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Opinions of Sunday, 30 December 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Re-Understanding Ghana's Development Process

In “Rebellion, Revolution, and Tradition: Reinterpreting Coups in Ghana,” Maxwell Owusu, of the University of Michigan, describes how during the era of military coups and instabilities (1970s to the 1980s) in Africa, particularly Ghana, that marked Africa’s era of political instabilities, the overriding analytical viewpoints have been Marxist and non-Marxist that grounded images and views of change that largely originated from Western historical experiences.

Owusu explains that this buried the “great historical and cultural differences between African and European local socio-political realities.” Still, in development terms, these masked not only the non-factoring in of cultural differences in development policy-making but also carried on the misinterpretation by ignoring the vital part of “traditional beliefs and practices, indigenous political ideology, attitudes and outlooks” in understanding the political instabilities that dogged Ghana and Africa.

In reinterpreting Ghana’s era of instabilities from its traditional values, Owusu elucidates a cruel reality in attempting to re-understand Ghana as a development project, as today people like the Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin, Okyenhene, and Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11 have become not only Ghana’s development conscience but the new re-development interpreters through Ghana’s traditional values. The British colonialism that created Ghana didn’t do that because they weren’t from any of the over 2,000 African ethnic groups.

The urgent need to re-understand Ghana, as a development project, is necessitated by the fact that the development paradigms running Ghana for the past 50 years have been viewed solely from Western development ideals without recourse to Ghana’s “traditional beliefs and practices, indigenous political ideology, attitudes and outlooks.” The disbelief is as if before the Europeans came to Ghana the 56 ethnic groups forming the Ghana nation-state had no traditional development principles driving their existence.

In a Ghana in continent which region is the only area in the world where its development process is dominated by foreign paradigms to the detriment of its rich traditional values and experiences, the Okyenhene, among long list of some concerned elites, has of recent times being arguing for the need to reinterpret Ghana’s development process from within its traditional values. The reason is that over 70 percent of Ghanaians in the informal socio-economic sector values are not reflected critically in Ghana’s development process. The challenge is how to re-cast this developmentally so as to balance the policies running Ghana and give the Ghana development project the same sense of “traditional beliefs and practices, indigenous political ideology, attitudes and outlooks” as the Western ones. This will give the soul of the Ghana development process peace of mind to mend itself, and reconcile the best and worst of its traditions, as the battle to synchronize Ghana’s development soul rages on. The challenge isn’t the perceived cultural differences of the multi-ethnic make up of Ghana – in fact the perceived cultural differences are just geographic and not cultural, since, more or less, the cultures of the 56 ethnic groups forming Ghana are practically the same. The test, as Botswana and most of the Southeast Asian countries have demonstrated, and as the World Bank has advised, is how to mix Ghanaian traditional development values with the Western ones in the new attempt to reinterpret Ghana’s progress.

It is in the absence of such critical re-think that the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11, blamed Africa's troubled progress “on the neglect and abandonment of the continent's culture and traditional heritage.” And for a long time this has created psychological crises Africa-wide, leaving Africans with weak confidence not only in their traditional values, as development ideals, but think they are at the mercy of Western development paradigms, a situation that makes them less human capable of advanced progress.

In this sense, of considerable concern is the idea of the Ghana nation-state and citizenship as a civic and development issues simultaneously. At 50 years, the idea of the Ghanaian citizenship is yet to be interpreted from within Ghanaian traditional values and how this ultimately will flow into the emerging Ghanaian democracy. This makes the National Commission for Civic Education’s Project Citizen Ghana a traditional value issue whether aimed at understanding democracy and governance, citizenship, patriotism, “society that sacrifices personal gains for national interest, benefit and development,” or responsibility. In this context, the necessary discipline needed to sustain Ghana as a development project is both traditional and global.

Traditionally, before President Kwame Nkrumah and his associates emerged as the new ruling elites of independent Ghana in 1957, Okomfo Anokye and his associates from the other 56 ethnic groups that form Ghana were driven by their traditional values and ideals that sustained them. One of the troubles of modern Ghana is that it is yet to interpret Ghana from its traditional values and articulate what it stands for. The lack of this has affected the mind-set of Ghana as a development project that has made it difficult to understand where Ghana is heading in its development venture.

Part of the reason may be earlier mistakes committed by some ethnic groups, who didn’t understand Ghana as a coalition of 56 ethnic groups with basically the same traditional values. A weak sense of nation-hood is further demonstrated by earlier elites in terms of creating policies and bureaucracy from a mixture of Ghanaian traditional values and the ex-colonial ones as Botswana and Southeast Asians countries have done. Despite priding itself as “Black Star of Africa,” which demands a high sense of weaving Africa’s traditional values with its ex-colonial and the global development values in its progress, Ghana doesn’t reveal this but Botswana does.

The most telling is not using of any of the indigenous Ghanaian languages nationally as is its ex-colonial English language. Dr. Daniel Tetteh Osabu-Kle, a political scientist at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada explains that at the earlier period of independence President Nkrumah and his associates had the thought of using Akan with English as first national languages but some lethal events made them to shelve the idea before Nkrumah was overthrown in 1966. The first event was attempted assassination of Nkrumah just six months after becoming Prime Minister; the second the Asantes attempt to break away from Ghana; and the last, the Ewes campaigns to secede from the country. This created the impression that attempt to pick any of the indigenous languages as national language would have created more chaos and eventually disintegrate Ghana.

This aside, whether in Ghana or other African states, broadly, as Adam B. Bodomo, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, indicates in “On Language and Development in Africa: The Case of Ghana,” African elites “often ignored linguistic and other socio-cultural resources” in the continent’s development process, and this has impacted negatively on progress. Nowhere in Ghana’s progress should this ignorance be corrected and reinterpretation initiated from its traditional resources than Ghana’s policy-making and bureaucracy, given the political will.

As the German sociologist Max Weber has broadly explained, whether seen as “rules of offices” or “structure and regulations to control activity” or “interpretation and execution of policy,” a new interpretation of Ghanaian bureaucracy, as the key executor of policies, as the ears and eyes of Ghanaians’ development concerns, and as the innovative intellectual playground of Ghanaians’ progress, should be informed by Ghanaian traditional values in relation to the global prosperity architecture. Here, the bureaucrats become magicians, juggling Ghanaian traditional values with the ex-colonial, global development ideals. In the same context, in the reinterpretation of Ghana’s progress, the bureaucrats become alchemists, mixing Ghanaian traditional values with the global development principles. The idea is to balance the informal (traditional resources) and the formal (orthodox ideals) influences in the Ghanaian development process so as to give confidence to Ghanaian values as development fodder.

In reinterpreting Ghana’s development process from within its traditional values, Ghana’s progress will also be seen from its traditional analytical viewpoint as will from the global development perspectives, as other countries have done. This will resolve the controversial American scientist Dr. James Dewey Watson’s allegation that “Africans are less intelligent than Europeans because all their social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really.”

The likelihood is, Ghana’s development process will have a genuine sense of life. The overriding analytical viewpoints will then be Western as well as Ghanaian/African historical experiences. And this will resolve the “great historical and cultural differences between African and European local socio-political realities,” as Owusu argues, and make the designing of Ghana’s progress aware of its “traditional beliefs and practices, indigenous political ideology, attitudes and outlooks.”



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