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Opinions of Sunday, 16 September 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Rationalizing Ghana

The process to develop Ghana could be complex: sometimes daunting, sometimes dreadful, sometimes incomprehensible, sometimes confusing, sometimes helpless, sometimes in disarray, sometimes shallow, and sometimes refreshing. Once a playground of military juntas, autocrats, and confused one-party apparatchiks, Ghana appears to have seen it all in its attempts to develop – with all kinds of development paradigms experimented. But the issue isn’t that Ghanaian elites didn’t try, they did. The issue, in terms of today’s emerging thinking, is that all these attempts weren’t critically informed by the Ghanaian environment – the norms, values and traditions. For most of the past 50 years, Ghanaian elites thought Ghanaians have nothing – no norms, no values and no traditions, and hatched policies over policies without even consulting the National House of Chiefs, the main custodians of values and traditions. Policy-development, bureaucratization and consultancies have been awfully, fashioned without any corresponding inputs from innate Ghanaian norms, values and traditions.

In the ensuing huge failures of Ghanaian elites, the good aspects of the Ghanaian culture, for long suppressed by colonialism and the very Ghanaian elites, have not been appropriated for policy-development - making the Ghanaian development process distorted and the scene dominated by foreign development paradigms as if Ghana is Europe or the Western world (Throughout the world it is only in Ghana and other African states that foreign development paradigms dominate their development process). No doubt, a large number of Ghanaians have no faith, trust and confidence in their own norms, values and confidence as drivers for progress, further scrambling the development process. As an extension to these inadequacies, the inhibiting aspects of the culture have not seen fuller attempts to refine them in order to further open up the development process, with a lot of Ghanaians under the clutches of certain parts of their culture that violates their human rights.

However, Ghana is moving with the spirit of the times. No doubt, Mr. Alhassan Samari, the Upper East Regional Minister, joins the chorus of some Ghanaian elites talking about considering the culture in the development process, especially in policy-making and bureaucratization. Their thinking is not just considering the culture for progress, for obvious historical reasons, their thinking is opening and activating the culture, as the soul of Ghanaians, by appropriating the good aspects for policy-development and bureaucratization, and at the same time, working to refine the inhibitions for progress. Most countries have gone through this before and are still working to refine inhibitions within their culture for progress. Though relatively developed before World War 11, the United States occupation discovered that there were inhibitions in traditional Japanese land system, among other inhibitions. To free its traditionally clutched lands for progress, as Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw examine in “The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy,” the US occupation and Japanese elites “implemented land reform and broke the zaibatsu, the great industrial/financial combinations.”

In the same collaborative manner – between neo-liberal and traditional Ghana - Mr. Samari asks the National House of Chiefs, key carriers of culture and key face of traditional Ghana, to distill the culture and proactively help ensure that its inhibiting cultural practices that hinder human progress are refined. That could be pretty tough, and nobody said it is an easy task. It will need both juggling and mixing here and there, and, that, too, will demand remarkable skills in mass communication and policy-making. And Mr. Samari, like most Ghanaians who think in this direction, started with bold step, telling his regional House of Chiefs, who are normally feared, for obvious cultural reasons, face-to-face to help deal with their societies’ cultural inhibitions, which have been left unattended to for extremely long time and has eroded their progress. Years past, this would have been unheard of, telling traditional rulers to help refine counter-productive values, people would have cried of ethnocentrism. Ghana is developing, moving with the times.

Mr. Samari not only rationalizes and challenges the Ghanaian culture for progress but also open up the urgency for its refinement, starting from the three northern regions where there are strong opinions Ghana-wide that certain of their cultural practices are partly responsible for their developmental backwardness – it is the poorest area. In this sense, pretty much of the battle to refine the cultural inhibitions confronting Ghana will be played out in the northern regions – their success will have domino effect nationally, regionally and continentally. “Certain outmoded and negative cultural practices are too dehumanizing to the people. Human beings cannot be treated like a beast. With civilization, we need to move forward…Our revered chiefs are please requested to take these kind suggestions as a challenge and explore proactive means to get rid of our society of these rather outmoded cultural practices that seek to draw back our clock of development,” the Ghana News Agency/MyJoyFM (September 10, 2007) quoted Mr. Samari as saying.

What are some of the cultural inhibitions Mr. Samari want refined: “widowhood rites, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, tribal marks and depriving girls of the right to education” and, of course, witchcraft and ritual killings. In Mr. Samari the rationalization of Ghana’s progress is on-going, aided not only by the emerging new generation of thinkers but also sustained by forces of globalization and activities of transnational Ghanaians, who have seen, over the years, how other societies have attempted to refined their cultural inhibitions for progress. But while Mr. Samari thinks that “unlike in the past, it was now criminal to engage in some of these negative cultural practices and warned that perpetrators would be made to face the law,” a lot of the refinement will come not necessarily from legal criminalization of certain inhibiting cultural practices but more critically from massive public education, in the face of booming media plurality, especially in indigenous Ghanaian languages, and matured policy-making, bureaucratization and consultancies.



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