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Opinions of Friday, 19 December 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

The Outsider: A camera is smashed, a gun is drawn

As the nation prepares for the presidential run-off later this month, everyone realises that the stakes are even higher now than they were two weeks ago and, as a result, tempers tend to fly much more easily. But we need all the calm we can get. That’s why the two incidents in Kumasi over the weekend, both involving former president Jerry Rawlings and played out like scenes from a mafia movie, give cause for concern.

In the first incident, Mr. Rawlings’ cameraman was trounced in the lobby of the Golden Tulip Hotel by men suspected to be Nana Akufo-Addo’s security guards. The cameraman claims that the thugs pounced on him and gave him a sound beating while smashing his camera to smithereens. His crime was that he had tried to take pictures of Nana Akufo-Addo – without the candidate’s consent. With the assault on the cameraman still fresh on his mind, Mr. Rawlings and his wife went to the Manhyia Palace to participate in the Akwasidae commemorations.

There, his bodyguard is alleged to have pulled out a pistol – scaring the pants off most of the guest at the event. This, according to some reports, was after a very partisan crowd had hooted and jeered Mr. Rawlings, taunting him with the NPP’s ‘kangaroo’ dance.

Details are patchy but reports suggest that at one point when the jeering crowd appeared to be closing in on the former president and his entourage, his bodyguard – ostensibly at his wits’ end – pulled out the weapon to protect his master. In the ensuing melee, police and security officers pounced on him, seized his gun and in the process gave him a few generous slaps. On the first incident, the ruling NPP presents an alternative narration and on the second, the NDC will like us to believe the story as has been told in the newspapers has been twisted to cast the opposition party in a bad light.

The propaganda was is already underway and in the next few days, the two parties will continue to spin their versions on these two incidents, which happened within a space of just about six to ten hours. They will both claim to be the victim and accuse the other of being the monstrous villain.

But for Nana Akufo-Addo, especially, this is not good. For a man who prides himself in being a strong advocate for human rights, the accusation that he looked on unconcerned as his bodyguards beat up a poor cameraman doesn’t exactly add an extra shine to his reputation.

You may say that for Jerry Rawlings the incident involving his bodyguard is almost in keeping with his reputation as a violent dictator who never misses an opportunity to brandish a gun. But he has nothing to lose.

If the NDC wins the propaganda war over the assault on the cameraman, Nana could be electorally bruised. Mr. Rawlings and the NDC have sensed that they may have the upper hand and this could explain their threat to sue Nana Addo, his bodyguards and the police for assault.

The NPP’s attempt to distance itself from the incident at the Golden Tulip Hotel is not enough. Their version – which sounds like a Jack and Jill tale to me – is that the cameraman’s assailants were a bunch of “strangers”.

But I don’t buy this story. Friends of mine who saw the event unfold insist that those who beat the cameraman included Nana Addo’s bodyguards. That’s not to say that Nana Addo ordered them to beat up the poor guy. I don’t think he would ever do that. But some of these security guards, all brawn and no brain, can behave very foolishly sometimes. They are often in a hurry to win the favour of their bosses and for them one of the best ways to do this is to shove and kick anyone in their paths. Rawlings’ guards did it, Kufuor’s guards do it and I won’t put it past Nana’s guards to do it too.

For me, the most important thing is not to try to sweep the incident under the carpet and pretend it didn’t happen. The so-called big men should see this as an opportunity to re-orient their security men and make it clear to them that in the democratic society we are building for ourselves, the wanton use of brute force is not an option.

Furthermore, I am sure Nana Akufo-Addo has no qualms about being photographed. He cannot ask photographers to seek his consent before taking pictures of him. As a very public figure, he must be very aware that his every move will be watched, scrutinised and photographed – even by opposition cameramen. That’s democracy. So his aides shouldn’t try to ‘cover’ him too much. If, however, they do not want him photographed, they should advise him to stay in his room and never come out!

I also take exception to the way police handled the assault on the cameraman. Shortly after the cameraman was beaten, the Ashanti Regional Police Commander, Ayensu Opare-Addo was declaring on radio that the victim of the assault could be charged with breaching the public peace. All this while, the guy was in police cells – not in a hospital, where he should have been taken for some pills and stitches. A few hours later, Mr. Opare-Addo was once again heard on radio announcing that the cameraman had been “granted bail”. Pressed to explain why he was detained, the police commander insisted that the cameraman had not been arrested but was only kept in custody for his own safety. I don’t believe a word Mr. Opare-Addo has said about what happened at Manyhia Palace and at the Golden Tulip Hotel. I also don’t want to swallow what Mr. Rawlings and his aides say hook line and sinker. And, in the meantime, I am also baffled by the ‘Jack and Jill’ tale told by the NPP branch in Kumasi that those who beat up the cameraman were a bunch of “strangers”.

I don’t know about you, but I will like to know the truth about the two incidents. I will be delighted if Mr. Opare-Addo is able to convince me that he is in a position to conduct a thorough, unbiased investigations into either or both of the incidents.

Otherwise, he should kindly step aside for someone less tainted to take over the investigations because we really need to know what happened – probably before December 28. It might help a few people make up their minds.

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