Feature Article of Thursday, 7 July 2011
Columnist: Yeboah, Kwame
OPEN LETTER TO OTUMFUO OPOKU WARE
Nana, I am sorry for addressing you in a medium like the internet and in a language that is not ours. I don’t want to look like an outspoken, all-knowing child who has to address you from a distance in this manner. Unfortunately, I have to send this message to you in the only way available to me right now and because of the medium, I may have to add some discussions that are not meant to lecture you and I hope it will not come out like that.
I cannot thank you enough for the principled stands you have taken in the past and continue to take on matters affecting Ghana. I don’t have the space to enumerate all the things you have done that I will have wish to heap praises and adoration on you. I will, therefore, just limit myself to your admonishing on the culture of insults that has become so pervasive in our country, particularly, the unrestricted insult of the office of the presidency of Ghana.
Nana, this nasty culture has been nurtured and/or used for selfish ends by political parties from both sides of the aisle. This culture has particularly exploded in Ghana in recent times because of the improve communication network. There is an improve use of cell phones from anywhere in the country and access to internet has improved tremendously. This positive development also comes with some side effects that are usually exploited by others.
The internet has become a place for slandering others anonymously and the freedom of the press which we were so excited about 20 years ago as perhaps the ultimate expression in democracy has become a culture of insults. After the removal of all impediments to press freedom that led to the so called culture of silence, the freedom of expression that ensued has given way to all sorts of uncultured and downright savage way of engaging in discussions and debates.
Sure, it's fun to dish on politicians who can cry all they want but then it doesn't end there. The internet, rallies and radio stations have become places where personalities instead of principles are discussed and judged by a hidden jury. I have listened to discussions on radio and call-ins even by journalists that describe former presidents Rawlings, Kuffour and even President Mills’s so called sickness in very distasteful terms on air. That's below insensitivity.
The culture is based on propagated lies about political leadership by people who have no idea how the political system works and the downright hypocrisy and inability of politicians to educate their followers, just to score cheap political points. Some of these politicians also behave as if “tear them down” is their only political philosophy and they recruit and pay a special group of propagandists and serial callers who are trained to respond to any pronouncement from political opponents with misinformation, fabrication and downright insult.
Nana, with the advent of constitutional rule and its accompanying freedom of expression, participation of all people in all levels of politics has been encouraged openly, and political rivalry has been encouraged to foster competition and consensus. Don’t get me wrong, rivalry happens everywhere there are competitions among people. In Ghana it is found in all aspect of life including soccer. Beyond the normal arguments and competitiveness expressed in the zeal to win a match, are all the absurd feelings that a loss is not actually of our making but by machination by evil people. Somebody stole it from us or somebody took a bribe. I am not talking about the fact that we all criticize and judge others and at times look down on others. That is human nature. It is not saying bad things about someone...We all do it. It is when people go out of their way to hurt and offend others. We do it to everybody who is not like us. They are of different tribe, religion, football team, or political party. And sometimes, because we do it anonymously we think that there are no ramifications. But there are ramifications, because it makes those involve in it comfortable with insensitivity. They lose the sense that words and actions have consequences and they hurt. Anybody who makes a complaint has a right to do so but when you go too far as to start bullying and harassing someone with insults, there is obviously something deeper going on. I think criticism is important and everything in democracy, but some people are just destructive and mean and I honestly believe they do that just to feel powerful and better with themselves.
But Nana I am writing to you today because with all due respect to you, the Okyehene, and all chiefs and elders of Ashanti and Akim and all their people, we the Akims and Ashantis are deeply involved in this culture of insult. I must stress that this culture of insult is not our invention, neither is it exclusive to us. In fact most of the time, like all people in Ghana, we are forced to indulge in it as a response to insults hurled at us by others. But as somebody with both Akim and Ashanti heritage, I am ashamed to admit that my people are also deeply involved in the phenomenon. We have helped nurture and use it.
It has been very difficult for me to finally come around to publicly admit this, and you may be wondering why somebody like me with both Akim and Ashanti heritage will “wash our dirty linen in public”, and commit a cultural suicide? I am aware of that and I hope if we can do this in our house, we will set the standard and show the way for others to follow. We have the obligation to ourselves and to the country to do this. Our culture has trained us to be bold to say what is on our mind calmly and in respectful manner. First, no member of any other cultural heritage will be able to do so and hope for a positive effect than ourselves. Secondary, it is because of what my father told me when I was a kid in school that is why I am doing this. My father told me that if your people are in some form of difficulty or in an unacceptable situation and you don’t do anything about that, by your inactivity you are against your people. I also know that my people are honest enough to discuss this and bear with me if they think what I am saying has some element of truth no matter how small it is.
