Feature Article of Monday, 27 August 2012
Columnist: Kusi-Mensah, Kwabena
THOUGHTS ON MY NATION- musings of an ordinary Ghanaian NOT paid to have any particular point of view
Every nation has a destiny; a part in history that it must play in bringing the divine plan of God for humanity to pass. Ghana is a great country. God made us so. I am not being sentimental or indulging in a sudden weird bout of early morning patriotism to give me a nice wishy-washy feeling for the rest of the day. I am simply stating the fact. And many people the world over seem to see that fact- everybody except us.
And why should we? Looking around us at the current state of affairs in our country and in the world, why on Earth would we see ourselves as ‘great’? When the world’s greats formed a G8, we didn’t get into the club. Even when they widened the circle and made it a G20, we still didn’t get in. We can’t feed ourselves. We can’t clothe ourselves unless with a white man’s discarded clothing even right down to our underwear. We can’t shelter ourselves except in mud huts, kiosks, slums and uncompleted houses. When the world meets to discuss serious global issues, we are not called. Not seriously, at least. Unless either by accident of chance when we just happen to be chairing some international body like the AU, or else just as a quirky, conscience-salving token meant to pay lip-service to the mantra that “we’re all equal citizens of the global village” when we all know that we are NOT all equal. It’s kind of like that little girl who was invited to ask some questions at the recent IEA encounter with Nana Akufo Addo- she was good, very good in fact, her questions were intelligent and well articulated, but at the end of the day she was just a cute little girl who got a nice little pat on the head for being so ‘mpanyinsem’. And when world leaders shower praise upon praise on Ghana, I can’t shake that nagging feeling in my gut that in their eyes we’re just like little Angela; cute, intelligent, a model child to be held up as an example of the good little girl that we are, so as to be emulated by our rather ‘naughty’ brothers and sisters in the rest of Africa. But when it comes to serious issues of the world, issues that ‘adults’ discuss, they call the G20 or the EU, or the Permanent members of the Security Council- not the cute little girl, not us. Otherwise why won’t David Cameron have the audacity to scold us and threaten us and talk down at us like little children. I’m still smarting from that, by the way.
But regardless of all that, Ghana is still a great country. And I can say that now because truth is not always defined by what has come out for everyone to see now, but sometimes by what is hidden and is yet to be manifest. A barren woman of 10 years, who has just become pregnant may be no less pregnant than her big-tummied rival who is a mother of six, even if not a single person believes her when she says she’s pregnant. And that is truth...sometimes.
We are great not just because of our resources. We are great because of us- we the people. And we are a people. Despite all our fights, despite all our bitter quarrels and all, our differences have always been significant only at first glance- superficial we might say. On deeper examination, we see how ‘the same’ we really are after all. When the de-stooled Asantehene Prempeh I was exiled in the Seychelles, the appeal for his release was not just an Ashanti affair, it came as one united relentless voice from all over our Nation- the Okyenhene Ofori Atta I, the Aborigines Rights’ Protection Society (ARPS) in Cape Coast, the National Congress of British West Africa, The Wesleyan Synod, and even the Legislative Council of the Gold Coast Colony to the south of Asante. And we, together, prevailed. Prempeh came home. Somehow, at the core of our being, there has always been an intangible common spirit that pervades through all our spirits- a freedom-loving spirit- that is kind, and cheerful, optimistic and God-fearing, respectful of our elders and each other, and unshakeable in its sense of justice.
It’s not by accident then that Freedom and Justice is our country’s motto; a phrase that appears meaningless nowadays, but upon which our greatness as a country is hinged. We are a freedom-loving people in whom the spirit of justice burns deep within our hearts. We have always been, and will always be so.
