Ghana, in common with many other developing countries, has experienced difficulty in establishing an effective police service. Prior to independence in March 1957, the colonial police force was recruited by British officers mainly from certain northern Moslem tribes which had established a reputation for honesty and discipline. These men owed their livelihoods to the colonial administration, and stationed for the most part far from their home villages, they served loyally on the oft-spoken principle of ‘I like my pay.’ Independence, however, inevitably led to the recruitment of a polyglot police force drawn more equitably from all the tribes in the country.
After independence, many Ghanaians viewed central government as a vestige of the former colonial regime with the police force as its protector, and this view may well have been strengthened by the continuing service of trained personnel from the colonial era. As time passed, the northerners became replaced and numerically diluted by recruits from the larger tribes of the centre and south of the country. Regrettably, these newcomers as a whole had a stronger allegiance to clan or tribe than to their employer because many more officers served in their home region and amongst people speaking the same vernacular. Moreover, the worsening economy reduced the value of salaries, further weakening ties to the service. Rumours of corruption, nepotism and favouritism began to proliferate.
In this way, the police force missed an opportunity to evolve into a people’s police, able to work harmoniously with and for the public to maintain law and order. Instead, it continued to be seen by many as an arm of an alien central government, and at the same time a money-hungry predator with unfair powers to oppress the people. Few crimes were solved and many people suspected that most crimes reported to the police were ignored with no attempt made to investigate. Some cases brought to court, prosecuted by semi-literate constables and defended by clever graduate lawyers, failed to yield convictions in spite of red-handed evidence.
Some individual police officers, however, continued to serve nobly. In revolutionary times when passing through Kumasi involved negotiating eleven road barriers set up by peoples’ committees, workers’ committees, the army and the police, only one person, a wizened and greying police corporal, asked for the vehicle’s papers and walked gravely all around checking registration, road tax, insurance and safety hazards. Needless to say, he did not ask for a bribe before waving the vehicle through.
Police on road traffic duty in Kumasi in the 1970s did much to create a degree of public interest in the service. At a very busy traffic junction, Asafo Circle, they installed a round wooden platform on which an officer stood to direct the traffic. One man was an able acrobat and dancer who delighted passing motorists with his clever antics and elegant, precise directions. He gained local celebrity status and crowds of pedestrians gathered to watch his performances, which did little to ease congestion but entertained enormously.
Some mornings, this star performer was replaced by a female officer of outstanding beauty who became equally popular. It was even said that she increased the traffic flow because many drivers diverted to pass by this long-legged goddess on her pedestal. The scene inspired one visiting expatriate academic to proclaim in an article that, ‘Ghana has the world’s most beautiful traffic police.’ If there is a way for the police service in Ghana to establish a warm-hearted relationship with the public, it may well be signposted by the pioneering efforts of this duo.