Opinions Mon, 19 Aug 2013
By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UKIt appears from what happened at the Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 that, it is not the fear of the charge of contempt and the imposition of a hefty fine but rather the idea of incarceration or the deprivation of one’s freedom, some liberties and rights that was most dreaded. Soon as it became public knowledge that Sir John and Mr Hopeson Adorye had been summoned to appear before the SC to explain why they should not be committed to prison for contempt of court, there were concerted efforts across the country to spare them from going to prison. In this brief article, I want to consider whether the fear of prison will deter belligerents from causing trouble and disturb the peace in Ghana should the SC verdict be not what they expected. Again, if my assumption is accurate, then did Ken Kuranchie pay the price for peace as the sacrificial lamb?
I should point out that Mr Stephen Atubiga was jailed for contempt of court with Ken Kuranchie but I have deliberately ignored him in this article not because he is irrelevant but in my view, he has not learnt any lesson from his experience and the fact that continues to speak irresponsibly. For example, he is reported to have said he would sue the Supreme Court if Sir John and Hopeson Adorye were spared custodial sentences (see “Atubiga threatens to sue the Supreme Court if”, Ghanaweb August 12, 2013). He also claimed that Ghanaians were withdrawing money from banks and stocking on food and other essentials in anticipation of the SC verdict. Such reckless statement that could cause panic should not be coming from someone who speaks for a party in government. I expected someone who spent over a decade in the US, appears to be reasonably informed and a member of the Communications Team of a ruling party to behave better. He ought to have known that one cannot sue the court or a judge for his or her decision but only appeal against that decision. He should therefore have known that, the only option left to him was to seek a review of the decision of the nine SC Justices. I struggle to understand why he is still a member of the NDC Communications Team.
The so called party communication teams have outlived their usefulness. To avoid all the confusion and the tension created by some of these uncouth party communicators who spew reckless and irresponsible statements on radio and television discussion programmes, there is the urgency for all political parties to review the policy of allowing so many people, majority of who lack proper understanding of global and Ghanaian socio-economic and political issues as well as lack the capacity to analyse issues effectively to speak on their behalf. This policy of “who let the dogs out” is dangerous and the earlier it is discontinued the better before one or some of them plunged Ghana into chaos.
I suggest that political parties should select a few of their members across the country, educate and train them on effective communication skills before speaking for their respective parties. They should be members who are well informed and rounded in socio-economic and political matters, rather than allowing any Tom, Dick and Harry to be parading as a member of the communications team only to vomit garbage on the airwaves and in the television studios. Such spokespersons should be given regular briefings on party and national or government policies so that they are able to debate policies, instead of personalities that often leads to insults and personal attacks, which are the main cause of tension and acrimony between members and supporters of the two main parties.
Now back to the main topic. The deprivation of one’s freedoms through lawful imprisonment of any individual is, to me, one of the most odious punishments that is acceptable and allowed universally. Capital punishment or the death penalty though still legal in some countries including the United States, is controversial as it breaches international norms, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (that is, the right to life). As a result, courts use custodial sentences for most serious crimes and offences. Of course, the crime of contempt of court is serious but even worst when the court in question is the highest court of the land. Among others, imprisonment is commonly used by courts to protect the public and to maintain peace and security of the state.
It is no brainer to say that Ken Kuranchie was jailed as a deterrent and to maintain peace in Ghana. Prior to Ken Kuranchie’s incarceration, the Ghanaian media landscape was full of infectious and dangerous utterances and reports on the presidential petition hearing that could have easily led supporters of the two opposing parties (NDC and NDC) astray and possible violent reactions, if not curtailed. The objective of the SC jailing the two contemnors therefore, was to deter others from committing the same crime and to reduce the potential risk of Ghana descending into conflict, though that never stopped Sir John and Adorye from becoming the next to make contemptuous statements.
If custodial sentence was meant to preserve the peace and security of Ghana, then why were Sir John and Adorye not given the same dose of medicine as the first contemnors? Is peace no longer at risk in Ghana and if so, why all the noise about prayers for post petition verdict peace? I thought the saying in Ghana is that, to avoid a snake biting back after killing it, cut off the head or decapitate it. Well, I had believed this proverb all my life until I saw a video clip of a decapitated copperhead snake’s head bite the headless body on the Guardian newspaper website on Friday August 16, 2013. Yes, the decapitated head and it happened in Huntsville in Alabama, USA. I supposed those who pleaded for the two to be spared imprisonment and perhaps the Justices knew the Ghanaian saying was a lie and that the decapitated head of a snake is capable of biting and releasing its venom.
My observations over the past five years have shown that detention and imprisonment of NPP politicians (legally or illegally) have not augur well for peace in Ghana for various reasons, especially, NPP’s belief that NDC supporters and politicians get away with murder whilst they are arrested, prosecuted and sanctioned because they are in opposition. I guess the same might have happened under the previous NPP regime. Adding Sir John to the list as a way of cutting the snake’s head to stop it from biting back would have backfired as I saw in the video clip (this is not to suggest that I am comparing NPP and or Sir John to a snake). In other words, a custodial sentence would have been defeatist because even if violence would not have broken out, tension would have been heightened in the country by his incarceration. Peace is not only the absence of conflict but also the presence of tension constitutes a threat to peace. It was therefore reasonable that the Justices listened to the cries of politicians, religious, traditional and opinion leaders as well as ordinary Ghanaians and imposed a fine on Sir John and Adorye, instead of imprisonment.
Perhaps, the most valid reason could be that after the jailing of the earlier contemnors to face the court, prior to Sammy Awuku escaping a similar ordeal, there were signs of some sanity on the air waves and in the print media in Ghana, except of course, the social networking sites and other internet media that are outside the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. For this apparent ceasefire through circumspection and candour by the media, political parties, their members and supporters, there was no need for the Supreme Court Justices to bare their teeth again as a way of proving that the law is in their bosom.
In any case, I have always been against the imposition of prison sentence on contemnors because it could send the wrong message of fear and have the negative but unintended consequences of curtailing freedom of speech and free press, prerequisites for the sustenance of true democracy.
But why was Ken Kuranchie jailed? Many have said it was because he and his counsel attempted to justify the unjustifiable. Initially, I subscribed to that view but not any longer. In my opinion, the Justices wanted to send a clear message and to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that they have judicial powers and would not shy away from using it to protect the peace and security of the state. Second, I believe that, after their previous warnings were disobeyed and what is now known as the “Atuguba Touchline” was breached, they had no option but to walk the talk and in so doing, Ken Kuranchie became the sacrificial lamb of peace. In other words, Ken is the lamb of peace who took away the sins of the contemnors.
It is very easy for those of us outside Ghana to dismiss the call for prayers of peace and I must admit that I am guilty of this. After listening to the Chairman of the National Peace Council, the Most Reverend Professor Emmanuel Asante on Vox Africa television programme, “Focus on Ghana” on Thursday 15 August 2013. His contribution by phone from Ghana it downed on me that conflict was real and that made me think again. Nonetheless, I still believe that the sacrifice of Ken Kuranchie and the avoidance of prison by Sir John and Adorye, Ghanaians, especially the supporters of the two political parties (NDC and NPP) are aware that imprisonment is a reality for them if they break the laws of the land, participate in any acts of violence that would breach the peace and security of the state after the SC verdict on August 29, 2013.
In conclusion, if peace prevails in Ghana after the SC verdict, whichever way that verdict goes, then, Ken Kuranchie might have paid the price for peace in Ghana. In that sense, will his incarceration be worthwhile as the sacrificial lamb of peace?
Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK
Columnist: Ata, Kofi