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Opinions of Friday, 3 August 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Mary Chinery-Hesse and the Intellectuals

Mrs. Mary Chinery-Hesse is Chief Advisor to Ghanaian President John Kufour. That means we read President Kufour through her, in terms of the thoughts, nuances and the level of reasoning within the presidency. In spite of her statement on July 25, 2007 (Ghanadot.com/Ghana News Agency) that Ghanaian “intellectuals urged not to shy away from discourse of national import,” she had earlier challenged policy-makers and consultants, more generally, Ghanaian elites, to use languages, more appropriately, the English language, which Ghanaians will understand. Her experiences dealing with policy-makers and the booming Accra-based consultants have taught her that sometimes even the language they use the presidency and the larger bureaucratic circles do not understand. Factor in the mass of Ghanaians who do not read and speak the English language and calculate the implications for Ghana’s progress.

But despite the relevance of her observations drawn from her mingling with Ghanaian and non-Ghanaian policy-makers, bureaucrats and consultants over the years, Chinery-Hesse has missed one crucial thing, a crucial thing, as the Botswanans will tell her, that has affected Ghana’s progress for the good part of her 50-year corporate existence – the exclusion of Ghanaian norms, values and traditions in not only policy-makings, bureaucratizing, and consultancies but also intellectualizing, thinking and philosophizing about Ghana’s progress. In “The Political Foundations of Development: The Case of Botswana,” Scott A. Beaulier (of Mercer University, USA) and J. Robert Subrick (George Mason University, USA), make the case that unlike other sub-Saharan African states, Botswana has prospered, for the past 25 years running, by its skillful ability to successfully appropriate its norms, values and traditional institutions in policy-making, bureaucratizing, consultancies, thinking and philosophizing about the country’s progress. And this has come about, in a mixture of raw wisdom, wonderful understanding of their environment and pragmatism, by its elites, most educated abroad, and its traditional leaders pursuing policies that legitimized their democracy, political and traditional institutions, and progress. “The interaction of these factors explains Botswana’s success.”

Unlike Botswana, Ghanaian norms, values, and traditions, 50 years after freedom from British colonial rule, are yet to be reflected decisively in policy-making, bureaucratizing and consultancies. More seriously, Ghanaian elites, as directors of progress, are yet to participate as fully as other African elites, such as South Africa, Kenya and Botswana, in national discourse in Ghana’s progress. In any country, you gauge how well its elites participate in its national discourse in its progress in the mass media. Chinery-Hesse thinks, once again from her interaction with the intellectuals, that they “consider the sharing of information through the media as demeaning of high academic achievement.” Pretty heartbreaking but she is right and the reasons may be as varied as anybody can imagine or have experienced.

In a response to my article, “Awakening Suppressed Traditional Institutions” (ghanaweb, 2007-07-15), a respondent wrote, “Publishing in obscure outlets and that makes you a 'thinker.' What credible publication do you have to your credit?” How anti-progress and gross stupidity and how the intellectual ceiling! The sense here is that Ghanaian elites should not publish in the country’s mass medium because they are mediocre and do not count in the country’s progress. This affects national discourse and the development process in terms of critically diagnosing the inadequacies within the development process. Perhaps unaware of this climate, Chinery-Hesse says “it was necessary for the intellectuals and professionals to continue to educate the public on issues they had expertise on” so as to brighten the path of progress. The ghanaweb.com respondent, suggestive of pretty much of the mass of the respondents, wants Ghanaian elites rather concerned themselves with academic mediums. It is not only the developed world but in African states like Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Botswana, the intellectuals get involved in national discourse heavily through the mass media as a way of illuminating the development path, more so in societies with disturbing ignorance that sometimes threaten to collapse the state as we saw in Liberia, the northern part of Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone.

Chinery-Hesse, as tracker of national discourse in her advisabilities to President Kufour, is aware of this missing link in Ghana’s progress and advises “intellectuals and professionals with requisite knowledge on issues of national importance being discussed in the public domain not to shy away from the discourse.” And what will be the implications in progress? The intellectuals should not relent in participating despite the demeaning climate, as we read on ghanaweb.com. On her part, Chinery-Hesse adds that, “by shying away to join the silent majority of docile listeners, they left the scene for those who might not be knowledgeable to fill the vacuum. They should not feel shy to participate in this manner, and they should not consider the sharing of information through the [mass] media as demeaning of high academic achievement.”

Apart from fear of politicking by the increasingly divisive political atmosphere and some politically charged media houses, some Ghanaian intellectuals retire away from participating in national discourse via the mass media because of fear of some moral and disciplinary flaws in the society. “The insults are too…I have not seen this anywhere…You want to write comments on some issues disturbing Ghana but the responses are normally insults, for nothing,” a professor at a Canadian university told me. Dr. George Amponsem, a Ghanaian-Canadian economist and a Toronto-based business consultant for International Business Machines (IBM), told me recently that for some time during the earlier days of Ghana’s most popular web site, www.ghanaweb.com, a good number of Ghanaian intellectuals such as Dr. George Ayittey and Dr. Kofi Ellison, used to write for the web site on pressing national issues. But then, in the course of time, they fizzled out! Why? “The insults were too much and shocking…It was as if these intellectuals have wronged anyone by simply discussing national issues critically…So they stopped…And the result is what you see today on ghanaweb…Terrible…As if the ordinary Ghanaian cannot think, are so weak that the only way to engage in serious national issues is insult, insult, and insulting self-respecting people who have not offended them in any way but are just participating in national discourse to lighten up the development path.”

So come to think of Ghanaian elites not participating in national discourse for progress, Chinery-Hesse, her policy-making and consultants circles, short of their input of Ghanaian norms, values and traditions in their functions, should consider how the sharing of information through the mass media by the intellectual is stifled by an atmosphere that is demeaning.



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