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Opinions of Sunday, 1 April 2018

Columnist: Samwin John Banienuba

Is Flagstaff a colonial syllable or is Jubilee our patriotic essence?

The Flagstaff house will henceforth be called the Jubilee House The Flagstaff house will henceforth be called the Jubilee House

No matter what the political actors would have us believe, this seesaw renaming of the seat of government from Flagstaff to Jubilee House underwrites the ridicule of our partisan politics and deepens the poverty of national priorities in homeland Ghana.

The recent gazetted swing reinforces same old banal tit-for-tat politics that the country has become infamous for in the 4th Republic. And to think that no government has found it necessary to engage or even initiate national dialogue in this ‘Kokofu football’ in and around naming of the ‘presidential palace’ leaves us all out as spectators by force, helpless and confused in our own citizenry affairs!

Names per se are not nonsense syllables. They are tantamount to language, no doubt! They speak meaning and significance in almost every culture, not least in Africa. In Ghana, it is easy to guess the ethnic nationality and religion of fellow compatriots by virtue of names alone.

Our local first names and especially our family names can be whole phrases, often intended to communicate messages to the wider community, celebrate some historical significance or express circumstance of birth. Names therefore can be ethnically and nationally unique, and are of inherent value and great importance to identity. Outside Ghana, they help identify fellow Ghanaians from a mix of other Africans.

Naming of our national monuments such as that of the presidential palace should thus say something about where we are coming from as a people and/or where we are headed moving forward. It should capture all of, or at least some of, our collective character, history, mission and identity.

Anything short of that is a lie and this lazy appeal to patriotic emotions in the Flagstaff versus Jubilee call is nonsensical for want of a better expression. They are both English and in English with nothing non-colonial or Ghanaian about one or the other. But of course, conventional wisdom tells us the only time politicians speak truth is when they call other politicians liars.

Flagstaff at least speaks to our history even if colonial, and so are many other relics of national importance with names dating back to British colonialism and the Danes and Portuguese presence before. We are even proud to speak and air English as our official language without second thoughts of how we acquired that national lingua franca in the first place.

And many Ghanaians still relish their English names including adopted English surnames with a sense of entitlement and pride. Some of our national icons could actually and easily pass for British going by their names only.

Agreed the Flagstaff House that was a few days ago is not necessarily the Flagstaff House that the Founder and First President of modern Ghana deemed fit to maintain and inhabit, the premises of both are arguably same.

The fact that the Osagyefo of all people elected not to change the so-called colonial name when he lived in what was his seat of government should speak volumes to our collective sense of respect for the greatest African personality that ever lived, and thus correlate Flagstaff House with this presidential palace.

Except in our numeric existence as an independent nation at the time foreign India constructed the current House in our name, Jubilee is dumb and mute about everything heritage, character and identity of Ghana and Ghanaians.

The very concept and history of jubilee celebrations has no antecedents in pre-colonial Ghana. And the Golden bit in the Jubilee prefix is simply immaterial and palpably incongruous in a country where accountability for the celebrations that marked the fifty years still has question marks in reports.

Any change of name from Flagstaff would have been necessary and persuasive if the new name added meaning to our heritage and significance to our identity. Jubilee does none! Instead, I hear this new Jubilee tag was deliberately announced to coincide with the President’s 74th birthday in celebration. Others suggest it is a strategic manoeuvre to divert attention away from the hullaballoo of the recent controversial military defence deal agreed with the US. True or false, both views amplify lack of circumspection and say a lot about a government still excited by power as such.

Government, more than anybody else, should cherish fearless honesty and focus attention on the Ghanaian in the street and those critical requisites of development that will make us great and strong. Anything seesaw as evidenced in the naming and renaming of the presidential palace is not only waste of thought, effort and resources, it is awkward and petty.