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Opinions Thu, 17 Jun 2004

National Reconciliation And Beyond

Lately, I have been doing a great deal of personal reflection on the sittings of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC). I have pored over most of the sordid revelations that have been coming out of these sessions since the hearings began in September of 2002. My days are sometimes filled with thoughts of the countless testimonies of mindless atrocities, extreme display of barefaced power and inhumanity of humans against other humans. Some of the stories of torture that have been told are too chilling to be believed. It makes you wonder whether the perpetrators of these crimes were normal human beings or just beasts masquerading with human faces. Sometimes I get so incensed thinking about these incidents that I start thinking aloud. I have therefore decided to set my thoughts down as a way of unburdening my soul. So that I would not be misunderstood, I want to say this at the outset: I was not in any way, not even remotely, affected by any of the atrocities of the period under the NRC's review. Yet, reading the testimonies of cruelty, I feel the pain of the victims and their families, even if vicariously. I am a GHANAIAN, and so I feel the pain of other Ghanaians! I am constantly reminded of the Akan proverb which says, "OKWASEA NA OSE WODE ME YONKO NA WONNE ME" (it is the fool who says that what is going on concerns every one but me). To recapture just the tip of the mindless cruelty Ghanaians went through, I have provided only a few examples below.


1. Madam Jacqueline Aquaye, alias Ama Akufo, narrated how a Major Kusi ground pepper, mixed it with gun powder and used it to douche her, which caused severe haemorrhaging.


2. Mr. Asare Panti, another witness lost one eye when a soldier literally gouged it out with his fingers Other soldiers in the same group forced him to carry a pan of human excreta on his head, and in the process had his whole body smeared with the stuff. What is even worse, he was made to scoop the mess out of the pan with his hands and forced to eats meals with his soiled hands!


3.Mr. Agibasse Anabila testified at the NRC's sitting in Bolgatanga that soldiers removed three of his upper teeth with pliers in 1979, because of an inscription on his tractor that said "I thank God".


4. Mr Godfrey Achaw, also told a National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) sitting in Bolgatanga of how soldiers tried to burn him alive with gasoline for selling merchandise above the government approved price.

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5. Infamous torture squads at the Accra Air Force Station probably stand out above the rest of their disgusting colleagues in the extreme nature of their cruelty. They are those who prepared the so-called "dissidents" of the 31 December Revolution for execution by inflicting pain on them before their murders. The story has been told of how Kyeremeh Djan had flesh cut out from his back and fed to his colleague, Gokah. Also, Gokah's genitals were cut off and fed to Djan.


These testimonies, chosen at random, by no means represent the most gruesome acts of inhumanity some of our compatriots suffered at the hands of the soldiers who overran our country several times between 1966 and 1981. Nevertheless, they represent the typical behaviour of the men and women into whose hands the grave responsibility of defending our country had been placed. These were the same people who had vowed to defend our constitution and our land from desecration. Yet at the snap of a finger they turned their backs on the vows they had solemnly taken and poured scorn on our country and its wonderful people..


Abuse of power occurred under every administration, including even the civilian governments of Kwame Nkrumah, Kofi Busia, Hilla Liman and Jerry Rawlings 2. However, it is an open secret that the bulk of the cruelty occurred during the military regimes of the National Liberation Council (NLC), the National Redemption Council (NRC), the Armed Forces Revolutionary Conch (AFRC), and the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC). In fact, partly because they stayed in power the longest, but principally due to their preternatural predilection for cruelty, a large part of the chronicle of torture and misantrophy that has surfaced at the NRC has been attributed to the PNDC regime of Jerry Rawlings.

MINDLESS CRUELTY

It is very sad that anyone died at the hands of these villains, for such untimely deaths brought a premature end to these victims' dreams and made it impossible for them to become what they could have been in this life, not to mention the effects their deaths have had on their families. For people like Kyeremeh Djan, Mawuli Kofi Drah Goka, Sarkodie Addo, etc. - i.e., those who had the hard luck of meeting their deaths at the hands of the Accra Air Force Station beasts - death was not the worst thing that happened to them. The torture they went through before their deaths was the real death. Thus when their executioners finally held their guns to their heads it was only a formality. They had been through the actual death so many times before that. Could any one imagine what a man would feel when right before his very eyes his genitals are sliced off and shown to him as proof that his manhood is gone forever? Even if you do this to a man and let him walk away without killing him, half of his life is already gone anyway. He is probably as good as dead.

