Moment of Truth
Like a sports vehicle whose gears shifted inexplicably from first into fifth gear, the hitherto leisurely, measured and amiable procession down the Kwame Nkrumah Avenue suddenly took off like a horse that has broken free from its reins. The leading group (which was not the leadership of the Alliance For Change) first broke into a canter, which soon turned into a gallop as it sped towards the crossroads which included the entrance to the road leading to the Osu Castle.
The approach to the Castle was heavily fortified and blocked by heavily armed soldiers who, as we later learnt, had instructions to prevent us from getting to the Castle at all costs. The stage was set for the looming bloody confrontation that we (the AFC and the Police) had worked so hard to avoid.
As we approached the Castle intersection, rumours began to circulate that there had been a bloody confrontation between the Police and a group of demonstrators around the Makola market. More ominously, it was reported that some of the demonstrators had been killed. On hearing this deeply troubling news, many of the high energy youthful demonstrators started chanting “Mo nku y?n pr?ko; S? Kume Pr?ko nti na y? baa y?” (You might as well kill us; after all we came because of the Kume Pr?ko march). With that, they hoisted their wooden imitation guns, which had hitherto been concealed, into the air and lurched towards the gates of the Osu Castle.
The moment of truth had arrived. Could we the people exercise our right to free and peaceful assembly as guaranteed by the Constitution of the 4th Republic of Ghana? Or would that right be so recklessly exercised that it would provide a ready excuse for agents of the government, which had an 11-year antecedence of military dictatorship, to sweep away our rights in an orgy of bloody ‘executions’? This was the time to exhibit leadership on two levels: in the instance (to avoid the impending confrontation) and, also, to preserve the 3-year-old fourth attempt at DEMOCRATIC Governance.
As quick as a flash, “Sheey Shey” Akoto-Ampaw and “Comrade” Kwesi Pratt broke ranks from the safe Cordon, that had been shepherding the AFC leadership throughout the march and charged towards the front of the demonstration. As they sped off, they beckoned the rest of us to join them at the front of the march. Once up front, we locked our hands together in a human chain whose purpose was to bring the charge of the marauding ‘kamikaze squad’ to a screeching halt and direct the march away from the menacing soldiers guarding the road to the Castle.
As helicopters flew overhead monitoring the unfolding drama, we summoned reinforcements from amongst our own guards, senior political figures and civic leaders, to reinforce the human wall between our fellow marchers and the soldiers, whose body language suggested that they would rather not engage but would do so if forced to defend their own lives. After a tense and sweaty 10 to 20 minutes, we managed to restore sanity and calm within the ranks of our obviously very upset and agitated supporters, who had turned up in their thousands and were ready for martyrdom if necessary. We steered the march onto the narrow dual carriage way, past the Shell Filling Station, to the Osu Cemetery.
PHEW! We had managed to avoid a confrontation that would almost certainly have sounded the death-knell for the nascent 4th Republic and returned Ghana into an unchartered territory of Dictatorship versus uncompromising Peoples’ Resistance.
After two ‘false starts’, the day of reckoning was finally upon us. ‘The Kume Pr?ko Demonstration & Carnival’ (formal title) had been slated originally for 1 May 1995, ‘May Day’. However, it was postponed at the behest of the Police who pleaded that their resources would be stretched in view of the many Workers’ Day events. The rescheduled date of Thursday 9 May also coincided with the celebration of the Eid-ul-Fitr festival, and our Muslim brothers and sisters requested that we shifted the event both as a respect to them and also to enable as many of them as possible to take part in the march. That’s how come the ‘historic’ day, Thursday 11 May 1995, fell on the 14th anniversary of the death of the legendary Robert Nesta Marley, aka Bob Marley.
The march was scheduled for a 1100hours start from the Kwame Nkrumah Circle. Two considerations went into the selection of the time. Firstly, we wanted to avoid adding to the early morning tribulations of workers form whom the Circle was a major commuting point. If, indeed, we were doing this to sympathise with the plight of workers, we had no business clogging the paths to their jobs. The second consideration was that we needed to give ourselves ample time in the morning to ensure that all the extremely detailed planning and organization could be activated as planned, to ensure a massive but peaceful march.
As resident ‘Squatter’ at the AFC seat of operations, I had to be ready to receive our Chief of Logistics, Maame Newman, by 0500 hours. Maame had taken on the onerous task of coordinating all the practical logistic inputs needed, namely:
3) the placards to be carried on the march
Security entailed organising our own corps of trusted volunteers who would work in tandem with the Police to ensure order and peace throughout the march. Transportation required that she organises the fleet of ‘tro-tro’ which had been chartered from various points to bring the security and key activists to the assembly point. The manufacture – and delivery – of the placards was a very delicate operation, for reasons that will soon become clear.
