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Opinions of Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Columnist: Ablorh, Raymond

Colonial mindset – A bane to our development

It is not out of nothingness that the central character in Kwaw Paintsil Ansah’s film ‘African Heritage’, named Kwesi Atta Bosomefi prefers to be called Quincy Arthur Bosomfield.

Hence, the founder of TV Africa is more than right when he reasoned, “we cannot actually move forward if we don’t look back to see what has affected us; why are we behaving the way we are behaving today? How did we start?”

In deed, yesterday is the mother of today; so, we have to appreciate where we are coming from with insight before we can understand why we are where we are and behaving the way we are behaving today. Without that, the greatest effort we could do about our attitudinal insanity is to lament it, like we’ve always done for decades.

When most Africans think of the terrible mistreatment that Africans have suffered at the hands of the West, they immediately think of the horrid institution that was slavery; physical slavery, I mean. However, in many ways, colonialism left a much deeper and more burdensome mental legacy on contemporary Africans.

This system came to Africa after the demise of the international slave trade in the nineteenth century; in Ghana it began in 1873, when the British wrestled power from the Ashanti rulers (though it would be many years before Ashanti resistance was completely crushed) and declared the Gold Coast a crown colony.

To make the system work, there needed to be a class of Africans with enough education and knowledge of the European language to fill the lower ranks of the civil, military and business administrations. In exchange for their willing participation in the system, they found themselves in an advantaged position.

To be successful in the new system, an African would have to internalize the values of the colonizer. The education system taught the superiority of European history and culture of which Africans were regarded as possessing neither.

The ‘educated’ African thus felt great pressure to devalue or forget his or her heritage. The system obviously was built upon a sense of the superiority of the white race, and race mixing was naturally frowned upon.

Thus, the ‘educated’ African would tend to consort with others of his or her own class (the African elite) as a result of which they tended to look down upon their non-elite brothers and sisters. Conversely, the non -educated Africans respected and honoured their educated brothers and sisters and desired to be like them; so, they all desired to live the Whiteman’s life.

The great analyst of colonialism Franz Fanon described the process in this way: the colonialized is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country’s standards. He becomes whiter as he renounces his blackness, his jungle.

They spoke the colonialist language among themselves; wore their clothes; ate their food, etc, and came to cling fiercely to their positions of relative privilege. To a greater or lesser degree, they suppressed their cultural identity and became alienated from it.

The over 300 years of colonialization has thus cocooned our minds from our environment and left us with the resource-wasting desire to build and live Europe on the African continent; it left us with strange inferiority complex which has shown no signs of depreciation since we won our partial meaningless political independence.

At the time of independence, Kwame Nkrumah, acknowledged this problem and made conspicuous efforts to project the African personality, which made the Ghanaian proud and confident. But, the core of the problem wasn’t attended to comprehensively and consistently, so, 54 years after independence, the thinking pattern of the average Ghanaian isn’t different from that of the people who cheered Nkrumah up in 1957.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, today, we still see the art of wearing black suits and ties even in the scorching sun as a mark of gentlemanliness. What on earth could make a group of people more concerned about mistakes they make when speaking an adopted language than they do about their own language apart from madness? On our own soil, we strain our voices to speak with locally acquired foreign accent. That is part of what civilization means to us.

We don’t appreciate the fact that development is environment or culture specific. Unlike us, when the Japanese realized that their land was prone to earthquakes, they started building with light materials. These are human beings whose minds aren’t insulated from their environment.

Over here, we continue to transplant architectural works from Nordic countries to the desert without an appreciation of the difference between adoption and adaptation, and when we can’t endure the heat those architectural works are designed to produce in their original environments, we export our gold, diamond, cocoa, timber, etc, which we don’t even determine the prices to import air conditioners which, also, we don’t determine the prices so that we could comfortably live in Europe in Africa. A very expensive exercise! Why won’t we continue to be poor?

We still continue to pursue education with the ultimate purpose of going to sit in an office somewhere. Government properties belong to nobody so we don’t care a hoot about what happens to them. And, we have no confidence in ourselves and in our people.

Obviously, we can’t rely on time’s corrosive effect to provide remedy to our mindset problems. Deliberate efforts were made to imprison our minds so we have to make deliberate effort to free ourselves. We have lamented for far too long without any pragmatic effort to breaking these old but strong chains from our mental limbs.

Nonetheless, the unanswered question still remains: whose work is it to direct our minds from where they are to where they ought to be? Well, to every generalization there are exceptions. It’s the responsibility of the exceptions in this regard to work hard to liberate the rest. But, most importantly, it’s certainly the responsibility of national leadership or government to lead the attitudinal change we need.

Hence, it’s simply thought provoking for government officials to tell us they are doing their best to bring development but the attitude of the people is the problem. What’s the work of leadership if not to work on the attitudes of their followers? What’s the mandate of government if not to direct the minds and energies of the citizenry and all other resources towards the actualization of the nation’s dreams and aspirations?

The education system; security system; and, all other systems are put in place by the state to direct the human energies and resources for the purposes of national development. And, all these systems are directly or otherwise supervised by the government.

If we all admit that the way we think or behave is a bane to our development then we must deem it expedient and highly imperative to work on the education system, especially, because of its direct relationship with our minds. Unfortunately, we adopted the colonial education system without fixing any mechanism in it to heal our minds; thus, today, we continue to churn out academic zombies who don’t think any differently from those the colonialist trained to help them carry our resources away.

And, it’s so painful when our politicians joke with the main system with which they can lead the mental change we need. We need to engage in critical thinking exercise to find out what exactly to do to our education system beyond theory and rhetoric to re-align our mental pattern.

The media is another organ both government and non-governmental institutions could employ to work to this end. We need to set a national agenda in the media with a purpose of reshaping our minds. All other effective means must be used in this regard, because this is the single most important threat to our dreams as a country. For, a man is nothing but his mind; our poverty is from our minds. Raymond Ablorh

Email: raydelove@yahoo.co.uk