Ghana: What Price Reconciliation?

Ghana’s National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) was set up to establish an “accurate and complete historical record of violations and abuses of human rights” and to make recommendations for institutional reforms. The NRC, which has heard more than 3,000 complaints since January, is generating mixed feelings among Ghanaians.

A day after the NRC’s public opening, Accra's independent The Statesman (Jan. 14) said Ghana had “crossed the bridge to the other side to face the violent waves of the truths of the past.” A week on, however, the privately-owned Accra paper The Searchlight described the whole exercise as “a criminal waste that will be proved by posterity to be a most wasteful and criminal misuse of scant national resources.”

Since opening, the commission has heard stories of brutal torture and human-rights abuses under the regime of former President Jerry Rawlings. Many have testified that they endured or witnessed beatings, genital mutilations, random abductions, and murders.

When Kweku Baako, the outspoken editor of Accra's privately-owned paper The Crusading Guide, took the stand on March 11, the hearing room was filled to capacity. Baako, a former socialist ally of Rawlings, electrified the audience with accounts of acts of torture he had witnessed in detention and dropped a bombshell when he testified that Rawlings was involved in the torture policy.

Baako’s testimony led the NRC to “invite” certain Rawlings associates to give testimony, but its reluctance to subpoena others—including Rawlings himself—has brought criticism. “Alas! There is disappointment,” Mireku Boaten wrote in the independent Ghanaian Chronicle (March 13). “The good will [has] evapo-rated...the commission has lost the essence of its mandate.”

But others praised the commission’s work. “It is gratifying to note...that persons at whom fingers have been pointed...have by and large admitted to committing atrocities,” wrote the independent, privately-owned Accra Daily Mail (April 4). “There is sense in reconciling an injured and polarized nation like Ghana, and we dare say that is why this country is not the first to embark on that path.”

Criticism of the commission has been largely—though not exclusively—politically driven, with supporters of the National Democratic Congress arguing that Rawlings and his allies are being unfairly targeted, and supporters of the ruling New Patriotic Party saying that the NRC has been overly lenient with people who deserve no mercy.

Attempts have been made to disrupt the NRC’s work permanently. In March and April, two anonymous letters were sent to the NRC containing death threats against its chairman, Justice Amua-Sakyi, NRC member Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Erskine, The Crusading Guide’s editor Baako, and another journalist. The second letter warned, “We are training with modern heavy rifles. Your security is weak.”

Such threats endanger “the whole democratic experiment going on in Ghana,” wrote the Ghanaian Chronicle in an editorial (April 4) that called on the government to boost security to avoid any attempt “to destabilize the state through a coup d’etat.” The NRC and the media should “work hard, eschewing partiality and complacency,” the paper wrote, since “history will judge us all."