In Ghana, sensationalism is not monopolized by tabloids and newspapers struggling to make sales. From the market squares, trotros (buses), homes to even the most academic of spaces, Ghanaians have a knack for painting a picture more vivid than the object really looks like. The more reason why trotros (mates) will scream “last two last two…” when in reality, all seats in the bus are empty. If you still doubt me, watch a Kumawood production, walk through Madina market on a Wednesday, sit in a lecture delivered by an economics professor affiliated to an opposition party or argue with a Chelsea fan this season.
This propensity to blow stuff out of proportion is worsened by journalists and the “Facebook and Twitter” generation. With a mobile phone, internet bundle and enough social media clout in the form of a huge followership base, you can let anything trend. But not everything that trends is sensationalized. Especially not the current brouhaha over whether or not to allow refugees from warzones and the once genocide plagued Rwanda. Not forgetting the two ex-Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Earlier in the week, news came out that the government had accepted a request by the US government as well as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to resettle some former detainees of Guantanamo Bay and perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide in Ghana. This request also included some Syrian refugees with relatives in Ghana. This news has dominated discussions on radio stations, Facebook and Twitter for days now for obvious reasons. Of all the people the government has been requested to resettle, the two former Guantanamo Bay detainees created the most buzz. People generally have little to no qualms about the ex-convicts coming in from Rwanda. This might be because they are fellow Africans or that they will exert little to influence in carrying out another genocide. After all, the vexation was not to the entirety of humanity but just to another ethnic grouping they were programmed to hate as a result of the machinations of Colonial Belgium.
With the refugees trying to escape Assad’s bombings and ISIS’s wanton beheadings and disregard for humanity, the arguments being bandied bear much resemblance to the one we have heard from right wing bigots in the USA like Mike Huckabee and the bald head who wears a toupee, Donald Trump. It is the same old, “..we do not know the real intentions of these people coming in……. how sure are we that they do not want to kill us….. these people have a penchant for violence….. can our government take care of them….”. This crowd forgets a couple of basic truths about humanitarian refugees.
These refugees are people fleeing conflict zones. Syria has seen non ending wars for years now. Since Mohammed Bouazizi lit himself up on the streets of Tunisia, Syria has been up in flames and unendingly. The skies light up day and night from the bombs of the so called coalition forces while bulbs in homes rarely get lit up. Improvised bombs are fired by an array militants who keep fighting each other and the government simultaneously. The images emerging from the besieged city of Madaya shows how dire the situation is. If anything, we should be welcoming them with open hands in a bid to show how true our claim of being “hospitable” is and not showing it only when Caucasian visit our country.
In any case, the reportage says the refugees were those with family ties in Ghana. Does that then not absolve us of any burden given how most of the major retail outlets in the country are run by Syrians? If that was not even the case, does our innate human nature not demand that we help people in need regardless of how modicum that aid is?
The elephants in the room are the two Yemeni ex-Gitmo detainees. To be honest with you, when I first heard the news I was a bit rattled. The name al Qaeda carries enough weight to get anyone worried. The more reason why a War on Terrorism was waged by the world super power and continues to be waged. This war has led to extensions into newer conflicts and directly causing the Syrian refugee situation Ghana has now been drawn into.
Guantanamo Bay is the epitome of human rights abuse and a manifestation of the double standards of the United States of America. The prison started housing people caught up in the post 9/11 dragnet of the USA. This net fished in terrorists who wanted to kill everyone against them. It caught impressionable young minds who bought the propaganda of radical clerics out to find soldiers for their war. And so did to trap good people who found themselves at the wrong places at the wrong time.
The case files on the two ex-detainees fits this profile. Khalid Mohammed Al Dhubi was “radicalized” by a returnee of the Chenchyan and USSR-Afghan wars. The Mujahidin (jihadists) were supported by the US in both wars. Mahmud Ben Atif was said to have fought in one of the brigades of the late leader of al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden. They were both assessed as posing some level of risk and intelligence value but cleared for release by the US State Department.
