Feature Article of Friday, 31 December 2010
Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta
NEW YEAR REFLECTIONS
Sustainable development is the ability to meet current needs judiciously without jeopardizing the needs of future generations. It is high time Ghanaians sat back and took a deep breath by reflecting on their frivolity, conspicuous consumption, extravaganza and spending spree, myself included.
Someone said some time ago that marriage is an institution such that those who are in wish to get out and those who are out wish to get in. These days, it has become very expensive to enter into this conjugal institution. I have had some occasions when I came visiting Ghana to witness engagements involving some nieces and nephews. To say the least, the ceremonies were so embellished that they were taken to higher heights with money being splashed around like water. I held my breath in awe and stupefaction as after my long sojourn in the Diaspora a lot of water had gone under the bridge. I interposed that if an ordinary engagement ceremony was at that notch, what then would the actual wedding ceremony look like? Why can’t we go for something decent, simple and less flamboyant? What correlation is there between how costly a wedding was and the degree of success of the marriage? Men who literarily kill themselves to win the hearts of their beloved turn out to be snakes under the grass or wolves in sheep skins as later on in the marriage, they tend to abuse and exploit their spouses. At all times, it is better to consult the holy tome for direction. It is also instructive to delve deeper into our own culture to examine what our ancestors bequeathed to us in all the departments of living. The holy institution of marriage should not be prostituted or commercialized because it is sacrosanct. It is an honorable thing to do to stand on ceremony with the woman of your heart and to marry her in a prescribed manner. In Mark Chapter 10 verses 6-12, holy matrimony is traced to its origin as an institution made in heaven. Paul in Hebrew13:4 enjoins us that marriage should be held in honor. Paul admonishes that marriage should be the liberating institution for men and women who cannot sublimate their carnal passion in the love faculty. The first miracle Jesus performed was to turn water into wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12). All these biblical quotations testify to the sanctity of marriage. Why can’t we have simple engagements and weddings this and other coming years? Let us save precious money as seed capital for the upkeep of our progeny and offspring. I have had very long and fruitful relationships with Indians in the Diaspora and observed that they are extremely frugal in their habits. They prefer arranged marriages because first, the burden of the wedding becomes a family affair and second, arranged marriages last because parents make the choice of the bride as it were, one made in heaven and presented to the bridegroom through the instrumentality of the parents who act as locus parentis on behalf of our heavenly parents. Arranged marriages are therefore, the preferred norm in India.
Ghanaians have literarily become saccophagolists with a penchant for ornate and flamboyant funereal arrangements which the BBC had once produced a documentary on concerning different caskets and coffins used to inter the departed souls. It might be surmised that Ghanaians are like the ancient Egyptians who venerated their dead pharaohs and buried them in imposing mausoleums such as the pyramids and sphinxes at Gizeh. Even though there is the need to accord the departed befitting burials, can’t we cut down or tone down the extravaganza that attends to the dead, as if a carnival was being celebrated or that we were happy some one had passed away and passed on. Why should we lavishly spend on funerals which can cause bankruptcy in our homes?
Our primeval forests and savannahs are fast receding and dwindling due to over-exploitation. The explosive population pressure resulting from high natural rates of population increase has caused the threshold population to be exceeded. Once this critical carrying capacity is exceeded, there is ecological imbalance. In the rural areas of Ghana, most people depend on charcoal and firewood for energy needed for cooking. Even in the urban areas some people depend on charcoal. We need to mount educational campaigns to sensitize our farmers, charcoal burners and other forest marauders to observe the sanctity of the forest. Where they cut a tree, they should plant two as replacement. These poor peasants need to be educated on how to optimize their natural resources needs and how to maintain the delicate ecological balance between man and nature. Charcoal burners are notorious for starting wild bush fires. Our agro forestry departments and wildlife conservationists should be increased in number and made to police the forests in order to protect endangered species and the flora and fauna. This is already being done but not to the desired degree of satisfaction and expectation that will ensure sustainable exploitation of our natural resources. Our fishermen along the Atlantic Ocean should be educated to stop trawling and plundering the sea and lagoons with nets of small meshes which sweep the sea clean of fingerlings. Our fisheries departments in the Ministry of Agriculture need to wake up and team up with the wildlife police to patrol and protect our aquatic and marine resources. There should be a fishing ban imposed during the spawning or breeding period. We should engage our navy to patrol our seas against illegal fishermen and poachers from other countries. It is because of this that the Somali pirates say they are up in arms along their littoral, part of the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. Perhaps a good excuse for their brigandry and banditry. I suspect strongly that corruption is endemic in our Ministries, hence the laxity in the enforcement of the laws governing the exploitation of our natural resources in our territorial waters. I suggest we extend our territorial waters according to international conventions and the law of the sea.
