18.01.2016 Opinion

Ghana, Guantanamo, And The Pathology Of Free Speech

By Umar Mohammed
Ghana, Guantanamo, And The Pathology Of Free Speech
LISTEN JAN 18, 2016

I have observed with interest all the discussion ongoing in Ghana regarding the ex-GITMO detainees being housed in Ghana. Some have made good points whilst others have been utterly imbecilic in their remarks and utterances. But overall, the debate has been both eye opening and lacking in perspective. Allow me to postulate on the issue a little bit.

First of all, the discussion about whether we accept or reject the detainees did not factor in a very important element in our relationship as a nation (our self-reliance, our dependencies, and our past and future friends) to the US, our role in the international community, along with a basic understanding of the aims and modes operandi of these Al-Qaeda and DAESH-related terror groups. Let me take these THREE one at a time:

  1. Ghana as a nation.

In the hypothetical scenario where Ghana was a nation strong enough to be self-reliant and with the ability to call our shots independent of foreign influence, Ghana should have never accepted the GITMO detainees. We as a country, then, would not have needed anything from the US, from economic and political cooperation to security cooperation. But here are we where are not.

And the decision to accept the GITMO detainees was done in the current climate we find ourselves in as nation and any analysis of the situation that does not vigorously take into account our current politico-socioeconomic environment bends towards political ignorance and useless blowing of hot air without any semblance of lived experience (knowledge). But what exactly is our politico-socioeconomic reality of the day?

First, Ghana imports a lot of basic commodities that we need and is heavily reliant on exportation of raw materials and primary products, mainly to the EU and US. We are reliant on EU and US funded and dominated financial institutions for money to fund our basic everyday governance. We as an open economy are very much at the mercy of US and UK speculators for the health and soundness of our economy.

If S&P or Moody’s downgrade our economy to C or E or F, we are screwed forever since we are dependent on borrowing money on the international market to fund even building toilets in this country. Make no mistake, these rating agencies are politically ran and are biased to the bone. They do the bidding of the chiefs of politics and industry of the Western world. We are a nation completely in the thralls of the Western Free market capitalism. But not to border completely on the negative appraisal, lets look at the relatively good press we get in the West. Ghana gets relatively good press as compared to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa so out here, even though we have no highest mountains or Seregentis or Pyramids, we still get quite a significant number of tourists per capita that helps our economy.

The past three US presidents have all visited Ghana, some quite early in their presidency that helps to direct more tourist and investment attractions our way. Do you think that Kofi Anan was selected as UN secretary general because he/and Ghana was the most qualified? His selection put Ghana on the global map and it was because we were friends with America. Nothing comes free. They will come knocking for the return favors they’ve given. So they came and we are blabbing away about how unfair it is to accept detainees? Have people been living under rocks all this while? In a relationship, you give, and you take. Our relationship is asymmetrical right now, no question about it, we are (in all likelihood) giving more than we are taking. But that is a discussion for another day. We can look forward to changing our internal situation to ensure that the relationship moves on to a more symmetrical one. But today, on the GITMO detainees, is not the time nor place for that discussion.

  1. Our Role in the Int’l Community

Ghana has been at the forefront of global conflicts since our inception as a state. The Osagyefo decided to make Ghana a non-aligned state, with the help of Nehru and others creating the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). But he himself could not escape the thralls of the cold war and was deposed by the Americans for his alleged communists sympathies and actions. Ghana, as part of the UN has been involved in conflicts around the world for decades now. It must be acknowledged that the UN to many supranationalist groups is an illegitimate organization, and our involvement with it already puts us at the firing line of these groups including DAESH and Al-Qaeda and their affiliates. Especially critical in this regard is our commitment over the decades, to provision of peacekeeping personnel to the UN. Ghana, a country 48th in terms of population, 91st ranked in terms of economy, and 103rd ranked in terms of military is among the top ten contributors to the UN peacekeeping missions around the world.

We have sent our soldiers to every nook and cranny of the world, from Asia to Europe, to the Middle East, and to our backyards in Africa here. When we were sending all those brave young men and women around the world, did we forget that we might have been creating enemies? The war on terror is just the current phase of the global conflict cycle and we as a nation, is at the thick of affairs whether we acknowledge it or not. Too many decisions have been made over the years that have led us to this day and we have a lot more to do to dig ourselves out of this current situation than we think we have to do at the moment. But can we really dig ourselves out of the situation? And exactly what is the situation?

