Our Taadi girls: Our nation’s trauma: Our Ghana Police’s truth & emotional justice

Esther A. Armah

Four Taadi girls are gone. Ruth Love Quayson, Priscilla Blessing Bentum, Priscilla Mantebea Koranchie, and Ruth Abeka. Unreturned. Not brought back. Not safe. Not well. Their remains. Their names. Etched in a nation’s memory and history. It’s official. They are dead. Gone too soon. Lives taken. Futures stolen.

The families sound furious. That is the sound of devastation and grieving. Four women carried these beautiful girls for 9 months, birthed them, loved them, dried their tears, watched them smile, crawl, walk, grow, eat, argue, develop. Their fathers and families watched their daughters, loved them, indulged them, scolded them. How should they reconcile this news? Parents burying their children is unpalatable, unimaginable and in this case unconscionable.

But it happened.

Reconciling distorted facts with their confirmed deaths is hard. But that is the work that lies ahead.

Questions. Careful, thoughtful scrutiny, a call for justice – two kinds. The legal kind in prosecuting the killers of the girls. And emotional justice: this deals with the legacy of traumas that haunt the families and the nation who took to all forms of social media with a battle cry hashtag: #BringBackOurTaadiGirls.

To get to the legal, we start with the investigation. Questions wrapped in emotion and accusation are unhelpful in getting to the bottom of what happened – but there will be no other kind and so Ghana’s Police Service must work to navigate a nation’s trauma and forgo instincts to PR the trauma. The accusatory nature of so many across social media is also a grieving. But it is not social media’s job to cater to the police’s feelings of being cornered, called out and called to account.

The holes in the investigation are glaring.

Starting with the dangerous lie told by CID boss Maame Tiwaa Addo-Danquah. At a press conference earlier, this year she said the girls were safe, they knew where they were, the families should keep on keeping on, their daughters would be returned safely. We know now those assurances were unfounded, and the words simply untrue. There is no explanation she can give that makes those words acceptable. It cannot be fixed by an apology – it is about a failure of leadership, and incompetence. Of course, the human instinct to reassure devastated families is understandable. But that is not how this should be viewed. This was not about her human need, it was about what is required in her capacity as leader of an investigation that is fraught, high-profile, marred by missteps, contradictions, accusations of shoddy police response and questionable information. Under such circumstances, those words reveal a lack of effective leadership. It tells a nation you cannot be trusted to stand difficult leadership ground, and speak the truth even when that truth cannot comfort. She must, of course, resign.

Her response, according to a media outlet, is that her resignation will not resolve the issue. That response is symptomatic, again. of poor leadership. It reveals a failure to understand and grapple with what was done. The issue cannot be resolved. What can happen, what must happen is accountability for the failures, missteps and issues under your watch. Again, resignation is part – one part – of an accountability process.

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To those who bring gender into it, don’t. Her act of poor leadership, was an act of poor leadership. Just as brilliance should not be gendered., so problematic leadership should not be either. So, what should be done with it? Engage it, challenge it, act on it, require accountability and ensure it is replaced by someone better.

Other important questions must also be answered. What do the remains reveal about how long the girls have been dead? When the CID boss said they are ‘safe and well’, had they had any actual sighting of the girls that allowed them to make such a statement? Was that statement informed by the first in-custody suspect Samuel Udoteck? What lessons can they learn from the response and engagement of news about the missing Canadian girls – found so quickly after being reported missing? How can those lessons serve the safety and future of Ghana’s girls?

Udoteck was part of a kidnapping syndicate, according to earlier reports in the media and statements from the police. What has happened to the syndicate? Who were the other people involved? Are they being arrested? Are they being investigated? Questions abound.

And then there is emotional justice.

That is about dealing with the multiple traumas the family will go through. The nation too is haunted by this final end to what has been a long painful chapter. The hashtag and its call to action that ended with coffins not comfort means there will be public grieving as well as the private pain of families. Theirs will last long after the story, sadly but inevitably, fades from the headlines. This, though, was so much more than a story. It offered us insights into holes within investigative practices, crucial failures of  Ghana’s police service. It demonstrated that public anger is powerful, it can galvanize and it can be organized. Emotional Justice is about process and practice to engage the cycle of feelings of what is public death as well as private loss.  Emotional Justice does not end with acquittal or conviction – its aim is to walk with you, the families and the nation, give voice to the nation’s emotions and reckon with their power, and find purpose to that power.

Taadi Girls matter. We say their names. Ruth Love Quayson, Priscilla Blessing Bentum, Priscilla Mantebea Koranchie and Ruth Abeka. May your ancestral realm know more peace than your final days on this earth.

We are heartbroken.

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CSSPS is not FREE SHS!

Can we clear this up? The Computerized School Selection and Placement System – the CSSPS – is not the same as Free SHS. CSSPS was started in 2006. Its aim? Ease parental frustration in the schools admission process. To break it down, CSSPS is a system used by the GES to place qualified basic education certificates examination (BECE) candidates into senior high schools, technical institutes and vocational institutes. Instead of parents trying navigating the rocky terrain of schools admission process, the aim is standardization, organization, implementation. Essentially. the computer assists and speeds up your placement. Its aim: a more efficient admissions system.

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That was the idea. Here’s the problem.

The scenes this week at Independence Square were a visual illustration of a good idea that lacks focused, organized implementation. School started in September. And it was also in September that the CSSPS asked parents to bring their wards in order to clear up questions, resolve issues of placement and admission.

Chaos reigned.

We watched as hundreds of parents, their children, their wards with little direction and no real instruction about what to do, where to go and whether something is actually being resolved wander around Independence Square.  People fainted, voices were raised, frustrations were articulated. And still, the numbers grew.

Questioning, challenging CSSPS is sure to ignite the traditional blame game – Ghana’s particular sport when it comes to a call for accountability and resolution for systemic failures.

The CSSPS failures should not prompt the questioning of Free SHS. The policy is ground-breaking. It is about nation-building. What it should make us question is the nature of preparedness and organization being done to ensure the educational system can meet a clearly increased demand, essentially,  a massive influx of students.

Ghana cannot treat education structures and systems the way a rich man treats his side-chick. Ghana can’t pay education occasional attention, but expect to reap rewards from such occasional action. It does not work. We have seen that.

Free SHS is an additional layer of already existing challenges created by the structural failures of CSSPS.

Implementation, preparation and organization is a national sport for which we fail to qualify, consistently lose at, and for which we seem to misunderstand the rules. Except, education, school choice and school placement are, of course, not a game.

Readiness requires consistent, sustained, timely action. Fixing systems is not rhetoric, speech-making or anger-soothing. It is about our collective engagement in the future of our nation. And that is what a functioning CSSPS is about; securing a nation’s future. It is about the details and the delivery. It is also about the vision of realizing what an educated nation can build.

That means the GES-led CSSPS must do better. That means we as a nation must do better.  citizens, their families, their wards are all stakeholders in nation building.

What are we willing to do to preserve our education stake and make our systems work for us, and our future?

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