I was surprised yesterday morning when I saw a copy of a letter written by the IGP, Dr George Akuffo Dampare to the British High Commissioner, Her Excellency, Harriet Thompson posted on our WhatsApp platform, though the letter was marked, “Restricted”. I was gobsmacked when I read the four-page letter. This article is a discussion of matters arising from the aforementioned letter.
First, I must point out that I am a dual citizen of Ghana and UK, but I am objective on this matter and take no side. I appreciate that some people may view the points I address in the piece as taking the side of UK or even accuse me being a traitor and as justification for the exclusion of dual citizens from holding certain public offices, including the position of IGP. For those who hold such views, I disagree with you and urge you to hold an open mind on the contents of this article. In fact, I am aware that many Ghanaians disagree with me, including some of my school mates from both St Augustine’s and St Peter’s because we been engaging in discussions over this matter on our WhatsApp platforms since the letter went public.
IGP’s letter was a response to a tweet by the UK High Commissioner to Ghana, Her Excellency, Harriet Thompson on May 17, 2022, regarding the second arrest of Oliver Barker-Vormawor (hereinafter referred to as Oliver) for a traffic offence. The tweet, “Oliver Barker-Vormawor, convenor of #FixThe Country Movement, arrested again, I understand for a motoring offence on his way to court. I ‘ll be interested to see where this goes”.
I totally disagree with the action of the IGP to write directly to the High Commissioner for diplomatic reasons. The High Commissioner is the representative of Her Majesty’s government in Ghana. Therefore, public bodies such as Ghana Police Service must use appropriate medium to raise matters of state interests directly with her, such as the Ministry of Interior through the Foreign Affairs ministry. Some would say but she used twitter so why can’t the police also use any medium. The difference was, the High Commissioner was not sending an official correspondence to any state agency.
Second, the IGP’s salutation was inappropriate. The letter addressed the High Commissioner as “Madam High Commissioner”. That is allowed in spoken communication but not written correspondence. The right salutation is, Your Excellency, Harriet Thompson or Your Excellency, the High Commissioner. This is a minor and excusable error and do not intent to dwell on it.
The most egregious blunder of the letter was that of the language used by the IGP. The language and selection of words were undiplomatic, disrespectful, insulting and sexist. In fact, the contents of the letter were suggestive that either the IGP wanted to settle scores, was angry with the High Commissioner or was very naïve. One does not use such words in a diplomatic exchange. Some of my school mates have suggested that the IGP might have sought advice from government before sending the letter. If that is accurate, then it is very unfortunate that the government of Ghana allowed such a letter to be sent to the High Commissioner of a very friendly country.
The IGP also accused the High Commissioner of breach of the Vienna Convention but failed to state which Clauses, Sections or Sub-sections that the High Commissioner breached by her tweet. This also is an indication that ether the IGP is not familiar with the Vienna Convention or its operations.
The IGP claimed that the first arrest, detention, and charges proffered against Oliver followed due process. IGP, Dr Dampare, you are wrong. The fact that Oliver was charged, put before courts and later granted bail do not necessarily mean that due process was followed. Let me give you examples of how due process was not followed but abused. The state through the police put him before the wrong court that did not have jurisdiction over the case and proffered wrong charges against him. That was deliberate to continue to detain him. Then, the original charges were withdrawn, and fresh ones brought against him at the last minute, which made it difficult for his defence attorneys to defend him. He has since alleged that he was mistreated or tortured by the police whilst under arrest and in detention. These are not due process but abuse of process, police powers and authority. Torture is an international crime and a crime under Ghana’s constitution and it’s not due process.
The letter went on to pose a total of 15 questions to the High Commissioner that indicated that the IGP is naive of how UK operates. For example, questions like if Oliver threatened to stage a coup in the UK or insulted the British Army, wouldn’t he have been arrested, charged and prosecuted. Really? That is far from the truth. If Oliver had made such threats in the UK, he would have been considered as having a mental health problem or an attention seeker. At worst, the police might have spoken to him and established that he has no means to stage a coup in the UK and he would be ignored.
However, if he had threatened terrorist attack, he would be arrested and investigated. If investigations reveal that he is not threat, then he will be released but put under watch for some time before any further action by the police.
Of course, I appreciate that Ghana is not UK because Ghana has experienced four successful and countless unsuccessful coups since independence and therefore any threat of a coup should be taken very serious by the security agencies in Ghana. However, in my view, the Oliver’s Facebook post did not post a threat to the security of Ghana because he has no means and capacity to stage a coup. As far as I am concerned, he was stupid with his post, an infantile behaviour or youthful exuberance that did not warrant the treatment and abuses meted out to him by the state through the officers of the IGP.
I do not intend to analyse all the 15 questions posed by the IGP in his letter because some need no further review. Instead the matter I want to analyse is whether the tweet by the High Commissioner really amounted to interference in the internal affairs of Ghana and therefore breached the Vienna Convention? My answer is, absolutely not.
What is interference? Among others, it includes an unlawful, inappropriate or unacceptable action or attempt to intimidate, influence, encroach intrude, meddle, impinge, trespass, involve, pry, temper, obstruse or involve, in a matter to gain an undue advantage or favour. Did the tweet of the High Commissioner sought to do any of the above either to influence or intimidate Ghana Police from taking action against Oliver for breaking traffic regulations in Ghana? Again, my answer is emphatic no because I believe and the IGP claims Ghana has an independent criminal justice system. Ghana Police does not report to the High Commissioner to be able to influence or intimidate or meddle in their affairs.
