He goes about with a mask on his face, stalking and exposing his quarries to the public, without exposing his own face. The other hacks away at his, whoever they are, in the full glare of the media, without mercy, sense or sensibility.
Between the two of them, the portrait of Ghana that is emerging is one of stage-managed (in)justice, of irreverence, farce and the confusion of Bedlam. A nation of people getting ever closer to becoming the Yahoos of Jonathan Swift – those odious, pernicious creatures without any saving graces.
Kaakaamatobi, as we all know, refers to masquerades who appear on our streets during festive occasions like Christmas, Afahye and others. Their masks and brightly coloured costumes stand out and the masks can be terrifying with many a child running screaming to its parents for protection on seeing them – I used to! Kaakaamatobi is essentially flippant subterfuge (disguise) and not surprising, though meant to be fun, can also be frightening…
What many people may not know is that Bedlam is the very original madhouse which has gone into the English language as anything to do with disorder, and well, madness. Mental health, I know, is a human condition not to be trivialised or trifled with, but the manifestation, at its most developed stage, can be diagnosed as “criminally insane” and palpably dangerous to society...
Between Kaakaamatobi and Bedlam, a defining agenda for Ghana is emerging. This article is not ascribing names, and rightly so, because it would distract. The intension is neither to expose nor attack anybody but to think aloud…
On the issue of kaakaamatobi, we will recall when Dr. Daniel Ellsberg got hold of the “Pentagon Papers” some decades ago, he shared them with the public without covering his face. Two of the most celebrated journalists in the US, Woodward and Bernstein pursued the Watergate break-in with their faces known to every American and the entire world. It culminated in a President losing his job.
And in recent times who does not know the faces of Julien Assange (Wikileaks) and Edward Snowdon (Whistle-blower), taking on the might of US intelligence and government? The exposure of the Mossack Fonseca hidden accounts was achieved without any journalist covering his or her face and we got to know about the billions stashed away in secret accounts by all manner of people including African politicians.
Journalism can be dangerous and sadly many have lost their lives in the pursuit of their assignments, and it is right they adopt self-preserving strategies in the line of duty, but they also owe the public disclosure.
Films and images of warfare going as far back as WWI and before, have been brought to us by courageous journalists who have been embedded with armies with only cameras as their “weapons” and exposed faces, with deadly live ammunition flying all around them. A most terrifying prospect…
Journalists must not wilfully expose themselves to life-threatening dangers, but part of their pact with the society they claim to be serving is integrity and accountability. Just as they feel it their duty to be the watchdogs of society and expose others, accountability requires them to face that society openly. Kaakaamatobi has no place in that pact.
We remember the likes of Tommy Thompson, George Naykene, Kweku Baako, Kwesi Pratt, Ben Ephson, Eben Quracoo, Kofi Coomson, and many others who faced the period and immediate post-period of the Culture of Silence with their faces known to friend and foe alike. They were shit-bombed, jailed and persecuted. In the process, they helped engineer the media freedoms that Ghanaians are enjoying today…On the international scene, my personal favourite is Nima Elbagir, the beautiful young Sudanese lady working for CNN who has done some of the most spine-tingling reports, including one on modern-day slavery. There is also Ross Kemp, whose speciality is covering mean gangs and other dangerous assignments. And of course, Rageh Omaar and many others…We know their names and know their faces...
The media scene in Ghana is now so cacophonous that anything goes. Pluralism? I don’t know… but for a legislator to use the airwaves to hammer his perceived enemies or political opponents, is to hammer the Freedom of Expression. And to use it to lambaste “enemies”, even including a senior officer of our armed forces with the Commander-in-Chief remaining silent, is going a bridge too far. For an envoy-designate to be captured making stridently partisan threats regarding his appointment and still be confirmed, all such things just add to the Bedlam. Some “Men of God” have made the most ungodly of effusions on the airwaves and been applauded by their followers. Gratuitous insult, calumny and bad manners rule the media…What about politicians, who should lead the way in the use of measured and well-tempered language, now competing for medals in the nugatory games of offensive verbiage? Bedlam all round!
Private Investigators (PI), Investigative Journalists, Undercover Agents, Whistle-blowers, all add to the mix but the bedrock of journalism, when all is said and done, still remains good writing. Journalists must be able to put their facts together and without the fanfare of a kaakaamatobi or hubris of a Bedlam inmate, write it out to be read or spoken. The advent of the “social media” does not negate or invalidate that…
As Ghana continues to grow her democratic traditions, the danger of throwing the proverbial baby away with the dirtied bath water is also becoming a clear and present danger. That little voice of reason we call the “Rule of Law”, is gradually being drowned in the rule of Kaakaamatobi and Bedlam.
The potential Houyhnhnms among us far outnumber the Yahoos and playing that potential up, may yet hold the answer to our underdevelopment and not the rule of kaakaamatobi and Bedlam.
An ironic postscript to this commentary is that Kaakaamatobi and Bedlam are now locked in an embrace of self-destructive combat – an opportunity, perhaps, for the rest of us to transcend them and move into a gentler, caring and enlightened Ghana.
***For the avoidance of doubt, my take on “fighting corruption” will come in a future commentary.
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