Feature Article of Tuesday, 1 May 2012
Columnist: Yeboah, Jacob Osei
Open Letter To H.E. Prof. Mills By JOY2012 On Religion, Government and Nation Building
H. E. The President
Office of the President
The Castle, Osu
Your Excellency, Prof. J.E.A. Mills,
RE: Religion, Government and Nation Building
Happy” May-day” to you, your Excellency, as the chief servant and to all hard working Ghanaians for our beloved country, freed over 55years ago. I’ve advocated for a second Upper Parliament, as a May-day gift to your Excellency, because, I believe Ghanaians need to hear the message of change coming from serious religious leaders, respectful traditional rulers and the leadership of the business community in order to facilitate our socio-economic development and guarantee our authentic co-existence as Ghanaians.
I came back to this meticulous write-up, your Excellency, on the 14 March 2012, after over nine months of contemplating on the interrelatedness between religion, government and nation building in a multi-ethnic country like Ghana. The urge to continue was re-ignited by the front page news items in The Ghanaian Times newspaper with a caption, “Veep directs freedom of worship in schools” which appeared on the 14 March. This was in particular reference to the constitutional provision of freedom of religion by Ghanaians (Constitution, Article 21 and educational act of 1961, section 22). One may ask what roles do Religion and Government play complementarily to ensure nation building?
The fundamental objective of freedom of religion, culture and human rights as enshrined in most civilised countries’ constitutions is to underline the fact that a person is first born into citizenship of a nation before being nurtured into a particular religion and culture. We all have the option to choose our friends but we do not have the option to choose our families. Every person born into the citizenship of Ghana has, therefore, the right to decide to pursue a religion of choice without discrimination whatsoever.
Your Excellency, Since the year 2000 Ghanaian politicians and political parties exploit the central themes of religion. They use them as a tool to lure the electorate into voting for them without discussion their manifestos in clear eyed terms.
Religiosity in the Ghanaian multi-ethnic society largely has a lot to do with the contradictions entailed in the dynamics of trust and deception, good and bad governance, mass indiscipline, mediocrity justice and injustices. Be that as it may, Ghanaian religiosity has not yet been translated into the processes of nationhood that we can all be proud of. However, one cannot conclude that a nation’s development is based solely on particular religious tradition, as there are many examples of nations in which the majority of the citizens may or may not practice respective religions but are well- developed or advancing in their development. It is, therefore, imperative that there should be some fundamental principles that citizens of a nation adhere to which can steer them towards building strong nations. So how should Ghanaians see religion in relation to governance towards nation building?
The vast encompassing nature of religion makes its definition somewhat problematic. Most scholars try to come up with definitions that tend to fit into their beliefs and practices, thus miss its multifaceted nature and scope. Religion is however, a human creation (though believed to be inspired by ultimate Reality) and as such can vary as extensively as human understanding can tolerate. Religion is variously seen as a theological, philosophical, anthropological, sociological, and psychological phenomenon of humankind.
Your Excellency, Prof. Mills, in developing the concept of how religion must be seen to help African governments in building nations, especially Ghana, one may want to consider how the late Prof. F.J. Streng , defined religion. He posited that “religion is a process of ultimate transformation”. The substance and insight entailed in this comprehensive definition are a wake-up call for any religious leader and so called metamorphosed religious-political leader. Prof. Streng, who was a major authority on Religion, was a respected pioneer in the field of the History of Religion and he taught for a long time at the world-renowned Southern Methodist University (SMU), Dallas, Texas.
If the beliefs that knit together practitioners of any religion are not existentially relevant, intellectually stimulating and socially refreshing leading to the ultimate transformation of the nation all efforts will be a waste of time and human resources. Thus the strengian definition makes the Abrahamic traditions (Christianity and Islam in particular) very relevant in Ghana’s development and overall nation building. The values, beliefs and moral prescriptions are very dear to the hearts of religious practitioners yet they may not be of significant if they are not translated into the processes of ultimate transformation in society.
Government according to Webster is the organization, or agency through which a political unit exercises its authority, controls and administers public policy and directs and controls the actions of its members or subjects. As agency, it implies governments are not islands on their own, but there are principals who nominate or approve the agency. A government is thus a trusted privilege mandated by the citizens or the electorate. It is in this vein that the Constitution of Ghana emphasizes the inalienable rights of every citizen and the fact that all powers of Government spring from the Sovereign Will of the people. Abraham Lincoln, in his famous Gettysburg address, affirmed democracy as “the government of the people, by the people and for the people”.
