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Opinions of Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Moral Mess: Mending the Social Fracture

Ghana is experiencing social fractures – the traditional communal empathy, as the foundation of morality, which glue the society together across the 56 ethnic groups that form the nation-state is weakening. There is mounting indiscipline as President John Kufour’s near-death accident in the early mornings of last week in Accra show when a drunken driver runs through his convoy. Earlier, similar incident had happened to former President Jerry Rawlings. Nation-wide, there are increasing vehicular accidents, some wrongly blamed them on witchcraft. The sanitation situation across urban areas is another moral trouble. The quickness to insult one another or destroy one another is scarier.

Either from editorialists, religious leaders, union leaders, educationists, traditional rulers or politicians, there are general feeling nation-wide that Ghana is facing moral crisis. No doubt, the Accra-based “Public Agenda,” part of the media outlets concerned about the moral rot, reported last week that the Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church and other churches are working to lobby educational policy-makers to reintroduce religious and moral education in the new educational reform programme that began in September this year. The attempts to balance the concerns should be informed by traditional moral precepts, as the Singaporeans have done, and weaved into religious and moral education so as to poise the needed reforms desired to re-orientate Ghana morally.

“Just look at Ghana’s most popular www.ghanaweb.com and read what people write at the comments column in response to news reports, editorials and feature articles…Most of these people are disproportionally older university graduates, diasporan and expected to show exposure and sophistication…you easily experience the mounting rot in the system at the web site…as if we are idiots, as if we cannot think…as if we have no morality or have no spirituality,” a Ghanaian-Canadian professor at one of Canada’s universities, who don’t want to be named and who stopped contributing to www.ghanaweb.com because of the “level of moral filth,” told me in a mood of moral despair. “Kofi, you have been living in Canada for some time now and you returned to Canada recently from Ghana after seven months stay, just compare the level of discipline in the two places…we all human beings…Ghanaians think they can develop because they have found oil…Look at Nigeria…You need solid discipline in addition to the natural resource stuff you have to develop…Just look at the level of lies, which borders on the chronic, as if we have no conscience…as if we are not human beings or have no cultural values…as if we have no inherent values to withstand all these counterproductive practices…Where are we heading to…Why all these indiscipline…For what?…Is it to destroy ourselves, and if so, why?...I think we should go the Singaporean way, with its uncompromising public discipline.” Though a bit emotional and worrying, the professor’s feelings are not tacky but reveals Ghana’s dilemma with indiscipline that runs the spine of the nation-state. Part of the reason may be historical. The problem may stem from colonialism that suppressed and demeaned Ghanaian traditional values, and in the course of time created moral confusion in the minds of Ghanaians. Ghanaian elites carried this over. Another less viewed reasons may come from certain aspects of the Ghanaian culture where Malams, juju and marabout mediums, Shamans, spiritualists of all spectrums and “Men of God” use their crafts for either “good” or “destruction,” depending on the demands of their clients. As poverty increases, with its social strain and stress, a lot of Ghanaians resort to these spiritual mediums for all kinds of things, some bordering on grave moral issues such as using such crafts, believed heavily by lot of Ghanaians, to destroy another person or “block” progress.

Some concern Ghanaians also blames the long-running military juntas the ruled Ghana over 21 years as part of the reasons for the moral rot. Some Ghanaians decried the moral implications of the projection of marijuana (called “wee” in Ghana) smoking by Ft Lt. Jerry Rawlings during the erstwhile Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (June 4, 1979 to September 24, 1979). At 60 years old, former President Rawlings sometimes seditious statements and reckless remarks, some Ghanaian morality watchers say, “borders on the immoral and indiscipline…More so as a former Head of State and expected role model.” Gen. Kutu Acheampong (who ruled from13 January 1972 to July 5, 1978) is variously accused of turning the sacred Osu Castle, the seat of government, among other moral ineptitudes, into virtually a “brothel,” and generally sparked the public outcry that effectively led to his overthrow, as Maxwell Owusu, of the University of Michigan, author of “Rebellion, Revolution and Tradition: Reinterpreting Coups in Ghana,” would say, for violating Ghanaians’ tradition values and norms.

As the morality debate gathers steam, most commentators have concentrated excessively on the religious approach as almost the singular solution to the moral crisis. President John Kufour, a careful student of recent Ghanaian morality, has tried to adopt a less unbalanced approach to the nation-wide solution to indiscipline by holistically appealing to traditional rulers and traditional institutions to help resolve the growing moral crisis. That makes traditional institutions as responsible as orthodox religious bodies and the central government as well having the “obligation to ensure that the youth were trained to become good citizens rather than liabilities to the state.” The situation is more worrisome when Ghana’s civic organizations’ public activities do not reflect openly traditional moral norms as the foundational pillars of society, as Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea did recently by appropriating their Confucius and other their traditional values to revamp falls in morality and discipline.

The anti-immorality concerns goes deeper. President Kufuor’s remarks at the outback of Yilo Krobo Traditional Area, in the Eastern Region, where HIV/AIDS is one of the highest in Ghana, for culturally-induced reasons, makes the battles against moral crisis as more of traditional concerns as are any neo-liberal and universal moral campaigns. “We have a duty to inculcate in them [the youth] values that can make them good citizens rather than liabilities to the country when they succumb to foreign cultures that are alien to our society,” President Kufour said to the traditional rulers, in an atmosphere of contending moral supremacy between traditional Ghanaian values and the immense force of cultural globalization with its neo-liberal imperialistic undertones. While traditional Ghanaian cultural values are embedded with superb moral ideals, for historical and universal reasons, the challenge is how to enforce them, more so in a Ghana where its culture has been demeaned in the face of its own people. In journalist Jeffrey Kluger’s “What Makes Us Moral” (Time magazine, Nov. 21, 2007), the argument is made, citing instances of global moral dilemmas, behaviorists, psychologists, primatologist, sociobiologists, biological anthropologists and other scientists, that despite the fact that “morality may be hard concept to grasp, we acquire it fast.” As the moral predicament facing Ghana reveal, Kluger argues that merely having fantastic moral values programmed in your culture doesn’t mean you practice them, especially if you have been battered by colonialism as is Ghana. “Something still has to boot up that software and configure it properly, and that something is the community…and the community enforces it.” And that’s authentically Ghanaian with its highly traditional communal responsibilities, and that’s how to mend the social fracture caused by the moral crisis.



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