Sometimes, sitting quietly by myself, I wonder to myself: at the moment that John Mensah Sarbah quietly resolved in his heart to fight the Colonial Powers and not just sit by and watch them take our lands, did he really understand the implications of what he was doing? Did he actually consciously know, that by forming the Aborigines Rights Protections Society (ARPS) he was saving our country from the pathetic fate of our brothers in East and Southern Africa, where all the arable lands were placed in the hands of white settlers and continues to remain so in many places there to this day, more than a hundred years later? And did he know that not long after that, that same freedom-loving spirit would be ignited over 200km away in Kumasi, in the heart of a petit but brave woman to stand up to the arrogant conceit of an all-powerful Governor in demanding to sit (and by so doing place his buttocks) on the symbol of the soul of her nation?
I wonder to myself: when Kobina Sekyi, the great terror of the European Colonial elite, in commenting on the necessity of the education of the West African said “we can never respect ourselves while we borrow our point of view and our method from another race”1, what did he really mean? Was his spirit troubled because of the mental shackles the Imperialist educational system placed on the freedom-loving spirit of his own people- ‘everything white good, everything black bad’? Was that what was on his mind? And did he know that many years later, a gentleman called Ephraim Amu, in amazing consonance with his own example, was going to be the first person to wear native cloth to his church in defiance of the status quo?
In 1948, as Danquah sat quietly behind his desk, typing furiously on his type-writer, drafting the paper requested by the Watson Commission- “A Basic Constitution for Ghanaland”- the paper that the British Colonial Office would shortly adopt as the accepted timeline for the independence of the Gold Coast, how did he feel? Did he know his bold proposals were actually going to be accepted by the British? Did he know he was literally writing the destiny of a Nation? And did he know in his freedom-loving spirit, that he was just a few years away from his first prolonged detention for the love of that Nation?
As Dr Nkrumah drove to the Old Polo Grounds on the night of that 5th March, and the cool evening breeze from the Atlantic wafted in and out of his car, on his way to proclaim to the world the birth of his new Nation and that freedom loving spirit, what was going through his mind? Did his heart soar within him at the bright future before the country he had loved with all his heart and toiled and fought so hard for? Did he think of his time in prison, of his mother in Nkroful, of the many farmers and fisherman. Traders and ex-servicemen, in whose faces he had seen hope as he travelled the countryside, organizing them and leading the charge against imperialism?
We come from great stock. Men and women who have loved our freedom, and have fought hard to protect our way of life. We have a history we can be proud of. And now it’s time we wrote our own, one our children’s children can also be proud of. It’s time we secured our country’s place at the table of the who-is-who of this world for our children, if not for ourselves. It’s time we made our country (and all of Africa) matter in this world.
I am not a politician. Neither am I a political activist or a “rented press” journalist (or any category of journalist for that matter.) I will probably never be invited to appear on a morning breakfast show programme or asked for my thoughts on a national issue. I am just an ordinary young Ghanaian who reads the papers and watches the news a lot, and loves his country sincerely. I just finished school barely a year ago and have just started out in life, working hard to make a decent living, and having dreams of starting a family soon and providing for my wife and children. Again, I am neither a politician nor a die-hard supporter of any political party. But I will insist on my right any day to hold ANY political view on ANY particular issue at any point in time (and to change those views whenever I am so convinced) without being put in a box or given a political label. And I will defend with my life if I have to, everybody else’s right to do same. So, for example, I enjoyed President John Mahama’s address to the nation recently and thought it was a fantastic, uplifting speech and was exactly what a nation who had just lost its president needed to hear at the time. I was personally encouraged by it. Nana Akufo-Addo’s liberal-capitalist-pro-business posturing appeals to me as a great way to run Ghana’s economy. And I have nothing but the highest respect for Dr Abu Sakara Forster’s agricultural genius and Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom’s business acumen as well as their personalities. And frankly, stripped from all the propaganda, I think either of these gentlemen will make a decent president and not do half as badly as their opponents would have us believe. Sadly, I have to go to the trouble of stressing all this because we live in a country now where you cannot even cough without being labelled (why did he cough on this day, Akufo Addo’s birthday? He MUST be NPP!- God bless your soul Pastor Mensa Otabil for that fantastic message you preached recently on the madness of political labelling!) I am going to express an opinion here about as political an issue as my beloved Ghana and how it should be run, and my opinion may be interpreted through one political filter or the other. I would rather it isn’t. But even if it is, at the end of the day the truth is that I’m just an ordinary chap who doesn’t receive an allowance or per diem from any political entity, getting up everyday going to work and coming home to sleep just like most people reading this article.