Your Excellency, the paradoxical position of government formation when accentuated to the principle of leadership connotes often role ambiguity with regards to the core definition and principle of governance and the sources from which governments’ powers spring.
My argument is pivoted on the fact that role ambiguity and deception have become the accepted norm of political parties seeking the mandate to secure power to govern the people towards nation building. It doesn’t really matter anymore whether or not the manifestos of these political parties are in consonance with the dispensational development of the country towards nation building.
Your Excellency, One may have a lot of questions but the million dollar question one will asked is this, are there processes and procedures required to ensure that a country like Ghana is not derailed in its quest to build itself into an enviable nationhood that its citizenry will be proud of? Do we as a nation Ghana or respective nations in Africa, have a development agenda for which the citizenry might want alternative processes of achieving its objectives, through continual mandating the various governments? For we often spend billions of cedis to elect governments every four years at the peril of innocent sacrificial blood of our compatriots. How can we have a national democratic discourse in setting out our developmental agenda for the next two decades? Who should even develop this? Should it be a particular political party and what will be the outcome in a contextual implementation when these political parties are locked up in ideological patch of socialism/ capitalism, left-right-centre-wing bookish, theory-based education which does not translate into practical reality of our governance system? Our perception of the issue of role ambiguity in governmental practice can be clarified when we deepen our understanding of nation building.
Nation-building, however, is also not synonymous with creating democracy, even though both take time. Rather authority relations are transformed through mutations of political institutions as well as of societal interests, through culture and social structures whose nature is driven by ideas and ‘half-articulated longing’ of individuals. We need to look at how states and civil society interact in their formation of new political communities.
Your Excellency, you may agree with me that, nation building means building a stronger and a more durable foundational structure for the future. For Ghana, we need to re-discover the foundation of our values of human rights and dignity, principles of good governance, dialogue and respect. Nation building would also mean rebuilding structures such as a more just socio-economic order, greater respect for law and order, restoration of a sense of trust in the law and the judiciary and social security. We must also ensure that genuine pragmatic and prudent measures are set up to correct past political blunders. The rift that divided the founding fathers of Ghana into enemies causing socio-political disorganization over the past fifty (55) years needs divine wisdom for pragmatic reconciliation.
It is, therefore, imperative that we develop a coherent common vision supported by all citizens. We ought to recognise the various religious and political institutions and acknowledge diversity of views for nation building. Can we truly envision a nation building for Ghana or Africa in the context of how we do politics and even trying to create a multi-party democracy which is not even synonymous to nation building in a country or a continent bedevilled with a powerful, latent multi-ethnocentric society? Can we achieve that in our life time? Yes, we have no option but to achieve, for it is long overdue.
Your Excellency, Prof. Mills, my deepest cognizance is that the predicament of most Africa countries is awfully exacerbated by colonialism’s indelible legacy on the continent. It has been noted that colonial rule often left behind a legacy of foreign institutional structures, laws and norms that could be adapted or rejected but could not be ignored. These legacies are often tied in the knot of wisdom of nation building of the colonies which can only be untied by the wise leadership of the colonial subjects, in crafting a polity of nationalism with prudent relational interdependency of imperialist control and tactics in the context of contemporary globalisation.
Having attempted to conceptualise the Tripod of Religion, Governance and Nation-Building, one needs to consider the issue of pragmatic interconnectedness. We need to form a pictorial view of a triangular object, with Nation-Building at the apex and the base held together by Religion and Governance. Thus religion and governance form the formidable foundation that can sustain and hold the super structure of nation-building together against the shocks and aggressions of foreign cultures and the tidal waves against the exploration in search for the desired destiny of the nation.
Religion and governance both accentuate the same basic principles of a just society, peaceful and authentic co-existence of a people in unity but with diversified views of the same object of nation building. It is of great concern that intolerance and disrespect coupled with disturbances within either the religious or governance pillars, respectively or worse off if such disturbances are concurrently happening in both pillars of nation-building, can wrought an incalculable tendency to crumple down the whole nation with high consequences of human lives and properties. Nigeria our next neighbour finds itself with such Tsunami shocks to its religious and governmental foundations and Ghanaian politicians must avoid any form of greediness to capitalise on poverty to wrought similar havoc towards building our nation at the speed of tortoise.
The foundational structures of nation building as aforementioned is inadvertently imbibed in the process of ultimate transformation with regard to the codified moral values and practices transmitted by religious adherents. The transformational process ultimately has to do with how the minds of practitioners are transformed in the right application by positively affecting the people around them and the transformation of the environment for improved living standards, here on earth and NOT life after death.
