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Opinions of Friday, 8 May 2009

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Pushing new planning model

By Kofi In the prelude to the 2008 general elections, key political figures spoke of either consulting traditional rulers or establishing a Chieftaincy Institute as a sounding board on national affairs. The game is to balance Ghanaian traditional values with the dominant neo-liberal ones, and create the necessary confidence and psychological atmosphere needed to further push the frontiers of progress.

The talk of consulting traditional values for national development reveals the inadequacies of the current values running Ghana. It isn’t that top founding fathers like Kwame Nkrumah and J.B. Danquah, despite their images as thinkers, were oblivious to such ideas. It may be that they didn’t have thorough grasp of the Ghanaian culture and its eventual usage as part of the new Ghana’s development paradigms that should have been brewed from within the traditional values of the 56 ethnic groups that form the Ghana nation-state.

Such amputated atmosphere also informs the lack of clearer philosophical foundation of Ghana, drawn critically from within its cultural values, as a development project and the recurring weak confidence that has entangled Ghana’s progress for the past 52 years. As the nitty-gritty of progress hit Ghana on the face, and as the Chinese, the Japanese and the Malaysians have shown, part of correcting such huge developmental anomaly, both logically and materially, is to mint national development policies that consider Ghanaian traditional values in concert with its ex-colonial/global ones.

Or where appropriate, use the global neo-liberal values to refine certain inhibiting traditional values that stifle progress – the use of universal human rights values to refine witchcraft and other inhibiting issues, as the Bongo district, in the Upper East Region, has done, for instance. But Bongo attempts should have been drawn from a national ethos, as development philosophy. The thinking here is that in all measure, national policy-making should start from the core Ghanaian traditional values and eventually wrapped around the neo-liberal values.

The education system is the soul of confidence building. Some Ghanaians are increasingly arguing that Ghana’s cultural values should be incorporated deeply in its education system, especially in designing curriculum, as a prominent moulder of self-worth, self-belief, reasoning and rationalization. Kofi Asare Opoku, of the Accra-based African University College of Communication, is the latest to add his voice. “Some countries like Malaysia, Japan and China have chalked lots of successes in all spheres of life because they appreciated and used their culture to develop their nations… Our education does not help promote our culture but, I believe if we start teaching pupils these culture from the onset, they will be better informed as to why some of the rich traditions are needed for development.”

By weaving the Ghanaian culture into the education system, the whole culture would be diagnosed from scratch, and both the positive and the negative aspects would be critically looked into for reforms, and, eventually, embedded into larger national development planning. One inhibiting aspect – Big Man syndrome – that stifles the youth’s creativity, as Opoku argues, would be refined. “If we are going to always “copy” from the western world then we will loose our identity as Ghanaian.” The identity crisis comes in the form of loose of confidence in one’s self or culture that translates into thinking that the Ghanaian’s culture is worthless and not mattered in policy planning.

While Opoku’s case of inadequate public education curriculum underscores weaknesses in critical Ghanaian public thinking, Isaac Owusu-Mensah, of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, further gives the insight that “development cannot be achieved in circumstances where the cultures of the people are steadily abandoned in favour of foreign cultures…The absence of cultural relevance and the need for cultural adaptation of external input into the country’s development planning constitute a major obstacle to development planning and implementation.”

Whether Opoku or Owusu-Mensah, the entire national planning inadequacies that have occurred because of Ghanaian public intellectuals inability to skillfully campaign and integrate Ghanaian cultural values into national policy planning, as the Chinese and the Japanese have done over the past 60-plus years, reminds me of the American network CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) drama NUMB3RS, where a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent recruits his mathematical-genius brother to help the FBI crack a wide-range of demanding crimes in Los Angeles. “The two brothers take on the most confounding criminal cases from a very distinctive perspective. Inspired by actual events, the series depicts how the confluence of police work and mathematics provides unexpected revelations and answers to the most perplexing criminal questions.”

For Ghanaian policy-makers and public intellectuals, the import from NUMB3RS is that the most distinctive viewpoint of taking on Ghana’s development challenges should naturally and psychologically be from their culture, where pretty much of their development challenges emanate from. When a school in the Upper East region rejected Zoyen Teiva as being a witch and later died from community terrorization it revealed the unrealistic and near unGhanaian national planning policies that do not fully tell the undercurrents spiraling from within the Ghanaian culture.

Still, how Ghanaian elites, civil servants, the House of Chiefs, journalists, universities, civil society and public intellectuals - all adequately grounded in the nitty-gritty of Ghanaian culture and history - could appropriate their culture to take on the most puzzling progress challenges of their nation-state and propel innovative policy planning regime that is brewed from within Ghanaians cultural values as the soul of the development process is yet to be seen.

The test, in the long haul, as Opoku and Owusu-Mensah argue, is how the convergence of the Ghanaian culture and the global neo-liberal values would provide unexpected disclosures and answers to the most perplexing progress questions confronting Ghana.