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Opinions of Thursday, 27 August 2009

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Bongo: solving the development arithmetic

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

Despite being a small town, Bongo, in Ghana’s Upper East Region, is increasingly giving insight Ghana can count on into its skewed development process. As an ex-colonial British creation, the traditional indigenous values and institutions of Ghana have not been given equal look in resolving developmental challenges as the ex-colonial values that run Ghana.

The result is a tussle between the two values, to the extent that both the enabling and the inhibiting values within the Ghanaian traditional culture have not been analyzed very deeply for progress as other ex-colonies such Malaysia and Japan have done. For sometime, the cause has been intellectual laziness and the fear of cultural relativity that made people think that all cultures have to be respected, that cultures shouldn’t be criticized because no culture and moral ideals are better than the other or superior to the other; it doesn’t matter if certain aspects of the culture undermine progress and cause all sorts of harm, deaths, fear or make a people not able to think well.

In Bongo, the complicated arithmetic of resolving this developmental anomaly (such as witchcraft) is underway, fertilized simultaneously by Ghana’s developing democracy, the rule of law, freedoms and human rights and the global prosperity ideals. In the increasingly prosperous world, you don’t progress if you think witchcraft causes accidents, sickness and diseases, poverty, conflicts, deaths, or poor sanitation. Witchcraft and progress are incompatible.

But into Bongo’s attempts to refine certain inhibitions within its culture for progress, the closed Ghanaian mind is opening, the Ghanaian mind is overturning any moral and cultural rigidity or intolerance or absolutes. Bongo is slowly resolving these contradictions by dealing with years of development skewness. Bongo is boldly becoming the microcosm of Ghana’s development enlightenment, in a country and continent people are afraid to confront such cultural inhibitions openly. It is interesting to hear that traditional Big Men and district administrators are working together to refine witchcraft believes within the Bongo culture as a way of freeing its denizens from deaths, lynching, fear, mental slavery and backwardness. In most witchcraft cases, innocent people are the victims, and most of them are women.

In Africa’s witchcraft believes, the mind, unable to comprehend certain challenges in life, becomes small and contracted, failing to see the big picture, failing to grasp issues from other angles. The victim is the Other, who is demonized and seen in darkness. With the mind placed on limitations because of the witchcraft believes, the mind cannot reason and fathom why an accident occurs, why people die, why people get involved in crime, why people succeed, why people get sick. Any brightness, light, excellence, or remarkable feat is seen as witchcraft induced. Practically, the complicated nature of African witchcraft is that any good development or misfortune is caused by witchcraft. There is no grey area.

That makes witchcraft believe difficult to discuss. The African mind resists it. The subject is disorderly – why is the Other a witch, why isn’t the accuser too a witch? For you have to be a witch to see a witch! African witchcraft believe, as Bongo will tell you, is intellectually and morally dangerous and a mess. Witchcraft believes messes the mind, making it cerebrally unmanageable. But Bongo is attempting to intellectualize witchcraft believe through human rights, freedoms and the rule of law. You don’t kill, lynch, maim or outlaw an innocent person because you suspect she (and it is mostly a “she”) is a witch. That’s why Bongo is arguing that witchcraft is one of inhibiting parts (deadly sins) of its culture that undermines not only the progress of the individuals but also the entire society.

Bongo’s engagement with witchcraft believes within its development process raises the contention between subjectivists (juju and marabout spiritual mediums, witch doctors, traditional powerbrokers, spiritualists) and the objectivists (police, courts of law, traditional authority, the district assembly, the mass media). The subjectivists believe that “some people in the area claim to possess powers that identify witches through their gods thus encouraging witch-hunting.” The objectivists, who dismiss such miasmas, argue they “regret that the Justice System in the region was not prosecuting the perpetrators to serve as a deterrent to others.”

At the centre is battle between irrationality and rationality. The irrational forces are ancient and deeply entrenched who think more with the superstition part of the brain, the rational forces who think more with objective part of the brain have Herculean task taking on the mass of the witchcraft believers. The “irrationals” who look at witchcraft within the soul of Bongo are in majority, the “rationals” (or the realists) who gaze at witchcraft within the criminal justice system and locate witchcraft in the conditions of peoples’ lives are in minority.

The Ghana News Agency (GNA) and JoyFM, part of the mass media helping to throw light at the dark recess of the Ghanaian culture through their enlightenment mission, reported that, “To help stop the crime, the Bongo District Assembly is forming Justice and Security sub-Committees made up of the Police, Judiciary, Traditional Authority and some assembly members to sensitize the people.”