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Opinions of Friday, 5 December 2014

Columnist: Amuna, Paul

Can We Improve our National Dialogue Please?

By Dr Paul Amuna

Ghana is highly regarded among the family of nations. Ghanaians as a whole are well respected and highly thought of in every walk of life especially when one travels overseas. Furthermore over the last several Centuries (at least) we have notable names of people of Ghanaian origin who have made a significant impact wherever they have trodden including in World Affairs, notable examples include the likes of Dr Aggrey and his concept of the value of educating women as a basis for nation building. I want to believe that the immense pride one feels about the life work of contemporaries such as Kofi Annan, the 7th United Nations Secretary-General is generally shared amongst Ghanaians, not just me. Reading about Kofi’s work at the UN and subsequently, brings into sharp focus what I believe is a specially blessed nation whose national emblem and logo as the “Black Star” of Africa should never be taken for granted.

Today there are similarly other Ghanaians all over the world who are making some impact in their various fields of endeavour in the Arts, Film, Sciences, Law, Engineering, Agriculture, you name it. You meet many a fellow African and they have nothing but praise for Ghana and Ghanaians, and it makes you feel immensely proud.

Yet over the decades, our national dialogue and discourse sometimes leaves you with the impression that indeed ‘a prophet is not always accepted in their own village’. We know that during the peri-independence era there were sharp ideological divisions which naturally strode along party lines and sometimes spilled over into real disputes, some of them fatal. There are even stories of whole family feuds relating to party affiliation. To me it seems all sides of the political divide were to blame, at the time. Over the years following our national independence, one would have hoped that these differences would become narrower and narrower as we realised that not only are we one nation, but we have a common destiny and a shared interest in our national development, poverty reduction, improved education, our industrialization and moving from a low income to at least a middle if not a high income status.

In-between times of Civilian Rule under the banners of the original pre-independence parties (under various names, colours and guises), military interference characterized by Coups d’état have had their own measures of success and failures both in terms of uniting us (if at all) and / or teaching our ‘broken politics harsh lessons of future ‘avoidance’ of the very things that tempt the military to in my view erroneously intervene, thinking they have the solutions to our problems when in fact the do not.
That today, in the early 21st Century we remain polarized and people maintain entrenched positions, some ideological, others personal or ‘group think’ is both unfortunate and harmful to our democracy and ultimately to national cohesion, our true sense of identity and belonging, and of course our national development.

The fact is, a nation divided simply cannot stand. This is not only a biblical saying or principle, but is in fact true as we have seen with nations who are at war within. Surely we have enough wise people and ‘cool heads’ from all sides of our political and ideological divide to turn this around? Why is it that a great idea (however well meaning) cannot be accepted by a party of government simply because it has come from the other side (and vice versa?). The truth is, ideologically one fails to find significant differences between the various sides. This is equally true in other established democracies.

We have seen what entrenched political positions have done (and continue to do) to established ‘democracies’ such as the United States of America. In their case things have worsened over the last three decades, especially since the time of Bill Clinton and more recently especially during president Obama’s tenure for reasons which are anyone’s guess. We have also seen how nations have been torn apart by tribal and sometimes selfish power struggles even in the youngest nations such as South Sudan when what is needed for nation building is their togetherness and ‘all hands on deck’.

If we believe that our side is THE ONLY SIDE that can ‘turn things around’ or succeed where the others have failed, that is all well. The reality is that NO SINGLE SIDE HAS ALL THE ANSWERS nor will any single side succeed on its own. Nation building after all is a dynamic process and just as today we can all admire the ancient monuments of Rome (or the pyramids of Giza in Egypt for that matter) which were constructed several millennia ago, we know that they were “not built in one day” and that if anything, they were ‘BUILT UPON’ over time, not by one or two generations, but HUNDREDS of generations. That said, who are we to think that we are the ONLY or the BEST ones to wave the magic wand that cures all our ailments?

As a society and a people, we can, and do indeed UNITE or COME TOGETHER when it suits us, is convenient or we are forced to e.g. when a political opponent dies as we saw with the outpouring of grief and the testimonies from all sides during the sad demise of president John Atta Mills. We have seen similar sentiments and eulogies meted out elsewhere in Britain when Margaret Thatcher died and more recently when Nelson Mandela passed away.

If that is the case, why can we not extend it to our everyday lives? Why do we allow our politics and political inclinations and positions (most of which are wrong most of the time anyway) to consume us, cloud our common sense and judgment, and rule over our lives? What do we stand to gain by allowing what divides us to take precedence over the overwhelming commonalities that we possess?

It was Jonny Nash who sang that “There are more questions than answers”. I believe the opposite is equally true, and that we can and indeed should begin to reverse the current trend of partisanship and polarization that is eating into the very heart and soul of our nation. We can, and should begin the ‘demolition process’ and build bridges that will stand the test of time by linking and holding us together as one nation (Under God) with a common purpose; that of self-emancipation and our national development. If we cannot do this, then why do we call ourselves CHRISTIANS? OR MUSLIMS? OR TRADITIONALISTS? OR MORALISTS, HUMANISTS or whatever religion we claim to belong to and why do we think somehow we can claim the moral high ground and be good servants of our nation?