Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Poles apart?

By Elizabeth Ohene

Two incidents in two different countries - Ghana and Poland - separated in time by a little over two years, but so alike it is quite uncanny. While the Polish tragedy continues to draw international condemnations, the Ghanaian incident fell into the realm of 'internal affairs'.
Two incidents in two different countries separated in time by a little over two years but so alike, it is quite uncanny.

There are not many things that Ghana and Poland have in common; geographically, they are in two different worlds and consequently their peoples' paths have not crossed historically.

It is, of course, not impossible that some sociologist might make a study of the two countries and their peoples and discover striking similarities in their behaviour patterns and sociological set ups. Who knows, the Gdansk shipyard workers and the railwaymen of Sekondi-Takoradi might be found to have more in common than militant trade unionism.

That, however, is not what interests me today, my interest being limited currently only to the subject of political murders.

The first, in Ghana, of three High Court judges and a retired army officer, in June 1982, and the second in Poland of a Catholic priest in October 1984.

In the first incident, members of the Ghana security services went to the homes of the four victims, abducted them and for two days the news was that they had been kidnapped by unknown people. The Head of State went on State radio and television to condemn the act. The Interior Minister went on record publicly to state that this was the work of enemies of the revolution who wanted to give the regime a bad name.

Then the partially burnt bodies of the four people were discovered and public outrage and revulsion erupted to a pitch that surprised the government.

The hands of officialdom in the murders were evident to many and the more the government denied complicity, the more sceptical the public became. The funeral of the murdered four became an opportunity for national outpouring of grief and defiance to the government.

The government, judging the public mood correctly and realising that they might be swept away by public anger, decided on a damage limitation strategy and announced that there would be a judicial enquiry into the murders and the culprits, when found, would be punished.

In the meantime, the government went on the offensive, condemning those who were seeking to 'exploit' the murders for their own political ends. While most people had no doubts about governmental complicity, there were two theories being advanced as to the reason for the murders.

Some people were of the opinion that the victims represented the type of people that the regime saw as enemies and against whom the revolution had been launched and who had each personally taken actions in their official positions that were against the interests of members of the government. According to this theory, therefore, the murders were punishment and meant to demonstrate to the general public that members of the top hierarchy in the old establishment were now equally vulnerable and no longer sacred.

The second theory was that the murders were the work of the radical faction within the regime, that was dissatisfied with the pace of the revolution and hoped by the murders to provoke the opposition into such violent reaction that the government will have to turn very radical if they were to be able to clamp down to survive the ensuing chaos.

The investigation board that was promised by the government took its work very seriously and its findings pointed to complicity right up to the highest echelons of government. The board during certain parts of the investigations virtually had to operate in opposition to the government, which were by this time, regretting the decision to have appointed an independent board to head the investigations.

The findings of the Board rocked the country almost as much as the murders, accusing two members of the ruling body, the country's security chief and four lowly soldiers, members of the security services as being responsible.

The government decided to sift through the list of accused people and the Attorney-General made his own list of those he considered guilty - well, guilty enough to be tried one member of the ruling body and the four lowly soldiers who were the actual executioners.

Even though five people were executed, the feeling still persists that the truth of the story has not been told. However, both the government, their supporters and opposers are all agreed that those murders marked a turning point in Ghana's political history. Some people are convinced that it was the reaction to the murders that forced the government into changing track and toning down the violent nature of its policies.

Some others see the murders as a victory for a certain wing in the government which has succeeded in weeding out those it did not like.

Other people see it as the single most significant factor in bringing the judiciary into line 'many judges immediately left the country and the majority have stayed out since then, those who have stayed on in the country have all lost whatever nerve they ever had and can be counted upon never to return any judgement that will displease the government. In other words, the judiciary have been frightened into submission since no other judge wants to end up like his murdered colleagues.


In the second incident, members of the Polish Security services waylaid a popular Catholic priest and abducted him. The first news here also stated that the priest had been kidnapped by persons unknown. The Head of State went promptly on nationwide radio and television to condemn the act, promising to find the culprits. Again this was supposed to be the work of enemies of the government bent on giving them a bad name.

The public saw the hands of officialdom in the kidnap and before the body of the priest was dragged from a pool some twelve days after his disappearance, people already feared the worst, and knew he had been killed.

This time around, arrest followed quite rapidly members of the security services, but their positions are so lowly, the government had to admit that while their hands might have been those that killed the priest, the guiding brains belonged to others.

The public outrage and outpouring of grief have been at such a fever pitch that it has threatened to engulf the whole nation, and possibly sweep the government away.

The theories that have been advanced for this murder are identical to those put forward to explain the Ghana murders. One theory states that the murder was intended to provoke such anger that the radical wing of the party will seize power to control the situation. The other theory is that it was meant to silence current and future critics of the government forever.

For, while this particular priest had identified himself with the Solidarity trade union movement, and had kept up his sermons in its defence after it had been banned, the Catholic church represented, like the Judiciary in Ghana, the most powerful source of opposition to everything the Polish government stood for.

Just as happened in Ghana, the Polish government has also gone on the offensive, condemning those who are seeking to "exploit" the murders, for their own political ends.

The funeral of the priest, like those of the judges in Ghana, turned into an event to register opposition to and defiance of the government.

People are now waiting for the outcome of the investigations to find out how high up complicity in the planning of the murders go and if the government will be able to withstand the inevitable shocks that such exposure will bring.

Whether the Catholic Church in Poland will be silenced as effectively as the judiciary in Ghana as a result of the murder remains now in the realms of speculation.

One thing, however, is significant; while the abduction and murder of Father Jerzy Popieluszko has attracted world-wide attention and condemnation, Justices Koranteng-Addow, Adjepong, and Sarekodie-Addo and Major Acquah remain essentially internal Ghanaian tragedies not deemed significant enough for international comment.

The British Minister for overseas Mr Malcolm Rifkind on a recent visit to Poland, went and laid a wreath on the tomb of Father Popieluszko and gave condolences on behalf of the British people to the Father's family and to the church.

Mr Rifkind paid a visit to Ghana earlier this year, he possibly did not want to get involved in Ghana's internal affairs, so he did not raise the matter of the murdered judges and army officer.

The two incidents are definitely Poles apart.

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