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Opinions of Monday, 7 April 2008

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Sakyi-Addo, Conflicts and Amulets

Either because of colonialism that suppressed Ghanaian traditional values or Ghanaian elites’ weak grasp of their nation-state from within the foundational traditional values or may be the European enlightenment project might not have reached Ghana or as the late Senegalese President Leopold Senghor observed that Ghanaians/Africans cannot think well, there are huge inhibitions within the African culture that have been stifling advancement since freedom from colonial rule some 50 years ago that are yet to see attempts to refine them for progress.

But gradually the “Black Star” of Africa, Ghana, which is supposed to be the continent’s centre of enlightenment and progress in thought, is finding its feet, with attempts to discuss openly and rationalize some of its foundational traditional cultural values that have been stifling its progress in relation to global prosperity values. That may be the reason why the ruling National Patriotic Party’s presidential candidate for the 2008 elections, Nana Akufo-Addo, arguing for detail discussion of national issues to tackle Ghana’s developmental challenges, has set up a Traditional Committee within his presidential campaign team, as part of considering traditional values for progress.

Nana Akufo-Addo’s and other elites’ thinking of engaging the inhibitions within the Ghanaian culture for advancement is seen in the prominent journalist Kweku Sakye-Addo, formerly of the British Broadcasting Corporation and currently General Manager (Communications) for Aqua Vitens Rand Limited, operators of Ghana Water Company, analysis of how, among some of the reasons for the never-ending conflicts in Bawku, in Ghana’s Upper East Region, is “superstition.” “I believe, though, that superstition and ignorance are the fuel for Africa's many conflicts, including Bawku,” Sakye-Addo writes in the Accra-based The Statesman, drawing from the insights of his coverage of Bawku and other conflicts areas in the northern parts of Ghana.

In Bawku, Sakye-Addo discovered how negative superstition that come in the form of amulets and charms drive the regions’ conflicts by blocking reasoning, rationalization, make normally decent people stupid and wicked in the context of an environment that is very poor and needs greater peace and soberness to develop or, as they say, “catch up with the rest of Ghana.”

Sakye-Addo’s overly superstition-ridden Bawku conflicts are yet to see mediators factor in traditional issues like the appropriation of charms, amulets and other superstitions. For while resolution of conflicts involve considering all aspects of the issues being disputed, each conflict has to be seen in certain cultural context. In Bawku part of the reason is blind appropriation of the booming juju-marabouts mediums that prepare the amulets for the conflicts and subsequently help retard Bawku and deepens its already precarious poverty level. A Bawku, a reminder! Liberia, as much as everyone knows now, was partly destroyed by its elites irrational appropriation of the Bawku superstitious diet – amulets, talismans, juju-marabout mediums, all sorts of mindless spiritualists in free fall, spiritualists party, human sacrifice normalized, incomprehensibly fearful rituals such as the late President Samuel Doe got involved, with amulets and goat horn wrapped around his wait, bathing with the blood of virgins periodically as part of his juju rituals fortification. And President Charles Taylor and other elites mired in near-mass human sacrifices, among other strange superstitions, during the 14-year civil war.

The Bawku prevalence resonate Africa-wide and is so cultured in Liberia that on June 29, 2005, prior to Liberia’s current democratic dispensation, its interim leader, Gyude Bryant, warned any aspiring presidential candidates tempting to boost their chances by carrying out human sacrifices that they would be executed. "If you think you can take somebody's life in order to be president, or the speaker (of parliament) or a senator, without anything being done to you, then you are fooling yourself.” And the outcome is “even further backwardness,” as Sakye-Addo argues of Uganda’s Lord Resistance Army and the Sierra Leonean and the Liberian civil wars, where human hearts were eaten for rituals. “It's all a lot of nonsense that leads to needless fighting, destruction…”

In Bawku, while the scientific side of the mind demand objective evidence as to why amulets and juju should let them commit conflicts perennially, their brains’ mythopoeic, irrational amulets-juju-thinking side entice them to irrational marvels – to the believe that “an attacker's knife will fail to pierce simply by staring cross-eyed at it, they do not hesitate to start a fight. Neither are they keen to make peace in mid-battle, if they're convinced that their chest can deflect bullets and arrows once they have on some goatskin armband and they remember to yell a password,” as Sakye-Addo explains.

Bawku, like most parts of Ghana, may reflect its elites mind – a peculiar psychic disturbance where deadly negative superstition roam supreme against rational choices. A people who whose elites’ mind is overly dominated by irrational parts of their culture cannot think well. That may be the reason why the late Senegalese President Leopold Senghor, echoing Western perception of that Africa elites’ range of thinking, observed that Africans cannot think well and brought in Europeans when he faced acute developmental challenges.

In Sakye-Addo, the perennial Bawku conflicts and negative superstitions, a new journalism practices that, where appropriate, interpret national issues from within Ghana’s traditional values is made crystal clear and called for. In this sense, this also calls for a new broader Ghanaian journalism philosophy* that incorporates Ghanaian/African traditional values and history into reporting. Sakye-Addo brilliantly did that, by letting the average Ghana know that part of the reasons for the perpetual conflicts at Bawku is easy appropriation of charms, amulets, juju-marabout mediums and other traditional negative superstitious beliefs.

*See African Journalism Within the Ethos of the African Renaissance by Kofi Akosah-Sarpong (Master of Journalism thesis, 2001, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada)