BOOK REVIEW: ‘In the Eye of the Storm’

Title: “In the Eye of the Storm”
Author: Justice Emile Francis Short
Publisher: Digibooks
Genre: Autobiography
No of Pages: 256
Reviewer: Kofi Akpabli
From disco lawyer  to CHRAJ boss: The story of Emile Short
If there is one personality who has created a high sense of human rights in Ghanaian society it is Justice Emile Francis Short, the man who was appointed in 1993, to establish and head the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ).
Emile Short (for short), has since captured the national limelight and today, he has penned the very captivating story of his life. “In the Eye of the Storm” is a hard-back by this soft-spoken legal luminary who once bore the nickname “Disco Lawyer.” (Yeah, I was surprised too).
In a riveting stream of narratives that span 247 pages, the reader is taken on several intriguing developments that occurred not only in the author’s life but also across the national and international arena. In the end, one might be convinced that the contributions, which our Protagonist has made towards Ghana’s democracy, has yet to be fully appreciated.

At the beginning of the book, Sir Sam Jonah who provided the foreword cited the former Head of CHRAJ among “the great intellectuals and technocrats” who helped shaped Ghana’s socio-political order. Jonah added that because of the fact that Emile Short is usually called upon when the nation faces crucial issues of high crime and human rights, the nation should begin to contemplate the sets of attributes that make him so resourceful.

Although he had practised law in Cape Coast for 20 years, it was the CHRAJ appointment that brought him to the limelight in 1993 until 2010 when he resigned.

Conceived in the nascence of a fresh democratic dispensation, the Commission was set up with three key mandates capturing human rights, ombudsman and anti-corruption activities. Interestingly, Emile Short intimates on how a most unlikely connection with Capt (Rtd) Kojo Tsikata about two decades earlier contributed to his getting the job. Ever heard of “Operation One Man One Machete”? The reader gets insight into this most intriguing piece of national history.

Over 17 chapters, Justice Short took his time to recount, the strategies put into place to establish the Commission while managing admirably to bring in very little politicisation and patronage in the narrative.  Anyone interested in CHRAJ’s beginnings would benefit from inner circle cum backroom perspectives. Emile Short shares with us how the need for effective recruitment was essential in the initial stages, as well as the training that staff would require. Throughout, he explains the challenges that were encountered (including deliberate underpayment of CHRAJ staff) and how these have been overcome. Or have they?

“In the Eye of the Storm” is not only about CHRAJ. We learn that the author, who is a strong family man, was raised in an aristocratic Catholic family in Cape Coast. His father, Joseph Benedict Short was a water engineer who at 40, decided to pursue law, a career he had always longed for. He succeeded at this, got into Lincoln Inn but went back to the Gold Coast after being called to the bar. Like his father, some 15 years later, Emile Short was enticed into law, enrolling at Lincolns Inn.

The book actually begins with a genealogy, tracing family movements in Ghana, Sierra Leone and England. He traces his father’s ancestry to a Scotsman who settled in Sierra Leone. From his own experience, the author stresses his belief in a stable environment for the proper growth of every child. Here, he explicates the nuance between stability and stagnation which the reader would find quite revealing.

Starting school in Sierra Leone, he continued to Ghana where he was enrolled at St Augustine’s College in Cape Coast. He went to secondary school two years before the Gold Coast became Ghana yet for a 12 year old, Emile could still feel a sense of something big about to happen. He surmised that to include, freedom, a new consciousness and national unity.

In the boarding house, he recognized a certain melting pot with relation to the various background of the boys. He also learnt about bullying. Emile was in there with his brother, William and they both suffered acute periodic pain from rheumatism. Perhaps, this exacerbated his homesickness. In his early days At Augusco, Emile’s desperate longing for home drove him to the roadside for hours on some weekends. Reason? To see if he could catch his parents drive by from Accra to Takoradi. On very few occasions, he succeeded.

After being called to the bar in the UK, he practised in Sierra Leone, but left for the UK and later for the US. The unstable political period of the 1960s in that country led to this.

