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Opinions of Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Quashigah, Culture and Prosperity

Health Minister, Courage Quashigah, is increasingly emerging as one of people thinking through the country’s culture in terms of its prosperity. Quashigah has been among those illuminating this path for some time, arguing for the need to refine certain aspects of the Ghanaian culture for progress. That Quashigah has thorough grasp of Ghana is unassailable. For a while, Quashigah has not only been provoking Ghanaians to discuss certain aspects of their culture that hinders their prosperity but also spoken about the need to raise the good parts for policy-making. From the need to integrate traditional medicine into the healthcare delivery system to simple public hygiene to reduce high incidence of diseases to throwing challenge to Ghanaian elites to think through its culture in order to refine its inhibitions to advising Ghanaians to eat more and more their healthy traditional foods since it is much healthier compared to the fatty Western foods, Quashigah has been in the forefront of enlightening the Ghanaian culture for progress.

Quashigah’s latest observation that there is “national craze for burial and funeral festivities” that have steadily emerged as the "most productive industry" (Ghana News Agency, July 8) in Ghana to the detriment of the greater progress of the country, once again, confirm his position as one of the emerging thinkers ready to take on some of the feared and dreadful ancient cultural practices that have been stifling Ghana’s progress. While other Ghanaians have been talking about the funeral and progress issue for some time, especially relating to its high cost, Quashigah’s ability to tie it to global human progress, makes the case to refine the high cost of funeral ceremonies to the detriment of the larger development, especially how it is associated with increasing death rate and decreasing life expectancy.

Globally, while other countries are working hard to decrease death of all kinds, Quashigah observes that in Ghana, as the high level of funeral ceremonies, its cost, and its productive machine, indicate, there was rather a “national thirst for funerals, thus boosting the price of coffins and funeral fabrics” in face of the average Ghanaian living just up to 57 years and infant mortality rising to 68 per 1000 births. Quashigah’s reasoning that while increasing poverty should have helped to halting excessive funeral practices that impact negative on the economy, the clutches of the strong culture practices on Ghanaians have prevented this, making Ghanaians negatively possessed with “death and the quest to be the best coffin makers in the world.”

While Quashigah’s observations may be of concern to most right thinking Ghanaians, globally and humanly, there are increasing concern about certain cultural practices and how it impacts on progress. The issue is not that some cultures are better than others at creating freedom, prosperity, and justice, the issue, as Quashigah’s observation indicates, is cross cultural; no more, no less. In “Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress,” edited by Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington, the difficult question of addressing culture and prosperity is skillfully taken on by all the contributors, making the case, backed empirical studies, that culture pretty much matters in creating prosperity, but how your culture creates advancement is the ability to use the good parts and at the same time refine the inhibiting parts. Quashigah answers this question in the Ghanaian funeral context by arguing that “while the organization of costly funerals benefited a few service providers, it nonetheless sapped the nation of huge sums of money.” Edward Banfield, in the Harrison-Huntington volume, known globally for brightening the cultural implications of poverty, argues how the origin of southern Italy’s poverty is linked to its culture of authoritarianism, and that this is universal.

Lawrence Harrison, also part of the global culture-prosperity lights, deduces that what made the United States’ political system function was a culture affable to democracy. The first rate German sociologist, Max Weber, reveals that the rise of Western capitalist development is fundamentally a cultural fact entrenched in religion. Quashigah’s recognition of “ignorance as being at the heart of the new craze” and urging “Ghanaians to collectively help to stem it,” debunks any claim of value judgment about working to brighten some aspects of the Ghanaian culture for progress. Quashigah may answer the Cameroonian Daniel Etounga-Manguelle questioning of the African culture in relation to the continent’s continuing development troubles as to what cultural re-orientation is necessary for Africa to prosper.

Part of the conclusions of the Quashigah funeral-progress thinking is that, prosperity-wise, it appears Ghanaians trust the dead more than the living. Quashigah’s thinking, in terms of trust, culture and prosperity, is seen in the prominent American international development guru Francis Fukuyama’s “Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity.” Fukuyama makes that case that there is impact of culture on economic prosperity and that the most “pervasive cultural characteristic influencing a nation's prosperity and ability to compete is the level of trust.” Add the syndrome of Pull Him Down (PHD), a cultural practice where Ghanaians destroy each other as they try to progress, to the craze to spend massively on the dead and than the living, and you get the Fukuyama case in Ghana. As Quashigah and others are doing, more Ghanaians in position of trust have to join the campaign to refine the inhibitions within their culture for prosperity.



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