They caught up with him down the river. It took many angry reproaches, a cement block to the head, a gallon of kerosene and a match. He was dead within minutes; burned for having failed to escape with the stolen money…You just met the thief.

Disgusted by their unruly behavior, I approached him who stood aside watching, thinking that he too disapproved. It wasn’t until I got very close that I realized he was smiling, approval etched on his face in a manner both familiar and upsetting to me…Now meet Atinga.

He looks at me, amused. I can tell what he is thinking because we’ve once had this discussion.

 I am a textbook ideal. When politicians formulate policies and draft bills, I am the one they have in mind. He is the one they do not.

He is an Atinga: the indigenous Ghanaian, unprocessed by any form of real formal education, who daily employs grit and sweat to live from hand-to-mouth. The Atingas own the slums, the farms and all the seemingly mundane.  They don’t cruise the streets in the comfort of air-conditioned V8s, clad in suits! No, they’re the tro-tro drivers, the market women, the kayayoos, the truck pushers, the vagabonds… This one is a barber.  

Before they lynched the thief, they had two options, the police or that – the lynching. If they hadn’t caught him, they would have had two options still – the police or Antoa Nyamaa. Over here, they don’t do police. They don’t do courts. Yet they get more justice than we suit-wearing puppets of the white man’s norms. Why pay a bunch of legal hoodlums to incarcerate a bad man, marshal him before the courts against tedious protocol and at ridiculous costs only to have him subsequently discharged on any of a number of grounds: lack of evidence, procedural error, false charges, etcetera etcetera…but really all just fancy names belying corruption. Chances are that some half-baked lawyer in the AG’s office takes the case, plays around with it, and loses…or the magistrate takes whiskey and akonfem sometime before delivering what Atinga calls a ‘whiskey judgment’. But that’s if the case even makes it to court, because the thief often has ‘friends’ at the police station. Either way, our bad man comes back home, often vengeful, unleashed upon a disappointed but innocent complainant and anyone who dared to call the law upon them.

The Atingas are a simple folk who avoid this wahala. For the unknown offender, there lies a stress-free, non-discriminatory, quick and effective means of retribution on the shores of Antoa Nyamaa, the river god. Two gold-spotted red fowls and some incantations can secure the purest justice. That’s if the bad man is not caught. And if they do catch him, his reprimand, whatever form it takes, will be dependent on the temperament of the mob.  A faceless person, the mob diffuses back into the protection of society just as quickly as it forms, effectively escaping detection.

I throw him a casual salute and exit around the bend just as Hans Kelsen comes to mind. Kelsen says the efficacy of a grundnorm, the highest law of the land, is the ultimate test of its validity. The measure of efficacy, he explains, is the degree of obedience to laws as well as the efficiency of sanctions for breaches. Take our constitution for example, the measure of its efficacy is our obedience to its laws, and the efficiency of sanctions prescribed for offenders.

For a moment, I stand transfixed in the middle of the road, as it hits me.  While we bask in the pseudo-safety of our V8s and suits, drafting bills, formulating policies and enforcing laws in ways our democracy will not be proud to own, the Atingas are slowly but steadily, painstakingly, chipping away the defective pieces of a system that no longer works, and replacing them with alternatives that do. Somehow they are, by employing the angry violence of a disappointed society and the spiritual norms of our tradition, constructing their own superior law from which their values are concretized. I reckon it will be a paradoxical construct of something grotesquely violent, intellectually stimulating and spiritually enlightening. And did I mention that the Atingas are the majority in society?



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