Our people are very hard working and highly competitive. This has been manifested abundantly and clearly in our history. Captain Rattray in his publications on Ashantis was amazed by the high level of civilization in a people who had not previously “come in contact with the white man”. We are hardworking and honest people. The fruit of our hands have sustained and maintained other nationalities and Ghana over centuries. Our lands, farms and homes have accommodated other people, servants and caretakers from almost all nationalities in Ghana and beyond.
We are a proud and strong spirited people. We did not build the Ashanti empire and the Ashanti, Akim and other Twi speaking nationalities and come this far by turning our backs on a fight. We are noted for jealously guarding our resources and rights and constantly exploring new avenues to be better. Any negative person or group who stand in our way will be torn down particularly when some people behave as if they are asking to be torn down. I always tell my American friends that if they really want to see the land of the brave, they should study the history of Africans up to the formation and survival of the Ashanti Kingdom. We the Akims and Ashantis and Ghanaians in general live in a culture and a world where we speak our minds and when something is not good we say so.
However, we can also be very insulting. In recent times we have come to solve any form of confrontation with some form of insult. It happens between friends we fall out with and particularly with rivals. One thing is that we have unknowingly cultivated the language of insult with time. All sorts of nasty invectives have been discovered and become part of our social life and used in public without any qualms.
I hope that my people, the Akims and Ashantis will take this criticism in good faith and let us have an honest and fair debate and not play right in to what I am talking about. I am doing this just for the sole reason of being worried and tormented by this development that has come to be associated with this great people. This has never been our nature. Our people don’t tear people down for a living, so we should stop those people amongst us who comment on things political on the radio, internet and in rallies from doing so in our name and culture just to feel better about themselves.
The world and Ghana have changed. There is no more room for the use of insult in public discourse no matter the nationality or status of the person you are dealing with. I am not asking for a utopia world where everyone loves each other, everyone accepts you for who you are and nothing bad or hateful ever happens. I am not asking for cowardice in the face of unprincipled and politically motivated assault. I am asking for us not to emulate the bad and uncivilized behaviors of others just because we disagree with them. It has been written that a wise man should to argue with a fool in public because outsiders will not know the difference.
Can’t we ever be able to express outrage without invectives that has been part of our political life lately? Don’t we care about the children and the other people who are watching us? If we don’t feel bad about expressing insulting language in public without a sense of shame, then we have sunk too low and look immature. We are Ashantis and Akims. We don’t do cheap things. We were raised with pride and high self-esteem and insult is not part of us.
The recent culture of insult in particularly and our extreme pride or sometimes sheer arrogance that is silently creeping into our way of life is the single most important reason why we have not had a political party that has broad support in other parts of the country. The country is waiting for our leadership; the same leadership that helped the Gold Coast and now Ghana to come this far. But democratic governance comes with difference of opinion and winning and losing elections. We don’t seem to tolerate loss of election and people who disagree with us. Any leader who does not belong to our party and competes with us is vilified. We did it with Kwame Nkrumah, and with the advent of unlimited press freedom, we have done it with Rawlings and President Mills. This has cost the parties associated with us a lot in elections since independence and has affected Ghana’s development because the country has been denied of the leadership that our cultural heritage could provide.
I am praying for a time when there will be political maturity in our country and our people will realize that because we compete for the same political power and development of our country and comforts that come with it, it is okay to sustain our competition with our rivals. But to stop this getting completely out of hand, we need to unite with our rivals to identify the cause of the scarcity that makes us negatively compete against each other, with some national goals and programs that we can collectively agree to overcome to ensure political maturity.
The politicians amongst us whose sole aim is to gain political power will not side with us, will frustrate us, and use us to score political points. Also, leadership of the political parties who think they are good on their own and allow themselves to be trapped in self-deception and unable to get out of the groove of their self-justifying behavior should be made to know they being unwise. This people usually work out their fears and frustrations by using the electorate to find scapegoats. The problem is who is going to allow him/themselves to be used to achieve their goal at the expense of decency and our country. We or them?
Nana, I am hoping that you will have the time to start a discussion among our people to find ways to do away with this canker that is gradually eating into our social life
Thank you and may the Lord protect you. Long Live the Ashanti and Akim Nations. Long Live Ghana.