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Opinions of Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Betty Mould, superstition and progress

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

Those who think Africans are dull and cannot think should quietly come to Ghana and view what is happening in the electrifying development scene. The picture isn’t anxiety about Ghana’s new found oil or its return as number one cocoa producer in the world or its post-Barack Obama mindset where Ghanaians think “Yes, we can.”

The prospect is Ghanaian elites, like other African elites, for long seen as weak, wobbly, mired in intellectual low ceiling, autistic and their inability to think from within their traditional values and institutions in relation to the global prosperity ideals for progress shaking off such stigmatization.

From Tain to Bongo, from George Ayittey to Courage Quashigah, Ghanaian small towns and elites are increasingly thinking out loud through their traditional values and institutions. In a holistic manner unseen years ago, the positive and negative aspects of their culture are under immense scrutiny in the larger progress scheme. The thinker George Ayittey coined the term “African solution for Africa’s problems.” The theologian and president Kwame Nkrumah muted the motivational mantra “African personality” to drum home Africans’ self-esteem after decades being messed-up by colonialism and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

It was the Ghanaian, Y.K. Amoako, who observed, as then chair of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, that Africa is the only region in the world where its development paradigms are dominated by foreign development paradigms. The implications are that Ghanaians and Africans aren’t thinking, in all philosophical and practical terms, from within their traditional institutions and values, for their progress. Such views have confirmed the old colonial notion that Africans cannot think well enough or the late Senegalese President Leopold Senghor’s argument that Africans are good at expressing their emotions rather than thinking.

In philosophical and thinking requisites, this has made Ghana, as the “Black Star of Africa,” seen as no more or less than propaganda and emotional “Star,” without any logical and material substance, and not any place in Africa where deep and grand African-orientated thinking and philosophies should emanate from. But moving away from years of one-party systems and military juntas that beclouded Ghana’s thinking, philosophizing, human rights, the rule of law, freedoms and democracy, Ghanaians, more their elites, are fast emerging as having the ability to think, rationalize, and philosophize from within their traditional institutions and values in relation to the global prosperity ideals for progress.

In 2008, the small, remote town of Tain revealed Ghana’s democratic potency by effectively resolving the democratic impasse when it helped elect President John Attar Mills – Mills worn the elections by mere but significant 40,000 votes. (It was a democratic record in the world and charged the newly elected US President Barack Obama to come to Ghana as his first sub-Sahara African visit to tout Ghana’s democracy as progress fertilizer for Africa). Tain laid bare any fear and superstition that “something will happen.” The enlightened Vice President John Mahama, then a Member of Parliament, had told Tain citizens “nothing will happen” and that they should vote rationally.

In 2009, Bongo, another humble small town, in relation to the current thinking, banned witchcraft that has been responsible for stifling progress for long time including deaths and other human rights violations, saying it has no scientific bases. Bongo is increasingly being replicated Ghana- and Africa-wide.

In-between all these, the culture and progress discussions have been upward, with the mass media, academics, ex-Presidents Jerry Rawlings and John Kufour, traditional rulers, political heavy weights, women’s organizations, religious bodies and civil society organizations taking on the culture in Ghana’s development process.

In a remarkable feat as the culture-progress gets exciting, Mrs. Betty Mould-Iddrisu, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and formerly the head of Legal and Constitutional Affairs of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, UK stirred the culture-progress thinking uphill when she enjoined “religious organizations and civil society groups to partner government to eradicate superstitious beliefs” in Ghana’s development process, reports the Ghana News Agency. “…the effects of superstition on society were worrying and that it was endangering efforts to build a healthy society based on hard work, goodwill and honesty among other social virtues.” In further attempts in tackling the complicated arithmetic of progress muddled by certain aspects of the Ghanaian culture, Mrs. Betty Mould-Iddrisu additionally charged that “the government was committed to the eradication of superstitious beliefs and would apply the laws to punish people who abused the rights of others.”

Who said democracy, the rule of law, freedoms and human rights aren’t good for durable progress for Africa and Ghana, more so considering Ghana’s and Africa’s political histories and cultures? Whether Libya’s Muamar Gaddafi believes it or not, there is no clash of African development philosophies here. Ghanaians have seen all these before – from Kwame Nkrumah to Julius Nyerere to Kamuzu Banda to Sekou Toure to Gamal Abdul Nasser.

How do Ghanaians confront deadly superstitions that have made them less progressive or autistic in their development process over the years? Betty Mould-Iddrisu gives some solutions: “personal responsibility” and not some demons accountable for accidents or misfortunes or deaths. “Personal responsibility in the determination of one’s fate” and not some evil spirits. No “blind reliance on some spiritual processes to automatically change one’s fortunes from poverty to riches overnight” that normally comes in the form of human sacrifices, witchcraft, or fearsome traditional juju-marabou rituals. “Civil society must not shy away from openly discussing the effects of superstition on the social and spiritual lives of the people.” What Betty Mould-Iddrisu didn’t add are the Ghanaian journalists who have been radically taking on the inhibiting parts of their culture, in a remarkable atmosphere of press freedom, as an enlightenment mission.

In Betty Mould-Iddrisu, “The Black Star of Africa” is flowering as an enlightened corporate entity, simultaneously as a thinker and philosopher and it is expected to radiate African-wide in the continent’s progress.