The High Commissioner by her tweet and her reference to the previous arrest, detention and charges against Oliver was simply saying that, the world is watching because what happened in the first case was not the best and it damaged Ghana’s reputation. This is a fact and was indeed she was acting in the best interest of Ghana. The High Commissioner does not only seek the interests of UK but also her host country, Ghana. One of her duties is also promote Ghana such as industries and culture to her country.
Again, matters of respect for and the protection of the rights of citizens is now a global duty and all countries are expected to ensure that the rights of citizens wherever they are, are respected and protected because we live in a global village. This is the spirit of her tweet. The first time Oliver was arrested by the police, his rights were abused by the state. Therefore, she is right to say what was contained in her tweet, not only as a global citizen but also as a representative of a friendly Commonwealth country.
Her tweet also made mention of the earlier case and intimated that, what has happened to that case with the statement, “interested to know where this goes”. The question the IGP should answer is, why is the state not prosecuting the case since his bail in March 2022? Is the state scared to prosecute him because there is no evidence or because the world is watching?
The most relevant justification of her tweet is that Oliver is still a bona fide student at University of Cambridge in the UK. Cambridge University has responsibility for welfare of all its students throughout the academic year and wherever they are during term time, when they are carrying out academic work. That is why the university issued a statement expressing their concerns about the treatment of Oliver on the first arrest (see, “Cambridge University issues statement on Barker-Vormawor’s arrest”, Ghanaweb, March 17, 2022).
Did the IGP read or hear about the statement and if so, did he consider the statement of the university as interference in the internal affairs of Ghana? If not, why? For the information of the IGP, the British High Commissioner represents all interests of UK individuals and corporate bodies in Ghana. Therefore, her tweet was legitimate as it was seeking to protect and safeguard the interest of a student of Cambridge University. It does not matter whether Oliver Barker-Vormawor is a Ghanaian and in Ghana or not.
Again, the University came under criticism for its failure to ensure the security of one of its foreign students who was arrested in Egypt by state security whilst conducting research as part of his PhD course. The student was later found murdered. So, the university and UK will not stand aloof for another of its students to suffer similar faith because it damages the reputation of both the UK and the university.
I have heard senior experts and politicians discuss this matter in Ghana, including the respected Prof Kwesi Aning, Dr Antwi-Danso and Johson Asiedu Nketia, the NDC General Secretary. I disagree with them on many issues. For example, Asiedu Nketia described the IGP as “common IGP”. He is very wrong, insulting and disrespectful not only to the person of Dr Akufo Dampare but also the office of IGP. The IGP of Ghana is not a common office but a very important one, neither is Dr Akuffo Dampare an ordinary person but an accomplished police professional, with enviable academic credentials.
The rest believe that the IGP is right. I disagree with them. They are looking at the issues as big brother lording it over us or the colonial power telling Ghana what to do. That is far from the reality and that is why they are wrong. The High Commissioner’s tweet is never an interference, neither was it an order to the police but genuine interest in the respect for and the protection of rights of a citizen of Ghana who is also a student of an academic institution in the country she represents.
For me, there is something very sad and sinister about the responses to the High Commissioner’s tweet. That is the sexism element of it. It’s plainly sexism and sex discrimination. If she was a male High Commissioner, these negative responses would not have been generated. I have worked in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the UK for nearly three decades and can easily identity any discriminatory behaviour when I see one and this is typical sexism or sex discrimination.
What is my evidence? Do you remember the former British High Commissioner, His Excellency Jon Benjamin? Whilst on duty in Ghana, he cultivated the habit of tweeting on most issues in Ghana. Where were these people who are now in arms with the tweet of Her Excellency, Harriet Thompson? Yes, Dr Dampare was not the IGP at the time, so he could be excused but I am more then 100 percent certain that had he been the IGP at the time, he would not have reacted. Moreover, the tone of the letter would have been more respectful if the High Commissioner was a man.
Do you also remember another former British High Commissioner to Ghana during the 2000 general elections in Ghana? I think it was Ian Mackley. He and then western ambassadors in Ghana actively supported then the opposition party, NPP and its presidential candidate, Ex-president John Kufour with their election strategy to defeat the then ruling NDC. Some claim that the then British High Commissioner was even in the Strong Room of the Electoral Commission of Ghana during the election. Was he accused of interfering in the internal affair of Ghana? No.
The question is, why this time? My answer is simple. Because she is a woman.
Please do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting that Oliver should not have been arrested and charged by the police. In fact, I disagree with the modus operandi of Oliver but that should not be an excuse for the police to breach his human rights. Neither am I saying the British police are prefect. No, because they abuse the rights of citizens particularly, Black and Minority Ethnic people. The difference is that, often they are held accountable, including being sued by victims of their abuses.
In conclusion, the IGP letter to Her Excellency, Harriet Thompson is undiplomatic, disrespectful insulting and sexist and therefore should not have been written. Such a letter should not have been sent to a friendly country’s High Commissioner. Nonetheless, I hope that these unfortunate events would not stop Her Excellency, Harriet Thompson from airing her views on matters of mutual concerns and interest to Ghana and the UK.
Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK