Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine


Getting Used To Brutality

Very few things appear to shock Ghanaians these days. That appears to be understandable considering the litany of traumatic experiences the people have endured in 28 years of nationhood. It could possibly be argued that the loss of innocence could prove beneficial as people are not likely to get excited over 'small' incidents any more and they would concentrate on the 'big' matters of the day.

The regime of Flt-Lt. Jerry Rawlings appears to actively encourage the adoption of this blasé attitude among the people.

Thus, when security services storm a house in the middle of Ghana's second largest city and reduce it to rubble after an exchange of fire which led to deaths, it is deemed an unimportant episode, or to employ the memorable construction of The People's Daily Graphic: "Any information given by the government on the incident will only satisfy IDLE CURIOSITY."

In pursuit of this "under-reaction" theory, not one word of the incident has found its way into the official press apart from reports about demonstrations against the perpetrators of the unreported incident.

The privately-owned newspaper in Kumasi, The Pioneer, however, did carry a detailed report about the incident and according to a rare official statement which apologised to the paper's owners about the 'brutality meted to the editor and news editor by some soldiers,' the paper had got one name wrong.

Inside our pages today we have carried the paper's editor's report of what happened to him and his news editors at the PNDC headquarters. We recommend this report to our readers. What we find particularly worrying about the whole sorry mess is the fact that the government has sought to excuse the incident on the grounds that it was NOT official.

Until the onset of the PNDC, in spite of its many faults, one could at least count on the Ghana Police abiding by its own rules. Now a police wireless message can be sent for the arrest of an editor and his news editor, without a warrant, they are taken by the police and delivered to soldiers at a military barracks and left to the very tender mercies of the sadists in the guard room. They are brutalized and savaged until a kind officer intervenes and gets them released. Lt-Col. Assasie, the Political Councellor for the Economic Development of the CDRS (an official enough sounding title) apologises to them for the "delay at the barracks" and urges them not to stretch the point (ie. the brutalization suffered) so that they (the PNDC? The Committee for the Defence of the Revolution?) also will not stretch the point of the error in The Pioneer story. To cap it all, the official statement claims that all this was not official.

It is educative that a Sergeant at Gondar barracks (PNDC headquarters) can order an announcement to be made on radio, television and all newspapers, for a particular person to report at PNDC headquarters, and the government can claim such actions are unofficial. In the past three years, thousands of Ghanaians have been called to Gondar barracks in similar fashion, they have been beaten up, locked up, kicked about, some have lost their lives, many have lost their jobs, all on the strength of such announcements. Have they all been unofficial?

The Pioneer editor reports that he saw many other people in the guard room being brutalized in a similar manner, in the presence of such people as the guard room officials.

In the early days of Flt-Lt. Rawlings' revolution, many people were willing to excuse him from personal blame and the theory was canvassed that he was in fact the restraining influence on otherwise bloodthirsty soldiers intent on killing, maiming and terrorising the population. Three years later, would the Flight- Lieutenant say that he is still the line of defence against terror on the civilian population? These soldiers at the PNDC headquarters are all personally known to him and draw their power, authority and influence from him personally and after making every cynical speech condemning violence, he still hobnobs with them. Not one of such soldiers has been punished for the 'unofficial' actions they take in Gondar barracks, or at least, if such punishments have been given, they have been deemed unimportant for public information and ranked as serving only to satisfy idle curiosity.

The shaving of heads with blunt razors no longer raises any indignations and the "report without fail" notices in the newspapers, radio and television have all become part of everyday Ghanaian life.

There is no outrage that the Police can be used in such a fashion 'unofficially' and when people make it out of the Gondar barracks with their lives, they are encouraged 'Not to stretch a point' and left to nurse themselves back to health.

It is not unlikely that the rare 'official apology' has come only because of the identities of the two people involved in this incident and their profession. It is, however, not enough to apologise to them, nor is it anywhere near being enough that the brutality has been deemed uncalled for and unofficial. The PNDC has to go much further than that. There ought to be a public inquiry to establish the identities of these soldiers, to find out how police facilities are used by soldiers to effect the arrest of people unofficially, to determine the source of authority and power wielded by these soldiers and to punish all those who would be found guilty. That is the only way the PNDC can convince anybody that it does not 'officially back the brutes in Gondar barracks to do the dirty work for the government.

The value of the nation can only be measured in how much interest that is taken in the fate of the individual. The thick skin that has been developed by the people to the spectacle of brutality is the saddest aspect of Ghana at its 28th year of nationhood.

talking drums 1985-03-11 rawlings brutalities at Gondar Barracks