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Opinions of Sunday, 9 August 2009

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Culture on national planning

Fifty-two years on, the Kumasi workshop on culture and development planning for district planning officers reveal the shallowness of Ghana as a development ideal. It also demonstrates lack of intellectual detail of project Ghana, as it pride itself as the centre of higher thinking in Africa’s progress. The “Black Star of Africa” as small-minded short of larger grand thinking to resolve Africa’s progress challenges.

On the other hand, the Kumasi workshop also discloses a nation that has discovered errors in its development philosophy and is now making amends towards its correction. As Y.K. Amoako will tell you, Africa is the only region in the world where its development paradigms are dominated by foreign development paradigms to the detriment of its rich cultural values and institutions. Botswana is exception though. Botswana quickly balanced its progress tender after independence from British colonialism in 1966 by complementing its culture values and institutions with the global development ideals and it is not surprising that it has the best development indicators in Africa.

Some African intellectuals such as George Ayittey (of “African solution for African problems” fame) have strongly argued for equilibrium between African sensibilities with the global prosperity ideals in Africa’s progress. The World Bank has suggested same. And drawing from the wisdom of the global prosperity experiences and African commentators of the likes of Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and George Ayitteh, US President Barack Obama said in Accra, Ghana on July 12 that whether in democratic growth or any development venture for that matter, African traditional values and institutions should be considered in the overall schemes.

The Kumasi workshop rode on the back of these growing thoughts, but at certain disconcerting altitudes, the Kumasi workshop also sounded like a Western anthropologist teaching Ghanaian policy-makers what is their own culture. Still, at some point, the workshop sounded more like textbook recitations than the practical nitty-gritty of the Ghanaian culture used everyday by Ghanaians to move around their daily living. While all Ghanaians were born and socialized into their culture, at deeper level some have vague of it and their contact with the forces of globalization is eroding their deeper sense of their culture, making a good number have an indistinct sense of their traditional values.

Against this backdrop is the fact that colonialism demeaned the Ghanaian/African culture, making sense of Y.K. Amoako’s observation that Africa is at the mercy of foreign development paradigms, as if it has nothing of its own – the African elites, as directors of progress, weak, confused, shallow and autistic in the face development challenges. This has created long-term psychological and confidence crisis. The Kumasi workshop and similar ventures nation-wide would help right this glitch. But the higher harmonization of this trends rest with new generation of Ghanaian elites, as drivers of development, the National House of Chiefs, as key custodians of culture, and the Ghana Civil Service, as key radiator of national planning.

The Kumasi workshop should have brought in those who deal with everyday practical cultural matters, the like of the Asantehene Osei Tutu 11, Agbogbomefia Torgbui Afede Asor XIV, and Okyehene Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin, as part of the trainers and beamed nation-wide so as to get a better sense of what could be expected in weaving the Ghanaian culture into policy development. The success of this could be replicated nation-wide, more so for the bureaucrats at the Ghana Civil Service, who are disturbingly entrenched in Western development paradigms against the cultural sensibilities of the very people they purport to serve.

How do you fathom this, you don’t understand me from within my values but you want to save me, you want to develop me. That’s the situation between the Ghana Civil Service and Ghanaians’ development process in relation to their traditional values and institutions. The Kumasi workshop will agree with this supposition.

Culture and development workshop for policy planners? That’s superbly new proposal as Ghana wakes up from the slumber of its development process by projecting higher thinking and balances wheeled by its on-going democracy, human rights, the rule of law and freedoms. Despite the acknowledgement by participants that the Ghanaian culture has failed to informed policy-making over the years, the Kumasi workshop was more about the positive aspects of the Ghanaian culture, failing to discuss the inhibiting aspects of the culture that have blocked progress for long, long time.

Before the Kumasi workshop, President John Atta Mills, in line with current thinking, had told Ghanaians in his recent Western and Brong Ahafo regions working visits to extricate themselves from the inhibiting aspects of their culture that impede their progress. You don’t progress if you think beyond all reasonable doubts that witchcraft is responsible for all accidents and that witchcraft causes crimes and that human sacrifice will bring success and that pulling one down as he or she attempts to progress is cool.

The Kumasi workshop should have work around the Atta Mills advise and discuss some of the negative parts of the culture that have made the Ghanaian less progressive over the years – the Pull Him/Her Down syndrome, the “Big Man” syndrome, witchcraft as responsible for misfortune, extreme paternalism, excessive reliance on juju-marabou mediums, strange and erroneous believes emanating from the culture, human sacrifices, among others.

Regardless of this, the Kumasi workshop is a welcomed start as Ghana and Africa increasingly discover itself as a development project from within their traditional values and institutions in relation to the global prosperity principles.