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25.10.2006 Feature Article


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Many issues of significant implications have become the major talking points about Ghana in recent months. These include the conclusions of the Woode Committee, the bye-election in the Offinso South Constituency and the strike action by members of the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) and the accusation by the President Kufuor on attempts by former President Rawlings to solicit funds to destabilise the current democratic culture of the country. These issues would be considered in future write-ups but in this piece the implications of the Woode Committee Report would be considered. The main areas of concern would include the effects of illicit drugs trade on the country and the unsavoury upshot from the call by some journalists and members of the Committee for Joint Action (CJA) for the Asantehene to be questioned by the Woode Committee. To this writer it seems the more important legal and social implications of the Woode Committee Report have been lost in the debate. Rather the considerably less significant political and ethnic considerations have been given more prominence. It is a sad reflection on us as a nation that a serious issue of national importance seems to have been turned into a cheap political and ethnocentric point scoring exercise.

The Narcotic Menace

Narcotics as a criminal industry breed a lot of problems ranging from its effects on an individual through the family and community to the level of a country. Indeed the illicit trade in narcotics is a global problem with virtually every country in every part of our planet suffering directly or indirectly. Many more qualified than yours truly have researched and written copiously on the menace of narcotics. However the underlying fact coming out is the ability of the industry to destroy individual drug users, the level to which the barons (not the mules) would go to protect their illicit industry and the numerous concomitant problems that affect the society at large. It does not take a rocket scientist to assess how the industry affects, corrupts and destroys the very soul of the society. Key state institutions including the executive, parliament, judiciary, police and even the media could be compromised by the operators of the industry. It is therefore unfortunate how this national problem has been unduly politicised and now it is descending into a domain of ethnocentricity which does not bode well for the unity, peace and development of the whole country.

It is interesting to note that the problem of narcotics is not new. Most of us growing up knew about substance (particular marijuana) abusers, sellers or farmers in the community. Yours truly well remembers how he was warned off such individuals for the perceived danger they posed to the community. Going to boarding schools we meet a few who went beyond the ordinary high of 'wee' and added other concoctions which included Valium. At the communal level we have witnessed times when law enforcement agencies have swooped down into drug dens to arrest the odd dealer and a few users in an effort to crack illicit drug use. Major drug barons who have been successfully prosecuted and jailed included the owner of the Benjilo Store. On the political front the Frank Benneh case in Switzerland remained the topmost until the arrest of Eric Amoateng, the NPP Member of Parliament for Nkoranza North in the United States of America. This writer does not intend to make pronouncements on this latter individual until the court trying him comes out with its verdict. The mixture of the disappearance of parcels of cocaine in the custody of security agencies and aboard the ship MV Benjamin coupled with the possible complicity of top politicians, security operatives and the allegation that some individuals of particular nationalities are involved in narcotic trade in the country call for major concern.

Ghana as a country and her citizens (including political leaders) are now suffering an image problem because of the country being deemed as a major narcotics transit point into Europe and North America. Many accounts have been given about Ghanaians, including members of parliament, having been subjected to harrowing and demeaning searches on their foreign travels. Again it must be expected that any major exporter of any product, legal or illicit, tends to become a major consumer. It is therefore expected that many Ghanaians, especially our impressionable young ones, would end up as victims. The current rates of crime including armed robbery and mobile telephone snatching are all strongly linked to illicit drug abuse. Corruption of public officials and distortions in the economy are all the attendant problems of this illicit trade.

Free Speech and Social Cohesion

Free speech goes hand in hand with free press. Free speech could be regarded as a distinguishing feature of liberal democracy that allows one to speak freely without censorship. International law through numerous human rights instruments, particularly, under Ariticle 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees free speech. The Chapter Eight of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana affirms the right. Various laws enacted under the NPP government of President Kufuor and the previous NDC government under President Rawlings further entrenches the guarantee of free speech and free press in the Ghanaian political and social landscape.

Every freedom however has its corresponding responsibility. The concept of free speech and free press places a responsibility of social cohesion on those exercising their freedoms. Social cohesion refers to a state whereby the greater majority of the citizens in the society respect the law, one another's human rights and values, and shares a commitment to retain the social order. Social order used in this sense refers to the set of linked social structures, institutions and practices which conserve, maintain and enforce normal ways of relating and behaving. In sociological terms, social order implies a relatively stable system of institutions, pattern of interactions and customs capable of continually reproducing at least those conditions essential for its own existence. These conditions include cultural forms, communication relations and ideological systems of values. It can therefore be considered anti-social if some people in the exercise of their freedoms endangers the social order within which all law abiding members of society peacefully dwell.