As I have grown up, and gone about my normal everyday business living my life, I have somehow become very conscious (in fact too conscious even) of the link between the generally prosperity of Ghana and my own personal well being. I don’t know why, but in my mind’s eye I can clearly see how no matter how smart and hardworking I am as an individual, no matter how much I achieve as a person, my prosperity in life will never be complete unless Ghana as a whole prospers. Because in the eyes of the world, I will always be defined first by my people, before myself. I will always be just another over-achieving black African from a Third-World Country who happened to make it in life in spite of being African. And unless that tag- that third world accolade changes, I can surpass Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela put together, and it won’t matter. And that is why I care so deeply about Africa- and about my country Ghana in particular. And that is why I am so politically conscious, without being a politician myself. My destiny is inextricably tied to my people’s destiny. Therefore it will never be enough to just worry about myself and my life, and focus all my energies on making it for myself in life. I must do whatever I can (however little, even if it’s just writing an article) to pull my people along with me. And not just me- we! We must help little Angela, the adorable little girl called Ghana grow up.
And how shall we grow up? Money. And attitude. It all boils down to money, at the end of the day. And money, in the final analysis, goes to whoever has the right attitude. It’s an uncomfortable fact that ‘civilized people’ are embarrassed to admit out loud, but it is the fact of the matter. In this world, you don’t matter when you are poor. Let’s face it. And for those of us in the big cities who are deluded by all the flashy cars in our immediate surroundings into thinking “oh, we’re not exactly America but at least we’re not so bad”- actually, we are. Trust me. Take a trip to the hinterlands of Northern Ghana. Turn of the main highways down South and travel a few kilometres down the feeder roads until they narrow into a dirt-path where the vast majority of our population lives and see and smell the people there, especially the children. Believe me, we are poor. Ghana is poor. And that is what all the foreigners who come here remember when they leave- not the Accra Mall, not Cantonments or Beach Road in Takoradi- but naked little malnourished children, and mud-huts and poor or non-existent electricity and running water. And that is why we continue not to matter.
And how shall we become rich? Industrialize. No country in history has ever become rich on raw materials, however vast the supply is. Neither will Ghana. We cannot break the cycle of poverty if we do not add significant value to what we dig out of the ground. A preacher man I once heard put it vividly when he asked his congregation: “if you go to the market and you always carry a basket of oranges, and your neighbour brings a box of ipads and computers, who will be richer? How many oranges must you sell to get one ipad?” I have never formally studied Economics before, but to my layman’s mind, that sounds like common sense to me. We must take our oranges (3 for 50p) and turn them into packaged fruit juice (one for 4 ghana cedis). We must take our bauxite and turn them into aeroplanes via Aluminium. We must take our oil and turn it into plastics, PVC pipes, asphalt, wax for packaging frozen foods, drugs and motor oil for our car engines. So that when Burkina Faso, and Mali and Guinea get ready to build their roads, build their houses and stock their hospitals, we can sell it to them...and smile all the way to our banks. There is simply no other way to do it.
To industrialize, we must educate ourselves. And by ‘educate’ I don’t mean sit in a rundown classroom with an absentee teacher who may be poorly trained and barely literate himself and who comes to the classroom once or twice a week and vanishes to work on his farm or his shop the rest of the week because he is poorly motivated and poorly supervised. I don’t mean puffed up statistics of pupil enrolment and distribution of old irrelevant hand-me-down textbooks. I mean actual functional education- like being able to write your name for starters, do simple arithmetic, reading a newspaper and understanding what is happening around you, knowing what laws are and how they work in this country, understanding in the simplest terms the various parts of the economy and how the whole thing works and affects you as an individual, what a ‘contract’ is and how to understand one, and how to get a loan and what the terms and conditions mean etc. I mean an education that actually prepares the educated to not just fit but survive and even thrive in this world. And to educate ourselves properly, we must make it available (more schools), accessible and of good quality (good well-paid teachers, more teachers, better supervision, and available textbooks, food, learning material etc). There is no other way to do it.
