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Opinions of Monday, 28 September 2009

Columnist: Amenyo, Kofi

Criticism, ghanaweb, and the responsibilities of the Ghanaian intellectual

Francis Akoto may be a man with a mission. Or, perhaps, he is not. Is it only sheer laziness that prevents him from editing the features he publishes on his site and adopting a more stringent editorial policy? He used to edit articles in times past. Not any more. But we can understand his situation. He gets tens of articles daily and cannot possibly be expected to read through each of these when he has his daily bread to seek outside the pages of ghanaweb. And so he lets go anything to the site. He hardly has time to even browse through the articles, contented only with reading the titles and looking at the authors. This anything goes policy is a sort of vice. But it is a vice that can, somehow, be turned into a virtue. He has refused to heed the calls of many visitors to curb the excesses on the site. He has refused because he has now made it a conscious policy of carrying freedom of speech to its extremes. His hands off policy has given a voice on his site to EVERY Ghanaian irrespective of educational standard, occupation, age, sex, political inclination, place of abode, or what have you. Nobody’s voice is hushed on ghanaweb. This has annoyed some fine minds who have deserted the site.

But there are still many who have stayed. There are many reasons why someone will want to write to ghanaweb. Love it or not, it remains the most well known and most patronised Ghanaian internet portal. Recently, when the minister of information was interviewed on her intending appearance on facebook, she mentioned ghanaweb as an example of the importance of the internet for information in the modern age. Many want to write for ghanaweb because they believe it will give them the greatest exposure among Ghanaians. There are people who genuinely feel they have something important to share with their fellow countrymen. They may read an argument they want to partake of and write a rejoinder. There are budding journalists testing the waters to see how they fare. There are some who have written books they want to sell and give us extracts from these books. Then there are also those who just want to savour the thrill of seeing their names “in print”. Some put their real names and all their academic (and non-academic) titles to the articles they write; others write under pseudonyms or use monikers consciously seeking to suppress every expression of the pompous attitude.

Akoto’s policy has given the less educated Ghanaian the chance to rub shoulders with their more educated countrymen and women on issues of common interest to them all. That is why we can see language that touches the heights of a Wole Soyinka and some others with the raw style of an Amos Tutuola. What is wrong with that? The site provides us with the opportunity to discuss any topic at all that may, in one way or the other, impinge on our lives as Ghanaians in and outside the motherland. Didn’t someone the other day write about shit in Ghana, smelly shit? It is not so much the topic but the way a writer handles his subject and manages to make it relevant to our contemporary needs that is important here. What keeps many of us here is this ability to share a common platform with people with whom we also share a common country.

Of course, most of the feature articles on ghanaweb aren’t worth reading and many wouldn’t make it into any decent newspaper. Most of the visitors here are the kind who may see a hackneyed phrase for the first time in their lives on ghanaweb and be mightily impressed by it. A large percentage of visitors do not read articles in their fullness before posting their comments. Many only look at the titles and then come out with their opinions. But the fact still remains that all of these are people you share something important with and some may, indeed, be expressing their genuine concerns about things which are dear to you too.

My beef in this write up is really with the intellectuals among us here who don’t behave as they should. By intellectual on ghanaweb, I mean all those writers to the features section who find it necessary to append their numerous higher degrees to their by-lines even though they are aware of the fact that ghanaweb is not an academic arena.

If most of the visitors to the site are not intellectuals but ordinary Ghanaians, it would seem odd for anyone to come barging in with all his or her academic credentials as if they were out there, armed to the teeth, to meet their intellectual co-equals. The people here are just our fellow countrymen and women, our brothers and sisters from all walks of life with each one having as much a stake in the destiny of our nation as you, perched on your ivory tower and looking down from your Olympian heights.

Of course, those who want to display their higher academic degrees on ghanaweb are very free to do so. After all, we come from a society that gives respect to such things. But if they display those higher degrees, they are also duty bound to let their utterances match the reasoning power that is normally associated with those degrees. One would expect that they would be the ones who will rise beyond partisan and tribal concerns as well as petty insults even as they criticise and take a strong stand against the ills of our society. What a shame that not all of them do so!

If the less educated among us are unable to argue issues on their merits and blindly think an insult will add to the strength of the positions they hold, it will be up to the more educated ones to show these others, by their own stellar examples, that arguments are won or lost by the facts you marshal and the use you make of those facts. But when these very educated ones themselves resort to the same petty insults and vituperative rhetoric to answer their critics who are far less educated than they are, or think the credibility of their arguments and positions is determined by the degrees they possess, then I will submit that they should desist from displaying those degrees since we cannot see the positive differences they make to our discussions.

After all, those who add all those degrees to their names are not necessarily the ones who write the best articles to the site. In fact, some of the very best articles and comments have been written by people whose academic qualifications we know absolutely nothing about. But the quality of those articles or comments speaks volumes louder than any qualifications they might have tagged on to the pieces they had authored.

We have recently seen the appearance of three very good female writers – Lola, Amma and Mom (all of whose writings I particularly enjoy) who do not attach any advanced qualifications to their by-lines. But the quality of the writing speaks eloquently for them. These brilliant sisters are discussing “important issues” (MOM’s words) which have nothing to do with NDC, NPP, Rawlings, Kufuor, Asante or Ewe. Our lives as Ghanaians can go on without these concerns.

Most of the Ghanaians who come to these pages do not have many (or any) degrees and will be looking forward to their fellow countrymen and women who are more educated than they are to show them the way and explain things to them. That is why the intellectual is needed here – to prevent the mob from taking over. But they are needed for their superior ideas, not their superior degrees or superior abilities at hurling insults at others. Can the average ghanaweb reader trust that he or she will learn something from these intellectuals?

Akoto has no intention of monitoring the site. This means the site will continue to be what MOM describes in one of her comments as a public square which is a “domain of risk and reward which none have control over”. The reward side is what keeps many of us still here.

Many of the best brains may have left; others didn’t bother to come at all. This makes it all the more important for the intellectuals left to spread enough light around to illuminate the discussions and uplift their fellow countrymen and women. Let the “grey minds” resort to insults as a means of argument. The true intellectual on ghanaweb will be expected to rise above these common spirits and be a shining star illuminating the way for their less educated fellow citizens. That will be the real responsibility of the Ghanaian intellectual on ghanaweb.

Kofi Amenyo (