Journalists as members of the society and upholders of the 'fourth estate of the realm' play a crucial role in the development of democratic culture of the nation. Media practitioners in collective terms wield extensive power over the executive, legislature and the judiciary and the society as whole. This stems from their ability to shape public opinion and set social and political agendas. The immense power in the hands of these unelected and often quasi-politicians and in most circumstances private entrepreneurs could pose major dangers to the society at large if they do not exercise circumspection in their practice. Exercising social responsibility does not seem to be the forte of some media practitioners. Without risking the loss of these important freedoms the need for responsible journalism cannot be overemphasised. It is important at all times for Ghanaians as a people to appreciate that the relative peace enjoyed in the country is the result of the collective effort of the great majority of the citizenry to preserve a social order conducive for peaceful coexistence. It is in the light of this that the alleged threats by the Asante Youth Association and the Asante United Front that some journalists should not step foot in Kumasi, if true, should be condemned in no uncertain terms. Indeed, the police must investigate the groups and those found culpable should be prosecuted. Even as we condemn and/or prosecute those who pose threats to our personal freedoms it is also important to analyse the acts and motives of those whose activities, though legal tends to be divisive and unethical in the consequences it can have on the vast majority of the society. It is in the light of this that we have to consider the CJA actions in the scheme of social cohesion and national unity.

Committee for Joint Action and The Asantehene

The CJA as understood by this writer is a coalition of political grouping from the main minority parties made up of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Convention People's Party (CPP), People's National Convention (PNC), National Reform Party (NRP) and the Egle Party. The coalition emerged basically to contest various government programmes they considered inimical to their beliefs and aspirations. Among these include opposition to the passage of the Representation of People's Act (2006) and the petroleum pricing policy of the government. It must be stated that whereas some leading members and executives of the CPP and PNC have joined the NDC in the formation of the CJA, all the members of parliament and some key leaders of the two Nkrumaist parties have sided with the government on these matters. Until now all the agitations of the CJA have been on purely political issues. The bone of contention of the group (CJA) in this case is that the Asantehene has some questions to answer concerning his alleged intervention in the police investigations concerning the missing parcels of cocaine.

The pro-NDC newspaper, Palaver in a publication sourced on on 9th October, 2006 asks: “But the big question now is how did Otumfuo's name come to be associated with the cocaine scandal?” The paper goes further to allude to a taped recording of a meeting between a top police official and some alleged drug barons in which the name of the Asantehene and his Personal Secretary popped up as having intervened in the police investigation . Again the paper writes that one of the alleged drug barons claims to be living 24 hours in the Manhyia Palace. These two pieces of information seems to inform the opinion of some journalists and the CJA in their clamour to have the Asantehene appear before the Woode Committee. It must be put on record that the King of Asantes has come out to deny any culpability. Further, a member of the Woode Committee has indicated in an interview with the Daily Graphic that there was no basis for inviting the Asantehene. He stated that the need to invite him would have arisen if there had been any confirmation that the Asante King had interfered or intervened in the police investigations into the missing drugs.

This writer considers the matter stated from the purely legal and social dimensions. Firstly, there is the question of legality to which the Woode Committee chaired by a high standing member of the bench chose not to question either the Asantehene or his supposed Private Secretary. Further, the statement issued by the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) also clarifies the legal obligation of the Asantehene in the matter. In a speech at its Annual Press Conference, the President of GBA, Mr. Solomon Kwami Tetteh, indicated that: "There is no legal duty on any person against whom an allegation is made in the course of an investigation, whether by a committee or a commission of enquiry, the Police or other law enforcement agency, to proceed without any intimation from the investigating body to surrender himself for interrogation." Contrary legal opinions are yet to known as at the time of putting together this piece. From the social point it must be acknowledged that the traditional set up of chieftaincy allows a greater level of informality and an 'open-door' policy in terms of reception of members of the society. This view is further echoed in the statement of the Deiga of Peki (Paramount Chief), Togbe Kwadwo Dei XI, that: “Even if, in his wisdom, the Otumfuo did grant audience to a refugee from persecution, it was in accord with the spirit of the sacred oath of duty and responsibility sworn by occupants of royal stools and skins in Ghana, more so the Otumfuo, to grant a hearing and intercession to any supplicant, equally and without discrimination.” Further, it is laughable to consider that anyone but a resident 'servant' (ahenkwaa) could be said to be living permanently at the Manhyia Palace. It is a well-known fact that the Manhyia Palace is not the residence of even the Asantehene. Therefore not even the wife of the Asante King can claim to be living at the palace 24 hours. The palace serves as the offices and court of the King but not his residence. It is also a fact that there are many people who get access to people in authority and use that to serve their self interest and importance. Togbe Kwadwo Dei XI confirms this with the statement that: “It is also not uncommon for influence peddlers, after becoming familiar with people in authority, to drop the names of such 'big' people to secure or achieve a given objective.”

