Rule of Law; A Bag of Garbage in Ghana



I always tell my friends who for the first time are visiting Ghana this; “Ghana is like a jungle when it comes to the law—chiefly unregulated and unenforced. Someone can walk to you, slap you for free and you wouldn’t find justice anywhere.” Intimidation and ‘Bullshitting’ the law are the two main survival mechanisms.

The above may be a simple illustration of a bigger problem which Ghana has as a country, well practiced by the citizens and even the many law enforcement agencies, but it’s a good picture of the sort of society we live in out there.

When such low and high level of lawlessness backed by corruption and a rule by the affluent is the order of the day—those who can never find justice and to some extent become daily punching bags are those with no money, no connections and cannot place a phone call to any ‘big man’.

The fountainhead of justice is the principle of the rule of law; mainly, equality before the law and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Perhaps, Sir Ivor Jennings was talking about Ghana when he said; A.V Dicey’s call for equality before the law only meant that among equals, there should be equality. When it comes to “innocent until proven guilty,” it’s rather “guilty until proven innocent” in Ghana, unofficially backed by the law and many years of societal mindset.

The problem of increasing mob justice in the country rests on the misconception; “guilty until proven innocent” and the fact that many do not hold faith in the law due the ease at which the poles can be moved with money and connections.

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Over the weekend, a young journalist working with GhanaCelebrities.Com (where I serve as the founding Editor) was arrested and detained for ‘no apparent’ wrong doing or reasonable suspicion and all attempts to reason with the police failed.

In fact, they couldn’t give a ‘rat a$$’ about what the law says and they were not also acting under common sense. I wouldn’t be shocked if they were handed an envelope full of cash followed by the common Ghanaian statement “teach that man a lesson” for wanting to find out the truth behind a reported illegal activity at the Redrow Estate.

The journalist spent up to 3 hours in police cells when he had not even written his statement—there was no electricity supply at the police station for him to write anything. Things went beyond frustration when it became obvious that the officer-in-charge was not playing according to the law. Of course, why should he? It’s a jungle we are talking about here where those in uniforms only account to their superiors and not the law.

After a publication on the arrest and detention of the journalist on GhanaCelebrities.Com, several celebrity friends called in to find out what was happening. A simple narration of what had happen to one of these celebrities who easily recognised the unlawfulness of the arrest and detention decided to speak to a ‘big man’ in Ghana about this.  And after taking the details of the police station where the journalist was being held, the ‘big man’ place a call to the station and within two minutes, the journalist was released.

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This was victory and welcoming for us as a small independent media house but it also highlights the absence of justice for the millions who have no celebrity friends or ‘big man’ connections. Importantly, it points to the fact that, whatever understanding you have of the rule of law—it’s simply a bag of garbage in Ghana.

Ghana is the only country I have lived in where you can take a police man to the house of a person who owes you money and get him arrested or worst, beaten for failing to pay you back. In fact, if you know a uniform man, you can call him to just go and intimidate someone on your behalf—and at ease, some will do it.

People will generally not want to conform to the law under any settings—this is clearly illustrated by John Austin’s gunman argument in relation to the Pedigree Thesis, but when you have those who are tasked to enforce the law playing key roles in subjecting the law to gross contempt, then there is no fix for the problem.

I mostly end my advice to my friends visiting Ghana for the first time with this; the only way to stay within Ghana’s jurisdiction is “to walk like Jesus Christ”. Because your faith in any wrong or confusion over wrong would be largely determined by luck, how much money you have in the bank, who you know and how far you can move the wheel of justice—just forget the law, there is none.

What has your experience been with law and its enforcement in Ghana?