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Opinions of Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Columnist: Arthur, Godfried Ebo

Call to Action: Prescription for Civil Dialogue on Ghanaweb

There comes a time even in one’s personal live, where you do serious self introspection to assess your own personal situation. You ask probing questions about the nature or the state of your existence. In doing so, you are either humbled by your lack of progress and determine to do better, or you can be so self assured by own success to the point of feeling invincible. And where do we as a people and a Nation fit into this simple paradigm.

I do not think you need to be a rocket scientist to figure out where we fit in this little scenario I gave above. Yet some of us act as though there is nothing at stake with respect to our Country and its’ development and progress. Ghanaweb regardless of its’ reputation with the other provided links, has prominently positioned itself as the avenue for news and information at least for Ghanaians in the Diaspora. We have this wonderful medium which can be a force for good in our ever constant search for a better Ghana, but I do not think it is being used to achieve that goal. As Bill Gates said, the internet is not a rising tide, it’s a tidal wave! Conversations and arguments on this medium or forum for lack of a better word can be a powerful and socializing instrument for good, and what we use it for would certainly be a reflection on all of us. My only worry and question is, are we as smart as some of us think we are in putting this medium to a better use? If the answer is yes, then which role do we on this forum want to play in our National dialogue in search of a better Ghana?

The social and political discourse on this forum leaves much to be desired. I do not for one moment think that one Party, or for that matter few individuals have monopoly on ideas on how to move our Country forward. I sincerely believe that there are genuine and sincere folks from all political persuasions on this forum who want to see a better Ghana. There are indeed progressives in both major political parties who mean well. Yet we have been so blinded by our own small mindedness and parochial interests that discussions on this forum is so often debased from the sublime to the ridiculous. Obviously, we are not monolithic in our beliefs and thinking, therefore, airing our divergent views is a healthy and helpful thing. It has to be done in a respectful spirit though. Sadly enough, there are some among us who see everything on Ghanaweb in us versus them mentality. There are some folks on both sides of the political spectrum with the natural inclination to stress faults and raise often trivial objections and arguments to anything they read from the “other” side. This fractious and contemptuous attitude which is all too common on this forum does not serve any of us well. If we who use this medium want to be taken seriously and be considered as partners in our national dialogue, then it behooves us to take ourselves more seriously than what we have been doing up to this point.

I am sure we all have our strong personal opinions to express on several issues and articles that appear on Ghanaweb. “If one does not understand a person, one tends to regard him as a fool” (Carl Jung). But hurling insults on people we disagree with to me is not an expression of anything, but rather very childish. Demeaning and questioning people’s credentials as though it equates to anything again is not an expression of anything but pure jealousy. This attitude actually fits right into the larger narrative of our culture of enviousness that is so deep seated that, we find it very hard to appreciate and acknowledge success when we see it.

I think the serious business that is needed to shape and make our country better require that we shy away from our oftentimes uncivilized dialogue to a more civil one. Before I’m accused of advocating censorship by the pundits on Ghanaweb, let me categorically say that is far from it. I am very well aware of the fact that untrammeled flow of words in an open forum is said to be the first principle of a free society. Rather, what I am advocating is self discipline and some modicum of respect for the folks on this forum. I am asking for a sense and level of decorum which is characteristic of adults respecting each other in spite of our obvious differences. As It is often said, there are many tongues to talk, and but few heads to think. Why is it so difficult for some of us to respectfully disagree without being disagreeable? I am a firm believer of the fact that, not just what we learn in conversation enriches us. But rather, our capacity to appreciate the diverse ideas and thoughts we avail ourselves with. Look I am obviously aware of the fact that this is a public medium, but the kind of buffoonery that are often displayed by some among us to the detriment of serious discussion by folks who mean well is what is at stake here. George W. Bush said in his first inaugural address, “civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos”.

Some of us obviously have the capacity to stomach any kind of nonsense directed at us, and can definitely partake in the give and take rubble rousing junk, which some folks take delight in. But that is not the point, the fact of the matter is that the discussion page on Ghanaweb has been so politicized in such a way that, there does not seem to be any room for regular folks who are apolitical. I mean to be insulted and categorized by some faceless buffoon just for writing an opinion piece is just revolting. To put it bluntly, this rude attitude actually turns off very knowledgeable people who some of us could obviously learn from. Believe you me, that there are a lot of Ghanaian heavyweights in their respective careers all over who can add their two cents to discussions and sometimes issues pertaining to their areas of expertise, but decide to stay put because of the reputation Ghanaweb is fostering out there in the larger Ghanaian community as being uncivil.

The tone by some on this forum could sometime be so uncouth that; one wonders their relevance to anything. You read a serious piece on Ghanaweb, only to go to the discussion page to find totally irrelevant and crass responses to it which at times is very irritating to be polite. Sometimes one wonders if some of these folks suffer from amentia or what? I mean using insult instead of argument to discuss a particular issue or topic to me is a sign of small mindedness. They are the untutored mob on this forum who only see, read and understand things through their myopic prism of either tribal or Party affiliation. Their response to anything they see or read is to hurl insults and sometimes even questioning people’s patriotism as if they are more Ghanaian than some of us. Well, they say Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel so what can I say. Maybe some of these folks take glee in the fact that people respond to them. Their notoriety on this forum is not to contribute to anything but to insult people they do not even know. We should not fall for their bait and allow those arrant demagogues to hijack discussions on this forum to their delight. I think these are poseurs who must be marginalized and frankly ignored. They are rather undermining the integrity and the need for serious debate required to advance the political discourse in our dear Country. For comments to be posted, may be the webmaster or the administrator should start demanding that, contributors provide e-mail addresses and real names instead of the pseudo ones we have been accustomed to. This will probably help those who would prefer to continue their debate off the web, and also unmask the charlatans among us who hide behind false names to do their mischief.

I understand how we can all be passionate and even sometimes needlessly emotional about our positions and opinions, but calling people names and insulting them to me is counterproductive if not outright duncical. I think my only plea to people who will read this piece is that Ghana is in real transition in search of the way forward. And that we in the Diaspora have the capacity and the ability to play a very vital role obtaining to issues at home besides just sending moneys to our folks back home. Therefore, we all have to help in this process by being circumspect in what we are trying to achieve with this forum. To quote Golda Meir, “I was never so naïve or foolish as to think that if you merely believe in something it happens. You must struggle for it” Therefore, this is a common plea to readers for decency and civility in our deliberations with each other. It is often said, you stand from where you sit, therefore I know the harsh attacks and the insults will still come at me, but I am not perturbed by that at all. Let us all try our very best to break what I call the culture of indiscipline on this forum. What I think some of us fail to realize is that, politicians come and leave the scene, but the country must definitely endure. It is my fervent hope that in the interest of Mother Ghana, some readers will yield to this call for civility on Ghanaweb.

Abe Lincoln once said, “With public sentiments nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed”. I cannot help but to end with a quote from another US President Teddy Roosevelt, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country”

Dr. Godfried Ebo Arthur (aka Ebo Foli)

Political Observer