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Opinions of Monday, 27 December 2010

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Scientists, Journalists Collide with Superstitions

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

Perhaps nowhere in the world is the journalist life more burdensome and complicated than in Africa where long running entrapping ancient believes - some stalling, some destructive, some frightening, and some formidable - clash with modern better living. For some time, front-line Ghanaian elites and journalists have become seriously aware of this. They have been working tenaciously to refine the inhibiting primeval values that have been jamming progress, as part of their public goodwill.

From Ghana’s number one international personality Kofi Annan to the remote northern small town of Bongo, the Ghanaian culture is under intense scrutiny to refine its embedded inhibitions such as witchcraft as the cause of deaths or sicknesses or diseases. Day in, day out, an area of the Ghanaian culture is opened up and dissected that are deem either counter-productive that need to be refined or that should be appropriated for policy development.

The outcome is that old believes are being challenged, erroneous thinking are being rationalized, and strange believes being questioned. One of the drivers of this enlightenment thinking are the Ghanaian journalists, who are using their front-line knowledge, their powers of mass communications and their understanding of the Ghanaian culture to drive the enlightenment. The journalists are encouraged by the global prosperity ideals and similar enlightenment movements that have taken place elsewhere such as the European and Japanese Enlightenment projects.

Some of these activities have come in collaborative ways such as the one with the Ghana Academy Of Arts and Sciences on Communicating Science for Journalists in Accra (Myjoyonline.com 12/17/2010).

Of major boost to the Ghanaian enlightenment campaigns is the fact that the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded in 1959 and the oldest Academy in sub-Sahara Africa, formally recognizing that certain aspects of the Ghanaian/African culture are counter-productive to better living and need to be either abolished or refined. The Academy stance will bring depth and creative energy to the enlightenment project. By organizing the Accra workshop for the journalists, the Academy has officially joined the enlightenment campaigns and made the project an uncompromising national enterprise.

In a country where the rational and the irrational values emanating from the culture could determine how better an individual lives, even sometimes between life and death, the journalist becomes the final arbiter, refereeing between the realistic and the absurd. Like a skilled magician, the journalist does this by juggling diverse issues, values and institutions at the same time to enlighten the Ghanaian public about some of the long-held strange believes that have made life somehow miserable for them. The Academy is practically aware of this, hence its capacity building of the Ghanaian journalist.

When a scientist, Seth Danso, of the University of Ghana, said at the workshop that herbal medicine practitioners are right in claiming “a single herbal preparation can cure many diseases,” he was in a way tackling a dilemma that view the traditional herbalists as unscientific. Here Danso and the Academy enhance the traditional herbalists, and make the case that they are as near-scientific as the orthodox ones despite the fact that they are looked down upon and aren’t consulted in the grand schemes of the healthcare system.

Wisdom dictates that the foundational realities of Ghana, and other African states, would have made the largely orthodox health system collaborated with traditional medicine, as the Chinese and Indians have wisely and successfully done. Whether wisdom or science or reasoning is in short supply, the task is how to free Ghanaians (and Africans) from wallowing in some poisonously entangling superstitions that either make them die early or live uncomfortable lives or think erroneously or entertain strange believes or cannot live better lives freed from fear of certain cultural believes.

Part of the solution, as it occurred at the Academy workshop, is for Ghanaian journalists, as part of public intellectuals, to be realistic of the Ghanaian/African unique situation and design their mass communications operations in tackling the restraining traditional values that have made the Ghanaian/African not able to life a better life. In a way, the journalist has to fully team up with the scientist and the thinker to interpret issues that border on the ensnaring negative superstitions.

Such efforts will erase the primordial erroneous believes, such as the one Seth Danso revealed, that “people with chronic sores often attribute them to curses and spiritism or spiritual attacks when the cause of such sores could easily be diabetes” or other diseases. The cooperation by journalists and scientists to further rationalize the Ghanaian society and culture is dauntingly an eclectic endeavour. It isn’t only about diseases or attribution of events to evil forces but also the use of spiritualists of all types to either influence or destroy or control one another.

Aboagye Menyeh, a scientist from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, made known how superstitions have asphyxiated Ghanaians reasoning to the extent that when they are seeking for travel visas instead of providing material evidence for the visa they ignorantly “go for prayers” (that may sometimes involve some disturbing rituals including animal sacrifices) or consult juju-marabout spiritual mediums to influence the various diplomatic embassies for visas. This is part of the certain inhibiting aspects of the culture that have stifled reasoning in the face of realities. In other parts of the world, people going for travel visas do not under go all these breathless superstitious practices.

How are the journalists to help Ghanaians stop such flawed thinking? More rationalization of the Ghanaian society through, among others, using science and reasoning to interpret occurrences that emanate from the Ghanaian/African culture. The outstanding journalist Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, one of the trainers at the Academy workshop, is instructive in the attempt to refine the inhibitions emanating from within the Ghanaian culture.

From Sakyi-Addo’s vast coverage of the conflicts in the northern parts of Ghana, he has come to the alarming conclusion that the never-ending conflicts are partly fuelled by easy access to juju-marabout paraphernalia prepared for the fighters by juju-marabout spiritual mediums. Despite believes in juju-marabouts and other superstitious accoutrements, some of the fighters are killed, some are maimed, some are permanently traumatised, and some are arrested. Disturbingly, the conflicts continue, holding back the progress of the areas under conflicts.

It is in the recovering of itself from 51 years of slumber in relations to the real Ghanaian development realities, while the toxic cultural inhibitions wheel around it, that the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences initiated the Communicating Science for Journalists workshop. In this sense, the Academy instinctively acknowledges that the Ghanaian society has troubling hindering cultural challenges that have been weakening better living and that need to be addressed to facilitate the real sustainable progress of Ghana.