HEROES OR VILLAINS

There were also those who were struck down by the bullets of wilful, capricious and self-centred soldiers who acted in frustration because they couldn't get their way, or who felt their authority had been flouted. They were not tortured to death; yet they died before their time -- deaths that were no less unnecessary than those that were preceded by torture sessions. Take the case of a man who was shot to death by Corporal Halidu Gyiwah, for instance, at a petrol filling station in the Labadi-Osu area of Accra when, Gyiwah claimed, he over heard the man passing disparaging comments about soldiers. Or another man, a driver's mate, who was killed by L/Cpl. George Badame Doog because he wouldn't let him have his way in a queue before his turn. The irony of Gyiwah and Doog's cases is that because they went on to become victims of the PNDC's torture squad, what happened to them later, has masked their reprehensible actions of cold-blooded murder in the deaths mentioned above. A few months ago, Doog's body was exhumed, together with those of Kyeremeh Djan, Mawuli Gokah, Boama Panyin, Brimah Kankani and others, and granted semi legendary status in their proper interment. The truth of the matter is that Gyiwah and Doog are no heroes! They are plain undisguised criminals just like any of the mindless sadists who perambulated the corridors of power in the past. Can we say then that Gyiwah and Doog got their just deserts because they were themselves murderers?. Maybe so, maybe not. I am not sure what to think, though!

MASKED INSANITY

Can anyone tell me how supposedly sane people could conceive such actions that only morbid minds are capable of thinking? Yet these dastardly acts were supervised by some of our finest and most intelligent career military officers who had received elite training at our nation's Military Academy and at other high-ranking military institutions in the United States and Europe. Even though they were trained to offer leadership and initiative, when the chips were down and they were called upon to lead their people and offer them solace they were woefully found wanting. What these officers and men did still baffles me. That these men would get up in the morning to go to a routine of torture, maiming and killing, wine and dine to their satisfaction in the midst of the horror, go back home in the evening to relax with their wives and children, and still go to bed and catch sleep, is flabbergasting! Today, all of these people, having laid down their implements of torture, have blended back into normal society and conveniently relegated their horrific deeds into the past, as if it is that easy for every one else to get rid of the past. Do these villains ever pause to reflect on what the consequences of their actions have meant to the families of their victims? Do they ever wonder how these families, some with young school-going children then, have fared in the intervening years since their thoughtless actions deprived families of parents who were the pillars of their lives? Do they ever think about the hundreds of people whose businesses and livelihoods were swept away at one fell swoop due to their whimsical, and nonsensical, actions?

WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM?

Many many times in the past I have wondered about my school mates, Percy and Kenneth, whose father, Major Okyere Boateng, was cut down by the PNDC killing machine, for allegedly participating in a military coup. I have always wondered how these boys made it through life thereafter -- living with the trauma of their father's brutal state-sponsored murder; probably struggling with anger and resentment much of the time; coping with an overwhelming inability to seek justice for their father's murder even as his assailants arrogantly and teasingly moved around freely and with impunity; and the likelihood that these boys may have suffered severe privations in life stemming from their father's perpetual absence from home. Every time I think about them, and what they may have gone through after their father's death, I get angry. The brazen impunity of military juntas which come to power after subverting nationally elected governments through coups d'etat and who soon pretend that de facto authority is the same as holding power de jure is something that sickens me. Once they install themselves in power they turn round and brand other coup plotters, "dissidents", "reactionaries", "anti-revolutionaries", "nation-wreckers". And if they are able to capture any, they put them to death. Is that not monumental hypocrisy?

CIVILIAN COMPLICITY

Nor were soldiers the only ones who let instant power get into their heads. During the PNDC rule for instance, the atmosphere was so rife with abuse, and the level of accountability almost non-existent for power brokers, that anyone occupying any position of authority (even a person supervising a queue at a petrol filling station) could do whatever they liked. Some District Chief Executives (DCEs) who were not even PNDC political appointees took advantage of the free reign of terror and brutalized people in their districts. One such person was a DCE for Asamankese shortly before District Secretaries were appointed. Nicknamed "Action" because of his so-called reformist zeal in the previous Districts he had headed, he became intolerant and erratic when his effort to "reform" the West Akim District backfired. People in the town began to smart under what they saw as unreasonable restrictions and impracticable policies. When domestic livestock wandered into the streets, for instance, they were, understandably, rounded up by sanitary inspectors. However, locals found that it was too frustrating to try to pay the stipulated fine to get their animals released to them. Not only was the fine too expensive for the average person, but what was even more frustrating, the DCE was never in his office to sign the final paper that gave the clearance for the animals to be released. By the time they located the DCE, so much time would have passed that they would be told their livestock had been "confiscated". It turned out that deliberate bottlenecks had been placed in the way to make it difficult for offenders to get to the DCE to seek redress. Whatever happened to the "confiscated" livestock was never discussed anymore at the official level, and this silence prompted people to speculate that the DCE was transporting the livestock in the dead of night to his home town in the Ashanti Region. A concerned citizens of the District took it upon himself and reported the DCE's actions to the Regional Secretary. Word quickly got back to the DCE about his informant. So he enlisted the help of a detachment of soldiers from the Jungle Warfare Training School at Achiase (who were temporarily based in Asamankese) and smoked out the informant. They stripped him to this panties, and smeared his whole body, including his face, with soot from cooking utensils. Next, they made him carry blackened cooking utensils on his head, and paraded him through the main streets of the town, singing among others, "I Will Never Write Anonymous Letters". Dehumanizing, isn't it?

