Saturday, July 26, 2008

Carrying dead bodies – punishment for bad parking in Accra

I was not shocked when I heard the story, but then I’ve been in Ghana a long time now… Here the authority of the military is many times unquestioned and more times abused by the ones in the uniforms. Human rights organizations would be up in arms, if they knew, if they cared. Ghana is not high on the radar though for these organizations. Ghana is the ever-promising ‘Gateway to Africa’! Embassies pop up here from every country on the globe, and investment is flowing in. In fact, this monthly ironically, CanademVolunteers, a Canadian International Development forum highlighted an article where “Ghana is Commended on Good Human Rights Record”.

Meanwhile, for the man in the street, life goes on – cowboy style, where those with a shred of authority lord it over those with less or none.

A couple of weeks ago, the ‘army boys’ up at the 37 Military hospital (home of the infamous bats in the trees above), decided it was time to stop a growing practice that was causing some congestion on the throughway in front of the hospital. The private mini vans which take the place of a formal public transport system, have organized themselves over the years in Ghana, into fairly organized associations and each driver/vehicle belongs to a specific organization, with a specific route and stopping points. The hospital in question has become an unofficial meeting point for the vehicles – ‘tro tros’ to all of us in Ghana. This does create quite a mess, as the drivers pull over ‘en mass’, and chaos ensues, with hundreds of street sellers, shouting, scurrying and touting their wares to those getting into, hanging out the windows of, and transiting the tro tros. Passengers dart around as well, and can be seen dashing out in front of the oncoming traffic… a very unsafe practice and a nuisance to all.

However, methods of dealing with this in other societies might be to:

A) Create a public transport system with designated stations
B) Or at least, create a designated station for the existing associations of tro tros.
C) Add no stopping, no parking signs and have a police patrol in front of the hospital

I doubt that physically dragging the drivers and their ‘mates’ (the guys who hang out the door calling out the destination and collecting money from the passengers), down into the mortuary of the hospital and forcing them into hard labour would be on the list.

Hundreds of drivers over the course of a few days were physically beaten and made to do such things as weed the lawns of the hospital, clean the floors of the mortuary, and even clean and carry corpses within the mortuary.

When asked about this highly disturbing and unwarranted form of punishment, the lady in charge, a lieutenant colonel, said “We need to teach them a lesson”.
Are these children? Are there no laws? And what ethics do the lawgivers possess – to force a citizen, without arrest or proof of guilt of a crime, to carry a dead body? What humour or justice or sense of righteousness is there in something as twisted as this??

The whole story is covered in the Ghana media, but not worthy of mention apparently at the BBC or any of the other foreign media houses, who rear their inquisitive heads, when there is a story ‘worthy of global attention’.

Instead Ghana is left to deal with these 'local matters', these incidents, which are numerous and far less reported outside of Accra, certainly. What does the government feel? Is this practice acceptable in their view?

They have not been available or perhaps not even asked to comment. For his part, the Brigadier General did comment that this goes against their regulations on dealing with civilians.

What will the repercussions be? What about the psychological affect on those forced into this bizarre punishment? What about their rights?

Well, the officers may be questioned.

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