What is of significant importance in all of this is the fact that all assessments were extrapolated from submissions made under duress. For the reader who is not informed, Guantanamo Bay prison is no joke. It gets is legendary status amongst holding centers due to the inhumane treatments prisoners are subjected to on daily basis. The unexhaustive list of the euphemistic Enhanced Interrogation Techniques includes sexual assault, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, forced feeding and the ominous water boarding. Being a victim of this on a regular basis means you will say anything and everything to get some level of relief so any assessment on detainees of Guantanamo Bay cannot be viewed as veracious. Not forgetting the fact that these people have been denied their right to habeas corpus.
For decades, they have been imprisoned and abused without trial and thus called “detainees” and not prisoners. This presents a conundrum as to how to deal with them and what rights they deserve. The point is, we have very little to no ground to stand upon and declare the inmates as dangerous. Of course there are the Khalid Shaikh Mohammad and other self-confessed 9/11 organizers in Gitmo.
The public angst and vexation over this issue was mainly caused by the government’s PR. All what Ghanaians needed was for the narrative on the ex-detainees to be like that of the ex-convicts from Rwanda. And they actually are not much different. Both do not have the clout to wreak havoc on the nation neither will they have the freedom to do so even if they had the clout. A Vice News documentary on YouTube describes how closely monitored and greatly restricted resettling ex-Gitmo detainees are. Such persons have their movements restricted, are placed in areas where they cannot indoctrinate even if they want to and have state officials monitoring them by the second. One of the ex-Gitmo detainees interviewed in the documentary said life in Gitmo was better than what he was being subjected to in Kazakhstan which by the way is 70 percent plus Muslim. Point is life out of Gitmo is no Disney holiday. Neither is it hell on earth. It is an effort to reintegrate people cut off from society for more than a decade back into society!!!
What needs to be established is that Guantanamo Bay needs to be closed down. It continues to be used as recruitment tool by terrorist groups. Most importantly, it is a stain on our collective conscience not just that of the US, that such a facility exists. So closing it down is a collective responsibility.
“Why Ghana” you may ask. Very valid question given the poor PR from the government so far but let us ask ourselves “why not Ghana” for a moment. It is entirely true that Gitmo is a mess of the USA. It created this monster and must bear responsibility for it alone. But since when did we as a people start believing in such a principle? If we truly did, we would not cry foul when our leaders create a mess and the west turns a deaf ear to our pleas for help. Ghana by the way is not the first country playing host to this crop of individuals. Kazakhstan, Turkey and Uruguay have already received some of them.
“Why not the US” is the next logical question. This is one I have struggled with for a while. Geographic size is not a problem for the US neither is the financial capacity so why are they not hosting them. The answer to my best of abilities is the one institution most Americans think of as a white elephant; CONGRESS. The law making body of the USA has for far too long deliberated on the issue and with a Republican majority, continues to block President Obama’s attempts to resettle some of the detainees either in US prisons or among the civilian population. But this issue is larger than just the US and one of significance to humanity as large. We cannot wait for old white men on the Capitol Hill to deliver justice to wronged souls. Also, just as the US helps us when we need financial support, why can’t we replicate the favor in their time of need?
Naturally, there are a plethora of questions on the finer details on this agreement. “..are they going to live in the larger population…. Can they marry…… when will they leave…. Are we going to take care of them….. is they government getting any pecuniary enticement” etc. I am of the view that it has no bearing on the issue at hand. What is of utmost importance is establishing that they pose no risk to our beloved motherland.
Al Qaeda is on the back foot in most areas it once had influence and the last thing on their “to do list” will be to carry out a covert mission to get these two. The two are no Aafia Siddiqui who is of monumental symbolic significance to jihadists around the world. Also, we are yet to hear of such a mission happening in Uruguay or Kazakhstan.
This gesture does not also get us into the bad books of jihadists. If anything, they will see us as a human rights loving country which sees the need to treat people humanely regardless of where you come from or how you look like.
This is probably the first time I have had to voice my support for a significant action by this government. But as someone who is gradually beginning to value this thing called human rights, I believe the government is on the right side of history with this and the little I can do is to pontificate on that.