Social justice is not only when you profess it or when you become a victim; social justice is when you choose to stand out in defense of the vulnerable, and the minority, regardless of the risks and the cost to yourself.
For three weeks straight, I had written in partial support of Kennedy Agyapong’s banter with Anas Aremeyaw Anas, and I have earned myself the pouring in of questions, questions as to how much Kennedy Agyapong paid me to write what I had written, just in the same way as people asked, how much Ibrahim Mahama paid me, to write in his defense when his Bauxite concession issues came up last year.
I admit, journalism has evolved. We are now in the era of citizen journalism, where everyone is a practitioner – which is great. But those of us who practice the profession with social justice spirit must not be lost out on the purity of the calling.
We spoke against the manner in which Ibrahim Mahama was perceived to be grabbing government contracts opulently when his brother was in government. The power Ibrahim wielded was insane, we thought. So naturally once power shifted, we were happy.
Naturally one will expect that once Ibrahim’s brother lost power, his influence and hold on public business would lose its power too. We sought that, not because we wished he became poor. It is not because we wanted Ibrahim not to do business with government. We sought that because we wanted Ibrahim Mahama to compete fairly for contracts, so that we will have value for money when he has won his contracts.
I did not anticipate that the change I sought for was going to include having Ibrahim demonized, or deprived of what rightly belong to him. Our perception of him, of undeserved contracts, does not have to translate into being discriminated against, and snatching his Nyinnahin Bauxite concessions, without due process, and seizing his equipment wantonly, while others, some even foreigners, with similar perceived questionable concessions are allowed to operate.
And because of our perception of him, we all, with one accord, jumped in celebration of his fall, celebrating the unequal treatment given to one of our own, regardless of the distress he is going through, and regardless of the facts, of wrong application of the law. That is not social justice; that is mob justice, the same instant mob justice that leads to the needless killing of innocent people on our streets.
Of what moral courage would Simpa Panyin have, to call myself a social justice activist, yet celebrate an injustice done Ibrahim Mahama, just because I might have perceived him negatively, when I know that no court has so far convicted him? Do I need to be paid, in order to raise my voice in his defense?
What has recently happened to Kwesi Nyantakyi is good for our football. He was definitely the person who needed to leave the leadership of the Ghana Football Association, and refusing to leave when the applauds was loud, and ending up in such a disgrace, served him right.
But social justice activists should not only be interested in him leaving. They should also be interested in how he is being treated even as he leaves. A wrong doer becomes a victim when we push his back to the wall, with no dignity, even before we give him the chance to speak.
You do not stage such a large scale investigation, with such a large scale evidence, and become so categorical about the suspects guilt (even before the security agencies investigate the evidence, and even before the courts authenticate the facts), and invite the public to pay (and queue) to watch how you have caught the thieves, and document public reactions to the victims’ shame, and still believe this is social justice – no!
You seem to think that instant justice is good, only if the victim is the other person – not you. So as you partake in throwing the stones, and lit the fire on your victim, you believe you are punishing the evil doer who has stolen money, the evil doer who must be killed instantly, as the crowd cheers you on, without stopping for a moment, to think through the possible innocence of the victim.
I almost became a victim of mob justice. Under the Kaneshie overhead, as the mob kept massing up on me, in their hundreds, with hunger, anger, and vengeance written on their faces, I knew the end had come. At that moment I thought of the family I had left home, I thought of the many employees whose livelihoods depended on my leadership, and I thought of my innocence; all I wished for, at that moment was someone, just one person, to come to my defense, to plead my innocence.
So I put myself in the shoes of Major Mahama and what he might have gone through before dying in the hands of those who threw the stones at him. It is a scaring moment to death for a father who was innocent, for a husband whose wife is youthful – that was callous, to say the least.
But that is exactly my point, that those who were suspected to have participated in the killing of the innocent Major, should be treated the same way as the Major wished he had been treated, fairly, and as innocent until pronounced guilty. You do not begin to round up every member of the Denkyira Obuasi village, and begin to molest them, beating every single person, when you know that it might not have been possible for every single person to have participated in the killing; when you know that punishment did not lie in your bosom, that punishment lied only in the bosom of the courts; you hate mob justice, yet you visit same on the other, because you feel you wielded the power to do so.
And when I wrote about this, in the midst of the anger that greeted the killing of the Major, I was branded as insensitive pro-galamsey Journalist who had been bribed to write in defense of the village. I was accused of being insensitive; because, to those people, I should not have been writing those views in the midst of the grieving of the entire country.
So because the entire country was washed with tears in support of the Major, we must lose our sense of fair justice? That because we are angry, everyone in a village where a crime has taken place, is, instantly, guilty of the crime? So our soldiers should turn themselves into judges, to pronounce guilt on an entire village? And because we are mourning, no one should condemn the criminal retaliation? Is that what we take social justice to mean?
Well, for your information, I have never taken money to write anything in my life. I have NEVER taken bribe in my life. And I can say authoritatively, that, I will NEVER take bribe for the rest of my life.
I wish I could say the same of never giving bribe. If you live in a society such as Ghana, the world’s cleanest anticorruption campaigner is unlikely to escape the frustrations and the antics that come with public officers inducing fellow citizens into giving bribes.
We must learn to know that the crime of silence can be as loud as the genocide that happened in Rwanda. I get so frustrated with the insincerity of social justice, so frustrated with the inconsistencies in our social justice activism, that, sometimes it feels as though activists are perpetrators on the victims they defend.
If I profess to be a Journalist who is a social justice activist, then I cannot ignore the lonely voices who have become victims. Remember social justice is not necessarily for the voice of the poor, neither is it necessarily for the voice of the rich; sometimes the most powerful, the rich, and the well intentioned person, is turned into a victim by the so-called vulnerable in society, and that also deserves our pens…
James Kofi Annan