PASSIVE ONLOOKERS

There is another group of people who looked on passively while all these incidents were going on nation wide. While it certainly cannot be said that they took active part in the brutalities, their "deafening" silence made them no less culpable in whatever the sadists were doing. I am referring to the long list of PNDC Secretaries and aides who stayed in the government for many years as the tortures and brutalities went on. Respectable people like Obed Asamoah, Kwasi Botwe, Tsatsu Tsikata, Kwame Peprah, Daniel Ohene Agyekum, Kwame Saara Mensah, Nana Akuoko Sarpong, Alhaji Mahama Iddrisu, P.V. Obeng, Totobi Kwakye, etc., cannot claim today to have had no knowledge of the culture of sadism that pervaded the PNDC regime throughout their time in office. That none of them challenged these atrocities or that they held on to their positions in spite of the prevalence of these flagrant human rights abuses is evidence of what kind of principles they really hold. Their connivance lends credence to the fact that the Ghanaian politician would stoop to any depth just to make sure that their comfort zone is not threatened. How do they feel in private now when they look back on those heady days and remember that they could have resigned their positions in protest at the state-sponsored atrocities if they thought speaking out would have been dangerous. Herein lies the litmus test of the sincerity and scruples of the so-called nice people who dined at the PNDC banquet table when so much blood was flowing underneath their feet!.

THE REAL HYPOCRISY

Today, in Ghana, we live in an atmosphere free of repression and military abuse. Granted, there may be isolated pockets of police abuse or bossy politicians. But on the whole, I would say that we have come a long way from the-law-of-the-jungle period of Rawlings and his men. The government of President Kuffuor has distanced itself from the kind of rule that leaves the people of Ghana sitting on tenterhooks and feeling too frightened to criticize those in power for fear of severe reprisals. It is true the NPP government is yet to deliver Ghanaians from poverty and improve their standard of living. It is true millions may still be struggling to put nutritious food on the tables for their families, and find proper medical care for their loved ones. Let us even assume, just arguendo, that the NPP lacks vision and drive as some assert. Nevertheless, we don't have to compound our daily struggles for survival with the added worry of insecurity and the absence of basic human freedoms like free speech and -assembly. Is it not unusual of Ghana that there is not even a single political prisoner languishing in jail at the pleasure of a Head-of-State for something that could be as flimsy as cutting across the path of a car that was being driven by a girl-friend of the Head-of-State? This brings to mind the Twi saying that, "ME DI ME HIA WOSEE ENSO M'ASO MU DWO ME", which means that even if I am living in grinding poverty, I still have my peace. That is why it is revolting for former President Rawlings to describe the NPP government as the "most disgraceful government" Ghana has ever had. Can someone tell that BIG FOOL for me what a real disgrace is? Here is the man who presided over the longest and most "disgraceful" period of our country's history during which human life was worth a mere trifle. He was our Head-of-State in the period when, like Ross said of Scotland in Shakespeare's "Macbeth", Ghana ".... cannot be called our mother, but our grave.....where nothing, but who knows nothing is once seen to smile......where sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air are made, not marked....where violent sorrow seems a modern ecstacy...and good men's lives expire before the flowers in their caps, dying or ere they sicken". (It is an ironic twist that many centuries later, the descendant of another Scotsman would take Ghana through a similar situation that King Macbeth took Scotland through). This is the same man who is said to have popped champagne when he heard that, under his instructions, four High Court Judges and a retired Army Officer had been abducted and executed, gang-style; it is he who would supervise torture and execution sessions held for his opponents, and later "relax" and "enjoy" the video replay of these sessions. Today, after we have fought back and redeemed our freedom, this same idiot turns round and calls our freedom a DISGRACE! Does he really know what a disgrace is?

JUSTICE OR VENGEANCE?

The law which established the National Reconciliation Commission clearly stipulates that the purpose of the commission is only fact-finding -- aimed at establishing the truth about allegations of human rights abuses with a view to reconciling victims/families to their assailants. To a great extent much of the truth has been told, and many victims have forgiven their assailants even as many of them have rendered public apologies. Forgiveness is an important biblical principle, and I am glad that many of the victims of the brutalities and/or their families have been forgiving of their past hurts. But rendering apologies and granting pardons are only, to me, good as far as personal relations, and the right standing with God are concerned. Having now given unto God what is God's, we must also give unto Caesar what is Caesar's. At the state level I strongly think that the perpetrators of these serious human rights abuses should be called to account for their actions.


