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Opinions of Thursday, 13 November 2008

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Agnes Chigabatia's Audacious Mission

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
Nations the world over are measured by how they tackle grand schemes for progress. This is done by individual and groups who normally share certain development vision. From the European to the Japanese enlightenment projects this has been the case, with thinkers toppling archaic beliefs, strange practices, and erroneous thinking, and tinkling with ideas, and struggling with major challenges of the time.
As 51-year-old Ghana evolve, more especially driven by its 16-year-old democracy that is releasing its long stifled freedom energy for progress, increasing number of its citizens like Mrs. Agnes Chigabatia, deputy Upper East Regional Minister, are coming to terms that certain aspects of the Ghanaian culture inhibits progress and have to be polished.
First, the need for certain cultural refinements come by knowing and understanding the Ghanaian culture. When such understanding is refracted in the global prosperity values, some of which were formally harmful like those of Ghana today, certain aspects of the local Ghanaian culture that is inhibiting will come out for fine-tuning.
In Mrs. Chigabatia, Ghanaian elites aren’t hiding from development challenges that emanate from certain parts of their superb culture. Instead, Mrs. Chigabatia is telling the world that Ghanaian/African elites can think well. The global view had been that Africans (more African elites) are not good at thinking but are good at expressing their emotions that are driven their cultural DNA, as the late Senegalese President Leopold Senghor used to say.
Extricating herself from such erroneous view, Mrs. Chigabatia has come to the conclusion that certain aspects of the Ghanaian culture need to be sophisticated if progress is to be driven fully. Despite certain cultural inhibitions being among all the 56 ethnic groups that form Ghana, Mrs. Chigabatia’s broader insight has come about because the societies of the northern Ghana, where she comes from, have much more dare cultural obstacles to progress.
Just imagine the development implications when a teenager isn’t allowed in school because she is said to be a witch and a two-month-old baby staved to death because she is said to be a witch.
Against this backdrop, Mrs. Chigabatia is well-educated, globally minded and can, therefore, easily compare and contrast the global prosperity values with that of the hindering aspects of the Ghanaian culture (more her northern regions) and draw better conclusions for progress. Mrs. Chigabatia involvement in the on-going campaigns to refine certain inhibiting aspects of the Ghanaian culture also brings broader gender balance to a purportedly patriarchic tone and her mission also makes the campaigns against the negative values Ghana-wide. It is not only some parts of the Volta Region that has the trokosi cultural practice where teenage girls are enslaved to shrines for sins committed by their parents but witchcraft is blamed for vehicular accidents in the Ashanti and other regions and there is Ghana-wide erroneous belief that human sacrifices, done gruesomely, could bring certain successes.
In Mrs. Chigabatia the understanding is that Ghana, which pride itself as the “Black Star of Africa,” is gradually evolving an enlightenment project that not only draws from within its inherent cultural ideals but also foster a philosophical base where its progress could wheel around without any derailment no matter the development challenges it encounters in future as the Americans, Europeans, Chinese, Japanese and South Americans have done in the last 200 years.
Mrs. Chigabatia demonstrates that it is in undertaking such grand projects that the much talked about unearthing of the African “confidence” needed to disentangle Africa’s inferiority complex in the face of overwhelming progress in the Western world, Southeast Asia and South America will be accomplished.
As Mrs. Chigabatia indicated, such confrontation against the hampering features of the Ghanaian culture will need skilled elites and best minds that have thorough grasp of the Ghanaian culture and the global development ideals, and how to play with the two for progress like a skilled alchemist.
Mrs. Chigabatia talks of, through co-operative venture involving traditional institutions, enacting by-laws to criminalize injurious cultural practices may need corresponding inputs from the education system that will discuss the culture as a development issue as the judicial system is expected to do.
The involvement of civil society, traditional authorities and other stakeholders to talk about eradicating the unhelpful cultural practices, as a development issue, makes the venture not elitist or ethnocentric but holistic, universal and human. But one of the tools that are to be used to refine the unprogressive cultural practices are universal human rights values, as Mrs. Chigabatia rightly argued, that are to be viewed from within the Ghanaian culture and projected into the global development standards.
Others are the ability of Ghanaian elites, as Mrs. Chigabatia exemplifies, to play with the neo-liberal values, the use of the mass media, civil society, and non-governmental organizations some of which should be specifically formed to tackle the harmful cultural practices.
It is in struggling with such major cultural challenges of the time that Mrs. Chigabatia grand ideas will known and worked out for progress.
When this happens such harmful cultural practices like voodoo priests scrambling the political system by weakening common sense, widowhood rites, widow inheritance, early marriages and betrothal of women that block them from going to school, female genital mutilation, dowry, human sacrifices, witchcraft as responsible for varied misfortunes, the cultural dictation of the beating of wives, excessive reliance on juju-marabout mediums that weakens reasoning, prevention of pregnant women from accessing health facilities for certain cultural beliefs, and the killing of twins that are deemed evil, among others.
In Mrs. Chigabatia’s audacious mission to help refine certain harmful parts of the Ghanaian culture that have stifled the right to dignified life in the long-run, as fundamental to Ghana’s development, will be opened up for refinement and Ghana, as a work in progress, will be much better.