Feature Article of Tuesday, 30 November 1999
Columnist: Maxwell Oteng
By Maxwell Oteng Department of Economics University of California Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
The politico-economic landscape in Ghana has been full of crinkum-crankum, especially in the last few years. This year in particular has been very "active" for most people on both sides of the political divide s in our education system at all levels, the sneaked-in presidential jet, to the "Dilemma of the Ashanti Goldfields Corporation", and so on and so forth. And oh yeah, eventually we got the government, through the Deputy Finance Minister, to admit that our country is "broke" and that all is not well with our economy as we have been made to believe over the years. That is the political avowal of the decade! We do not get to witness such political capitulation on the part of a ruling government very ofte! n e structural adjustment Ghana has braved through with the religiosity of a reformed sinner has done very little to restructure the economy, and that the much-hyped modest gains registered by the economy are very transitory. But who are "we" to have any opinion in Ghana? After all economics as a discipline touches so much of life that even people that are not technically trained in the field think they can have an opinion. Yet the kind of economics that requires technical grounding and covered in good textbooks are so hard for many people to follow. But this is not the "Object of my Affection" as far as writing this piece is concerned.
What I am concerned about is the kind of things that come out from the mouths and pens of the "chosen few" that suggestively insult the sensibilities of the "Underprivileged Majority" and make a mockery of their very existence. In case you have forgotten let us do a two-second back-to-the-future drill, with an illustration of few, just few pronouncements by "influential" people: the no-vote-for-NDC-no-development speech by the First Lady Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings; and the if-Minority-Leader-has-a-new-car-then-theted-to-eradicating-corruption speech by the President which, according to Ebo Quansah of "The Ghanaian Chronicle", is a joke that makes Nkomode serious; One can go on and on, but I hope you catch the drift.
Anytime, I read or hear about such pronouncements, it reinforces my conviction that those in contented position either think that the rest of us are stupid or believe that they owe us no accountability for what they say or do. After all it is Ghana Politics as usual and that the people can always be taken for a ride.
The political and economic problems of Ghana are well to known: personality cult, institutional weaknesses, concentration of power (both in absolute and relative terms) at the top; fatalism and the disenfranchisement of a vast majority the Ghanaian populace from the political and economic decision making process for obvious reasons. These factors in aggregation create a political atmosphere that makes it easier for people in authority to be unaccountable for their deeds and misdeeds. While we tend to think of most of these causes of our politico-economic woes in our solitude and in friendly and sometimes not-so-friendly public discussions and debates, we hardly pay attention to one of them, FATALISM
Unfortunately, and dangerously, however, most Ghanaians have been attacked by the virus of FATALISM. What is FATALISM? The dictionary explanation is that it is "the belief that all events are determined by fate and are hence inevitable" (Webster's New World Dictionary). In my simplest philosophical and contextual description, it is a belief system that makes one looks at one's problems as being too overwhelming and beyond one's capabilities, thus one resigns oneself to fate. In many ways, fatalism leads or can lead to "internalized prejudice" or what is commonly referred to as inferiority complex.
Interestingly, fatalism cuts across all walks of our social spectrum nt structure ign assistance (investments or some "free money") in order to be able to develop as a nation. For example, according to the November 2, 1999 edition of the on-line Ghanaian Independent, the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, reportedly "observed that unless the developed countries assist the developing ones to come out of their present state of poverty, Africans will adopt a strategy to help themselves out. He explained that the only solution available to developing countries would be for their citizens to travel outside their countries for greener pastures." The potential danger is that the Minister might belong in the majority bracket of people that look for solutions to our national problems from that perspective. We are prepared to draw up investment codes filled with mouth-watered incentives for foreign companie! s, but we are not prepared to offer even half of these incentives to local entrepreneurs. Even in some cases, in order that individuals political fortunes must rise and the country's must fall, we are prepared to "advise" the voters not to patronize the products of local entrepreneurs that are not in our political camp.
Because of fatalism, most people have come to believe that they must travel overseas (by any means necessary) before they can succeed in material life. And those who have tested the "overseas waters" only to realize that it is not as rosy in their host countries (their "Newfoundlands") as they might have thought, are still hanging in there because of fatalism , especially if you have not already built a house in Accra and bought yourself a fancy car, you are likely to see shocked faces (as if to tell you that you are the dumbest person they have ever seen or met) and hear the knee-jerk question "what are you going to do in Ghana?" The reaction to such a decision from family members and friends back home is likely to be! unfriendly and, if care is not taken, can generate a lot of tension in family relations and friendships.
