It is time for election officials who cause bloodshed in African countries by deliberately seeking to reverse the verdict of the people, to be rounded up and tried before international courts. There cannot be a different law for bandits who create bloodshed by falsifying election results. Bloodshed is bloodshed, whatever the method used to bring it about.
When I was growing up, education was made so difficult to acquire that in many cases, to undergo a course of formal education was an invitation to embrace lifelong illiteracy. For education is not merely to learn how to read and write, as is often assumed, but to be acquainted with, and to retain an interest in, or curiosity about, books generally and literary works in particular.
In those days, one could be genuinely flattered when one was described as an “educated” chap, or better still, a “literate” fellow because it denoted a person who was “aware” of the world; who had a better than ordinary acquaintanceship with, say, the geography and history of mankind as a whole; world literatures (not the literature of one particular country); an understanding of the sciences and the social sciences – including economics, philosophy, sociology and politics.
However, the mistake made by educationalists then, was to draw up syllabuses that were so strict and taxing that they took all the fun out of learning and turned it into sheer drudgery. For instance, some students in secondary schools were forced to study both Greek and Latin as well as mathematics, physics and chemistry – all time-consuming subjects.
English language was compulsory, and English literature often meant a detailed study of the work of dead English males and the fantasies of dead English spinsters. Foreign languages like French were seldom taught, even in countries like Ghana whose immediate neighbours – Togo to the east, the Ivory Coast to the west and Burkina Faso to the north – are all French-speaking.
Elsewhere, I have described the agonies associated with the Standard Seven leaving examination which reigned from before the 1930s until the early 1950s, in the then Gold Coast (now Ghana). This exam was known as “Hall”, because it took place in a large hall, far from one’s own village or town. This ‘Hall’ was, usually, in the district or regional capital. (Places like Kyebi, Koforidua, Suhum, Nsawam, Akropong-Akuapem are names that have thus burnt themselves into the memories of many of the Ghanaian generation that is currently in retirement. If you know one of them, let him or her ‘boss’ you about ‘Hall’ before he or she deposits his or her memories of it permanently in a grave.) Latin, for instance, could have been great fun if it had not been taught mainly in the form of its difficult grammar (what with all those declensions of nouns and conjugations of verbs) but of the pithy, eloquent sayings Latin writings contained; axioms that conveyed a whole lot of meanings with an economy of words. Look at the amount of philosophical ground that a man like Descartes was able to cover with just three words – cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am).
To lawyers brought up in the British tradition, in particular, Latin is almost like shorthand with which they are able to communicate with judges and other lawyers without having to say too much. Most lawyers with that type of background will immediately comprehend what is meant when a case comes before a court in which, say, habeas corpus* mandamus**; or certiorari*** is mentioned. (The definitions given in the footnotes below show how many words are required to explain these very economical expressions. There are many more others like them such as ultra vires; infra dig; sub judice; and so on.)
*A writ of habeas corpus is a judicial mandate to a prison official ordering that an inmate be brought to the court so it can be determined whether or not that person is imprisoned lawfully and whether or not he should be released from custody. A habeas corpus petition is a petition filed with a court by a person who objects to his own or another’s detention or imprisonment
**Mandamus is a judicial remedy which is in the form of an order from a superior court to any government, subordinate court, corporation or public authority, to do or forbear from doing, some specific act which that body is obliged under law to do or refrain from doing, as the case may be, and which is in the nature of public duty and in certain cases, of a statutory duty.
**Certiorari, meaning “to be informed of, or to be made certain in regard to”, is also the name given to certain appellate proceedings for re-examination of actions of a trial court, or inferior appeals court. The U.S. Supreme Court still uses the term certiorari in the context of appeals.
Personally, my favourite Latin expression comes from the poet Juvenal, [Decimus Junius Juvenalis – AD 60-130] who wrote 16 satires, in one of which he posed the question: quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guards?)
This question has been asked several times in the recent history of Ghana: when President Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown by the Ghana army in February 1966, the officers who led the coup accused Nkrumah and his Convention People’s Party (CPP) of corruption and maladministration. But within one year of replacing Nkrumah as head of state, the chairman of the National Liberation Council (NLC) General Joseph Ankrah, was himself removed by his own colleagues for corrupt relations with an organisation called Jeafan.
Again, in January 1972, the then Colonel Ignitius Acheampong overthrew the government of Professor Kofi Busia on the grounds that it was corrupt and incompetent. But within five years, General Acheampong had been deposed by his own Supreme Military Council on the ground that he was corrupt. The Supreme Military Council was also overthrown by the Armed Forces Liberation Council (AFRC) on grounds of corruption in 1979. Who will guard the guards? Indeed!
In the African countries that practise democracy – many of which are led by what can only be called “unwilling democrats”, there is no person more important than an Electoral Commissioner appointed to run elections. The Electoral Commissioner has to draw up the regulations under which the country will hold elections, and he has to organise the elections themselves and declare the results.
Because in a democracy, both the government of the day and its challengers (the opposition) vie for power at elections, it is essential that the Electoral Commissioner should formally be independent of government influence and be perceived to be just that by the general populace, when he carries out the actual task of running elections.
In the case of Ghana, this is an extremely difficult position because the Electoral Commissioner depends on government funding to run his office and he has to agree on figures with the government of the day. As to the actual political decisions taken by the Electoral Commissioner, they tend to be incredibly complicated. Even the date of an election can be controversial; then there is the process of compiling the electoral register; then the voting; the counting of the votes; and finally when to declare the results.
In January this year, when the Electoral Commissioner of Kenya surreptitiously declared the incumbent president, Mr Mwai Kibaki, re-elected, without going through the correct procedures, 1,000 people were killed in the ensuing protests and 300,000 were made homeless. Zimbabwe’s Electoral Commissioner has also made very controversial decisions regarding the 29 March elections which have created enormous tensions in the country.
The trouble with controversies surrounding elections is that the bad decisions are initially made by lawyers. The Electoral Commission chair, usually a lawyer, is over-influential in many countries, and his decision can only be reviewed by other lawyers, operating as high court and other superior court judges.
Not only do legal cases brought about by bad Electoral Commission decisions take too long to determine, delays in court add to the danger of rioting. But even after they have been determined, the judgements may be influenced by the executive and be perceived by the rest of the population of being biased in favour of the incumbent government.
What ensues is that the voters take to the streets in a violent manner to bring change to the “bad decisions” of the Electoral Commission? Who judges the election referees?
The UN has given its support to the establishment of the international criminal court at the Hague, which is currently trying Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, for the blood he allegedly shed, both in Liberia and Sierra Leone. And a warrant has gone out for the arrest of Joseph Kony, whose bandits have slaughtered thousands of people in Uganda.
It is time for election officials who cause bloodshed in an African country by deliberately seeking to reverse the verdict of the people, as expressed in their voting, to be equally rounded up and tried before international courts. There cannot be one law for bandits who wield guns and another for bandits who create bloodshed by falsifying election results. Bloodshed is bloodshed, whatever the method used to bring it about.
The African populace cannot for ever be left at the mercy of smooth-talking, wig-wearing scoundrels who are every bit as murderous as the bandits wielding AK-47s, whom everybody recognises as murderers.