It is strange that the CJA and their journalist collaborators believe that because someone has mentioned the name of the Asantehene, the latter has a question to answer concerning his culpability in an alleged crime of the 'name dropper'. It is common a practice, although unacceptable, among people in high offices including politicians, chiefs and professionals such as teachers, doctors and business executives to intervene on behalf of others in positions of difficulty including matters of crime. Recently the police in Tema had to issue a warning about settling sexual crimes outside the confines of the courts. It is to this wise that the admonition by the Togbe Kwadwo Dei XI, that we should be careful of "name-droppers, particularly when they are in a quandary" should be considered in the proper context. Indeed it is not only chiefs who are victims to activities of name droppers. Politicians, top business executives and others in different spheres of life suffer from the acts of people who purport to represent them or act on their behalf. Indeed members of the society themselves place a huge burden on such individuals in positions of authority to intervene on their behalf in terms of monetary support, school or university admission, employment and in almost every facet of our national life. It is bad for people in responsibility to use their influence to pervert the court of justice however when there is no evidence to prove their culpability it should not be used against them. It is bad enough that these individuals accused of drug trafficking attempted to employ their supposed association to the Asantehene to stop the police investigation. It is worse that supposed 'senior' journalists would perpetuate the misconception of dragging the name of the Asantehene in the mud and even worst that the CJA, a political organisation, would join the fray in such an undignified manner. It is a strange phenomenon that name-dropping can constitute complicity in a crime and guilt by association, if what the CJA and the journalists are advocating could be considered.

Ethnocentrism and National Disunity

In a previous write-up on the subject of chieftaincy, this writer opined that: “Our chiefs remain a focal point of our cultural identity. … Chiefs provide leadership and serve as embodiment of our culture, traditions and customs. The institution goes to the heart of what distinguishes us as a people from others. It portrays our uniqueness as a country, nation and statehood.” Chieftaincy was the form of leadership most communities had prior to colonial dominance by the Europeans. Further they have continued to play religious roles in the affairs of their peoples. Even in post independent times chiefs have continued to play important leadership roles. It is common for people who are live in ethnically different parts of the country from their own to form associations which dialogues with the traditional rulers in the communities they live. It is part of the unwritten social contract the community signs to ensure cohesion and order. Although in modern times the power and authority of chiefs in political, religious, economic and judicial terms have diminished considerably, they continue to possess important social reverence and respect not even accorded elected politicians. Many communities also consider attacks on their chiefs as on the whole community.

This writer does not in any way accept the infallibility or divinity of the Asantehene, or any chief for that matter, but considers the attacks on him as unwarranted, unfair and demeaning. It is not far-fetched that some individuals and groups, including the Asantehene, have considered the actions of the journalists and CJA as anti-Asante acts. The danger in the acts of the latter is its ability to breed ethnocentrism. It must be noted that whenever a group feels threatened they bind together to fight the perceived enemy. No wonder the various Asante groupings and individuals including artisans, lawyers and business people have come out to condemn the journalists and the CJA. To this writer the actions of one of the journalists spearheading the anti-Asantehene agenda smacks of sheer foolhardiness and infantile bravado. To insist on going to Kumasi at a time his actions have inflamed passions is the height of irresponsibility. Any outbreak of violence would put severe strain on state resources and a destruction of our national peace and cohesion. The CJA and its sponsors should note they are not doing their cause any good as their actions are set to alienate a great portion of the citizenry of the country. But perhaps that is their agenda! If the intention of the group was to divide the nation on ethnic lines for any political gains then hear what Togbe Kwadwo Dei XI has to say: "To say that the Asantehene is involved with narcotic business, is a repulsive insult targeted equally against the honour and integrity of our national chieftaincy institution." He goes further to assert that the action is a “slander {on} the essence and embodiment of Asanteman.” He again affirms the expectation of the “inevitable responses of sons of Asanteman to their beloved King”. The Deiga of Peki concluded by calling on all Ghanaians to join in the condemnation of the “very discourteous and disrespectful attack on the Asantehene.”

We have come a long way as a nation and for the actions of a few to cause division and pain the consequence of which could be incalculable should be condemned by all civil society and right thinking members of the society.

God bless Ghana.

Kofi Nyame
Thornton Heath,