Justice be done in public: Ghanaian identification parades

She wore an intricately woven blue dress, fresh black high-heels with  a matching scarf tied to keep her long braids away from her face. She was careful not to muss her outfit and avoided the shallow puddles as she walked through Accra-Central police station’s rain dampened courtyard. Her wardrobe was no accident as she had been rehearsing this day for months. She inspected the line-up of men against the wall then stopped. Her arm raised, hand trembled slightly and finally came to rest on one of their shoulders.

“How do you know this man?” asked the police officer in charge.

“He is the one who attacked me,” she said. Her eyes now fixed on a face she had perhaps seen in dreams nearly every night since.

The young man refused to meet her stare. He was smaller than the other suspects, barefoot and marked with with a diagonal scar across his nose. He was the sixth in a row of ten. Each man chained by their wrist to the one next to them with the entire group flanked by officers holding clubs and well-worn AK-47s

“Do you know her?” The officer asked.

“Daabi,” replied Scar, choosing to answer in Twi a question he was asked in English.

“No? You don’t remember me? Liar, you came in the house where my children sleep and you raped me.” Her voice raised but didn’t crack as her hand remained firm on his shoulder.

Scar muttered something inaudible and hung his head toward the dirt between his toes.

An officer marked the accused man’s number down on a form affixed to a clipboard and handed it to her. She took it in her right hand and kept her left in place. After a few moments tension she let go, signed her name and walked away.
The woman in blue was the first to identify him and there would be more. In total, seven people, three women and four men, accused Scar of perpetrating acts of violence against them. The men he remembered and admitted to robbery at gun point. When the women approached he stared at the ground and offered monosyllabic denials. When the procession ended, victims disappeared into the crowd while Scar and the others were hustled back to their cell.

“We understand it’s not the best way to do this but we don’t have the means for more complicated options,” said police spokesperson K.W. Kuffour. “The victims are kept safe when they come to identify their attackers.” However, no system is perfect and police admit safety is never guaranteed.

In the west, there is a barrier. A one-way mirror separating the accuser and the accused. The suspects are marched into a dark room with bright lights shining in their eyes. They stand against a wall and wait. They wait for the someone they can’t see to identify them, or to be set free. The process is cold, anonymous and institutionalized. In Ghana, this is not the case. The ritual puts victim and alleged assailant face to face. Close enough to hear the other’s breath and remember the last time they met. This method presents critical concerns and unique opportunities. The victims become vulnerable once outside secure police compounds, yet many describe the experience as empowering. “I knew he’d be there and I had to be there to,” said the woman in blue. “He knows my house, but I’m not afraid anymore.”

Scar was in custody on charges unrelated to the crimes he was identified for in the queue. Police caught him after he snatched a man’s cell phone in the Nima district of Accra. Nearly all of his line-mates were arrested on similar offenses. Every few months, district police stations advertise an upcoming public identification and empty the cells of petty offenders. The event attracts a large crowd of on-lookers, accomplices, victims and family members on both sides of the law. Suspects are chained together and organized in single file. One-by-one victims walk the line and search for the person they say violated them. The resultant verbal confrontations are explosive and armed officers watch closely to ensure hold this demonstrative form of justice doesn’t boil over. The spectacle itself is known as an “identification parade” and it nearly always ends in a circus.

6 thoughts on “Justice be done in public: Ghanaian identification parades”

  1. Truthfully Dan, I didn’t need to read yer post.
    To say “nothing much” has changed in Africa in 140 yrs. would be a lie, and a little bit of description of the truth.

    Somalian Pirates?

  2. Thanks for reading Paul and Mouse…..glad you like.

    Ron, that’s silly. Africa is a CONTINENT and many things are changing. Just gotta know where to look.

    Accra (Where I am) is the capital of Ghana, a country in Western Sub-Sahara. Somalia is a failing state in the Eastern horn. The two places are separated by a 10 hour plane ride, 3 time zones and a funny little notion called democracy.

    Ghana, like the rest of the world, is an imperfect place. There is institutional corruption, lack of essential government services and people living in poverty. BUT those things can also be found in Northern Saskatchewan, Saskatoon and Regina.

    140 years ago, this area was a British colony known as Gold Coast. As the name might indicate, it was harvesting point for natural resources of all sorts. At present, Ghana is emerging as an independent economic powerhouse and a stable voice of reason amongst the ECOWAS (Economic Community Of West African States) countries. There has been a peace and constitutional governance for more than twenty years and the country is recognized by the UN as a model for African development.

    In addition to oil, cocoa and gold Ghana has also thrown itself into the technological and new market industries. Between 2009 and 2011, Ghana’s economy grew by 21.8%, a level nearly unprecedented in other parts of the world. Political and social stability has made Ghana an attractive place for Asian and Western capital investment. The port at Tema is now the busiest hub of entry in West Africa, property values are on the rise and the country is expanding its middle class.

    Let’s review: Ghana is: A young democracy and former british colony, WITH A rapidly expanding resource based economy, non-violent political climate, high level of foreign investment, emergent middle class, and a few problems in need of solving…Health care system is struggling, many live in sub-standard housing, some lack access to clean water, hypocritical moralism is often confused with good government and the upper class is robbing everybody blind.

    Sound familiar?

    Anyways, you probably didn’t need to read this either so I’ll move on.

    Na zdrovya.

    Danny Kresnyak

  3. Wonderful stories, Danny. I saw a photo exhibit a few years back (in Yellowknife!) outlining the progress made by Ghana in recent years.

    Have you heard about the success they have had with the home-grown peanut industry?

  4. #3- That was just as bad as the “Meanwhile in Somalia…” comment from the 13th Avenue Safeway comments. Glad to know that you are competely up to date on the past 140 years of “Africa”. No need to keep up to date on current events, seeing as there will never be any change and ALL things remain the same in good ol Africa. You know everything. That’s great.

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