On one hand, the Abrahamic religions of Christianity and Islam in Ghana have, therefore, established schools with the view to nurturing good citizen through moral codes and rituals towards the appreciation of general knowledge and sciences for nation building. The government on the other hand, has also established schools that can also cater for the same purposes for the citizenry including traditional religionists and atheists.
Your Excellency, the question is how should the government partner these religious bodies whose beliefs and activities have ensured the establishment of these institutions? More importantly, how these religious bodies can also realise their objectives so that the constitutional right of freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice is not trampled upon. Can one justify the fact of the constitutional provision to go into the assembly of another religious congregation to practice one’s religious rituals because there is freedom of worship in Ghana? There is the law but common sense mostly prevails in the application of the law in the context of specific circumstances. That is why as a nation we need to carefully draft the right mix, the circumstance and application to the request made by the National Council of Muslim Chiefs to the Vice President, John Mahama. The Vice President has henceforth directed the relevant ministries to ensure that the rules and regulations regarding the freedom to practise and manifest any religion in the country’s educational institutions are complied with. It will therefore be encouraged and serve as a motivator for these religious institutions if the management of their established educational institutions are given back to them.
Nation-building requires faithful traditions that can translate the love and justice of God/Allah/Onyankronpong into the existential human situation. Nation-building requires religions with referent stance on moral principles with ultimate process of raising the red flag with the view to transforming the consciousness of government’s initiatives on policies that discriminate against others with high levels of injustice. The injustice of the law preferentially applied to a particular political party faithful serves as a recipe for social upheavals and a great threat to national security. Nation-building requires religions that respect the traditions and cultures of its citizenry and that are able to transform the cultures but maintaining their identity towards development.
Nation-building also requires governments with policies designed to alleviate poverty, a greater respect for the law and a judiciary that truly dispenses justice and truth and that protects the highly vulnerable in society. A government that espouses national consensus building with high tolerance to cooperation and social criticism, with pragmatic steps in building strong institutional structures that can prudently correct itself into a metamorphosed entity to withstand any form of national threat and authentic co-existence. Nation-building requires a government that can implement socio-economic policies to close the poverty gap and to insure the well-being of future generations and honestly take steps to reform the ethnic and religious polarization of its citizenry.
Your Excellency, it is improper for government to assume moral authority or pretend to have all the answers to all national challenges. Corruption must be dealt with and governments should eschew the practice of using falsehood to gain power so as to create a just society.
The ambiguities engendered by governments, especially those perpetrated by political parties can be corrected in the spirit and letter of the constitution if the government sees itself as one of the pillars and a means towards nation building and not an end in itself. Through determination and consensus building a good government can set up the national agenda and the milestone achievement towards building a strong nation and can nurture the nation’s democracy based on the traditions in the nation for the citizenry to develop from their identity.
The religious ritualistic disposition being assumed by political parties without pragmatic application of codified values of those religions by the political parties’ leaders leaves much to be desired. It is a calculated deception highly orchestrated by these parties that thrive well on the ignorance of the masses. However, one of the favourite quotations that the Muslim youth leader, Mallam Abdul Fattah of Accra often quotes is "For surely Allah will never change the grace which He hath bestowed on a people until they change what is in their (own) souls; and verily Allaah is He Who heareth and knoweth (all things)." (Qur'aan: Al-Anfaal, 8:53). For Allaah ta'aalaa will never change His blessings and the fortunes of a people unless the people take the initiative to change themselves. Citing also from the Bible “Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7: 20).
Your Excellency, in concluding my long thesis, the 2012 December electioneering campaign is one of the processes towards nation building. The electorates are yearning to witness NOT the rituals of religious practices by the political parties in the form of gathering for religious purposes but rather its transformed application of how to influence their followers to conduct themselves for peaceful co-existence before, during and after the election. Fighting corruption with firm leadership when given the mandate to govern and stopping the broad daylight robbery/looting by elected and appointed state officials, which is a threat to national security and a recipe to destabilize the fourth republic.
The moral code and authority are located in the religious domain and not with the politicians but the application of these codes must be translated into our national governance processes and systems. It is the application of religion, its influence and connectivity of establishing strong and just institutional systems that we can build a nation that each one of us can be proud of. The government will equally humble itself to assume the trusted agency role mandate given by the electorates so as to correct its leadership role ambiguity for consensus and accelerated nation building.
Yours in the nation’s service,
Jacob Osei Yeboah
(JOY2012, The next President of Ghana)