  1. The Modes Operandi of DAESH, Al-Qaeda and their surrogates

Now, if you listen to the excuses given for most DAESH and Al-Qaeda related attacks, including the one in Burkina Faso, it has the same tone and tinge to it. They are fighting infidels and specifically, infidels who dare send their kafir soldiers to fight against the interest of the Muslim Ummah as they see it or the Caliphate in particular in the case of DAESH. We had soldiers in Lebanon, actually, one of our most noteworthy and longstanding contributions to the UN peacekeeping system in the world. We had/ and still have soldiers and policemen & women in Sudan and South Sudan. We have soldiers in Mali. We had soldiers in Liberia, Sierra Leone and countless others. The reason why I am mentioning all these places is that most of the countries on the list that Ghana has sent soldiers to are partly fighting because of religious reasons, some of which are steeped deeply in global Jihadist networks. Bin Laden was holed up in Sudan long before 9/11 and the groundwork he laid helped create the brutal Janjaweed Arab militia and others like them in Sudan, yet we were there, in the thick of affairs. Why are we all of a sudden afraid to have our hands in terror related matters? DAESH has all the ammunition they need or better still the excuses they can use to attack Ghana. They don’t need our *acceptance of GITMO detainees to attack us. Their attacks are often illogical and disparate. You are treating them as if they use the same logic you and I use in our calculations. They don’t.

People still steeped in rape culture and slavery, to the extent that they will release a guide on how to rape your female slaves, will not listen to your excuses and analysis as to how we are or are not a target. Every country is a target. To that end, we are going to forever be a target as long as DAESH exists and we hold on to our values of pluralism and multiculturalism. When DAESH took over northern Iraq, they gave the Christians and non-Sunni Muslims a choice, convert to Sunni Islam, leave, become a slave, or die. Ghana is about 60% Christian living peacefully, for the most part, with the 17% or so Muslim minority. The simple fact of our existence is already reason enough to attack us. They don’t need further excuses. And the excuses they will need, we already have provided them with it over the ages. The fact that I, a Muslim am friends with Christians is an excuse enough to brand me a heretic and an infidel or munafiq. We are steeped in a global order that the DAESH puny caliphate despises so we are whether we like it or not, already in the firing line. The question is whether we want to be trumpeting our position as diametrically opposed to DAESH and their likes for everybody to hear. The way forward!

Did Burkina Faso accept GITMO detainees? I don’t think they did. They did not publicize it if they did. Yet AQIM attacked Ouagadougou, for reasons that we are just as culpable in the eyes of the terrorist organization. Did Indonesia accept GITMO detainees? I don’t think so. But DAESH related fighters in Jakarta for reasons that we are even more culpable than Indonesia attacked them. But, given our current situation, could we have been more helpful to ourselves than we currently are? Absolutely. DAESH and Al-Qaeda and AQIM have way too much on their hands now to be able to mount attacks on all the infidel nations of the world or all nations they perceive to have wronged them. Yet, we are at the mountaintops, with loudspeakers and megaphones, telling the terror groups, “WE ARE HERE. NOTICE US. NOTICE US. WE ARE HERE. NOTICE US.” Free media and civic dialogue is very important to any democratic society but we need to be responsible in how we exercise that right and privilege. When journalists are on social media proclaiming Ghana as the next target after such horrific incidents in Ouagadougou, it bothers on pathology. We have become pathological in our exercise of free speech and civic dialogue and probing. The fact that you have the right o say something doesn’t mean you should. But enough of berating the irresponsible in the Ghanaian media landscape. Exactly how do we deal with this?

Since DAESH and Al-Qaeda have become franchises, allowing individuals with tenuous links to the groups to create cells and cause havoc, there are a few things that we can realistically do to prevent an attack. First of all, if you look at Jakarta, San Bernardino, Paris, Beirut, and Ouagadougou among others, one fact keeps coming again, and again: the role of returnee Jihadists, specifically those who went to Syria/Iraq/Afghanistan to fight and then went back to their respective countries. Ghana must ban all travel to these countries if not as part of a UN or Red Cross/Crescent or Doctors Without Borders or any such humanitarian organization. We cannot have our young men and women going there and getting radicalized and coming back to cause havoc in our country. We must also ensure that -through law (not some arbitrary arrests and detentions) - all persons who travel to fight alongside Jihadists in those countries have their citizenship revoked and their ability to return to Ghana put asunder. Ghana must ensure that no radical preachers be allowed in Ghana.

In Saudi Arabia, where radical preaching is abound, they have instituted a policy to have all Friday sermons pre-approved by the government so as to stem the tide of radical preachers preaching hate and Jihad. Religious freedom aside, you cannot preach things that are detrimental to the safety of the Ghanaian polity. As a fellow from the north of Ghana, and from a family of Imams, I can assure you that we have Imams who preach vitriol and have the potential of radicalizing young and impressionable minds. But also, coming from a family of Imams, I can attest to the fact that Ghanaian Muslims are not as easily moved to Jihadist tendencies. And so, those who are already talking about established cells must be cautious in their utterances because such utterances are already implicating peaceful Ghanaian Muslims as suspicious culprits in the war on terror and our quest to prevent attacks. Creating solidarity and working relationships is better than creating suspicion, resentment, and unfounded demonization.

We should be allowed to have our voices, as it is our right in a free and democratic society. But we should treat it as a jewel and not some dusty football any Tom, Dick and Harry can just kick around in the town square. And to journalists of our beloved Ghana! You are leaders. And as leaders, you must exercise maturity and cadence. To end with a cliché but one of huge significance, “to whom much is given, much is expected.”

Umar Mohammed
From Tamale
Graduate of Univ. of Ghana
Current PhD Student in Texas.
[email protected]

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