“I had done the untenable of being civil to a man I had come to court to prosecute. Consequently, concerned for my own sanity and integrity, after only three months, I stepped out of the role of Crown Counsel of Sierra Leone and journeyed back to London in late 1968” (p40).

His own search for the real meaning of life also accounted for this nomadic streak. While in the US, he was prompted by his mum to come to support the father. Being the only one among the siblings who is a lawyer. He obliged thus starting another fresh phase in life.

Back in Cape Coast and practicing with his father, Emile was referred to as “JB nne ba” (JB’s son in Fante ). To the community, he was never Lawyer Emile Francis Short Esq. After a while, he realized that he needed to be his own man. He mustered courage and set up Max-Idan Chambers, thus providing Cape Coast with the rare occurrence of two law firms with close blood affinity. As fate would have it, in 1973 there was a land litigation between the Fante communities of Ekon and Moree. As it turned out, the chambers of father and son were on opposite sides of the case. Find out what happens when the respective local clients from both parties realized this in court!

Much later in his career, what was to put Emile Francis Short’s expertise and character to the test was his appointment as CHRAJ Commissioner. Here, he shares some of his success ingredients with the readers:

“DANIDA was a very important partner of CHRAJ for several years. They were a major source of funding across a wide spectrum of resources including money, vehicles and many other items. Additionally, they sponsored most of our staff to attend training programmes, fully paid for, in Denmark.” (p104).

Significantly, he stressed his independence, encouraged public sittings and stuck to fairness no matter whose case was before him. He made enemies quickly, including within government circles. Intimations and sometimes not so subtle attacks followed. His handling of petitions on asset confiscation particularly did not go well with the powers that be.

Justice Short’s investigation of high government officials on property acquired based on media complaints was landmark.  In all these, he emerged as someone who is not a push over. Indeed, the title of the book reflects his multiple conflicts. By the mid-1990s, CHRAJ’s interventions included prison visits to document conditions as well as the Trokosi system that became quite sensational. .

One of Justice Short’s sore points was how Madam Anna Bossman, his long serving deputy, never got the nod to be the substantive Head of CHRAJ. Bossman acted as boss most of the time Short was away to serve on duties in Arusha and The Hague.

It is significant that the book covered his chairing of the committee that investigated the Ayawaso West Wuogon election violence of 2019. As Her Ladyship, Prof. Justice Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu did in her own biography Joy, Short also shed considerable ink on the incident, validating it as a watershed for the nation’s democratic journey.

What makes the book exciting for me is the surprises about the personality of Emile Short: That he is a born again Christian and a pioneer in the Catholic charismatic movement. That he actually helped to start out Action Chapel in Cape Coast. That he was a table tennis star who represented not only his school team but Ghana as well. That he has his entrepreneurial streak, running a disco for part time income while practising law. That he was also into commercial video screening to secondary schools. That he once owned Cupid International Football Club!

Readers will also enjoy the gallery of images in the book, some essentially archival, and dating over 100 years ago. Critically featured towards the end of the book is a summary of selected decided cases by CHRAJ from 1994 to 2000.



Before I conclude, my review of “In the Eye of the Storm” let me place on record a few highpoints of achievements. Justice Short served as a Justice on the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. He earned an LLM degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1967. He also received an honorary doctorate in Law from Northwestern University in Illinoi. In 1999, he won the Millennium Excellence Award, (Personality of the year). In 2000, he won the International Human Right Award, where he was cited as one of the leading lights across Africa. In 2008, he was awarded officer of the order of the Volta.

There is a growing trend of statesmen writing their life stories in Ghana. This must certainly be encouraged. Stating his own motivation for the book on page ix, Emile Short attributes the desire to write to include the launch of “Critical and Biographical Essays of Nana Dr. SKB Asante” which he attended. According to him, an example was made of him as among those of whom memoirs were expected.

The Disco Lawyer has delivered, but is that enough?

In his foreword to the autobiography, Sir. Sam Jonah said, “Whilst no one book can fully encapsulate the life journey of an accomplished individual like Emile Francis Short, this memoir serves as a window into his exemplary life.”

I concur.

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