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Opinions of Sunday, 28 October 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Sampson Boafo: Unlikely Patron of Change

For some time, Ghanaians have been in state of misunderstanding as to what values drive their development process. At the national level they have known only the ex-colonial neo-liberal values. At the village level their indigenous values. Hooked into world historical stage by colonialism, Ghanaians’ progress was anchored in Western development paradigms that didn’t appropriate Ghanaian traditional values. Traditional values driving Ghanaians’ progress before colonialism were trapped, and whole tried and tested norms and values bottled. Since 2006, these shelled of the traditional values are cracking, the colonial entrapment of the values dropping away gradually, and something new, alive, refreshing exploding into the Ghanaian air in a flurry of discussions, policy and bureaucratic considerations. Ghanaians now talk, using the power of mass communication networks, about the positive and inhibiting values of their culture without any fear of ethnocentrisms.

Ghana’s development process has taken on a new lightness of being. The education system, a key area to retool the development process and for long unbalanced, has seen traditional values inserted in the curriculum; national development planners are being encouraged to hatch a new paradigm that appropriate Ghanaian traditional values; visions of politicians increasingly reflect Ghanaian values – key presidential aspirant Nana Akufo-Addo talk of “indigenous capitalism;” the Parliament of Ghana has criminalized some inhibiting cultural values overtime, the recent being the dreaded female genital mutilation; Ministers of the three northern regions, which are believed to have protracted cultural inhibitions that are partly inhibiting their progress, are campaigning for the refinement of these unprogressive values. All these are bouncing off through the growing plurality of the mass media Ghana-wide and helping to educate millions of Ghanaians.

The transformation has a scatterbrained, hallucinatory quality, its revelations growing day after day. The wall that divided ex-colonial heritage and traditional Ghana and sealed Ghana’s progress for sometime is gradually being reconfigured. Added to Ghanaian institutions attempting to reconfigure themselves are the World Bank, the International and Monetary Fund – key faces of Western neo-liberal development paradigms – adapting to the fact that they have to factor in traditional Ghanaian values in their programs. Before the eyes of Ghanaians there are debates enjoining Ghanaian policy-makers, consultants, and bureaucrats to deconstruct certain old practices that do not consider Ghanaian traditional values and incorporate traditional values of the very people they profess to assist in their progress. After years of insensitive changelessness, the Ghanaian development process has come alive with energy and thoughtfulness that have taken on a stimulating, potentially holistic life of its own. Not even witchcraft, juju-marabout mediums, Malams, traditional healers and other spiritualists are immune.

The magician who has set loose these forces of reconfiguring Ghana’s development process is a faithful member of the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP), charismatic politician, hard-driven visionary, a thinker, and impresario of the calculated scheme aimed at awakening the long-suppressed Ghanaian traditional values in its development process is Sampson Kwaku Boafo, a former Ashanti Regional Minister. His aim is not only to showcase the culture, of which his Kumasi base is a remarkable mirror and which Ghanaians know pretty well, but appropriate it as part of Ghana’s policy-making and bureaucratization in order to balance the long-running unbalanced development paradigms. In doing so, the long dearth of confidence, wobbly Ghanaian personality and dignity, and weak patriotism will be restored.

Quietly, Boafo, backed by some emerging thinkers and institutions that share his vision, calls what he is doing a process, which might have started even during first President Kwame Nkrumah’s time – and he does this by involving policy-makers, bureaucrats, consultants, traditional institutions, the mass media, non-governmental and governmental institutions, international organizations, and Ghanaians. Boafo’s process has (so far) been accepted by the Ghanaian public, the increasingly influential transnational Ghanaians, and the intelligentsia, who see countries in Southeast Asia working in concert with their traditional values and neo-liberalism, without any ethnocentrisms. In the novel alliance of traditional and neo-liberal values, Boafo has become the patron of change: calling on Ghanaians to collaborate to refine the inhibitions within their culture for progress and seeing such inhibiting cultural practices like witchcraft and culturally-induced violence against women under public scrutiny.

Boafo’s process is oiled by more freedom in a global system where people are thinking well than the ethnocentrically charged years of Kwame Nkrumah. At the beginning of their years, South African Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thebo Mbeki floated the African Renaissance process as a way of awakening Africa’s long-suppressed culture for progress. Boafo, who comes from one of Ghana’s leading cultural centres – including the highest number of the now condemned excessive funeral ceremonies – knows, at practical level, about how Ghana’s indigenous culture can be appropriated for progress and how his activities may have sparked a national and transnational debate about culture and progress. In the northern regions of Ghana, elites such as Alhassan Samari, the Upper East Regional Minister, are working to refine certain inhibitions that have dogged their progress despite noteworthy efforts by various governments. Ghana is made up of 56 ethnic groups some of which certain inhibiting cultural practices are so strong that their progress is entangled by them. It is, therefore, not a messy and dangerous experiment that Boafo is appropriating Ghana’s democratic and global values, with its growing openness, to challenge Ghanaians to think about their long-suppressed culture for progress.

