State funerals are events usually reserved for really important figures in Ghanaian society such as heads of state, but on Friday that honour was bestowed upon a murdered young soldier named Captain Maxwell Mahama, with the event broadcasted nationally and watched by Ghanaians worldwide online. So what did the young soldier do to deserve such an honour? Did he give his life protecting others? No. He was given the honour of state burial because he was brutally murdered by a mob who mistook him for an armed robber.
Now Captain Mahama is not the first person to have been accused of armed robbery and then subsequently murdered. In Ghana, an accusation like that usually carries a swift death sentence at the hands of a mob if the police are not at hand. And this is also NOT the first time pictures or videos have surfaced on social media depicting what I’ve described above. Mob justice in Ghana has a long history. As a young child I remember people running out with sticks and stones and whatever they could use as weapons when they heard kronfour! (thief). Whether you were guilty or not made scant difference. A painful death is certain if the police do not intervene, and when they do intervene, in most cases it is to recover a dead body.
Like many Ghanaians, I was enraged when I heard and saw what had happened to the captain. That someone had been murdered again by a baying mob in such a brutal manner and wondered how long such atrocities would go on in the country. But I would later feel conflicted by the blatant hypocrisy I was witnessing in the aftermath of Captain Mahama’s murder, and this is why – the media attention that the murder garnered, and Ghanaians’ reaction to it. It seems like Ghanaians couldn’t comprehend that something so terrible should happen to a man who was serving his country. Especially one with a wife and two young kids. In fact, pictures of Mahama’s family were heavily circulated on social media and across national media platforms in Ghana, as if to drive home the horror of what had befallen the captain. Numerous GoFundMe pages were set up to raise money for his young family left behind, and the Ghanaian government not only posthumously promote Mahama to Major but they also set up a GH¢500,000 trust fund to look after his family, with the president of Ghana Nana Akufo Addo publicly donating GH¢50,000 of his own money to the trust fund.
Now don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastic response but what I was conflicted with was the fact
that other victims of mob justice in Ghana never received this kind of celebrity attention, generosity and sympathy from the media and the wider Ghanaian public. How many times have we seen pictures and videos on social media of people who were lynched in Ghana because they were suspected of being thieves? Did we care about those people? Did the media give those victims and their family any publicity to highlight their tragedy? Who circulated pictures of the families who were robbed of their loved ones? Where are their GoFundMe pages? Where are the trust funds from the government to help take care of the families they left behind? In fact two days after the murder of Captain Mahama, a man was also set upon and beaten to death by a mob in Krono Odumasi in the Ashanti region. His crime? He was suspected of stealing a mobile phone! Who cried for this man? Where was the media outcry and the public outrage over his death?
It makes one wonder – did Captain Mahama’s death matter more because he was soldier and also a relative to former president Mahama? Is that why there was such a huge public outcry? Then by that reasoning his life was worth more than others who have died at the hands of violent mobs in Ghana. Did those who wept and mourned for him and his family also cry for other victims who had died in the same way previously? Why was he given a state funeral and the countless others weren’t? Were their lives not as important? As he was laid to rest on Friday, his family echoed the publics’ call for a monument to be resurrected in his memory, because in their words, they wanted him to remembered as a hero. But as unpleasant and harsh as the truth might be, Captain Mahama was not a hero. Who did he die protecting? He was an innocent man who was brutally murdered. Yet a monument is be resurrected in his name to remind Ghanaians of that terrible event on May 29th 2017.
If we as Ghanaians are attaching such weight and importance to the death of Captain Mahama, but not to others who have died like him, then what does that say about us as a society? That your death matters only if your someone in society? When have we heard of Ghana police arresting people involved in lynching so quickly? Yet in Captain Mahama’s case those suspected of taking part have been arrested and charged with murder! Why is there justice for Captain Mahama but not for others? Will the proposed monument bear the names of those who have also been violently killed by mobs in Ghana? Had Captain Mahama been an ordinary citizen , would the reaction to his death be the same? The terribly sad answer is probably no.
By Yaa Nyarko (@yaa_fremah)