Because of fatalism, most people have placed too much faith in government (or, generally, in our authority structures) like a born-again Christian in God. This is not to say that government is a bad institution. In fact the history of humanity has shown that good governments can play a usefully catalytic role in the advancement of social and economic well-being of their people. However, a government cannot be omnipotent and omnipresent, and thus there is a limit to what a government can do and what it cannot do.
In virtue of the faith placed in such government or authority structures, people have the tendency to be looking out for somebody with a supernatural power, a God-anointed Moses to lead them to Canaan. Once people become victims of fatalism, they become easily taken in by self-described political saviors. They become easily taken in by sweet-scented words and rhetorics. People easily believe that anybody that can write and speak big words (especially if they have "Dr." before their names) have all the answers to their problems. But verbosity and intelligent analysis are as different as black and white. Because of fatalism it becomes very difficult for people to sift the chaff from the grain. It becomes very easy for the militarily, spiritually and intellectually powerful interests of the CM in a way that the UM is not even aware. This is what has been happening in the Ghanaian political landscape: because of this fatalism, the politico-economic entitlements are being appropriated by self-described saviors, individuals who came ranting and raving presenting themselves as "superheroes". However they are/were superheroes without superpower mojo. In other words they are/were SUPERZEROES! The politico-economic entitlements are being appropriated by people who can speak and write big words but are bereft of real analysis. These people, the Contented Minority, have become "untouchables" in national politics, and can thus say or do anything to suit their own political interests even if it is at the expense of the nation's. The Contented Minority rule under the cloak of democracy, a democracy in which the not-so-fortunate do not participate. This Contented Minority is not interested in responding to! the aspirations and needs of those who elected them, but rather their
own narrowly defined constituencies our which is an extraction of the colonial political regime g" with the Contented Minority; the suppression of our own languages in favor of some alien one and in the process disenfranchising a vast majority of the underclass who have had no access to classroom education; and state-controlled media that see no evil and hear no evil about officialdom, helping to cast people in authority as tin gods, so on. In contemporary politics, the appropriation of the politico-economic entitlements is being consolidated with the illegitimate use of force and intimidation that finds expression in the "Machomen" and the ACDRs (some of which are armed). Sadly, ! most of the members of these "organizations" are too blind to see the shenanigan of the psychological power play. The Contented Minority is willing to due anything to entrench its position, even if it means sowing the seed of violence that can potentially shear the fabric of our social life. Now the invisible scaffolding of violence that undergirds our society is beginning to unravel to haunt us like a poltergeist, finding expression in the accentuated rise in armed robbery and mysterious homicides in recent days.
In part it can also be explained by the obsequiousness of Ghanaians by nature. It can also be explained by the structure of our social and political systems that makes it an abomination to challenge and question authority. What is more, it can be explained by the faceless "bottomline and stomach" politics of the intellectually insecure as well as the disturbing indifference of the rest on the other side of the literati in national affairs. It is an uncontestable fact that if the intellectual class has done the work expected of it [by not rushing to join oppressive governments to give them "intellectual legitimacy", and by alternatively offering independently principled intellectual critique], such governments would not have survived to see the light of day.
Almost a century ago, the great African-American intellectual, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in his famous essay, "The Talented Tenth", that."the Negro race, like all races is going to be saved by its exceptional men." How apt this is to our country. This is the challenge of our generation, especially the "new"-generation of intellectuals, assuming we have some. As we come to the threshold of a new century with all its unpredictability, we must, in a Darwinian parlance, bear in mind that, it is not the strongest, nor the most intelligent that will survive, but those who are responsive to change.
It's taken us far too long to realize that no one individual or party for that matter can save Ghana. It would take all of us to look inside ourselves and put on our thinking caps to do that via direct participation in the political and economic processes, through analytical criticisms, and more importantly believing in ourselves and our abilities and realizing that our problems, no matter how big and difficult they might look, are not beyond our ken. We need to seize the opportunities that our environment provides and not put any blanket faith in any individual or group of individuals, and for that matter a government. In that way, no government or individual can take the country for a ride. In that way governments would be compelled to be accountable and accessible to the people.