your strength and ink.

John Kwame Adams