There are people who call my proposal vengeance. But that is not vengeance. It would be vengeance if say, the children of General Kwasi Akuffo or General Kwasi Afrifa ambushed former AFRC members and gunned then down in retaliation for the murders of their fathers. They could be prosecuted for those actions, because that is what is called taking the law into your own hands. So, because the children of these two Generals, or the family of the two gentlemen who were murdered by Corporals Gyiwah and Doog, might need to bring closure to these killings through seeking justice for their loved ones, the state has to step in on their behalf to do what they cannot do by themselves. And when the state takes it upon itself to pursue criminals and punish them for their actions it is called JUSTICE, and not vengeance. And Ghana needs to do that, not only for the families of these victims, but also to send a strong message across that it could be a costly undertaking to hijack the Government of a country and rule, not by laws, but by emotional tantrum and the principle that might-is-right. We need to let people understand that when you overthrow a legally constituted government, and trample on the rights of people, it doesn't matter how long you do it, the day of recompense will surely catch up with you. That would be a very good deterrence.


CONSTITUTIONAL ENCUMBRANCES Our present constitution, however, has a few entrenched clauses written into it by the framers which would make it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue people who have committed grave crimes of human rights abuse against the people of Ghana. I think that there cannot be any real "reconciliation" until the perpetrators of these crimes have been hunted down and punished by the state. That I know is not within the ambit of the NRC to do because the law which set it up did not say so. Nevertheless, my secret desire is that the NPP could win a landslide victory at the next polls; so massive that it would wipe away most of the existing parliamentary seats of the NDC. Only a wide majority in parliament would open the way for a non-NDC government to clean out the constitution and re-open investigations into crimes which our country must prosecute. Let's face it compatriots: the present constitution was written when Jerry Rawlings was the military dictator of Ghana. He appointed the commission which put the document together, and was the one who accepted their final report. It is an objective verifiable fact that at the eleventh hour when the final pages of the constitution were being written, Rawlings shoved the Transitional Provisions into it that have made it impossible for anyone in Ghana to call him to account for his past misdeeds. It is sickening to see murderers like Jerry Rawlings, Kojo Tsikata, Salifu Amankwah, and others enjoying life that they deprived others of. Rawlings feels no compunctions at all for any part he played in the brutal regimes he presided over between 1979 and 2000. While many have expressed public remorse for these crimes, Rawlings and other big fishes of the periods under review remain silent. If we can't ensnare them for a lack of material evidence tying them to the reign of terror in Ghana, we could at least jail them, symbolically, for overthrowing a constitutionally elected government. That is the highest act of treason that any one could commit against the people of Ghana, and here evidence abounds. In fact, what even strengthens Ghana's case against these hoodlums is the fact that even in their severely compromised political situationas dictators they had the obscene effrontery to arrest, try and execute other people for trying to overthrow their regime -- a regime that did not have any legitimacy.

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Mrs. Breid Amamoo, wife of former Editor of the Ghanaian Times and former Ambassador to Hungary, says it better than me. ".....former President Jerry John Rawlings is lucky to be still alive and enjoying life. ....I was put into prison and I could have been murdered if I had stayed in the country at that time. ....... in America when you kill even a dog you go to prison but in Ghana people have perpetrated all kinds of human right abuses including murder and torture, yet they walk free?. She sums it all up so nicely!


THE WAY FORWARD If the National Reconciliation Commission stays on schedule, it may bring the curtain down on its hearings before the year is over. When all said and done, the NRC can be said to have discharged its duty to the people of Ghana without fear or favour. The major lesson to be learned from the stupendous revelations of human rights abuse is that our nation and its people have been let down many times in the past due to the self-centredness of a few members of our society. Now that we have rescued our country from the dark pits of military aberration, we must endeavour to hold on to the gains we have made in creating a stable society. We must remember, though, that those who brought us so low in our dignity were ordinary people like you and I who, hitherto, gave no sign of their capacity for such evil. Which means that there are still normal-looking people among us today who hold the potential to do the same things again if the opportunity arises. If we play into their hands, they might do it again and again! The last thing that should happen again is any experience that would dehumanize the beautiful people of Ghana. Never again should we become the "slaves" of a small group of people who would shunt us around to please their egos. The only way we can keep them in check is to stay the course of democratic rule and guard our freedoms jealously. So, compatriots, as we go into the next elections, let's all think seriously about strengthening the roots of our democracy by voting wisely. God bless you all, my compatriots.

B.K. Obeng-Diawuoh
Bardstown, Kentucky USA

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.


Columnist: Obeng-Diawuoh, B.K.