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Opinions of Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Columnist: Nana Kwaku M Asamoah |

Ghana and patriotism: Time to rethink

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We must always remember that Ghana is a great country with a history we can be truly proud of.

Our culture, hospitality and multi-ethnicity shape the peace and stability we enjoy today and ensures that we still remain a leading country in West Africa.

But whilst Ghana has so much to celebrate in every field of endeavour, we seem to be better at passively celebrating it; an understatement to the great things we have achieved. So whilst we should do more to celebrate our national identity, we should think about how exactly we do that as a country.

As a country, we Ghanaians should be patriotic to the core – I don't think anyone doubts that. Yes, we have to work hard to put our belief in Ghana into action. But more than that, we have to live and grow in peace, develop and prosper as a nation through honest and genuine dedication. We have to be patriotic.

But in terms of what we should do as a country to strengthen our sense of patriotism, any initiative espoused has to naturally be in tune with our cultural attitudes. Ghana is bigger than the government it has.

Thus, politicians should not claim patriotism exclusively for one party or one political tradition, patriotism should transcend politics. Its value is as a unifying force, not a divisive one. Ultimately, Ghanaian patriotism is about Ghanaians.

It grows and evolves from the bottom up and can never be defined by one government or one politician, but by millions of Ghanaian citizens whose identity is the product of many ingredients.

In Ghana and many societies, patriotism is a must-have value. And in the colonial era, patriotism developed high levels of motivation and generated new-found love for a country which spurred on the great politicians and people of that generation to fight for the independence and freedom of our country.

Crucially, that generation of people understood clearly and vitally not to support our country because it stood for an idea of independence that they believed in, but rather because it was their country. They devoted love, support and offered the defence of our country. So referring to patriotism is referring to something good according to common sense.

However, contemporary trends in countries over the world teach us that patriotism can rapidly and easily slip toward nationalism and become a reason to hate foreigners. Additional, patriotism has been the chief cause for people to tend to follow their countries blindly, whether right or wrong. Hence, numerous arguments around the world that patriotism should be avoided for these very reasons. But as a country, we should understand that patriotism is working to ensure our country lives up to our collective moral and ethical values, as well as being critical of our country when it does not live up to those standards.

And in our country today, it is becoming clearer each day that patriotism has become very deficient. However sad the truth is, our great nation is blighted by all sort of treacherous acts that makes one reconsider whether the spirit of patriotism still remains: the scourge of political mistrust; the brick wall of broken promises; and the shadow of corruption – hanging over every single one of us.

Consequently, contributing to a large number of Ghanaians thinking about themselves first, their families second, their political parties or affiliation third, their societies fourth and never about our country. And this has invariably ensued the diminished Ghanaian sense of belongingness. So we should be serious about strengthening our sense of patriotism and do whatever we can to give each citizen reasons to feel pride in our country. There are three key ways of doing this.

First, children in school must do more than sing the National Anthem and recite the Pledge. Children in Ghana go through many years of school singing the National Anthem and reciting the Pledge, but does it encourage loyalty in their nation?

For many of these children and indeed children of my time, years spent in school reciting the Pledge did little to instil patriotism. Some children grow up not even remembering the words to both the National Anthem and Pledge. So in as much as children sing the National Anthem and recite the Pledge, a better way to teach children pride in our country is to encourage them to be concerned about their school, neighbourhood, societies and country by letting them be a part of their community.

And this shouldn't be the job of just the schools, but also of parents who can play a part in showing the next generation what true devotion to their country is all about. True patriotism is the selfless giving of oneself and simply singing the National Anthem and reciting the Pledge is woefully inadequate.

Second, it is vitally important that there is proper teaching of Ghanaian history in our schools. We won’t get very far in promoting patriotism if people don’t have a feel for Ghana’s history and heritage. It is a tragedy that the teaching of narrative history currently, is bite-sized and disjointed.

And the results of that is students being incapable of judging right or wrong as they rely on distorted history, inevitably lessening their sense of belongingness which highlights only too well what happens when you shift away from learning actual knowledge, such as facts and dates.

This failed approach has led us to the great irony that most Ghanaian-born citizens would struggle to answer the questions about important historical dates and its significance in the Ghanaian history.

But proper teaching of the history of Ghana in schools will not just allow students to know what happened in the past, but also to learn how to think critically so that they are able to judge the evidence and to understand the historical forces that have shaped our country and what price we had paid for our independence and freedom. And as students are exposed to various interpretations of historical events, they will reach a deeper understanding of the values that have formed our national identity.

Third, we must abandon the wrong-headed doctrine of ethnocentrism - the Ghanaian attitude of “my tribe is better than yours” which has sat with us for very long, and still deeply seared in the minds of some Ghanaians. Looking down on other ethnic groups as subservient or less important hinders national unity. It would be far easier to promote patriotism if everyone felt like they were part of one country – not a “society of societies”.

So we need to bring our country together, and that means, for example, making sure if you have the power to award contracts, you award it to the most efficient of the bidders not the one that speaks your native language or say if you are a judge, your rulings will be based on justice, but not on the ethnic origin of the individual before you. This will conjure solidarity which will lead to collaboration and cooperation which in turn will lead to sacrifices for each other and for the country.

None of this is easy though. The promotion of a more hands-on approach to community involvement for children is never easy. The proper teaching of Ghana's history in schools is never easy. Abandoning old age ethnocentric attitude is never easy. Promoting patriotism and a deeper sense of belongingness in a Ghanaian is still more difficult. So there is so much to be done but there is hope. Despite the obvious challenges, I have no doubt that with patience, with goodwill, with ingenuity, it can be done. And I am not saying there are no patriotic citizens in the country. Of course, there are. And no one doubts that Ghana is a proud, successful thriving country.

A nation that has turned around its fortunes through its own efforts. But I believe that the time has come for this country to face the challenge of strengthening its citizenry's sense of patriotism. And by facing this challenge, we can make this generation of Ghanaians and the generations to come immensely patriotic.

That, in turn, will help to promote active citizenship and help forge a renewed sense of national cohesion making a lasting contribution to the general wellbeing of our country.