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Some elements of our uniformed services behaving badly


There is palpable anger in the air and for a good reason: some elements of the Ghana military are soiling the name of that remarkable national institution with their atrocious and shameless behavior towards civilians.

I am still processing the brutal beating of a 16-year old boy by a group of soldiers in Tamale a fortnight ago. Like many others, I was stunned and bewildered by this singular act of senseless violence.

The gruesome torture and pummeling of the kid has not sunk in yet. The beating was not savage, violent and completely uncalled for, it was also a blatant violation of his fundamental human rights.

What was the boy’s sin? he allegedly stole a cell phone belonging to one of the perpetrators of the vicious crime.

Reports have it that the teenage victim sustained various degrees of injury and was traumatized by the ordeal. Of course, who won’t after being at the receiving end of such ghastly assault?

Fortunately, the victim survived and is said to be responding well to treatment at a hospital in the nation’s capital. Ultimately, he will have his day in court to confront his abusers.

It is also heartening to note that the soldiers were arrested, imprisoned briefly and released on bail. The army and police authorities deserve praise for acting quickly to bring these bad elements to book.

The question on the lips of many Ghanaians is what would prompt trained military professionals to go into uncontrollable rage and visit such hatred and anger on a child?

The answer is not complicated. In the developing world where the military has been a regular feature in politics for decades, there is the perception that it gets away with behavior that would not otherwise be tolerated from civilians.

Let us not mince words about what happened to that poor boy: the torture of the boy is a crime, pure and simple and it should horrify Ghanaians. It should also trigger some soul searching and a period of reflection among us.

And some hard questions must be asked: are we going to sit down quietly and watch some elements of our uniformed security services abuse and violate our rights as citizens of a sovereign nation?

This is one incident of brutality too many and are we henceforth going to be the jealous guardians of our fundamental rights as guaranteed by the universal declaration of human rights?  Or we going to be sitting ducks?

The savagery and aggression visited on the poor teenager in this day and age of rapid democratization of societies around the world and human rights enshrined in national constitutions, behavior such as that demonstrated by the culprits is least expected.

One would expect this kind of violence in combat zones where the rule of law does not apply and regard for human rights is minimal.

This despicable act was not done in isolation. Around the country, stories have emerged of soldiers committing acts of aggression against civilians and getting little or no punishment befitting the crimes they have committed. So, the soldiers in Tamale thought they, too, could torture a civilian and not be punished. This is the kind of group think that is hurting the image of the Ghana military.

One would think that with well over twenty years of democratization in Ghana, we would by now be well schooled in human rights and other issues that are the fundamental bedrocks of the political system we have wholeheartedly embraced.  But alas, not all of us seemed to have learnt these basic lessons.

Is it any wonder  that Ghanaians continue to live in fear of the military long after the latter bowed out of politics and retreated to the barracks. Incidents such as the one in Tamale only go to reinforce the distrust, fears and apprehension that mark the relations between the two groups. A way forward must be found to bring peace, respect and understanding between these groups.

Given the brutal actions of the soldiers in Tamale, it is only appropriate that the heavy hand of our laws be brought to bear on them. Their punishment should serve as a deterrent to others who may harbor similar tendencies.

Our military is an important national institution, one that has won praise for its splendid performance on international assignments. It will therefore be gross injustice to the thousands of men and women who serve so gallantly in the Ghana military if a few elements in the organization are allowed to tarnish its hard-worn reputation with their despicable acts of violence against civilians.

At the end of it all, it is absolutely essential that we not forget that the protection of civilian populations from internal and external aggression is the primary duty and responsibility of the military. Torturing and brutalizing civilians serve no useful purpose. It only creates hostility and alienation.



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