Of course no culture likes a thief. It just goes against our social/moral intelligence that you do not take what is not yours. I personally don't know a society in history that has an open invitation to take other people's belongings. You just do not do it.
One should definitely refrain from stealing while in Ghana.
We were told in training by several staff and current Peace Corps Volunteers that you ought not to throw around the accusation of thief flippantly. Ghanaians do not like them at all. They will show you just how much they despise them as well and you may not like it at all if you were only 30% sure you got the suspect right. Those who are present are liable to apprehend the person and apply mob justice prior to getting the suspect to the police station (or hospital as the case may require after the mob has deliberated for many minutes).
This morning I was walking to the center of our town to pick up a taxi to our hub site in Kukurantumi. I was running a touch late and happened to arrive just in time to see a crowd moving in the opposite direction towards the police station. I figured something was up from all the commotion going on and the several missed chances of people greeting me that are a habitual experience on my commute. Sure enough, the crowd had their thieves and the town was abuzz as to who the perpetrators were. I happened to see my father who was in town walking towards me and so I greeted him and inquired as to what was happening. He said three men had been caught stealing goats and were now being shown to the police station by half of the town.
This is serious business. It has nothing to do with goats but with the idea of taking something that is not yours. These two (the third escaped into the wilderness) apparently had quite a bit of bruising and swollen faces to show for their work. I did not see this at all but when I arrived at my taxi I asked my fellow volunteers who were already there waiting in the car what they saw. It amounted to a man with a very swollen face taking continued slaps and pot shots while the other had copious amounts of blood running down the side of his neck and an ear lobe that was not attached as well as it should have been.
When we were hearing about the stories of petty thieves taking incredible physical abuse from crowds I had this very odd feeling that this can not be punishment fitting the crime. If someone grabs my wallet with just 12 cedis in it I hope they are not killed for it – it just doesn't seem right in my book. The counter-argument is along the lines of, “Well, they should have kept their hands to themselves.” Sure, I understand that their action precipitated it, but maybe we can have a standard like a year in jail for this or that and not 40 angry people punching and kicking and quite possibly mortally wounding a person. I shudder to think of someone who is falsely accused in this type of situation. It was surprising to see that on what was otherwise a normal day in my small little town.
I still can't stress enough that I feel incredibly safe here and that the people I meet every single day are the friendliest people on the planet. I mean that.
Just don't take that pencil if it isn't yours.