Monday, 28 November 2011

Memo to the IGP - Patrol or not to Patrol

My last direct appeal to you via this page was in June last year, but since then I have made references to the police in several articles in this column. In a sense, it could even be argued that I am fond of picking on the police, but that is for a very good reason. I am unshakeable in my belief that whether we go forward, stand still or travel backwards depends to a large measure on the kind of police and policing we have in this country. This is why I believe that the police and the people must be on the same side, especially in fighting for the Service to be adequately resourced in all spheres for the job at hand.
In some countries public relations officers of public institutions are kept busy with responses to concerns raised by citizens, especially in the media, but this not being the case in Ghana, my public conversations with you have been one-sided, but where there is life there is hope! In an earlier article, I commended you for being a man with a mission to modernise the Police Service, and suggested that the Police Service’s operational manual be made public so that the public would know what to expect from the changes and reforms you advocated when you took office.
As things stand now, it is difficult to know what to expect from the police although we know that you and the Service are committed to international standards and best practice, as stated on your website. I raise this in connection with police patrols or lack of them in our towns and cities because police patrols, often on foot are the most basic and visible form of policing that citizens should expect in accordance with international best practices.
I am sure that you are aware of the sad and unpardonable killing of six year old Gladys Nyarko Mensah at Akyem New Tafo last week. The little school girl was said to have been “butchered by a mentally deranged woman” who emerged out of nowhere and attached Gladys with a machete as she played with her friends in front of her house. This being Ghana, this is possibly the end of the story: the little girl is dead, perhaps her grand-something is a witch, the killer is mad – end of story.
However, remarks by Chief Inspector Yaw Nketia-Yeboah when briefing the media, should at the very least lead to a clarification of police practices as far as patrolling and security in our villages, towns and cities are concerned. The Chief Inspector explained that Aku, the suspected killer, “was seen” on the streets of New Tafo on the fateful day wielding a machete, and went on to describe how the “mentally deranged woman” chased Gladys through the vicinity of her house and inflicted fatal machete wounds on her body. Now, read this slowly: “Chief Inspector Nketia-Yeboah advised the public to be security conscious and report to the police anybody whose attitude posed a security threat to others, saying, ‘if those who had seen this mentally deranged person had reported her to the police the death of Gladys would have been prevented’”.
I agree with the Chief Inspector on the bare essentials. The public must be security conscious is good advice and obviously if those who had seen Aku on a rampage had reported to the police the death of Gladys would have been prevented. That is true. But let us probe a little further because the police officer apportions no blame or responsibility to the New Tafo Police who must have been aware, or ought to have been aware that Aku, a mentally deranged woman was loose on the streets of the town but chose to do nothing about it.
Look at it this way: unless Aku suddenly and without any previous illness took to the streets with a machete, we can assume that Aku has been fixture on the streets of Tafo for some time, possibly for a long time. Is it the responsibility of the police to ensure the removal of such persons? Or do the police have to wait in their offices to be told that such persons have turned suddenly violent? I do not know what the laws or rules are regarding the removal of such people but what I know from other countries is that the police proactively remove such people whether they are violent or not.
Now, let us look at police patrols. In this country hardly do we see any police officers on patrols even in predictably tense and potentially aggressive situations. A case in point was during the last World Cup when thousands of people converged at Osu to celebrate Ghana victories and there was hardly any police presence after the first victory over Serbia. The situation changed after media outcry but was it or was it not police procedure to anticipate such a situation and make provision for it?
Police patrol, especially foot patrols are not unknown in Ghana. Police patrols, including the defunct Local Authority (Ahenfie) police were seen often in the streets of our towns and villages to ensure good behaviour. Deterrence and quick reaction are the main reasons why intimate policing is the norm in several countries in the world, but unfortunately not in Ghana. The IGP and the police hierarchy can test this by going to Makola any day to see for themselves the lack of preventive and proactive policing at the most populous outdoor venue in the country. The same goes for the Accra Mall where thousands of mostly young people congregate every weekend on a relatively small piece of land. One does not need to be a brain surgeon or police officer to know that something, anything can go wrong with disastrous consequences at such places.
Now, back to the Chief Inspector, I am not sure that it ever crossed his mind that Aku, the “mentally deranged woman” could have “been seen” by police officers at New Tafo if any had been out and about as is the case elsewhere in the world. I have a feeling that the Chief Inspector truly believes that the job of the policeman and woman is to sit in the office to receive complaints and tip offs, but never simply to go out and see what goes on in their patch, if they “have” a patch.
It is almost never the case to see a police officer on foot patrol anywhere; they are either guarding a place or event, or else speeding by in a vehicle. A few years ago I saw a scene that I could not even have imagined. A driver lost control of his vehicle which slammed into a light pole in front of the Flagstaff House in Accra. It missed three women on the kerb before coming to rest against the pole. A minute later a policeman on a motorcycle emerged on the scene. He slowed down and looked contemptuously at the scene as people scrambled to and from in the confusion. Then he drove off. It could only happen in Ghana; it did.
In some countries little Gladys’ death would have sparked a serious uproar because a little girl should not be killed by a known “deranged woman” in front of the girl’s house. Questions would have been asked in Parliament and relevant ministers would be scratching their heads for changes to the status quo so that other little girls would not perish in this way.
This will not happen in Ghana because there is no immediate political advantage for either the NPP or NDC but at least this tragedy could lead to shed light on the rules on the removal of potential and actual public menace from the streets, and also encourage the police to tell us whether in Ghana police work is limited to the office. This would also help us to set our expectations of the Police Service and its performance. Perhaps, Chief Inspector Nketia-Yeboah is correctly stating the position of the Ghana Police. I have no way of knowing, but the IGP can put us out of the misery of ignorance.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Making Men-Only Peace in Ghana

President John Mills on November 10 inaugurated the new National Peace Council, which is made up of 13 people. They are the following: Most Rev. Prof. Emmanuel Asante, chairman of the Christian Council of Ghana, Maulvi Dr. Wahab Adam, Ameer and Missionary in charge of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission, Apostle Dr. Opoku Onyinah, President of the Ghana Pentecostal Council, The Most Rev. Dr Joseph Osei-Bonsu, president of the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference, Rev. Gideon Titi-Ofei, General Secretary of the National Association of Charismatic and Christian Churches, Nana Susubribi Krobea Asante, representative of the National House of Chiefs.

Others are: Sheikh Mahmoud Gedel and Alhaji Adam Abubakar, representing the Office of the National Chief Imam, Nii Otokunor Sampah, elder of the Afrikania Mission, Shaibu Abubakar, chairman f the Ghana Network for Peace Building, Mumuni Abudu Seidu, an educationist, Mrs. Florence Mangwe,  a human resource consultant, Rev. Dr. Nii Amoo Darko, Counselor and member of the Council of State.

Please take a critical look at the list against, and the first thing that strikes you is that a council charged by the President to “bring to order” all people who might be “obstacles to peace” has only one woman out of thirteen. It is ridiculously unbalanced. That the state of Ghana cannot follow the principle of gender parity in the area of peacemaking is difficult to fathom because the participation of women and other stakeholders is now standard fare in the template for conflict resolution and peace-building. Gender parity is not a gimmick for beautifying meetings or making politically correct statements. There are excellent political, social and cultural reasons why as much as possible men and women should be equally represented on public bodies.

So far, this principle has not been followed in appointing public bodies in Ghana. A significant example of unbalanced public body is the Forestry Commission which was inaugurated by Alhaji Collins Dauda on Sept 8 2009. It has ten members of whom only one is a woman. Curiously, women’s rights groups have not been as vocal as they ought to be on these subjects. It would be a good idea if civil society generally, but women’s groups more specifically would monitor such appointments because the lack of balance means that such bodies are not going to effective.

Let us return to the Peace Council which makes Ghana look like a patriarchal theocracy rather than a secular republic, of which more anon! It is ridiculous to suppose that the Peace Council will achieve either its short or long-term ambitions by excluding women in a significant way from its deliberations. The irony is that in composing the Council the President did not want to leave out any “major” religion in Ghana because presumably their input would be good for the Council’s decisions. That argument ought to be made even more strongly for gender parity than for religious diversity and participation.

The truth is that most of these men, especially the eight representatives of religious organisations, including the representative of the Council of State who is a reverend minister, are likely to share the same worldview, especially on conflicts and their causes. The one woman in the group is described as a human resource Consultant, make of that what you will, and gauge her likely effectiveness against the assembled mass of godly men on the Council, if they decide to stick together on issues before the Council.

Excluding women from peacemaking at the highest levels is not a good political move. Women are more than half the population and it makes sense to figure out that on most issues, especially in looking for peace and stability, carrying the sisterhood with you is more than half the job done. No matter how we pretend otherwise, men and women bring different but equal experiences and visions to the table at all times. In peacemaking success often turns not on the broad rhetorical sweep of moral and ethical precepts but on the nuanced and specific experiences and understandings. This is why a Peace Council is necessary in the first place.

