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Ghana Life: Revolutionary Roadblocks

May 11, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 201

In the period from July 1978 to December 1981, Ghana experienced three successful military coups and several other attempted or rumoured coups. A characteristic of those years, and of a few years that followed, was the proliferation of roadblocks on the main transport routes throughout the country, mounted by police, military personnel and revolutionary cadres. For expatriates working in Ghana, the situation became most tense when the government of Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings declared that all Americans and British were agents of the CIA. This led to long delays at checkpoints, threats of violence and, on at least one occasion, an actual shooting.

With the establishment in 1982 of peoples' defence committees and workers' defence committees, empowered to take over the administration of their communities and workplaces, many opportunities were taken to set up roadblocks on main routes through towns and villages. These were in addition to the longer established checkpoints manned by police and soldiers. This trend became so common that a person driving from Sunyani to Accra reported being stopped eleven times at roadblocks in the suburbs and city of Kumasi. Inevitably, journey times grew much longer and the cost of travelling greatly increased.

It wasn't only long distance travelling that was disrupted. Everyday commuting and regular short business trips also became hazardous. The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, is situated on the road to Accra near the city boundary. A long-established police post near the campus was designated to the university and also provided a convenient city entry checkpoint. During normal times there was no interruption of traffic flow, but in 1982, not only was the police checkpoint activated but at times the post was reinforced by the military.

The university's Technology Consultancy Centre (TCC) had established a number of rural industry development projects at the village of Kwamo, about 8 kilometres further out of town on the Accra road. To travel to Kwamo necessitated passing through the police post. TCC staff, including the expatriate director, needed to make this short journey several times a day. Known to the local police officers, TCC drivers, including the director, were usually waved through the checkpoint without delay. However, returning one afternoon from Kwamo, and expecting the usual cheery wave through the checkpoint, the director was startled to be confronted by a soldier jumping into his path with a waist-high assault rifle pointed at his head.

On this occasion there were no serious consequences. An officer told the soldier to stand down and the vehicle was waved through. Nevertheless, the presence of the military suggested that some threat was perceived to cause this heightened security. The situation had become tense and a violent incident might easily occur. Inevitably, when it came, it affected someone remote from the local political scene. Returning to the campus one evening after dark, from a village where he had been ministering to his flock, the Catholic Pastor of the university, Father Neefjes, a Dutchman, was shot through the shoulder at the checkpoint on the Accra road.

The victim spent some time in the university hospital where he was visited by almost the whole campus community. People wanted to express their sympathy as well as their shock and dismay at what had befallen a highly regarded helper from overseas. Father Neefjes was entreated to stay at his post. After a spell at home in Holland for medical checks and recuperation, he was able to return to a Ghana that moved slowly away from revolutionary fervour to a peace and tranquillity much more in accord with the true nature of its people.

John Powell

To learn more about the intriguing story of the grassroots industrial revolution in the turbulent Ghana of the second half of the twentieth century, read John Powell's novel The Colonial Gentleman's Son or his non-fictional account The Survival of the Fitter. More details of these books and photographs of the informal sector artisans of Suame Magazine in Kumasi will be found on the following websites.

Source: EzineArticles
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