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Opinions Sun, 4 Dec 2011

The Tragedies of African Democracies – XXVI

Dearth of Policy Innovation

The conundrum of Africa’s poverty in the midst of so much resource – both natural and human – is befuddling. While some observers and experts attribute the slow pace of the continent’s development and attempts to combat poverty as hinging on the lack of financial resources and the marginalization of the continent in international trade, there is also evidence that leadership failures are keeping the continent from assuming its rightful place among the world’s continents. There are those things that I refer to as “not money, but policy,” “little investments, big returns,” “antediluvian regulations,” and “good, but bad investment” that are incongruous with the development discourse.

Not money, but policy

In January 2006, I was woken up violently by my Nigerian roommate in Hull, a northern English city where I was a student. It was a Channel 4 news, an alternative to the BBC in England, about my country, Ghana, that he found so harrowing that he couldn’t wait for me to wake up to hear the story. It was about a British sex offender, Alexander Kilpatrick who had unleashed series of sexual attacks on his young victims across many African countries including Ghana.

Instead of bringing the needed investment to aid an ailing economy, Alexander Kilpatrick chose to capitalize on the vulnerability of Ghanaian children and non-existent child protection laws and sexually abused them. At the Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court, where Kilpatrick was sentenced, the judge told the court that Kilpatrick “took advantage of the abject poverty and the circumstances in which children in Africa and other countries find themselves, plied them with meals, treats and alcohol and then sexually abused them in the most appalling ways.”

Though the 56-year-old notorious sex offender, highly reputed for his canniness with children, was finally tamed and put behind bars, his dastard acts left a trail of bewilderment for the affected individuals, their parents and many Ghanaians. In the estimation of the news channel, Ghana had attained the unenviable status of being a no. 1 destination for sexual perverts, pedophiles, and people with varying degrees of sexual aberrations or sex-tourists, placing the country at par with countries such as Cambodia, Thailand, and Costa Rica, among others, where sexual predation on unsuspecting young people are very widespread.

Ghana has a good reputation as a bastion of peace or democracy in a region where the news of instability is more of a norm than the exception. Her HIV/AIDS infection rates are lower compared to that of her neighbors. Given that infection rates in Ghana has always hovered around 3 percent and below in a region home to 75 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) globally, with countries such as South Africa and Botswana where the control and management of the diseases attained a nation crisis with 1 every 3 persons infected, it was no surprise that Ghana became a playground for the “good and the evil,” the good and the bad tourist who see it as a safe destination to play. The political environment is stable, the people are warm and hospitable, and successive governments have operated an open-door policy with visa requirements waived for people from most developed countries, all in her bid to attract tourists and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

This serene environment has attracted all kinds of individuals – the good and the evil - some masquerading as investors, businessmen, philanthropist, expatriates, and tourists, who exploit the unsuspecting in all kinds of ways, leaving a trail of anguish and misery for their poor victims as Kilpatrick had done. We have already read about the stalemate between an arrogant minister of information and a director of the immigration services in which the latter insisted a visitor from the Netherlands was a persona non-grata which led to his dismissal from office. It obviously must be for some of the nefarious activities mentioned earlier.

In a bizarre and an ad hoc response to these abuses, especially in the wake of the Kilpatrick exposure, a billboard, warning tourists and visitors to the country about the criminality of pedophilia on Ghana’s soil, was plastered on the walls of the arrival hall of Ghana’s international airport. As if those warnings automatically have the power to ward off sexual predators and others with other forms of ulterior motives from visiting their activities on unsuspecting Ghanaians. It was probably the best solution the leadership of the country could engender at the time. That billboard must long be gone, since I didn’t find it in my recent travels through the Kotoka International Airport in Accra.

In a recent survey by Forbes, an American magazine, Ghana was adjudged to hold one of the prime places as the best tourist destinations on the African continent, placing eleventh on the global scale to some of the well-known destinations such as Thailand, Costa Rica, Columbia, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, among others. But what the report did not mention, as is usually the case with these marketing spells, was that regulatory mechanisms to protect innocent young children from sexual predators remain weak or unavailable.

If we are to check regulatory mechanisms in protecting children in the top 11 countries of which Ghana has made her foray, there is no doubt that Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, just like any other Western country would stand out as some of the safest environments for children, due to strong child protection diktats. This is what sets those countries apart from a country such as Ghana and other African nations.

Paradoxically, most these felons normally come from countries where strict child protection laws, knowledge of these activities by parents, and other measures make it very difficult for them to have their field day. In these countries, even teachers, youth workers, or just anyone who comes into contact with children in the discharge of their duties, are under obligation to have a criminal records check (CRB). These measures are to prevent perverts, who may exploit the sexual innocence of these young and vulnerable children, from establishing questionable and unholy relationships with them. Though these measures do not make these societies completely protected from these felons, when these heart-rending activities take place and are discovered, they are met with the harshest punishments to deter others.

Unfortunately, in Ghana and many parts of the African continent, weak laws or non-existent child protection laws mean pedophiles and other sexual predators have their field day. I was told by a woman at Cape Coast beach, the hub of Ghana’s tourism industry, that “even after some of these horrendous acts are found out, some parents would even be ready to receive pay-offs to kill the case, ignoring the physical and psychological damages inflicted on their helpless children both in the short-term and the long-term.” In most cases, children may either be too ashamed or guilty to report the acts after they are committed against them. When this happens, the perpetrators never get punished to deter others.

