Book: Fighting Armed Robbery in Ghana
Author: Professor Kenneth Agyemang Attafuah
Publisher: The Justice & Human Rights Institute, Accra
Reviewed by Caroline Boateng
Fighting Armed Robbery in Ghana by Professor Ken Attafuah is a burst of fresh air in the stifling atmosphere of the seeming incidence of armed robbery and the apparent dearth of solutions to the challenge.
The book is the knowledgeable diagnosis and prescription on the scourge of armed robbery in the country that all agree has great social, economic and security implications.
In the very first chapter, Prof Attafuah uncovers the face of armed robbery and the quest of various societies over generations to rid themselves of the aberration with similar heinous deterrents, such as, crucifixion, castration and lynching all to no avail.
From the onset, the makings of armed robbery in real life and in newspaper pages, as well as electronic media spaces, is set in context and contrasted.
The media, the book points out, in meeting its basic need for profits on the information it provides, most times preys on the woes of victims by oversimplifying and exaggerating their experiences in ways that rake in profits.
The results have been “manipulation and fuelling of public fears.” Fighting Armed Robbery in Ghana gives a sense that the media most often simply scratches the surface of social ills and leaves their audiences dazed with the enormity of the challenge or resigned as no solution is immediately provided by the reports they read and hear.
“Ghanaian journalists hardly focus attention on how their reportage of crime news affects crime, policing, criminal investigations, the processing of cases through the criminal justice system; the behaviour of offenders and the behaviour of would-be offenders (including the possibility of copy-cat crimes” the author’s indictment reads.
The urgency of a re-orientation in the way armed robbery is reported and presented to the public in keeping with a function of the media as a social change agent is the sense the critical reader is left with.
The book distinguishes robbery and armed robbery, the former, an offence under Ghanaian law and the latter, a “popular, criminological and sociological construct in Ghana.”
Prof Attafuah makes clear the real and perceived incidence of the phenomenon: “Often, much of the “increase” in the volume of crime is more apparent than real. Criminologists use the term crime wave to denote a situation where, due to extensive media news coverage (depictions and discussion) of a few particular heinous or notorious crimes, the public’s mind becomes saturated with information about crime and a consequential false perception that there has been an actual increase in the number of crimes... crime wave is a media creation arising from the exaggeration and concentrated coverage of particular crime stories.”
Region by region, he analyses the trends of armed robbery cases from the records of the Ghana Police Service and presents an insightful examination of some socio-economic and political factors that correlate directly with armed robbery in the country.
Details of regions with the highest and lowest cases of armed robbery and one’s probability of falling prey to the crime in each region is interestingly calculated and clearly set out in the book.
It is heartening that Prof Attafuah, an academician, lawyer and researcher of repute, does not analyse the phenomenon and prescribe theoretical and impracticable solutions.
His analysis is comprehensive, understandable and plausible even for lay people with no background in the science of crime, jurisprudence or law enforcement.
One implicating factor set out in the book is, ‘corruption, incompetence and mismanagement,’ which neatly concludes a brilliant analysis.
In “Becoming an Armed Robber,” we enter into the psyche of the armed robber and get to meet him face to face, not during an armed attack but in a more reflective state where the reader gets to know the motivating factors, the modus operandi and the thrills of those who engage in this practice.
Common sites of armed robbery that and why these sites attract robbers are discussed at length, as well as the three ingredients of a successful armed robbery operation which are “motivated offenders, suitable targets and absence of capable guardianship.”
A feature of Fighting Armed Robbery in Ghana is that the reader gets an antidote to the diagnoses of a problem each step of the way, before a main chapter on solutions that highlights all of the prescriptions already mentioned.
This helps readers to immediately imbibe practical arrangements necessary for communities that are zero tolerance zones for armed robbery. He offers several useful suggestions on how the safety and security of individuals, homes, businesses and other facilities can be enhanced.
One of the simple arrangements by individuals to ensure capable or effective guardianship is alertness and vigilance by property owners, neighbours, relatives and friends, including individuals.
Armed robbery on highways is also discussed extensively, with the issue of the lack of a mechanism for the screening of light weapons at transportation yards and lorry stations raised.
Another great feature of the book is the way technical terms and words are explained for the lay person without making it pedantic for legal and security experts.
Content analysis of newspaper records of armed robbery, interviews with convicted robbers, and in-depth reviews of literature in the area, plus a wealth of practical knowledge and advice make up Fighting Armed Robbery in Ghana.
For instance, readers are advised against playing the part of an over zealous “Rambo” particularly with motivated armed robbers. He rather charges victims at the time of such encounters to be attentive and observant to physical cues of offenders as “it pays to pay attention even in times of crisis. The living has a better chance of recovering lost property than the dead.”
Fighting Armed Robbery in Ghana dissects the responses of the state, security agencies and individuals to armed robbery. For many in the country, “mob justice” or the resort to the instantaneous infliction of punishment primarily by assaulting the offender (sometimes till they die), is a preferred choice of dealing with the problem.
The heartbeat of an author who is a human rights advocate is never far removed from his passionate reasoning and analyses if this and other issues.
Prof Attafuah’s prescription in fighting armed robbery in the country deviates from the “conservative get tough approach,” which in various jurisdictions have yielded fool hardiness on the part of armed robbers. He calls for social development and equity policies that prevent crime and criminality by addressing underlying causes.
His brand of social development through deliberate policy measures termed “social engineering” encompasses expansions and improvements in educational systems, and improving day care facilities, ensuring the internalization of strong family values to foster the formation of socially responsible adults.
Prof Attafuah’s solutions to challenges are wise, practical and timely.
His book has received raving reviews and endorsements from eminent Ghanaians such as the an assistant Professor of the Human Rights and Criminology at Wilfrid Laurier University, Brantford, Ontario, Canada, Dr Robert Kwame Ameh; the Chairman of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Advisory Council, Mr Sam Okudzeto; a former Inspector General of Police, Mr Kweku Pepra Kyei and the Director of Television at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Mr C. Kofi Bucknor.
While Mr Ameh described the book as “fascinating” and written “in a style that is accessible to both professionals and lay people alike”, Mr Okudzeto said “Fighting Armed Robbery in Ghana has given us insights (into this) vexing question (of armed robbery...I doff my hat to Prof Atafuah for such scholarly work.”
Mr Kyei for his part highly recommended the book to the police administration as a core text book for the Police College with Mr Bucknor emphasising that “Ultimately Fighting Armed Robbery in Ghana prescribes critical policy measures and behaviour to guard against the traumatic experience of being robed.”
The book is available at the Legon Bookshop, Omari Bookshop, the African Market, Alberto Pecaso (Mobile land) Enterprise, both at Osu, Accra, and the Goil Service Station at Suame, Kumasi.
It will soon be available at EPP Books, the Methodist and Presbyterian Bookshops and all other leading bookshops in the country.
DAILY GRAPHIC, SATURDAY, AUGUST 2, 2008, PG 10