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Opinions of Friday, 3 September 2010

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Ghana: Dan Botwe and the bandit thesis

{letter to jomo}

It has been my most distressing duty in the past, to report on the macabre court proceedings preceding a death sentencing: The silence in the court room has reached such a fragile peak that a falling pin-head would sound like a massive explosion. The judge, who has just finished reading his judgment, is wearing a huge scowl on his face and the symbolic black cap on his skull:

The judge adjusts the black cap and proceeds to announce the sentence in a solemn tone: “I sentence you to hang by the neck until you die. May God have mercy on your soul.” There are groans and gasps across the courtroom and then the wailing shatters the air…

What don’t you get on with some serious journalism and cut out all the literary gymnastics? Why, because I am a poet or rather because that is the way this eerie courtroom scene was reenacted last week when Judge Godwin Gabor of Sunyani sentenced ten people to die for murder.

I was amused. Amused that ten persons have been sentenced to death? No sir, amused that a judge should bother sentencing anyone to death in Ghana at all: The execution by firing squad of 12 people for armed robbery and murder in July 1993 may have confused the statistics somewhat, otherwise, the last time any convict was hanged in Ghana was 42 years ago.

Listen, old chap: I hate to promulgate untested assumptions of my own or stake any claim to conclusive knowledge about the challenges facing our mighty republic. What I try to do is to convince you to join me in a critical observation on a daily basis, of what is going on in the republic and to allow your God-given faculties free rein in questioning the true nature of these challenges.

Our statutes retain the death penalty for three offenses: treason, first-degree murder and armed robbery; the first has become uncommon; the second though not uncommon is far from being an endemic crime. The last is far worse than endemic, Jomo.

There is a total siege of our mighty republic by a large and ruthless army of blood-thirsty bandits but the wealthy who have barricaded themselves behind silver castles and those in authority who are protected by armed men at state expense, appear to be underestimating the gravity of the siege.

By keeping the death penalty intact in our statutes and yet not carrying out any executions for decades the government of Ghana has kept powerful and influential international human rights organizations with considerable geo-political clout happy, while maintaining the penalty as a bogey in the statutes to try and deter violent criminals.

Unfortunately, it is not working: How could a dormant criminal penalty in the statues of any nation ever deter crime?

The state of terrorism in Ghana, which the security establishment and the authorities refer to as “armed robbery” has never been so brazen.

Apart from army head quarters and the presidency, armed robbers have attacked every target in sight; banks, forex bureau, petroleum retailing stations, internet cafes, residencies, hotels, shops, boutiques and now churches of all places.

Last week a gun-toting pastor went for his gun to protect his collection bowls and his congregations and bang, bang, bang one bandit dropped very dead.

News of the latest highway hold-up came through from the Savanna hours ago: Bandits waylaid a convoy of motor vehicles on the Wa-Tumu road and robbed travelers of cash and valuables. You wonder why they cannot call out the army.

The police administration never misses an opportunity to remind us that crime control is a shared responsibility between the police and the public and so indeed it is, Jomo, but wait a second, old chap:

We train, equip and pay the police to protect us. That they are not adequately equipped in terms of numbers and logistics to control violent crime effectively appears to dispose the police administration toward placing undue emphasis on the public’s responsibility to contribute towards its own security.

Back to the judge and his black cap: If a national referendum on the death penalty were held tomorrow morning, some 80 percent of the population would vote for the retention of capital punishment in the statutes.

TV3 broadcast live this week, an informal survey on the streets and open spaces on people’s views about the judicial sanctions for armed robbery and most respondents recommended that all convicted robbers be made to take the a walk to the gallows and to their final sunset.

In the absence of effective deterrents to armed robbery, murder and other violent crimes and with Ghana all set to join the ranks of the world’s producers of oil, these crimes which are punishable by death in our statutes are likely to shake the internal security of our great republic right down to the roots.

The other major threat to national peace and security comes in the form of the dreaded bogey of Third World democracy: Electoral violence.

I heard former Information Minister Mr. Dan Botwe warning that Ghana was sitting on a time bomb. This time bomb warning has been so repeated that some people seem think it is all some kind of big joke.

Trust me, Jomo, or don’t if you are so inclined, but some people pursue political power solely for self –gratification and the feeling of authority it exudes and also with the primary motive of acquiring wealth to spend on property, travel, women and the other multiple trappings of a worldly life.

Botwe may not exactly be a living saint but he appears to me to be the sincere and principled type who are in politics for the sheer pleasure of being able to serve the people. When such a person talks, folks across the political divide ought to listen with three ears.

There are those who think the outcome of a Parliamentary by-election is an indication of the level of popularity of the government. Elsewhere maybe, but very outrageous in our circumstances:

Partisan politics in Ghana is so polarized along ethnic and other sectarian affiliation that nearly a hundred percent of the population of some electoral areas will always vote for a particular party and no other. Under such circumstances how could a by-election be an indication of a ruling party’s popularity?

Botchwey was apparently more concerned about the threat to peace during the Parliamentary by-election at Atiwa on Tuesday than the outcome of the poll as a test of the popularity of the Mills administration.

Before voting ended trouble predictably broke out. Party supporters, mostly young people went rampaging through one town and vandalizing motor vehicles.

The apparently traumatized regional correspondent of one radio station was heard recounting how he and other journalists covering the by-election had just been rescued from deep inside a forest where he claimed, they had taken refuge to escape lynching by a mob!

He claimed as he and his colleagues approached one town, they saw a mob of more than one hundred people armed with machetes, clubs and knives descending a hill and approaching them menacingly so they fled life sweet life. Sounds like a couple of paragraphs from Kenya, right?

The coming big-time cash from oil will up the stakes in the 2012 election more dramatically than election watchers may be inclined to believe!

Do I mean access to and full control of the nation’s share of the coming oil cash will be a motivating factor in the next election? Very precisely, old chap.

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