Opinion on Ghana: Economies of Violence
Captain Maxwell Adams Mahama. Lynched. Face charred to a crisp. Body battered and blackened. Viral visual of his corpse traumatized and horrified a nation. He was a handsome man, in uniform, young, full of promise. A military man. A 24- year old. Gone too soon. A nation is traumatized by the horror of his charred corpse; it is the remains of stolen dreams and unrealized ambition.
He was out jogging, with his gun. He got lost. He asked for directions. So said some. A question led to suspicion which provoked violence. Now a nation mourns. That mourning turned to mayhem and outrage. The military descended on Denkyira-Obuasi residents in the Upper Denkyira West District. With random violence they attacked, beat, terrorized men, women and children, according to some residents from the District. An unprovoked attack on one man triggered an unprovoked attack on a community and its residents.
This young man’s death made headline news; audibly upset commentators on radio shows and TV angrily condemned the violence and the violators. The president tweeted that no-one culpable would escape. Former presidents, Ministers and former ministers tweeted outrage, condolences, heartbreak.
Four men have been arrested in connection with this murder. There is speculation and allegation regarding connection to galampsey. The allegation that an Assemblyman may have been involved ignited fresh outrage, discussion and headlines. Government ministers have weighed in. Their words wreak further havoc, as they articulate concerns minus substantiated fact. Accusation collides with allegation and speculation.
Can we explore, connect and discuss this with another lens?
Ghana has economies of violence.
Like all economies there are sectors. Some sectors are more important than others. Some are formal, some are informal. The sectors of violence are physical, sexual, political and moral. As with all economies, there is function and dysfunction. There are big and small players. There are casualties we mourn, and there are those we overlook. There are investors. And there are victims. Our economy of violence does not see all those impacted as victims, nor is there equity. Like all economies, there are the powerful and the powerless. The currency for an economy of violence is outrage, consequence and sanction: moral, political and legal.
One economy of violence is mob justice.
We have been witness to mobs marauding through spaces and places wreaking havoc, instilling terror. Those mobs are predominantly male. We have seen this with Delta Force who attacked a court – an actual site of law and order. In another incident, residents of Somanya stormed a police station, freed suspected criminals and burnt a police vehicle. In another recent incident, a police constable traveling with an OA bus was mistaken for an armed robber, shot and killed.
Mob justice is often meted out to thieves. It is rarely applied to the perpetrators of sexual violence. That means we are a nation that places greater value on property than we do on some human lives.
Mob justice has often been meted out by security forces whose job is providing law and order. When they engage in such acts, some in society cheer. But, those security forces rarely face sanctions. The weight of the law rarely lands on their heads with the equal force of others who flout the law.
There is the economy of sexual violence.
In February this year, a 12 year old school girl in uniform was gang raped and strangled by a group of Ghanaian men. What sanction have those men received? Have they been caught or arrested? Is it a story our media will follow through to conclusion? This was mob violence – as all gang rape is. It is part of our economy of sexual violence.
Also in February this year, a woman was surrounded, beaten and sexually violated by a mob in Kumasi. The whole incident was filmed and the video circulated. Those men’s faces were visible. How many have been caught? What charges have been filed? What sanction has been served? What consequence have these men faced?
Silence. This woman and this girl are not part of the economy of violence at which the nation directs long term outrage. Momentary outrage yes, the circulation of video, the verbal condemnation of this mob’s actions. And the day, the week and the month continue. Such is this nation’s economy of sexual violence. A nation does not mourn this body, or other bodies traumatized by sexual violence.
In the Brong Ahafo region in the first six months of 2015, more than 200 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 were pregnant. This is gang rape. Gang rape is mob violence. These figures are part of an economy of sexual violence. But, the stories are framed as health stories regarding the prevention of teenage pregnancy. When this number of children are subject to sexual violence in one region – that is mob violence. We do not see it nor do we treat as such in Ghana. And there is the moral condemnation of girls’ behavior and attire. Such is the depreciated value of the currency of victims in this economy of sexual violence. This violence may also occur in broad daylight, such factors do not necessarily lead to the kind of outrage and condemnation directed at the killers of Captain Mahama.
In October 2005, at KNUST – the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology – some students sexually violated the artist and singer Mzbel on their campus after she performed for them during their Art Society Week. College students descended on a single woman and sexually assaulted her, Outrage was muted. Focus was directed at her clothing, her style and her artistry. . Such is the economy of sexual violence, and the judgment of its victims.
Some may argue one cannot conflate sexual violence with murder. Not all violence kills physically. But sexual violence can destroy lives, futures, promise. It steals something that can never be returned. In the case of the 12 year old it was indeed a life lost, in the case of the sexually violated it is a life forever changed.
This nation’s economy of sexual violence means victims are rarely nationally mourned. There is rarely talk of engaging the victim or their family with a nation’s support. The military do not rush to such scenes, rounding up suspected perpetrators. I do not suggest they should. I am pointing out the different methods by which violence is treated.
Our economies of violence are gendered. With sexual violence the currency of blame, morality and worth all rapidly depreciate for victims within this economy. Ghana’s girls and women hold an economy of morality between their legs. Due to society’s judgment of this currency, they are constantly screwed.
From the economy of sexual violence to the flourishing, sanctionless economy of political violence.
Political violence is mob violence. This is an economy that is a major player, but rarely faces impactful sanction. As such, it is an economy that flourishes. That is what corruption is within the political parties. It is an economy whose ramifications impact us all in society. Impunity, a lack of accountability, an ability to evade justice and maintain Big Man status turns this economy into teachers of the Delta 8, and other such groups.
This is not an economy that equally faces the rule of law and order. The latter has become more rhetoric than reality.
Such economies convey lessons about whose life matters, which victims we mourn and which perpetrators escape and flourish to face another day.
Ghana is lauded as a nation of peace and stability. These economies paint a different picture.
Economies of violence erode the national security fabric of a nation. The economy is further depreciated as its primary currency of consequence is blame, not accountability.
In the case of Captain Mahama, the blame has been laid at the door of poverty, ignorance and illiteracy. Political violence is not perpetrated by those who are poor, ignorant or illiterate. Sexual violence is perpetrated by teachers, pastors, college students – they too are not poor, ignorant or illiterate.
These economies of violence should have neither privilege nor power. They have both. Neither serves progress. Our economies of violence signify a fragmentation that should give us all pause.
What are we as a nation willing to do to transform and eliminate our economies of violence?
Author: Esther A. Armah
Esther is a communications specialist and journalism lecturer in Ghana.