EXPENSIVE CARS AND PLUSH DACHAS
If a man builds himself a house, he does a good thing and he is on the path to prosperity. However, there is so much competition for the Ghanaian to over reach himself in order to have a roof over his head. This has spilled over and there is conspicuous consumption for plush and plum housing estates, the type which Russian oil tycoons and Sicilian mafia bosses or Mexican cartel bosses may be proud to own. There is also a craze for plush cars or limousines. Are we a serious-minded people with an eye on business? When the Pilgrim Fathers landed in the New England States (Massachusetts) in 1620 in the Mayflower and Speedwell from Amsterdam in Holland and Plymouth in the UK, they had no property of note except the free land which they found inhabited by the Red Indians. From the scratch they built a rags-to-riches story. After 400 years, America (USA) is the richest nation on earth. Where do we Ghanaians see ourselves say 50 years from now? We need to have a vision and dream big by having long term investment plans instead of getting satisfied with short termist ostentatious living. The first pilgrims in America were Protestants and they lived by Faith and the Protestant ethic of frugality. The Dutch ship, Harlem, arrived in South Africa in 1620 with Van Reebeck to start the Dutch settlement in South Africa. They were followed by the French, British and Germans. Today we can see the type of infrastructure which South Africa has. It is second to none in Africa. It is all because of hard work, savings and applying the law of success-thrift. On the contrary, the average Ghanaian exhibits inordinate rave and crave for cars and mighty mansions. The crave for land and inordinate ambition (greed) has resulted in many unplanned settlements, fatal confrontations with land guards, corruption in the town and city planning offices, among others. Within the Accra Metropolitan Authority (AMA), efforts are being made by the CEO to bring sanity into their affairs. The heightened run on prime land has led to inflated rents and property prices. There is currently a situation whereby the rich amass so much property that the poor and marginalized are pushed to the wall when it comes to acquiring property. David Ricardo’s theory on rent is visibly at play for all to see. Marginal or peripheral land then assumes importance because of scarcity and people settle in flood-prone areas only to blame the authorities when their houses get subdued and submerged in the floods in the rainy season. Many people have acquired property in Accra and its environs which they are failing to properly service or maintain. Some houses have no registered numbers, no access roads, are hemmed in between many houses, among many other lapses. People put up houses without flower beds or walkways. Building is done in a haphazard sprawl, adding to the urban gridlock and lockjam. The urban conurbation and implosion is unstoppable in Accra. I hope the University of Columbia Project led by Prof Jeffrey Sachs will be put into top gear to make Accra a modern cosmopolitan hub and gateway in the West African sub-region. In the New Year, I will urge all Ghanaians to stop and think about how they can invest in shares, stocks, government bonds and treasury bills. I will like them to risk their capital to register public and private limited companies. That is the beginning of wealth creation. It is sad that despite the spread of churches in Ghana, still a lot of Ghanaians are epicureans, hedonists and pleasure-seekers. There is sheer and utter waste of scarce resources which have alternate uses or opportunity cost. Many people acquire clothes, shoes and jewellery which they seldom use or they may never use again till they die. Why can’t they offload some of these personal belongings and start some businesses with their own capital? Why can’t we for once shed off our materialistic lifestyles and lead some simple Spartan or ascetic lives? If we go into history, we read about Lord Buddha who came from an aristocratic family but upon seeing the light, he renounced his riches and started leading a humble life. So also were saints such as St Ignitius Loyola, St Francis of Assisi and all those ancients who went on pilgrimmages