With a solid educational system, not only do we produce the human resource to man the industrialization process, we also produce the strong middle-class which is going to provide the nucleus of the consumer market that will drive the growth and create more wealth for the nation. Who is going to buy the computers, and the cars and the fruit juices you’re going to produce? Certainly not the poor head porter or street hawker. It is going to be your lawyers and teachers and corporate-type mid-level workers. And if the bulk of your population is in the head-porter-peasant-farmer-street hawker type category, then where do you expect to go with your fanciful notions of “industrialization”? Industrialization for whom? And that for me, is another reason why cleaning up our education is so critical.
But before a child can even go to school, she must first eat. We need to feed our little Angela. We need to feed ourselves. It is not acceptable that in this land where it rains for our cities to get flooded, where the scorching sun is so abundant that people pay and get on planes just to come lie on our beaches, where we have vast tracts of rich fertile land freely available, and where more than 60 percent of our population are farmers, that we cannot feed ourselves and have to import tons of rice with our hard earned foreign exchange. It is not acceptable that we get food aid from Japan in this day and age. It is not acceptable at all. Feeding ourselves means mechanizing our farming. It means modern irrigation systems to allow year round farming. It means making use of our agric extension officers and the many agricultural brains we have in this country instead of ignoring them for them to be poached by other countries. And on this issue alone (of the agricultural revolution I envisage), people like Dr Abu Sakara Forster make me smile with quiet excitement at what could be for this country, if only...
When I grow up (and yes, I still say that because though I have a beard, I am not yet a “grown up”), I want to be like Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng. I want to be told to my face over and over again by highly respectable people that a state-of-the-art Centre for Heart Surgery is not possible in Ghana because we are too poor and don’t deserve such high-tech medicine, and to look them all quietly in the face...and do it anyway. I want to have the dogged tenacity and passion for my country that will drive me to create solutions that did not exist before I came along, despite all opposition and in spite of what it will cost me personally. I want to push and push, and not stop even when everyone tells me to stop, tells me that it’s okay I’ve done the little that I can do. I want to be able to die for my country. And that is attitude.
All this is just a summary of my vision for Ghana (and even for Africa- if we dare try it), of some of the things that run through my mind in my quiet moments.
It is not enough to sit back and point fingers at ‘aban’ (government) or ‘the white man’ or ‘my irresponsible parent who didn’t pay my school fees’. It is not enough to sit back and insult “politicians” and just go back to the same old way of doing things without taking personal responsibility for this country. What can you do? You can start by refusing to pay a bribe, and damn the consequences. You can start by voting in this election. And here, let me repeat a comment I left for my friends on my facebook wall: “you know what, whether you like it or not, a politician IS going to rule this country. And whether you are aware of it or not his/her ideas will directly affect your welfare and the lives of your (future) children. So instead of lumping them all together (“all politicians are the same- corrupt liars”) and throwing your hands up in the air, you had better glean whatever good you can (however little) from the various options available to you, and make a choice. Because either way, a choice WILL be made for you...” We must work hard in life, and we must save furiously and invest heavily in the days of our youth. And we must engage the political process (to however limited a degree we feel we can- whether by running for parliament or just turning up on 7th December to vote, or even sitting down to write a nice long article to be published like some of us) because whether we like it or not the political process will engage us one way or another.
We are Ghanaians. We are a smart people, a cheerful people- a good people. We love God, the Black Stars...and our Saturday morning funeral and fufu. We owe nobody our success. And we can blame nobody for our failures but ourselves- collectively and individually. We are the new generation of Africans- George Ayittey’s cheetah generation- destined to do things differently than those before us- the Hippo generation, and this is our land. We need to take control of it. We need to think critically about issues (not people so much) and we need to form an opinion for ourselves and have our own individual vision of where we want to see our country going. I have shared mine. How about you?