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Opinions of Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

In praise of Bongo’s audacity

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

The microcosm of Ghana’s on-going attempts to grapple with the algebra of its progress could be seen at the humble Bongo district, in the Upper East Region. Bongo is thinking, opening itself up, and refining the rots in its ancient culture and, in the process, rolling its unique enlightenment process to drive its advancement.

Despite being very traditional and rural, Bongo has opened itself up to forces of reasoning, thinks holistically and recognizes that part of its development challenges may be more of certain aspects of its ancient culture than it had formerly thought of. Bongo’s powerful traditional rulers have come to the self-realization that they will “pledged their support to work towards reforming certain negative cultural practices.” To put Bongo’s traditional rulers on the correct footing, in an atmosphere of paternalism, their bold enlightenment drive will start with their women, who have suffered centuries of abuse and violence, in the name of culture.

In Ghana/Africa where the Big Man’s syndrome is a serious progress disease, that has blocked reasoning and asphyxiated progress, the Big Men at Bongo are exuding new balanced ego. Actually, certain inhibiting culturally negative practices against women are automatically against men, too – bordering on power and the much disgraced African neo-traditional paternalism that has seen unfreedom and injustice being fertilized by certain destructive parts of the African culture.

At Bongo, all the traditional elders, who appear to be attempting to have better development grasp of their communities, are telling Accra, or the heavy neo-liberally entrenched bureaucrats at the Ghana Civil Service, the need for a new policy planning regime that starts from Ghanaian traditional values could be done: mix the traditional with the neo-liberal, where appropriate, or where, essential, as the Bongo communities have done, use the universal neo-liberal values to refine the inhibiting aspects of the local, traditional values.

Bongo’s communities are playing with International Federation of Women Lawyers, as the face neo-liberalism, to refine the ancient recurring cultural practices of violating “rights of women, outmoded socio-cultural practices and domestic violence.” Still, “Female Genital Mutilation, elopement, early marriage, widowhood rites and inheritance, dowry and expensive funerals” are some of the inhibiting cultural practices under the enlightenment radar of the Bongo communities. The larger vision here is that such cultural practices “violate the fundamental human rights in their communities” and stifle the broader progress of Bongo and by extension Ghana.

But while Bongo’s Big Men agree that “cases of rape, defilement, and other high crimes were handled by the appropriate quarters and not by their courts,” as part of the deeper illumination of Bongo, its traditional courts, as part of Accra’s Alternate Dispute Resolution program, should be re-educated in human rights issues so as to deal with “cases of rape, defilement, and other high crimes,” that majority of women in the traditional home had “no access to justice and were being abused,” and rather “see women as partners in development partners.”

By such actions Bongo is thinking aloud, attempting to free itself from certain archaic ancient cultural practices that have darkened its progress. Pretty much of Bongo’s cultural troubles are patriarchic, the antiqued African Big Man syndrome. Various voices have indicated that the broader stifling of Bongo’s mal-development was that “whenever there was misunderstanding between women and their husbands, only men discussed the issues without a female representative.”

Bongo’s development, for long muffled by its ancient cultural power game and more a problem of traditional tenets of inequality, is seen in the groundbreaking The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, where the authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue that “inequality causes shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives; it increases the rate of teenage pregnancy, violence, obesity, imprisonment and addiction; it destroys relationships between individuals born in the same society but into different classes; and its function as a driver of consumption depletes the planets resources.” As revealed in Bongo, on almost every index of quality of life, Wilkinson and Pickett demonstrate that there is a slope showing a strong correlation between a country’s level of economic inequality and its social (or cultural) outcomes.

By boldly tackling certain aspects of its olden cultural ills that have blocked its progress, Bongo is moving away from its long-term nervousness, wrong thinking, hopelessness and weak community life, and opens itself to forces of progress.