CONVENTIONAL wisdom holds that action speaks louder than words. If what we do is truly indicative of who we are, then what is one to think of the students at the College of Art in the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology? On the one hand, based on superficial assumptions and surface appearances, they are hard-working, ambitious, aesthetically astute, emotionally sensitive, from good homes. They are among our nation's best and brightest, the future leaders in their fields.
However, on the other hand, based on the activities that took place at KNUST on October 1st, these students proved themselves to be something completely contrary when they sexually assaulted local hiplife performer Mzbel, who was one of the artistes who performed that evening at an event organised for their faculty week celebrations. After the popular singer, whose real name is Nana Ekua Amoah, had completed her act, the rowdy crowd reportedly begged for an encore, which the artiste readily gave them. Even after she had completed that, they apparently still demanded more. Mzbel reminded them that there were other artistes scheduled to perform, so she would have to allow them their time. Some members of the audience, apparently dissatisfied with her response, attempted to force her to do their bidding, stripping her naked in the process. Interestingly, at a performance at the same University some time back, this time at a University Hall (Katanga) programme, the same artiste was reportedly harassed, albeit not to the extent of being stripped naked. KNUST students seem to have acquired a yen for rowdiness and disorderly behaviour.
But, this latest incident crosses over into the criminal and needs to be looked at in a wider context. Reports of violence in the country's institutions of learning have recently become the norm rather than the exception. Students have, on a number of occasions, taken the law into their own hands, vandalising both public and private property in their quest to insist on their 'rights.' Even more alarming are the increasing number of reports of on-campus rape, assault and other forms of violence against women. Day in and out, there are reports of lynching, physical abuse, and other violations of the fundamental human rights guaranteed under the Constitution.
If what we do is truly indicative of who we are, then what can be said about this nation? What can be said about our level of respect–or disrespect, as the case appears to be–for the basic humanity of women? For their right to be safe? The very fact that we have been so slow in making the decision to criminalise marital rape may, perhaps, speak to our collective mind-set about the role that women play in our society. And that mind-set, with its clear-cut messages-is definitely being translated to our young people.
We would urge the university authorities to speed up their investigations, identify and hand over Mzbel's assailants to the law enforcement agencies for appropriate action. The event organisers must also be held accountable. It is difficult to understand how the perpetrators of this dastardly act could attack and eventually strip an artiste naked, apparently without any let or hindrance, if the proper arrangements had been made for the safety of said artiste. Security was, apparently, lax because any properly organised event would secure a good number of security men to be stationed around the stage and among the crowd, as well as in the backstage area. This is standard procedure. Yet, it was obviously not the case at the College of Art event.
Beyond sanctions and other official actions, we as a nation should take a good look at ourselves, at what we have become, at the distance that stands between what we say we are and what we actually do to show who we are. If we are, as we claim, a country of fair-minded, free-thinking, principled individuals who support the basic civil liberties and human rights of all individuals, then we need to begin behaving as such.
While sympathising with Mzbel, we believe this could be a blessing in disguise, a wake-up call of sorts. This incident should serve as an eye-opener to all of us.