After Maame finished with the logistics detail, the plan was that the leadership of the AFC would gather at around 0900 hours and stroll down the central Ring Road towards the march assembly point at Circle, in the process gathering an army of followers en route to join the demo.
All was going rather too smoothly till two jolting events put a spanner in the works, namely: the early arrival and detention of a large contingent of demonstrators from Kumasi; and an unexpected but urgent request from the Police for a meeting ahead of the march. These two developments meant abandoning our best-laid plans and shifting straight into a ‘play by the stick’ mode.
Early Morning Stirrings
Two phone calls came through almost simultaneously. The first, from Victor Owusu Jnr, was urgent and very agitated. Several busloads of intending participants from Kumasi had been detained by the Police at the Ofankor barrier, he reported. Apparently, instructions had gone out to the Police that they were not to allow any groups of suspected demonstrators into Accra that day. For the young men and women of Oseikrom, no such instructions would deprive them of the exercise of their right under Article 21 of the Constitution.
For the leadership of the AFC, this was an early but totally unexpected test of the trust and confidence that had been built between us and the Police. Following a series of frenetic phone exchanges, the buses from Kumasi were allowed to enter the ‘gates of Accra’, a development that brought both relief of much pent-up tension, as well as an urgency for the contingent to be met and managed at Circle, well ahead of the planned start time of 1100 hours.
The meeting with the Police proved to be, perhaps, the most consequential event of the day as subsequent developments were to reveal. Our meeting was with the Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations and the Commander of the Greater Accra Region. Ostensibly intended to finalise details of the arrangements for the march, the main purpose of the meeting turned out to be a request from the Police to change the agreed route for the march, once again.
As we were still in the meeting, we heard radio reports confirming that the so-called Association of CDRs (Cadres for the Defence of the Revolution) were amassing all over the Makola market area, “carrying all sorts of weapons”, the very words of the Officer who was on the radio. Upon hearing this, all of us agreed that we would re-route the March to avoid the ACDRs, who had been recruited to literally give us “bloody noses”.
We were not surprised at all by the turn of events. On May 4, one week before the march, we wrote to the Police to alert them of a sinister plot being hatched by the Government to disrupt the march. We copied our letter to the two gentlemen who, we were informed, were the prime movers of this dastardly act. Again, on the eve of the march, we were alerted by an insider present at a meeting of the sinister forces that instructions had gone out to get us in a milieu of confusion and chaos to be orchestrated by the ACDRs.
As was to be confirmed the next day via the undoubtable ‘interception skills’ of Mr ‘Documents’, Bombay Kweku Baako, the Police had notified the Minister of Interior, Colonel Osei Wusu, in a situation report (sitrep) filed at 0730 hours on the day of the demonstration, that “thugs wearing T-shirts with ACDR inscriptions were seen running up and down on Kwame Nkrumah Avenue with offensive weapons attacking and beating innocent citizens “. The report was sent to the Minister and the Inspector General of Police. And, yet, the Minister lied to the whole nation 48 hours later that he did not have the facts. The cover up of the deep-rooted Government involvement in the violent events of the march were unfolding right before our eyes.
Round and round, we went
The unfolding drama playing before the Police and the AFC leadership at a supposedly ‘mopping up’ meeting on the march arrangements went on longer than the script had expected. Under the circumstances, we decided to split into two groups: the first group was to remain to finish the business with the Police and report the consequences to the crowd assembling at Circle, and the other group was to go to the start point and ensure the orderly assembly of the waiting marchers. The first group was led by our legendary legal luminaries: Nana Akufo- Addo, our spokesman, and ‘Sheey’ Akoto Ampaw.
Those of us in the lead group got to Circle around 0900 hours and were both excited and frankly overwhelmed by the sight that met us. It became immediately clear that the many days and hours spent on detailed planning and meticulous preparation were just about to yield a bumper harvest.
When we arrived Circle, it was already spilling over with thousands of excited and jubilating marchers, all pumped up and ready to rumble. Beyond our wildest expectation of getting between 5,000 and 19,000 participants for the whole march, a number of marchers close to our minimum expectation was already assembled, a full two hours before the planned start time of 1100 hours.
Our intent not to inconvenience commuters was already out of the windows of the nearest trotro and ‘me dofo adaade me’ Toyota Corolla saloon vehicles. The unexpectedly large numbers simply emboldened the crowd even more; many were veterans of previous demonstrations in the 4th Republic which had literally been whipped off the streets by uncompromising and ruthless tools of state security.
