Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Wound Part I (Ghana Elections 2008)

Let's start with this: they almost killed my uncle.

I really can't write much more than that. When I look at what was done to him, when I look at the pictures, there really isn't much more that can be said: they tried to kill my uncle, they almost killed my uncle.

For an election.

My mother was the one who received the phone call from her brother telling her to come quickly, that they were killing him, that she should bring help.

I was back in Accra at a remove of 200 kilometers. I only saw the text message that read

"Dr Ohene beaten to pulp at Dededo polling station, Ho West. He has been sent to Trafalgar hospital. It's time to stop these gung ho moves"
True I heard the almost primal sound that my cousin had raised when she received that message, a terrifying sound that had made me stop whatever I was doing on this, my dad's birthday, and rush her way. I felt the same wound. I still feel it.

My mother had been talking to my grandmother and grand-aunts when she received that frantic phone call. I can't imagine what those women must have felt in that instant and in the subsequent fraught hours. Is it possible to wound anyone more?

I don't know what my 10 year old cousin, my uncle's son, who was in that house with those women, must have felt. He had been arguing throughout the previous day that he should accompany his father to watch him be a polling agent. Would they have killed his father in front of him? Is it possible to wound anyone more?

The threat had been raised in 2000 and 2004 that "There will be blood on the ground". There was certainly violence and intimidation back then but we have seen things this time in 2008 and now 2009 that are chillingly close to what transpired in places that no one should ever emulate, in countries that people use as cautionary tales.

The cynical people who incited, who fomented, who organized the political violence are as much to blame as those who attacked, who beat, who kicked, who threw stones, who threw planks, who sprayed acid and sundry powders, who held people hostage until they signed, who chased people off, who surrounded cars that arrived in their villages and towns, who shook cars, who spat, who came with cudgels and cutlasses, who threatened to burn down our family home and many others, who stole watches from bleeding men, who searched for cement blocks to take lives, who heeded the call to slaughter the strangers in their midst.

I had promised myself that I wouldn't write during my holiday in Ghana. I knew that I would have prime material with these runoff elections and indeed my home has been plum center of the election strategizing and campaign. Sociologists, historians and political scientists would die for what I've witnessed.

Since 10am on election day when I heard that awful news, things have been clarified for me. The deeply political animal that many of you who read me know is simply in pain.

I have written about my uncle before in these pages, noting that he was one of three psychiatrists tending to the mental health of 20 million Ghanaians. These days he might well be the only psychiatrist in Ghana since almost everyone who trains in his discipline seems to leave the country. My favourite uncle, I don't know a gentler man.

I will write more later on this and other topics and more in my customary style. I will share two things now, I hesitate with the first but I recall having written on the necessity of permanent outrage and certainly there has been outrageous behaviour here.
  • Photos of my uncle after the attack on him that my mother somehow thought to take (warning these are graphic).
  • My mother is more sober perhaps, and certainly calmer when emergencies arise. I don't know where she has found the time given the tremendous pressures of the past few days but she has written an account of things.

    Look On At Your Handiwork
I hope these wounds will heal and that I'll forget these things. But for now I'll end with this: they tried to kill my uncle; they almost killed my uncle.

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