to the Holy Lands. These took monastic vows of poverty, chastity and humility. Some of these saints lived as hermits, recluses, sages, seers, researchers and evangelists. They led simple lives and renounced greed, focusing daily on spiritual nourishment through prayers, fasting, meditation and doing acts of charity by serving the poor and under privileged. They undertook the great commission of spreading the gospel through noble deeds and practical manifestation of what they professed. Our Lord Jesus Christ said in the Bible (Matt 16:26), ‘For what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul’. The Bible further enjoins us, ‘if you have two coats, give one to the person who is feeling cold and is need, for as you do it for your brother, you do it for me’. This helps us to focus our attention in the New Year on the theme of caring for the needy and sharing the little that we have, for, blessed are those who give. Let us tame our proclivities and inclinations for outward show and look inward into our souls and look for salvation and spiritual growth and edification. For, if we are at–one-ment (atonement) with the Father and Christ is in us, we will lack nothing because He will provide our needs from His horn of plenty or cornucopia. Let us eschew sakawaistic ways and avoid filthy lucre because shortcuts to wealth lead to the broad way which leads to destruction. In the New Year, let us don on our armour of faith and behave like Cervantes’ Don Quixote, fighting a war of chivalry against unseen arrays of windmills and giants in the spiritual realm. Let us become prayer warriors, intercessors and succuor providers. Let us make our humble abodes oasis of peace, ports of rescue or salvation (Salem). Socrates long ago observed that the unexamined life is not worth living. This calls for self examination or introspection so that upon reflection we try to consolidate both our internal and external loci of control and we don’t start pointing accusing fingers at other people as the cause of our pitfalls and failures. Let us with hope and faith enter the dark abyss of the unknown 2011 with the Lord shining his light on our path and leading us through with the still small voice of the Holy Spirit as our mentor so that we become victors over all that we survey. The French theologian, Abelard, centuries ago observed that success does not consist in doing extraordinary things but doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. If you start today saving 20 Ghana Cedis every month in five years you could have seed capital plus a bank loan to start a small business of your choice. That is the surest way which all the billionaires took. Billionaires both past and present like William Buffet, Mo Ibrahim, Rothchild, Paul Getty, Alfred Nobel, J.P Morgan, Siemens, Bill Gates, Onassis, Rupert Murdoch, George Soros, among many others started small like the biblical mustard seed and grew like the giant sequoia tree or the baobab tree or oak tree. Let us copy the example of the Jews and love one another. Let us support one another in business for as we help one another, we help ourselves to survive as a nation. Let diligence, truth and implacable faith be the bedrock of our business dealings and transactions in the coming and ensuing years. I hope this flurry of writing of mine in recent days will not be put down or be branded as a person suffering from scribbleomania. Enjoy the yuletide and keep fit. Drink and enjoy responsibly and meet the New Year with hope, faith and thanksgiving in prayers. A sapient sage in the person of Alexander Pope in one of his poems averred, ‘Drink deep or taste not the Pierian springs where shallow draughts intoxicate the brain and drinking deep sobers the mind once again’. He was referring to acquiring deep knowledge instead of a shallow education which to all intents and purposes is dangerous. Let us all strive hard for lifelong learning because learning has no end. It is from cradle to grave because every new day opens up myriad opportunities for learning in this wide school of life.
I wish you a happy and prosperous new year. Dream big and live your dreams.
By Kwesi Atta Sakyi, B.A (Hons) NDP (Top Award Winner) MPA (Cum Laude) Group Diploma (Distinction)