Fatal attraction

When a man dumped his Ghanian girlfriend, he had no idea he was putting his life at risk. But hell hath no fury like a president's daughter scorned.
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The Independent Online

It began like any teenage love affair. Waiting to pick up a friend from his girlfriend's house, Selasse O'Sullivan Djentuh became bored and wandered into a neighbouring room to listen to the girl's sister playing the piano. The pair started chatting, exchanged phone numbers and soon became an item.

It began like any teenage love affair. Waiting to pick up a friend from his girlfriend's house, Selasse O'Sullivan Djentuh became bored and wandered into a neighbouring room to listen to the girl's sister playing the piano. The pair started chatting, exchanged phone numbers and soon became an item.

But Zanetor Rawlings was no ordinary teenager. She was the elder daughter of Jerry Rawlings, President of Ghana, and the eventual end of the relationship was to start a violent chain reaction which would force Selasse to flee for his life.

In the past year he has been seriously injured in a mysterious road accident, abducted and beaten by the president's guards and convicted on a trumped-up charge relating to his accident. Last month he flew to London with his 14-year-old brother Macky and applied for asylum.

His parents have been convicted of assaulting a guard during their attempts to find him, and 35 houses belonging to his mother Maria, a property developer who is of Irish descent, have been bulldozed under the watchful eyes of armed police. Back in 1996, though, the reports of unlawful abductions and assaults by the president's forces which circulated in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, were of little concern to Selasse. At 18, he had just finished his A-levels and was taking a break.

"Zanetor and I were just friends for a while. We spent a lot of time talking and getting to know each other. She was really religious at the time and she didn't want an ex-boyfriend. We exchanged rings and promised to marry," he says. He was introduced to both her parents, and they approved of the relationship. He went out flying with the president, a former pilot, spent weekends in the presidential villa and was even invited to state functions as part of the family's entourage. Zanetor would spend long hours at Selasse's parents' house, her driver and bodyguards lounging around outside and eating occasional meals cooked by his mother. When he worked at his mother's business, Zanetor would sometimes accompany him, though her security guards were never far away.

In 1997 Selasse came to London to study business at the American Intercontinental University, and Zanetor began a medical degree in Dublin. The couple kept in close touch and met as often as they could. But by the following summer when they both returned to Ghana for the holidays, all was not well between them.

"Somewhere along the line I felt the distance was putting a strain on the relationship. Sometimes she couldn't account for where she had been, and she would try to pick a fight when I asked. I started wondering," Selasse says. Friends told him she was seeing her flying instructor, but when he confronted her she denied it. Not believing her, Selasse ended the relationship and returned his ring.

Soon after, both returned to college in Europe and did not speak until several months later, when Zanetor phoned to wish Selasse a happy birthday. They re-established occasional telephone contact but after a few months fell out again.

Then the trouble really started. During his summer holiday in Ghana last year, Selasse heard rumours that Zanetor was still angry with him. Then one morning on his daily trip from home to the gym, an unmarked truck suddenly pulled across his path, knocking him from his motorbike and leaving him with a fractured neck, a dislocated shoulder and severe internal injuries.

But when Selasse's mother asked police for the identity of the truck driver, she was warned not to pursue her inquiries. Fearing for his safety, she moved him home from the hospital and nursed him herself over several months. By January this year he was on the mend, but then events took an even more ominous turn. Two soldiers from the presidential guard came to Maria's business and told her if she did not stop asking questions both she and her son would vanish.

Two weeks later, Selasse arrived at his mother's building site to find 30 presidential guards waiting for him in two unmarked vans. When he refused to go with them they hit him with their rifle butts, threw him into one of the vehicles and took him to the president's castle, where his head was shaved with rusty blades and a broken bottle. He was repeatedly beaten.

"I was told the president had asked them to bring my hair to him. They said I would be killed and thrown in the sea and I really believed that was going to happen. I was beaten to a pulp. It was like a war movie - I couldn't believe fellow human beings could treat each other like that," he said.

"They asked me stupid questions like how many times I had slept with Zanetor, and they asked what I knew about the president's property. They said the president was angry because of what I did to his daughter."

Meanwhile, Maria and her husband Anthony, a former civil servant, were frantic with worry. They went to the castle, where one of the two guards who had previously issued threats against Maria and Selasse told her: "Forget about him. You are never going to see him again."

Another guard raised his hand to her and Selasse's father blocked his hand with his elbow. For that, he was arrested and held for 24 hours before being charged with assault and released on bail.

Selasse was also released, after three days of imprisonment, his clothing and shoes soaked in blood, but was later charged with a motoring offence relating to his accident and fined. The threats continued, and in April Maria's business was brought to its knees when an estate of houses she had built were razed to the ground. The police later produced a court order relating to a property miles away.

Macky stopped going to school because his family feared for his safety. The first lady, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, went on the radio to accuse the family of fraudulently using the president's name to buy land which they say they had owned for years.

Last month Maria flew to England with Selasse and Macky. When she returned home, she was imprisoned with her husband. Amid widespread publicity in the Ghanaian newspapers and following a critical report on their case by Amnesty International, they were given suspended sentences last Wednesday.

The family's only hope now is that things will calm down when President Rawlings leaves office in December. They fear, though, that his party will win the forthcoming election and he will remain a powerful figure.

For now Selasse, unable even to return to college until his asylum application is settled and fearful that the president's men might find him even here, spends his days reading. He still has nightmares and suffers from claustrophobia. Most of all, though, he worries about his parents.

"I am scared for their lives. I want them to come here but my dad is ill because of the treatment he received in prison. My mum has soldiers on her property, trying to intimidate her. They have started taking parts of her property and distributing it among themselves. Because she is bound over to be on good behaviour, they can take her to jail if she complains," he says. "All their lives they stayed out of trouble and now this has happened because of me."