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Opinions of Thursday, 28 June 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Enlightening The Culture For Progress

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong considers Ghana’s Chieftaincy and Culture Minister, Mr. Sampson Kwaku Boafo’s call on all Ghanaians to cooperate to address negative cultural practices

Ghana’s Chieftaincy and Culture Minister, Sampson Kwaku Boafo has enormous burden: he wants to address the negative practices within the Ghanaian culture. Faintly unknown to him, Ghanaians are coming to terms that certain aspects of their culture have been entangling them for fuller progress. They are emboldened by the forces of globalization, which is increasingly opening them to see how free some people are, freed from unnecessarily overburdened cultural practices in their development process. While attempting to refine the negative practices, some of the good parts are under-siege. Mr. Boafo’s acknowledges this trend (June 23, Ghana News Agency) when he observes that “practices such as puberty and widowhood rites and funeral celebrations, which have been adulterated should be reformed to conform to modernization.” Mr. Boafo needs to be congratulated. Mr. Boafo is the first National Minister to have openly and boldly called on Ghanaians to collaborate to work to refine the inhibitions within their culture for progress – a pretty risky venture considering the fact that 56 ethnic groups that make-up Ghana and some of which have high incidence of bizarre cultural practices, and the threat of accusations of ethnocentrism from all sides. But the situation is more complicated than Mr. Boafo and his bureaucrats envisage, and will demand deeper thinking, holistic research, global reach, humanity, and sustained media campaigns, especially in indigenous Ghanaian languages, to refine some of the inhibitions stifling Ghana’s progress. How do Mr. Boafo deals with these cultural troubles could be sampled here: A Francis Amponsah, a jobless 26-year-old resident in the rural setting of Nkawie in the Ashanti Region told a local circuit court that evil spirits disturbing him compelled him to commit crime. Amposah, like many an average Ghanaian, reflecting some belief systems within the Ghanaian culture, is convinced that evil spirits or demons influence people to commit crime. Elsewhere in Tongo, in the Ghana’s Upper East Region, a Bugre Gban, a 28-year-old butcher, tried to test his juju by shooting himself. Gban killed himself instead. These are inhibiting Ghanaian cultural values at work, entangling Ghanaians in their attempts to progress, and not an occasional supermarket-tabloid sort of Ghana.

Amponsah and Gban pattern persist in Ghana’s progress. In Amponsah and Gban while the scientific side of their mind demand objective evidence as to why evil spirits and juju should let them commit crime, as some aspects of their Ghanaian culture usually did, their brains’ mythopoeic, irrational thinking side entice them to irrational marvels – to evil spirits, juju, and demons. Can these matters be addressed with a whole mind, as the Ghanaian media and other members of the country’s objective society mount campaigns to refine the inhibitions within their culture? Can the two instincts of the Ghanaian brain, the rational and the irrational, formed by their Ghanaian culture, be made to fit together?

The economist Nii Moi Thompson, who is fast emerging as part of the new generation of Ghanaian thinkers for challenging certain erroneous values in Ghana’s progress, will discard the possibility. “Prove them,” he would demand. Such thinking would have solved Ghana’s developmental problems by now.

But Ghanaian development process, driven by the increasing democratization of communications and the right to communicate, is offering broad answers the country’s cultural inhibitions. In both Amponsah and Gban, the Ghana Police Service, part of the country’s objective society, told law courts that they were led into crime – stealing and self-murder – by their human agency, the will to commit crime, and not any demons or evil spirit or the test of juju. Why is the average Ghanaian fascinated by irrational forces in their daily struggles? The reasoning goes beyond poverty. The major answer – certain erroneous ancient values emanating from within their culture in the face of developmental challenges – is understandable enough. Nii Moi Thompson would say despite human curiosity in the face of the unknown, there is a “limit to the supernatural…To the cultural inhibitions…We have to start reasoning about our progress.” While certain mysteries and beliefs emanating from the Ghanaian culture titillate the Ghanaian mind (witches wining and dining on human meat on top of a tall tree over-night, for instance), it usually demeans the human place in the Ghanaian cosmological and developmental scheme. The Ghana that her Founding Fathers created, out of African civilization, as the late Dr. J.B. Danquah will tell you, becomes ever more marginal, a receding dot. Nii Moi Thompson would tell you evil spirits and jujus need not be superior to Ghanaians will to develop from within the objective, rational aspects of their culture and their ability to comprehend the irrational within their culture.

Ghanaians fascination with the irrational aspects of their culture – the disturbing spectre of ritual killing of children for traditional sacrifice, as the Accra-based “The Ghanaian Chronicle” editorialized recently, for instance – may reflect Ghanaians inability to think beyond certain erroneous beliefs in the progress scheme of things, having failed to exhaust the secrets and novelties of Ghana and of Ghanaian behaviour, which, on the whole, come to think of it, is nothing new. Ghanaians know this too well. Ghanaian elites, ever lazy in intellectualizing from within their values first and any other second and short of which have made their country’s development paradigms dominated by foreign values, are yet to borrow from the Westerners, as journalist-thinker-professor Lance Morrow, writes, “who have wandered through centuries of darkness and enlightenment and rationalism and scientific method and then the various neo-darkness of the 20th century.” Maybe Ghana is under a sort of quarantine from using her reason for progress.

Until Ghanaians, especially her elites, becomes Nii Moi Thompson, and in that sense rationalize their cultural values, as Kojo Yanka is talking of intellectualizing Ghanaian local languages in their progress, and move away from the cultural inhibitions dictating events, it will go on raining juju and evil spirits upon the Ghanaian mind in Ghana’s larger development game.



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