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Opinions of Thursday, 19 July 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Roko Frimpong, the Family and the Culture

Leading American international development guru, Dr. Francis Fukuyama’s “Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity” reminds me of the shocking killing of Mr. Roko Frimpong, the late deputy managing director of the Ghana Commercial Bank, last week, allegedly by gunmen hired by some members of his family, over family property issues. As an Asante myself, sometimes the issue of property inheritance can be deadly, from either the maternal or paternal side, more so with social consequence of poverty increasing. Though Fukuyama’s work deals more with macro issues of “trust,” as a social capital, in terms of Roko’s death, the issue is “trust” as a micro matter and a glue that bonds families, clans, societies and nation-states together to act voluntarily, driven by its norms, values and traditions, for progress without any intrinsic feeling of fear from certain negative cultural practices.

Roko’s death brings to mind the thinking about the Ghanaian extended family and progress, more so as the fear of the Contract Killing phenomenon grips Ghana. Globally, a large amount of the progresses in the world are driven hugely by the family, as the foundation of society and prosperity. Pretty much of the global businesses are family owned, where strengths are drawn from family heritage and value systems, with extremely low level negativity. But where these family values are inhibited by strongly negative cultural practices, then the healthy values needed to drive prosperity become weak. Current international development and sociological literature reveals that globally, from Southeast Asia to Canada, over 70 percent of businesses, both locally and internationally, are family owned.

This brings to mind my encounter with some Ghanaians I meet some time ago at Carleton University in Ottawa who had come from Ghana for a World Bank sponsored international development conference. Our discussions revealed that the African extended family systems have not been appropriated properly for progress. Southeast Asia and Latin America, even some Europeans such as the Greeks and the Italians, have extended family in relation to the more nuclear ones. “Family firms make up anywhere from 80% to 90% of business enterprises in North America, according to a 2003 research article in the journal Family Business Review, although other studies put the number much lower, closer to 50%. A 2000 study of East Asian firms, however, found that more than two-thirds were controlled by families or individuals,” according to the prestigious University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School., which specializes in family businesses globally.

Our sense was that there may be some thing wrong with the African extended family system that has been stifling the broader use of the extended family for advancement. The extended family could do better for Africa’s progress if some of the inhibitions stifling it are refined. Actually all these talks of negative cultural values weakening Ghana’s development stem from the extended family, as foundation of society. Without being pedantic, our conclusion was that this has to be discussed openly as part of the broader development of Africa and as a stimulant for the emerging African Renaissance process. Stifling negative cultural values may range from shaky “trust” to all kinds of suspicions like witchcraft, voodoo, juju, marabout, Malams, native medicine, spiritualists of all sorts, who mix traditional Ghanaian juju-marabout rituals with Christian ones, and the Pull Him Down syndrome, among a long lists of negative syndromes, a practice where Ghanaians destroy each other as they try to progress, that have created in its wake excessive secrecy in dealing with one another and which has impacted negatively on progress.

Sociologist will tell you that the most dangerous place on earth is the family. The reason is that from your birth to your adulthood, members of your family know everything about you, and can use it either to aid your progress or stifle you. While the family is everything, driven by the culture of communalism, it can also be a source of danger, as Roko’s death and others before him indicate. That’s why the office of Prof. John Evans Atta Millis, leader of the main opposition National Democratic Party, voiced its concern about such family-directed hired killings. The Roko death reveals the changing face of the Ghanaian extended family, challenged by economic hardships, some spiritual weaknesses, pressures of globalization, and moral and disciplinary flaws.

But for all the extended family’s troubles, it is the only one Africa has got and should be modernized to not only avoid the Roko occurrences but also lubricate progress. For extreme shift towards a nuclear family, as a result of breakdown of the extended family, that is too individualistic, is unhealthy, as the Western world will tell you, as its elites work to re-shift its entrenched nuclear family towards the extended family system, as read in the works of Canadian thinker, Dr. Charles Taylor, 75, current winner of the $1.8 million (Canadian dollars) Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities.



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