Unfortunately, this group simply may not be able to provide that nuanced understanding because apart from the specifics of their religious differences, eight of them share a very similar outlook on most issues. For example, we can all guess what their response would be to a distress call by say, atheistic homosexual citizens (they are citizens even if we don’t approve of their sleeping arrangements and lack of faith). We can even guess how they would interpret a prolonged public sector strike or activities of say, “unruly” young men. The point is that their predictable viewpoint is valid but not the only valid one.

Ghana is a secular republic, even if it doesn’t feel that way from events in the public sphere. However, if we believe that peacemaking is a predominantly religious activity then why are some faiths such as Judaism, Hinduism, Krishna, but significantly African religious beliefs not represented on the council? What about commercial juju men from whom regular and irregular forces are said to go to seek supernatural powers such as the ability to withstand bullets before going to war. They probably would be a useful source of information in and to the Peace Council.
Historically, women have been better at procuring peace than men. In the comic drama Lysistrata written by Aristophanes in 411 BC, a group of Greek women are persuaded by Lysistrata to withhold sexual privileges from their men until the latter ended the Peloponnesian War, which had been dragging for years. They succeeded. An African version of the same drama called Aikin Mata by Tony Harrison has been well received as a good exponent of sexual politics. In recent times, the Liberian peace campaigner Leymah Gbowee has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for mobilizing women to end the Liberian civil war.

In most traditional cultures in Ghana, women are regarded as the arbiters of peace. In Akan custom, when negotiators have to break for consultations, they are said to go and “ask the old woman”. This is almost always literally true because invariably, the old woman has the final say. It would be difficult to argue that President Mills is unaware of these precepts and home truths. Instead it appears that we have as a nation succumbed to a religion-centred worldview that profits churchmen and church owners but has nothing to with our spirituality or moral standing.

I would argue that as important as religious leaders may be within civil society they are not the only ones whose influence can restore peace in a dire situation. If the Peace Council is to contribute to peace, especially in the lead up to the 2012 elections and beyond, it has to have greater and better diversity. That means it has to include representatives of the Electoral Commission, Parliament, the Trades Union Congress, the youth and students but above all women.
Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote:

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfills himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”

And from Mother Teresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”.

A Peace Council without one-half of the civic body has no “other” to belong to and will end up speaking only to itself.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Fulani Menace that could save our Country

It cannot be easy being a Fulani in Ghana today. Perhaps, the only worse situation is being a homosexual Fulani herdsman in Agogo! In the last few months Fulani herdsmen have taken the place in our imagination usually reserved for witches and other evil doers; not even the arrival of homosexuals as number one hate objects has shifted the focus away from these people, who in other circumstances should be called our brethren. The amazing thing is that despite them being such objects of disgust, the majority of Ghanaians know so little about the Fulani; I think we have an obligation to know a bit more about our declared national enemy.

So who are the Fulani? Where do they come from? How did they get here? What do they want here? More importantly, what does their presence here tell us about ourselves? Most Ghanaians believe that “Fulani” is synonymous with “cattle farmers”, which is why in some Ghanaian communities every cattle farmer is described as a called “Fulani”. This term has been used to describe even Ghanaian cattle farmers who are also pastoralists and drive their cattle over long distances in search of pasture.

The Fulani, as their name implies are FULA people who today are spread in several West African countries although they are concentrated principally in Nigeria, Mali, Guinea, Cameroon, Senegal, and Niger. The Fulani language, known as Fula, is classified within the Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Needless to say, Fulani are a people and not a form of employment, in the same way that “Asante” cannot be just another name for, say a cocoa farmer. Interestingly, in some African countries, such as Liberia, the term “Fante” refers to fishermen and women fish sellers.

Today’s Fulani come from a very ancient and proud people and culture; their forebears created an empire that stretched across present day West Africa. Indeed, the Fulani Empire could be the ECOWAS of our dreams because it created a political and economic network the like of which has never been seen in the sub-region in modern times. The great Fulani leader Usman dan Fodio exerted the biggest influence on the development and direction of Islam in West Africa. By establishing the Sokoto Caliphate, the Imam also left a legacy that has had direct impact on the political, economic, social and cultural developments in West Africa, most notably in Northern Nigeria.

Needless to say, not all Fulani are into cattle rearing although that particular occupation defined their culture in the past and continues to do so to this day; their lives and organisation are dominated by the needs of their herds. However, as with all peoples, there are Fula doctors, engineers, teachers, drivers, journalists and indeed cattle rearers, and their culture has produced its fair share of the artistic and cultural heritage of our sub-region.

Fulani architecture, engraving, leatherwork, textiles and other forms of art expressions are found throughout West Africa, and as can be expected of a nomadic culture, the Fulani have spread their culture in the places where they have settled, typically in Northern Nigeria where Fulani cultural influence on the Hausa is most noticeable, even if it can be argued that the Hausa have also largely assimilated the Fulani.

So, instead of seeing the Fulani as a malevolent sub-cultural species here to disturb our peaceful way of life, we should regard them as our neighbours whose forebears have interacted with our forefathers and foremothers for centuries.  It has to be pointed out that there are Ghanaian Fulani in the same way that there are Ghanaian British people in the world. We all start from somewhere and end up somewhere because we are like several little streams with one purpose, which is to move towards the sea. Far from being devils with horns and tails, they are our own people also in search of bread and water, especially the latter.

The Fulani being pastoralists travel everywhere they can find fresh pasture for their herds, whose needs come first. It has been remarked that a Fulani will ensure the comfort of his cattle before he seeks his own. This is often misunderstood, sometimes deliberately, in order to cast the Fulani as being subhuman in some way. In fact, most sedentary famers treat their crop farms in the same way; for example when their crops are threatened by pests, some farmers stay up all night every night just to scare them away in order to protect their crops.

It is this desire to nurture their cattle that has brought the Fulani to our lands, and there is a powerful lesson which is being lost. Seasonal southern migration of the Fulani and their cattle is not new. When I was a boy they used to come every year together with their itinerant soothsayers popular know in southern Ghana as “aduro-aduro”. They always went back once the rains started wherever they came from. What is new is the new type of Fulani that has gone into sedentary cattle farming in parts of Ghana. It is telling us something very significant.

Overgrazing of dry lands is one of the main causes of desertification, and together with overpopulation and climate changes can cause irreversible decline in the quality of land. This process has been going on in the Sahel countries for many years, and the fact that the Fulani are not going back and forth seasonally means that there is nothing for them to return to, in terms of pasture for their cattle. This is the fate that awaits us if we don’t wake up and smell the cattle dung.

The story and lesson that we need to take from the Fulani-Agogo saga is not the national security-implicated one that is currently on the agenda. In fact, when the dust settles and we learn the lesson, perhaps too late as it might turn out to be, we will realize that rather than demonise the Fulani we should have thanked them for foreshadowing the disaster to come.

I know what I am talking about. In 1994, the Panos Institute in London commissioned me to write a Panos Briefing Papers on desertification and they later arranged for me to present the paper at a UNESCO conference in Paris. Later, the Paper was used as the basis for a regional media workshop on desertification in Harare. The main lesson I learnt from that very important experience is that desertification does not mean the desert is either “coming down” or expanding, but rather that desert-like conditions are being created in forest areas. Among the maim indicators of the process is the movement of nomadic peoples.

As for the activities of the Fulani, or any other herdsmen roaming the Agogo countryside or elsewhere, no one would disregard the damage the unauthorised and inappropriate herding has done to large tracts of land in Ghana. There are instances when herdsmen are said to have burnt whole farms just to clear the land of crops in order to find pasture for their cattle. There have been reports of rapes, pillage and murder; none of these atrocities endears the cattle rearers to their farming neighbours but the media condemnation of a whole people cannot be a substitute for bringing the INDIVIDUAL offenders to justice.

It appears that the word “Fulani” itself has become a byword for criminal behavior without differentiating between people’s behaviour as individuals. People of a certain age would recall that some 25 or 30 years ago, Nigerians used to refer to Ghanaians as “thieves” just because of the activities of a few of our compatriots in Agege and other Lagos slums. “Omo Ghana, Ole!” usually was the signal for a very cruel lynching of any Ghanaian in sight. We didn’t like it.

Thank God for Spintex Road Traffic

Yes, you read that right. Every word in the headline is exactly as I meant it to be and the meaning is as straightforward as it could possibly be. I am thanking God, who in his infinite wisdom, created the Spintex Road, pointless as it may appear to you and me, and endowed it with traffic; lots of traffic. For years I have railed against the selfsame traffic and bemoaned its existence as a barrier to human progress and happiness. I realize that I was only seeing through a glass darkly: now that I can see the full picture I am thanking the Creator for the traffic on the Spintex Road and praying for more.

The discerning reader will be right to wonder whether I have taken leave of my senses. No, I have not, but I have now seen the light and I can explain it all. Fact: the Spintex Road has more suicide drivers than there are suicide bombers in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. If you don’t believe me come to the Spintex Road on a Sunday morning between seven and nine, and you will also praise God for the same reason that I am singing Him hymns and encomiums.

