Voices from down under: A 3D view of violent crime in Ghana

Abuga Pele New Abuga Pele has been sentenced to six years in prison

Fri, 9 Mar 2018 Source: Muhammad Dan Suleiman

Abuga Pele, a former top government official, was recently convicted of wilfully causing financial loss to the state.An NDC Member of Parliament, Nii Lante Vanderpuye, later stated that his party would free Mr. Pele if it returns to power in 2020. In that same week, scores of deadly armed robberies were reported in different parts of Ghana.

In the wake of these robbery cases, Ghanaians have taken to fretful and politicised finger-pointing tirades. Analysts and securocrats have espoused potential solutions, ranging from replacing Ghana’s Inspector-General of Police to deploying the military to patrol our streets, among others.

These may, in fact, be plausible options. But the roots of Ghana’sperennial issue of violent crime may lie in the failure of successive governments to note the singularity of issues such the two related above.As a country, our failure to see the relationship between overt crime (such as armed robberies) and broader political issues (corruption and a culture of impunity) may be blamed for our extant state of insecurity.

Violent crime is a pressing national security issue with many sides. It is a Janus-faced subject which manifests in varying colours, in seemingly disparate and unrelated patterns.To reveal crucial sides and patterns, we must deploy a three-dimensional view, metaphorically speaking, of the reality of violence and crime.In the following paragraphs, I attempt set us on a part to adopting a 3D view of violent crime in Ghana, by highlighting one mostly overlooked dimension of the phenomenon.

Before I continue, I must state that I am not passing any judgment on the trial and subsequent imprisonment of Mr Pele. Neither am I indicting his party the NDC.After all, it was the same NDC that initiated the trial of its own member, leading to his imprisonment.

My aim in this article is to use the Abuga Pele issue to establish a crucial singularity in how we, as a country, understand violent crime. In the long term, I believe, what I illustrate here would be useful in addressing this virulent national concern.

I begin by stating that we usually make an unfair distinction between White-collar crimes (the Abuga Pele type) and Blue-collar crimes (such as armed robberies). In our minds, the latter is a violent crime, whilst the former is just a crime.Consequently, we perceive Blue-collar criminalsto be more dangerous than White-collar ones.The reality, however, is that any crime, blue or white, is a violent crime.

There are two type of violence: personal violence and structural violence. Personal violence is what is usually associated with weapons, physical injuries or death.Structural violence, however, does not occur through a gunshot or a deadly blow. It occurs when the socio-political system of a society exploits some people to benefit others. Perhaps, the danger of structural violence lies in its clandestine mode of manifestation. The harm caused by structural violence is not immediately visible, even to those who suffer it.

Despite their different modes of manifestation, the reality of both types of violence are however fundamentally similar.First, both are crimes.White-collar crimes are usually associated with structural violence whereas blue-collar crimes are mostly associated with personal violence. Secondly, both violate people’s rights. Personal violence violates citizens’ right to life. Structural violence violates people’s rights to have their socio-economic needs met.Most importantly, both types of violence operate in a culture of political mismanagement and bad leadership.

Due to its broad-based impact and knock-on effects, structural violence may, in fact, be much more violent, hence more dangerous.Structural violence and white-collar crime maybe deadlier and more morally contemptible than personal violence and blue-collar crime. Clearly, the flipside of ‘to whom much is given much is expected’ is to admit that to whom less in given less is expected.Ghanaians who resort to armed robbery are mostly individuals who have been offered little choices by society. They are individuals who, due to their human condition, may have been unable to be patient in living without the necessities of life. They Ghanaians who may lack the discipline to steer their frustration away from committing crime.

On the other hand, public officials who partake in corruption and perpetuate structural violence are mostly beneficiaries of privilege and of myriad of options within society. Yet, due to their human nature of greed, they are unable to be patient in the face of the temptation to amass more wealth. They are people who lack the discipline to be content with all that society has offered them.

Since armed robbers are mostly from the desperate end of town, there is a sense in which they could be expected to act out and forcefully take from society. That action is without doubt criminal. Yet on a continuum of human wrongs, the act of armed robbery may be less immoral than a public official who violated the collective right of the society from which all armed robbers come.

Without doubt, armed robbery is a dangerous crime that must not be trivialised. Indeed, the horror that people go through in robbery incident is disturbing. The fear that accompanies it, sometimes leading to a loss of life should naturally cause public startle. In our physical world, a violent death is the ultimate human price which should not be paid by anybody. Human life must not be trivialised.

But structural violence, too, produces the same kinds of harmful results as personal violence (death, sickness, trauma, injuries etc.). White-collar crime, too, kills.Causing financial loss to the state kills. Corrupt police practices and elitist abuse of ordinary people also kill.People die from road accidents due to state institutions’disregard for and or failure to administer road safety measures. People die from everyday illnesses due to improper management of sanitation. People die from poverty.

People die when public official give the few available jobs to their family members while neglecting those who do not know ‘somebody’ at government house. Of course, many police officers have lost their lives in the line of duty because they were furnished with inadequate and second-rate gadgets and told to match forth.

Put simply, before armed robbers kill one person, deaths from these ‘normalised’ public practices—these acts of structural violence—might have caused the death of multitudes.My point is simple: bad corrupt leadership kills, and corrupt leadership all the time kills all the time.

Armed robbers kill much more less.Victims of armed robbery are only a fraction of victims of structural violence. Importantly, armed robbers are also victims of structural violence. In many ways, personal violence is caused by structural violence.So, even the unfortunate deaths of innocent Ghanaians in the hands of armed robbers do not make armed robbery our worse crime.

The most crucial reason why structural violence is much worse is that armed robbers accepted neither mandate nor salary to serve and protect Ghanaians. Public officials did. All Ghanaians—job-ful or job-less, leader or follower, party foot soldiers or ordinary foot soldiers who soldier aimlessly in our streets—have a basic need for survival. Public officials willingly accepted both mandate and salary to ensure that this need is met. It follows naturally that the crimes of those at the commanding heights of the structure may be as reprehensible as the crimes of those at the receiving end of that structure, if not more.

Thus, to significantly reduce, if abate, cases of violent crime, we must reorient our mindsets and political commitments to internalising a 3D view of the subject. We must give due attention to both personal and structural violence. This must also involve a genuine commitment to ending violent crime of all types. Above all, citizens must see and attest to this genuine commitment.

It is because of this last point that crimes of the type for which Abuga Pele has been imprisoned, the statement by Nii Lante Vanderpuye, and the many corruption allegations against the current NPP government might constitute worse violent crimes than all the armed robbery cases on the files of the Ghana Police Service.

Columnist: Muhammad Dan Suleiman
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