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Ghana's national security ministry ignites old fears after fracas over photos

The SWAT team of Ghana’s national security ministry. Citi Newsroom

Ghana's national security ministry ignites old fears after fracas over photos

The SWAT team of Ghana’s national security ministry. Citi Newsroom

Ghana's national security ministry ignites old fears after fracas over photos

The SWAT team of Ghana’s national security ministry. Citi Newsroom

Ghana's national security ministry ignites old fears after fracas over photos

The SWAT team of Ghana’s national security ministry. Citi Newsroom

The events shocked Ghanaians who were shown footage of heavily armed members of a special tactics unit bursting into the offices of one of Ghana’s leading media houses.

Avinash Paliwal, SOAS, University of London

Caleb Kudah, a journalist with the Accra-based Citi TV, didn’t expect that an investigation into unused cars at the Ministry of National Security would kick a hornets’ nest in the country – the role of the country’s security apparatus.

Kudah was investigating why cars purchased with public funds for distribution to transport unions had been abandoned at the premises of national security.

Ghana’s security officials were unimpressed. They arrested Kudah, manhandled and cuffed him. They then took him to the premises of Citi TV offices intent on destroying evidence. They also arrested his colleague with whom he had shared mobile-camera videos.

The events shocked Ghanaians who were shown footage of heavily armed members of a special tactics unit bursting into the offices of one of Ghana’s leading media houses. The scene was reminiscent of action taken by the same unit during a parliamentary by-election in January 2019 when the same special tactics unit assaulted voters and a sitting member of parliament.

Civil rights groups and parliamentarians are demanding a probe into the Kudah incident.

The key question they’re asking is whether the ministry’s behaviour was in line with the 1992 constitution. Its landmark tenet is its emphasis on civilian control and legislative oversight over Ghana’s security agencies.

Former president Jerry Rawlings, who had come to power in a coup 1981, held a referendum in April 1992 on multiparty democracy. Over 92% people voted in favour. The idea was to put Ghana on an inclusive and democratic path. A key part of this was to curb the tendency of the security establishment to interfere in political processes.

The 1996 Security and Intelligence Agencies Act was the first law to be passed after Rawlings won the December 1996 elections. But the law hasn’t protected civilians from abuse at the hands of national security operatives.

A look back at how Ghana established its security services after independence provides clues about why.

In a recent paper I used previously untapped archives to explore how India built Accra’s security service between 1958 and 1961. Ghana sought India’s support when both Cold War rivalry and Afro-Asian solidarity were at a peak. The newly independent West African country was keen to reduce its dependency on the outgoing British colonial administration.

But by involving high ranking Indian officials, Ghana inherited a similar set of problems that affected intelligence headquarters in Delhi. This included resorting to colonial policing methods such as oppressive tactics, a lack of legislative oversight and a recruitment system based on partisan loyalties instead of professionalism.

Ghana continues to struggle with this legacy.

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