Last Sunday, I was on the Spintex Road at about eight in the morning and that accursed piece of earth was unusually empty. You would think that would be a good thing. Wrong. It was a bad thing because the suicide drivers who are normally restrained by the traffic had unimpeded access to open road, which apparently heightens their urge not only to kill themselves but to take out any and every mortal being within their sphere of influence.

Perhaps a bit of background will help make sense of what I am saying. For reasons that are too long to get into, the Spintex Road is home to some of the owners of the most monstrous motor vehicles known to man and woman. These vehicles, often off-road, sports utility and crossover vehicles are used in serious countries for rallies and driving in difficult terrain. In Ghana they are driven on city roads. Unfortunately, they are not evenly distributed in our city but are over-represented in estates dotted around the Spintex Road.

This can be explained easily. The Spintex Road area is a very young part of the Accra-Tema conurbation that forms the major part of the Greater Accra Region. The area is therefore home to a large dose of  new wealth as opposed to old wealth which is found elsewhere in the metropolis. The people with this new wealth are sometimes classified as the nouveau riche, or pejoratively known as parvenu, defined as a person who has suddenly risen to an unaccustomed position of wealth or power and has not yet gained the prestige, dignity, or manner associated with it.

One of the main characteristics of the parvenu is to flaunt their wealth on the principle that wealth MUST be flaunted. Thus, the nouveau riche and the 4 x 4s are made for each other, for in what better way can you flaunt new wealth than by investing in a vehicles that is meant to flaunt. Let me explain in parenthesis that  that many people own 4 x 4s and use them in appropriate ways such as travelling often to places where only off-roaders can survive, and many drive them with care and respect for other people. Unfortunately, not many such decent folk appear to live on the Spintex Road.

On any other day apart from Sunday, the Spintex Road is full of traffic, so in order to flaunt wealth and power our nouveau riche friends just break the rules either by driving right smack in the middle of the road with all lights blazing or the drive along the edges of the road. The effect of either maneuver is to intimidate other drivers out of the way. However, there is a limit to such intimidation because from the other direction comes salvation in the form of articulated trucks against whom even these determined intimidators suddenly become shy.

It is different on Sundays. Most articulated truck drivers apparently lie in on Sunday mornings, or perhaps decide to use the Accra-Tema Motorway; ditto for buses and tro-tro vehicles, whose owners demand that their vehicles observe at least half of the Sabbath. Therefore, Sunday morning on the Spintex Road should by right be peaceful, and usually is.

However, this Sunday peace is often shattered by suicide drivers who feel that the open space is an invitation to kill as many people as possible on the road. How else do we explain the behavior of a driver travelling in apparent fury at a speed of at least 100 miles per hour on the Spintex Road? If any child, man, woman, or beast should ventures forth across their path, such creatures would be crushed to such death that the pictures of their corpses would make it to the ritual display of dead bodies on the front page of the Daily Guide.

Dear reader, you may wonder where our esteemed police personnel would be while the law is broken with such impunity. The short answer is that they are not there. Perhaps, another backgrounder is called for. In Ghana, the police force is largely absent from our lives on Sundays. The force also goes to worship God, or washes its clothes or simply watches football. The force takes a break with the rest of us on Sundays. I think it is largely a good idea that criminals also choose to observe the Sabbath on Sundays.

It is not as if our Police Service is proactive on the other six days where the Spintex Road is concerned. A few months ago, a police spokesman was sounding off in a radio studio about how the force would clamp down on powerful people who use their powerful vehicles to intimidate other drivers off the road. I wrote about it in this column and expressed the view that what the police officer was saying was mere hot air. So it was. The police have failed to exercise their responsibilities on behalf of the poor and the weak on the Spintex Road and allowed those who feel they have a right to be above the law to be so in fact.

Last Sunday, in the time it would take to count ten, about six SUVs had passed from Cylinder to Flowerpot (places along the Spintex Road are given funny names by tro-tro mates). It would take at least 30 minutes on a normal working day to cover the same distance and about an hour to do it on Saturdays. It takes time to go from point A to point B on the Spintex Road on a normal police-abandoned day but the chances of a poor child being killed by a wealth-vaunting nouveau riche driver in an ultra powerful vehicle are reduced by the traffic.

On Sundays there is no such traffic so suicide drivers have the opportunity to express themselves. Imagine if every day was like Sunday on the Spintex Road! This is why we have to thank God for small and big mercies and for the constant traffic on the Spintex Road. After all, the Almighty knows a thing or two about the Ghanaian, who is allegedly among His creation.