This is where the state can make a great difference. In the comity of nations, there already exists goodwill among neighbors. Nations with common pedigree, for instance, members of the Commonwealth of Nations and other international organizations such as the United Nations and UNICEF can help coordinate efforts in harmonizing international diktats to regulate the activities of sex-tourist with the aim of exposing, minimizing, punishing, and compensating victims when they occur.

Arguably, that international framework is already in existence, based on current UN conventions. What remains to be done is the fashioning out or adaptation of national frameworks or edicts to dovetail into the UN conventions. Ghana’s democratic pedigree predisposes her to some of these benefits within the democratic League of Nations. This is not to say that other African countries that are still under military dictatorship or pseudo-democratic dispensations cannot benefit from similar regimes or frameworks.

In November 20, 1989, the UN unanimously adopted the convention on the rights of the child. Regarded as the most significant of all international instruments on the rights of the child, it forms the basis on which many signatory countries can develop legislations against child sexual exploitation. The conventions consist of 54 Articles; emphatic among them is Article 34, which enjoins states to take all appropriate national, bilateral, and multilateral measures to protect and prevent the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, and this must include sex tourist who, in most cases, are protected by extraterritorial laws. The Kilpatrick case offers a good example. Although he was finally arrested and prosecuted in Britain, the victims were left in the cold without compensation for the physical and the psychological trauma they have to live with for the rest of their lives.

The United States Congress in 1994 18 U.S.C. 2423 (b) criminalizes the act. The Brits followed suit with the Sexual Offence Act 2003 and so did other Developed Countries and countries where sex tourism has become a serious social canker. The widely publicized prosecution of Kilpatrick, under the British Sexual Offence Act 2003, with the cooperation of some international investigators demonstrate international consensus and resolve in pursuing offenders to wherever they hide. While this is a clear case of justice done by way of prosecution, British legal provisions establishing the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority – Act 1996 and 2001 and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1995 – make it possible for sexually abused children under age 18 to benefit from a compensation scheme provided the act occurred in Great Britain, that is, England, Scotland, and Wales.

The implication is that whereas children in Britain who suffer in the hands of these felons receive compensations, the poor African child carries on without any form of compensation. It must be even more devastating on a continent where welfare schemes are virtually non-existent. This situation leaves a yawning gap in the dispensation of justice – punishing the culprit and compensating the victims - to all the affected children with some semblance of uniformity.

At the forefront of the human right efforts, the United States has once again showed the way. In September 2005, two California men on child sex tourism in the Philippines were convicted and ordered to pay restitutions to their victims in what is believed to be among the first monetary awards imposed in such cases. While this was compensation from the culprits to their victims, it raises questions of situations where the culprits may not have the financial resources to provide such compensations. To answer this enigma, a recent arrest and prosecution of a 64 year old US citizen, Donald Mathias, who abused two Filipino minors, aged 11 and 12, shows what the future portends for victims. The two victims received compensation from the US Government, the first case in which the United States Government provided restitution trusts for the benefit of foreign victims of sex tourism.

It is in the light of the above development that this writer believes that it is within the powers of the international community to move beyond punishing offenders to the point where international consensus could be reached to compensate children abused in poor countries by offenders who in most cases come from the developed nations.

African governments, not excluding successive governments in Ghana, are so fixated with loans and grants for what they are – they provide an easy conduit to easy money – to the neglect of policies that would protect even the innocent - children. If any direct benefits accrue from growth of the tourism sector, it must be to the operators of the hospitality industry. To most of these young people who bear the brunt of non-existent regulatory regime or the lack of its enforcement, any benefits might only be indirect or as a result of a trickledown effect. It is for this reason that any attempt to improve the sector and to attract more tourists must be in tandem with improvements in the regulatory systems to forestall these heinous abuses against the unsuspecting public in the name of tourism.

A few anecdotes to share before heading to discuss what works. In October 2004, an email carrying the picture of a young Ghanaian lady in her early twenties, in all imaginable and unimaginable sexual poses, made its way into my email. I tracked the origin of the email only to realize that it must have traversed the nooks and crannies of the globe. The message attached to the pictures read: The craziness of Ghanaian girls wanting a Whiteman or coming abroad. My enquiries later revealed the said lady was then a student at the Takoradi Polytechnic. While hers was a conscious choice by a discerning adult, it is still unacceptable; but this cannot be compared to a scenario where young innocent children who need the protection of the state and the law are left to be exploited by pedophiles and other sexual predators and must not be allowed to continue while Ghana boast in achievements in tourism. Somewhere in 2003, a crowd at the OSIKAE beach, where I went with my friends to have a drink, attracted us. When we got to the scene, a middle-aged Whiteman was being punched and slapped by a dreadlocks or rastaman who looked more muscular and well-built than the helpless man. His offence was that he was caught sodomizing a young 17 year old boy with the promise of helping him travel to Europe. He was paraded naked through the High Street of Accra, what may pass as Ghana’s Wall Street, to the James Town police station. There is no doubt the scene was as ferocious as it was barbaric.

NB: Make a date with the next article in the series to understand what is happening to our young ones in the age of “FACEBOOKING.”

The above-title is serialized into 30 articles covering issues of politics, corruption, education, migration, the economy (Ghanaian economy), unemployment, land tenure, dearth of policy innovation, and stories from the frontlines – Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, ECOWAS and the AU. The series are syndicated and media houses/outlets interested in enriching the national debates in Ghana for the 2012 are free to publish all the series.

By: Prosper Yao Tsikata

Email: pytsikata@yahoo.com

Blog: http://theafricanmessenger.blogspot.com

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao