Student protests in Ghana resulted in the temporary closure of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. The cause: police use of force in the arrest of students following a vigil to protest the possibility of all-male halls becoming mixed.
The Conversation Africa’s Moina Spooner spoke to Justice Tankebe about Ghana’s police service, and their use of force.
Does Ghana have a professional police force? What is their reputation? Is it justified?
To say a police service is professional is to claim that there’s a code of ethics that governs them, there are credible structures of accountability and that these ensure their integrity in delivering a certain quality of service to the public. These features remain undeveloped in Ghana’s police force.
The police’s reputation is it intimidates, is violent, corrupt and that it treats civilians unfairly. Earlier this year there were reports of police officers brutalising citizens without provocation. This included a video of a woman and her toddler being beaten in Accra. Police are also accused of being trigger-happy. In one incident police killed seven young men that they claimed were robbers.
This type of violence happens for a couple of reasons. I conducted two studies of Ghanaian police officers. The first showed that most police officers supported the use of force for a range of reasons. Including; they didn’t have strong bonds with the service and the rules about when and how to use force don’t have legitimacy in their eyes, so they disregard them. This lack of legitimacy was put down to the fact that there are high levels of corruption in the police force.
My second study revealed that officers were treated badly by their supervisors. The result is that officers take their frustrations out on civilians and that the supervisors lose credibility in encouraging good behaviour. Improving police treatment of civilians therefore requires paying attention to the moral climate within police departments in Ghana.
To address the problems there needs to be a proper diagnosis. This isn’t being done. Ghana’s police managers believe the issues can be traced to problems with individual rogue officers. For example, the national police chief, Asante Appeatu, said that:
we must fire the bad apples because they are dangerous.
But the problems facing Ghana’s police are systemic. There are conditions within the police service – like poor supervision, poor training, and unfair treatment of lower-ranked officers – that make misconduct more likely to happen. Focusing on individual officers diverts attention from these conditions and it also means police managers can avoid responsibility for the problems.
How does it compare to other countries in the region?
There’s no systematic tracking of police violence in the region which makes country comparisons impossible. My own work has focused on Ghana and, as Director of the African Institute of Crime, Policy and Governance Research, I have started to collate cases of police violence in Ghana. With time this will be extended to other countries so that a solid basis for comparison can be made.
Is the government taking steps to address police violence?
Rhetoric about curbing police violence haven’t been matched by concrete action or strategy. The government’s approach is reactive, responding to public pressure to investigate instances of police violence. There are no efforts to delve into the broader issues and to develop national standards.
If this type of impunity persists, the rule of law loses credibility and police become part of the problem rather than the solution. Unless government takes steps to address police violence, the situation is bound to worsen.
There are a few things that can be done.
Firstly, there needs to be independent and credible oversight institutions that can investigate serious cases of police violence and other forms of misconduct. For instance in England and Wales, the independent office for police conduct investigates misconduct by individual officers while the inspectorates of criminal justice regularly inspects police forces with the aim of improving policing and ensuring public safety. Ghana needs similar institutional arrangements.
Ghana’s police also need to develop a strategy for dealing with public disorder. This should guide the training of officers on how best to handle public order so that they can manage situations, like the one at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology campus, discretely. It was clear from the way the police behaved that they reacted impulsively, escalating tensions. Policy direction and regular training will help avert unnecessary violence.
Thirdly, part of the problem with the police in Ghana is that they confuse legality with legitimacy. They believe that just because their orders are lawful, they are legitimate and deserve public compliance. This mindset means they pay only lip-service to the hard work of understanding and engaging with local communities, taking complaints seriously, improving treatment of civilians, and holding officers to account.
Finally, police legitimacy needs to be part of a strategy. Unless police officers command legitimacy –- that is, they are perceived to be effective, to act lawfully, and to treat civilians fairly –- violence will remain a stable feature of their interactions with civilians. The strategy should involve training which puts more emphasis on building better relationships with civilians through fair treatment – explaining decisions, listening to civilians, being respectful, trustworthy, and being impartial. It could also involve investing in equipment – like body-worn cameras by officers – to track and capture data on interactions with civilians. These significantly reduce the use of force by police.
Thirty years of German settler colonialism in South West Africa – from 1884 to 1914 – paved the way for continued apartheid under South Africa. The resistance of the local communities against the invasion culminated in the first genocide of the 20th century among the Ovaherero, Nama and other groups.
As main occupants of the eastern, central and southern regions of the country they were forced from their land into so-called native reserves.
Forced land dispossession continued. Even independence brought little relief. The negotiated transition to independence in 1990 entrenched the structural discrepancies created during colonialism. In exchange for occupying the political commando heights of a sovereign state the national liberation movement SWAPO accepted the material inequalities it inherited without any major debate.
Namibia’s Constitution was adopted as a precondition to independence. Its chapter 3 on Fundamental Human Rights and Freedom cannot be changed. Next to civil and political rights, its article 16 states that any expropriation of private property requires compensation that is just.
Not surprisingly, the question of land has been hotly contested ever since independence. A National Land Reform Conference took place in 1991. Its recommendations included the redistribution of commercial farmland, a land tax and the reallocation of underused land.
But meaningful restitution wasn’t implemented. In addition, the buying of farm land was slow and inefficient. Beneficiaries were often not able to use farms they’d got for resettlement purposes because they lacked capital and know-how.
Finally, many beneficiaries were anything but still disadvantaged. Members of the political and bureaucratic elite received preferential treatment. Subsidised by taxpayers’ money, they became weekend or hobby farmers.
Second land conference
More recently there have been increased demands to address the failures of the past; these culminated in a second land conference in early October 2018. But local responses to the final document that was adopted were based on previous experiences – that is, in most cases not much happens after such conferences. As an editorial in a weekly paper remarked:
Placing one or two plasters on the stump of an amputated leg, is not a cure.
The government invited more than 800 participants to the conference and allocated N$ 15 million (one million USD$) for the five-day event. Given the overwhelming dominance of state authorities and other official institutions as well as indications that SWAPO tried from the get-go to hijack the agenda, civil society organisations threatened to boycott. At the end, most of them participated merely because it was a chance to voice their frustrations.
The Ministry for Land Reform provided access to most of the documents submitted, including those of the first Land Conference. Compared with the 24 resolutions adopted but hardly implemented then, many matters in the now 40 resolutions were a modified follow up.
A significant new addition was the issue of urban land and informal settlements. It recognised the demands of urban squatters to affordable housing, estimated at 900,000 people (40% of Namibia’s total population).
Notably, the issues of communal and of ancestral land also received more prominence and there appeared to be a greater willingness to consider interventions. These include the protection of tenure rights mainly in the interest of the poorest as victims of illegal land occupation and privatisation by members of the new elites.
Reconciliation and justice
What complicates matters is that land is not merely an economic affair. More than any other issue, land is a matter of identity – for those who own it as much as for those who feel it should be theirs.
Colonialism went along with violent land theft. The current distribution of land in Namibia is a constant reminder that colonialism has not ended despite independence.
History cannot be fully reversed. The structural legacies created under apartheid and the long-term demographic impact of the genocide have left irreversible marks. However, what seems a feasible compromise is to offer the San communities access to and protection in the parts of Namibia which have remained, in their views, home.
The forced removal from land on record since the early times of white settler encroachment would also be a widely accepted reference point.
Some of the still festering wounds can be treated. The recent Land Conference stated on “ancestral land rights and claims” in resolution 38 that “measures to restore social justice and ensure economic empowerment of the affected communities” should be identified. And it proposes to “use the reparations from the former colonial powers for such purpose”. This might offer a way out of the current stagnation in the negotiations between the Namibian and German governments.
As part of the long overdue compensation, Germany should fork out the necessary funds for a just compensation of commercial farmers, whose land was previously utilised by Namibia’s indigenous communities. It then also has to finance the necessary investments – both in terms of infrastructure as well as know-how – that will empower local communities to fully benefit from resettlement. This would be a wise investment by both governments into true reconciliation towards a peaceful future for all people who want to continue living in Namibia.
But such brokerage requires honesty to obtain legitimacy and credibility. Ten days after the Land Conference disturbing news made the rounds. A Russian oligarch, who has been in possession of three farms since 2013, had added another four farms to his Namibian empire. This shady deal with the Land Reform Ministry was made a week before the Land Conference, whose resolution 21 stated “no land should be sold to foreign nationals”.
South Africa’s new Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said on Thursday that struggling state-run South African Airways (SAA) should be closed down, adding that decisions over the future of the state carrier were not under his remit.
SAA, which has not generated a profit since 2011, survives on state guarantees and is regularly cited by credit ratings agencies as a drain on the government purse.
“It’s loss-making, we are unlikely to sort out the situation, so my view would be close it down,” Mboweni told an investor conference in New York televised live on South African public broadcaster SABC.
“Why I say close it down is because it’s unlikely that you are going to find any private sector equity partner who will come join this asset,” Mboweni added.
In August, President Cyril Ramaphosa transferred oversight of SAA to the public enterprises ministry which is led by Pravin Gordhan from the finance ministry. Ramaphosa has pledged to revive struggling state firms, including SAA.
SAA CEO Vuyani Jarana has said he is mapping out a punishing austerity plan to turn the flag carrier around. He has said layoffs and other cuts were unavoidable.
In a dramatic fall from grace over the past decade, SAA has lost its place as Africa’s biggest airline and a symbol of patriotic pride to become a source of frustration for taxpayers who have forked out more than 30 billion rand ($2 billion) since 2012 to keep it in the air.