The potential to open up Ghana’s culture for progress is enormous, and if bureaucrats and policy-makers are skillful enough, could reduce pretty much of the so-called poverty in the real sense. The traditionally rich informal economic sector, which is made up of over 70 per cent of Ghanaians, is not factored in when policy-makers are working on national development planning is one. The nation-wide advocacy for Ghanaians to eat more of their indigenous food for health reasons instead of the fatty Western ones is another. Boafo and his like-minded circle have opened the Ghanaian culture for fuller discussion, challenging Ghanaian elites to think about both the inhibiting and good aspects of the culture – the yin and yang of the culture: traditional rulers vs. modern governance, witchcraft vs. rationality, excessive funeral ceremonies vs. socio-economic development. Boafo is a hero for what he would not do – in fact couldn’t do without tearing some aspects of the Ghanaian culture for the future. Boafo has been a powerful symbolic presence in Ghana’s imagination since he first occupied the Chieftaincy and Culture Affairs Ministry in 2006. But what exactly does Boafo symbolize? Change and hope for a Ghana where its rich traditional values are suppressed in its progress and a good number of its citizens don’t think well about their culture as a foundational value for progress because of distortions of colonialism and Ghanaian elites’ shaky grasp of the country’s progress.

With remarkable imagination and daring, Boafo has embarked on a path that is perhaps now irreversible, that’s shaping Ghana - a Royal College of Chiefs is on the table to bring traditional rulers openly into modern governance as a compliment of the central government; this contrast sharply with the late President Kwame Nkrumah’s harsh marginalization of the chieftaincy institution in the 1960s and its subsequent negative impact on progress. Boafo is trying to transform a system that has no regard for its own foundational traditional values, for obvious historical reasons, but also inherently thinks its culture is no good for its progress. Boafo has been attempting to overturn the old and poorly thought-out way for a new Ghana, altering the relationship of Ghana with its development process and changing the nature of the nation-state itself. As the Greek thinker Plato would say, Boafo is helping Ghanaians to understand and known themselves in the global development process. With emerging thinkers such as George Ayittey, Courage Quashigah, Bernard Guri and Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, Boafo is attempting to open new vistas, demolish certain old inhibiting thinking embedded in the culture, and replace them by challenging Ghanaians to refine the inhibiting aspects and appropriate the good parts for progress.

Boafo and the other emerging thinkers advocate a new enlightened policy-making and bureaucratization regime where traditional Ghanaian values are mixed with the global neo-liberal ones, as the Southeast Asians and others have done, in Ghana’s progress. The idea is to balance Ghana’s development paradigms, for long dominated by foreign development ones, with traditional Ghanaian development paradigms in a climate of universal prosperity founded on reason, to paraphrase John Gray in “From the Great Transformation to the Global Free Market.” Boafo and his Culture Ministry’s ambition are more comprehensive: to repair deformations of the Ghanaian developmental character that go back decades. The global Renaissance and Enlightenment never arrived in Ghana, as J.H. Mensah, chair of National Economic Planning Commission, argue, and calls for an African Renaissance. Boafo is a Renaissance Man. Traditional Ghanaian values are not openly used in the development process, thus making the culture not critically distilled enough for progress. This has affected Ghanaians’ self-esteem and self-confidence, further battered by a world that demeans, for obvious historical reasons, the Ghanaian culture simply because they don’t see it being used comprehensively for progress as the Southeast Asians have done.

Despite the pretensions of Kwame Nkrumah, J.B. Danquah and other Founding Fathers, the system that bears their name is manifestly not firstly driven by Ghanaians’ foundational norms and values, and not even the master of its own domain but other non-Ghanaian values that the average Ghanaian thinks is superior to theirs. Sampson Boafo is Kwame Nkrumah, Thebo Mbeki and Sekou Toure of African Renaissance all wrapped in one, helping to change the metaphysics of the development process. Boafo wants Ghanaians understand the development process from within their own traditional values first and reconcile themselves into a whole and prosperous global society. In doing this, Ghanaian elites are to play simultaneously with some accepted versions of Western institutions and values and traditional Ghanaian values and institutions in the larger progress of Ghana. For long, Ghanaians live in paranoid isolation, thinking their values are inferior (an old Ghanaian feeling) and estranged from their own culture from the global society as if they have no traditional values worthy of open appropriation for progress.

For almost two years, Boafo, backed by the emerging thinkers, who never doubted the future of Ghana, has remarkably become a sort of Zen genius of the Ghanaian development process: active and roaming nation-wide, enlightening, teaching, juggling, mixing, talking, arguing, debating, projecting, conferencing, discussing, activating, and opening up the culture, encouraging traditional rulers to open up and get involve in the progress of their communities, challenging the sleepy elites to reason out from within Ghanaian traditional values, and calling on Ghanaians to help eradicate the noxious inhibitions within their culture. Boafo has a way of letting Ghanaians, most of who do not think through their traditional values in their larger development process, see and understand the significance and virtues of their traditional values in their progress, as the Southeast Asians have done.

Much more than that, whether by accident or providence, Boafo is a visionary playing complex and contradictory roles. Boafo is simultaneously Okomfo Anokye and Kwame Nkrumah, the ruling National Patriotic Party apparatchik as J.B. Danquah, Kofi Busia and S.D. Dombo. Sampson Kweku Boafo, Minister of Culture and Chieftaincy Affairs, is a developmental navigator.



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