Our first act was to assist the Police to clear the Nkrumah Circle itself to allow some semblance of normal early morning rush-hour traffic flow. When we realized this was a futile exercise, we came up with what we thought was a genius plan to dissipate some of the overflowing and overwhelming outpouring of testosterone.
We organised a trot around the circle, preamble to the march, as we waited for Nana and Sheey to join and brief us on the outcome of the meeting with the Police and its implications for the march. The ‘warming up’ exercise was going like clockwork as the thousands followed their leaders.
We all jogged and danced round and round the physical Circle, outdooring what was to become the official anthem of the Kume Pr?ko marches: “Nyansa nso Y?nt?”. Not knowing that a large section of the crowd had been keeping count of the number of revolutions we were doing, this lot broke away at the end of the twelfth round and sped down the Kwane Nkrumah Avenue for the unofficial start to the Kume Pr?ko Demonstration. The Carnival had begun, but without the ‘steel instruments’ to marshal the samba jigs.
Our colleagues joined us at about 1000 hours and confirmed that they had agreed to a re-routing of the march away from the Makola market. The new route had us walking straight down the Kwame Nkrumah Avenue, turning left onto the High Street towards the Castle intersection. Left down the Stadium towards Osu cemetery, left at the Traffic Lights towards the Conference Centre, onto the Ridge African Unity Circle and finishing at an Open Space behind the Novotel Hotel for a closing rally. A plan for some of our leaders to go to the Castle to present a petition to President Jerry Rawlings was abandoned for reasons that have become obvious already.
Much as we hoped that going through Makola would entice thousands more to join in the unfolding drama, we agreed to the revised route, embarked on the fresh throng and set off on the great adventure at 1030 a.m. Unfortunately, and as it turned out tragically, the breakaway early group of marchers did not know of the change of route. So, they charged along the original path and headed towards the inevitable clash with the ACDRs that resulted in the bloody fatalities of that day. Strange as it seems or was it more of the answering of the prayers of the many ‘all night’ congregations dotted around the nation, not one of the fatalities was a genuine demonstrator, notwithstanding, the declared resolve to ‘die pr?ko’.
The Historic March
Acting on the tip off from our insider, we decided that the leaders of the AFC would be ‘caged’ in a security cordon of our own trusted ‘machos’ (strongly-built but unarmed men), mixed with a special police detail. We decided further that we would not be at the front of the march, but rather several rows back to avoid the planned ambush by the ACDRs. Also, based on the bitter and bloody experience at the ‘Last Freedom March’ in December 1994, Maame Newman had ensured that, though not weapons of mass destruction, the placards we carried would provide a very formidable first line of defense against goons sent to deny us of the exercise of our rights.
So, we rolled down Kwame Nkrumah Avenue on the latest attempt to exercise our constitutional right to free assembly and demonstration. Unlike the proverbial rolling stone, we gathered a lot of moss in the form of cheering workers waving us on encouragingly and also, more importantly, joining us in this historic march. As we passed Kingsway and then the Cocoa Board head office, we were pleasantly surprised to see a sportingly dressed but watchless John Agyekum Kuffuor (gold watch snatched by government-organised thugs on the last Freedom March) and a track-suited Jones Ofori Atta (Ken Ofori-Atta’s father) as well as an assortment of establishment political leaders who entered our cordon to march arm-in-arm with Stanley Adjiri-Blankson, the lubricant of the Kume Pr?ko dream; Yaw Osafo Maafo, who was to spearhead our Eastern Region March; and, of course, our two ex-Military men: Nyaho Nyaho Tamakloe and the latest NPP leading member, Major (rtd) Courage Quarshigah. The AFC Agenda, which had hitherto been eyed very suspiciously as an attempt to torpedo the established Opposition Political order, became accepted as the focal point for resistance to a Government that was having a very easy ride and piling on the pain and agony on our people, on account of an Opposition boycott of the 1992 Parliamentary elections.
By the time we arrived at our moment of truth, the Police’s own estimate was that more than 100,000 Ghanaians were on the streets of Accra, marching in solidarity with the suffering masses. This was unprecedented, being several folds above the largest crowd of demonstrators ever assembled in the 4th Republic of Ghana, and probably in our history. As organisers, we had hoped for about 10,000, double the size that patronised the Last Freedom March in support of Radio Eye.
An Unscripted Ending
Alas, we could not bask in our success. For the events that were unfolding elsewhere were to jolt us into a frantic fight to save democracy and the 4th attempt at Democratic Governance. Assuaging the crowd’s anger and determination for a final showdown turned out to be the easiest but necessary part. Once we managed this, the rest of the march was pedestrian, uneventful and almost anti-climactic. That was until we reached the end point and were treated to the most inspiring ‘thank you’ and words of encouragement from the AFC leadership and volunteer demonstrators.
If we thought we had managed to come back from the precipice, we ‘lied bad’. Two other events were to cast very dark shadows on an otherwise magnificent reassertion of the rights of the citizens of Ghana, as laid down in our constitution.
The day had been indeed historic on several levels. For the first time in the 4th Republic, citizens of Ghana had been able to exercise their constitutional right to free assembly and PEACEFUL demonstration. The marchers were not forcibly driven away by State Security Forces. Indeed, there had been an admirable level of cooperation with the Police which was to be replicated on all subsequent marches. The numbers who took part were unknown in Ghana’s long history of democratic struggle. Until this day, the largest turnout at a public demonstration in the 4th Republic was that achieved at the ‘Last Freedom Arch’. Yes, we had very justifiable reasons to jubilate and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. But, just as we were settling down to plot the grand imbibing, lighting struck us on the open fields of the demo’s terminal point.
A frantic phone call from the Police informed us that Maame Dokono’s Obra Spot was under siege by post-demo marchers who were trying to get back to their homes via Circle. As it turned out, the AFC leaders were not the only folks intending to down a bottle or two to replenish every drop of sweat shed on the March. For these exhilarated revellers, Obra Spot was the immediate and obvious point of call for a free drink. So, they proceeded to drink the spot dry, quenching every bottle of every type of nectar that was within sight.
Matters began to get totally out of hand when the obviously well-lubricated and almost certainly hazy-brained demonstrators began an orgy of destruction of the Spot and just about everything else that moved at Circle. They were literally intoxicated with the unprecedented success of the day they had been part of. Sadly, though, they were oblivious of the enormous damage their reckless acts was doing to the cause of Democracy and the potentially irredeemable reputation of the AFC.
As quickly as we could muster our very tired and bruised legs, we sped to Circle to put an immediate halt to the looming blot on our otherwise impeccable and outstanding achievement. We arrived at Circle to be confronted with an utterly ugly scene which was deteriorating with every passing second. This cine was heading for a very ignoble ending with ‘The Jacks’ and their marauding posse heading for a certain massacre by the brutal security goons, who we had worked so tirelessly to avoid giving spurious excuses to rain a torrent of mayhem on us.
Quick as a flash, ‘Sheey’ found a giant anthill which he quickly mounted with the dexterity of an ‘Afadjato’ veteran. The rest of us, led by the fittest – Kwaku Opoku and Kakraba Cromwell – laboured along to join him at the peak of the mound and began the frenetic efforts to calm the crowd and save the historic day from becoming yet another bloody episode in Ghana’s history of the struggles to assert the people’s rights. Thankfully, we managed to restore calm after about half an hour, when the over-excited crowd sobered up and resumed their journeys to return from whence they had started early that morning; to be able to boast forever that they had taken part in THE KUME PR?KO MARCH OF MAY 11 1995.
And who does not want to be associated with a great story? For years afterwards, and at this time of retelling the story 25 years on, the numbers who were there must have been over 250,000 if we believe the numbers proclaiming publicly that “we were there some”.
The Carnage on our Streets
It was only when we assembled next day to reflect, and maybe chuckle triumphantly, on the efforts and the consequential implications for politics in the 4th Republic, that we were confronted with the full horrors of the events that had triggered the moment of truth at the Castle crossroads. It was also a moment for sober reflection as the gory details of the Government’s dastardly and sinister attempts to inflict maximum damage on its own citizens became manifestly clear. The truth turned out to be more frightening and sad.
Through our very reliable sources, we quickly intercepted copies of the ‘sitreps’ the Police prepared on the events of the previous day. And what horror and tragedy it all was. Recall the chilling accounts we heard emanating from the radio reports during the early morning supposed mopping up meeting. And rather than attempt to push a fresh spin on the true horror that we faced all those years ago, I believe it will be better to share my eyewitness account as narrated and shared with Ghanaians in the TRUE “Crusading Guide” manner (another whole tale of intrigue and skulduggery to be told).
But before doing that, it is appropriate to remember the four innocent Ghanaians who were eventually listed as those who died on the fateful day of Thursday 11 May 1995.
They were 14-year-old Ahunu Hongar, 17-year-old Jerry Opey, 23-year-old Kwabena Asante, and 43-year-old Richard Awungar.
May their souls continue to rest in Perfect PEACE!
Dr. Charles Wereko-Brobby was one of the organizers of the ‘Kume Preko’ demonstration 25 years ago. He’s also a former Chief Executive Officer of the Volta River Authority.