Montie: a Time for Anger

“If this country collapses, we will start from the homes of those who say it should collapse. I’ve told you and God has also opened the way. These judges who are trying to put oxygen in the raging fire, I know all their houses. I know where the judges live in Accra here. I can show you. I know their quarters; the Supreme Court Judges. I also know the High Court Judges. If they dare, they should bring something, it will start in their residences, in their neighbourhoods…”

“When we finish them, then it’s over. Then we come and govern our country because they don’t wish this country well so they have to go. When we say farewell to them, then those of us who wish well for this country can hold on to the country and govern this country. So you, they should sit there and think because they are Supreme Court judges, they can do anything…”

For reasons I’m yet to understand, I have deep reserves of patience. I can end a year counting on one hand the number of times I’ve felt anger. It’s usually a brief feeling. My brain kicks in: “What’s the point? Let it go.” I usually do.

Last week was different. I spent parts of it trying to contain an anger in my chest, keeping it from crushing my lungs, wrapping itself around my throat, and choking me from within, on its way to my lips.

The Montie Affair

Last week, the Supreme Court found three men from the radio station ‘Montie FM’ – Salifu Maase, Godwin Ako Gunn & Alistair Tairo Nelson – guilty of contempt, sentencing them each to four months in prison and a hefty fine. They had threatened members of the Court with violence and death during a live broadcast (more or less thirty-four years to the day that the body out of which the ruling party was born infamously killed three high court judges).

In response to the court’s judgment, a petition has been created, asking President Mahama to pardon the trio through a constitutional provision that gives him the discretion to do so. It has apparently amassed thousands of signatures, including those of several high-profile ministers of state whose inclusion has raised many an eyebrow.

The arguments for freeing the Trio vary. While there is some consensus that the crime was indeed grave, there is also consensus that the four-month sentence was ‘harsh’ (strange: I understand it is not the maximum sentence for such crimes) and that the three should be freed, as ‘they have shown remorse’ (don’t most prisoners?) In an official statement, the NDC framed the judgment as an attack on free media and freedom of expression (something disputed by the Ghana Journalists Association).

I’ll say this:

One of the first things I was taught during my law degree was that the law does not exist in a vacuum. Just because the President has the constitutional right to exercise discretion doesn’t mean he should. Context is everything and there is a lot of context to sift through here. There are others far, far wisermore informed and wittier than me who make compelling counter-arguments and perspectives. I hope the President listens to those perspectives as much as he does the cacophony surrounding him.

Baring My Biases

I have long believed that the ancestors reserve some of the darkest corners of the underworld for radio presenters who place party politics above a love of country, especially during the election season. I have marveled at the recklessness of presenters and panelists on stations often owned by politicians or their financiers; at how regularly such pundits push hard-won press freedoms to their absolute limit – taking us to the brink of violence with them – with utter impunity.

In places where the opposition is limited or ineffective, journalism is incredibly important. To call it the Fourth Estate does not do it justice. Journalists are our defenders. They become our daily opposition: doing the research, asking the hard questions, holding power accountable, advocating for change, risking their lives to help us all see the truth through the smoke; giving us the information we need to make informed decisions. It is noble, underappreciated but important work. It is central to democracy.

I responded to the Supreme Court ruling on the Montie Trio with relief. Finally, someone was holding these pundits-pretending-to-be-journalists accountable in a manner within the boundaries of the law, in a way that the National Media Commission has (understandably) not been given the teeth to.

Anger and Empathy

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love… We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”

These words – by Ernesto Ché Guevara – are ones I try to live by. Anger too is a moving force, but it moves in a different way. It can twist Love, subverting it and transmuting it into something unrecognizable. I have had difficulty fitting anger into my worldview.

Back when I was on Twitter, for example, there was a news story (I forget which one) that prompted me to go on a rant about anger being ‘unconstructive.’ It provoked a series of annoyed tweets from my friend, KinnaReads, who called me out for my ‘kumbaya’ position, reminding me (if I recall correctly) that anger has a place, whether it is constructive or not. We discussed it offline and I came to agree with her. I just didn’t see how to reconcile it with my worldview.

I believe in (impractical) things like empathy because the act of stepping into someone else’s shoes – however different they are from me or however we disagree – humanizes them/their position, which in turn helps me see the entire picture.

It leads me closer to Truth.

I’ve always presumed that anger is incompatible with love and empathy. Last Sunday however, I was reminded that it isn’t:

How Hill House Helped

After expressing my anger and dissonance to my Friends Meeting last Sunday, we discussed some perspectives that helped me to connect more than a few dots:

1. Empathy is cool, but it has to be complete

Much as I disagree with what they do, my inner pacficist forces me to empathize with the Montie Three. They are people too. They are afraid of jail. They have families. They are sorry. Etc etc. Empathy demands that I acknowledge that they spoke so passionately for a reason: the ongoing mess over the voters register – an important matter that should concern us all. Their frustrations clearly ran over.

That said, someone at Hill House who I have endless admiration for reminded me that my empathy should also extend to the judges whose lives were threatened. It should extend to their families. It should extend to Ghanaians who wish to live in a peacefully country that is not pushed to the brink in the name of party politics and the punditry of stations like Oman, Gold and Montie. Or Ghanaians who want to leave the dark days of killing judges behind. It should extend to the 13,000 or so remand prisoners who have been scooped up from our streets on suspicion of crimes and have since languished in jail waiting for one common trial – not even at the Supreme Court, mind you. It should extend to their families who haven’t seen or heard from them since.

2. Anger is a secondary emotion

Anger is usually a product of fear. So when you feel it, it is worth asking oneself what fear is behind your anger. For example, as a dear friend’s mother pointed out at the meeting, there is a fear in parts of the world that is resulting from all the various civil rights advances and the perception of being under attack. That fear has now become an anger that is threatening to undermine those liberties and advances.

My anger is the result of a fear that media impunity will result in our country plunging into chaos. It reminds me of Rwanda’s Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines: the station that catalysed the Rwandan genocide.

One’s response to such anger should always be to slow down: pause, think, reflect… and only then to react. If the Montie 3 had done this, they wouldn’t be in their predicament today. And we wouldn’t be facing yet another prospect of party politics being placed over the national interest.

3. Jesus and the Whip

wwjdwhip.jpg

I always forget about John 2:15.

The anger itself isn’t a problem: it’s human. Divine too, apparently. The issue is perhaps what you do with your anger. Again, perhaps this is where the Trio slipped and as my good friend put it at the meeting, “punishing people is the price we pay for having standards.”

So what am I doing with my anger?

It’s made me think. I’ve shared it (first at the meeting now here). And I’m adding my voice to those calling on the President to not undermine the Supreme Court (it’ll be constitutional but, as I mentioned earlier, the law does not exist in a vacuum). I’m afraid I’m not his biggest fan, but that does not deny him my empathy too. I suspect that he needs as much pressure from everyone else as he has from that petition if he’s going to make a decision in all our best interests, and not just those of his party disciples.

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