Feature Article of Friday, 23 November 2012
Columnist: Agawu, Christie
Dr. Mensa Otabil and the Against-Free-Education Case
An open letter
TIME OUT, DEAR PASTOR
Your delivery at the press conference of November 12th, 2012 “to clarify … misrepresentations of [your] sermons and to … stop the running harassment against [your integrity…” was eloquent, forthright and clear – a pleasure to listen to.
Is not the real issue the fact of your wading into matters of education policy? Whether the trip into the policy arena was done from the pulpit, on a political platform or in the classroom; or whether it occurred ten years ago or indeed this year is hardly relevant. Whether you spoke in favor of or against a political party the fact remains that your words fit squarely in the realm of policy issues. Unfortunately, once you deposit your words in the public space you lose sole control over their use.
Statements of policy, be they yours or not, can be discussed, appropriated, analyzed, emphasized, amplified, disagreed with, agreed with, quoted for support or quoted to oppose. In that arena of policy, sooner or later, discussion becomes inevitable. A political analyst, a journalist, a student of the politics of religion, a scholar of theology, or indeed a political party is at liberty to reference such a statement. Sure, one hopes it is done with integrity, objectivity and in the spirit of the word. But, once words have left the safety of one’s person and become located in the public domain one loses exclusive use of them. One may be quoted if such words gain relevant currency. That is why we quote, debate, amplify, albeit with varying degrees of intensity, not only political figures like Presidents Kwame Nkrumah, Kofi Abrefa Busia, Jerry John Rawlings, John Kufour, John Atta Mills but also religious figures like the Most Reverend Peter Kwasi Sarpong, the Most Reverend Father Charles Palmer-Buckle, and the Reverend Dr. kwabena Opuni-Frimpong, to name just a handful.
You say that you own your thoughts, words and beliefs, but once these are expressed in the social institution we call language and placed in the public domain, they can be quoted to support other positions and agendas. Politicians and academics practice this art of referencing all the time, using parentheses and ellipses – what you refer to as “sampl[ing], splic[ing] and manipulat[ing]” – to advance their agendas and support their arguments. So the issue, it seems to me, is not that the sermons were preached years ago nor that they were gathered from different sermons but that views about policy were expressed. And indeed, a political party or any other entity need not present your position as having been uttered in the heat of today’s politicking for it to gain currency. So long as you have not publicly shifted from your previous policy stance, that stance can be quoted and rightly attributed to you. In fact, some may give your words prophetic status; … and it shall come to pass that….
Pastor, would it be too much to ask that ICGC make publicly available the original tapes on education? Would it not improve our understanding of what is at stake and put paid to this he-said-she said dance?
Trusting that those of us who admire your thoughtfulness and who take an intellectual interest in the matter will gain further clarity of your position in the future.
Christie Agawu (Ph.D.)