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Opinions of Tuesday, 8 June 2004

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The Death Syndrome And Development

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong writes that the excessive addiction of Ghanaians to the dead is reminiscent of ancient Egypt and is counter-productive to the development process. But despite this some sort of development revolution is on the making led by a generation of Ghanaian elites and the media

As the issue of development takes center stage in the Ghanaian society attention is increasingly shifting to the huge money spent on funerals and the dead to the detriment of tackling living issues such as water, food, shelter, health and other socio-economic securities. The other day the Ghana News Agency reported that one Father John Christian Essel, of the Catholic Parish in Elmina, criticize the practice of Ghanaians preferring to make huge donations at funerals rather than ?using such monies to provide care and support for the aged and the needy in society.? Before this a district school board officer in the Lake Bosumtwi area in the Asante Region had advised parents and guardians to spend less on funeral ceremonies and more on the education and well-being of their children (Agriculture Minister, Major (rtd) Courage Quarshigah and his associates have observed the intelligent quotient of Ghanaians are dropping due to poor diet?a situation that has implications for the future development of Ghana).

This death complex is a national problem, though people of some religious background such as the Muslims spend less on funerals. It is confusing and heartless to see a society where most people are poor spend a huge amount of money and energy on the dead instead of improving their standard of living. A Ghanaian who lives in the United States and who visits Ghana frequent is constantly shocked at the rate at which people spend money and time on funerals. ?Every time I visits Ghana it appears this funeral thing is growing, especially in Kumasi,? he told me.

After spending such huge money on the dead they return back to their communities of poor sanitation, poor diet, weak education system, poor social infrastructure and poor security system. What kind of people are these who neglect their own basic needs, some of which is deteriorating almost everyday, and instead concentrate hugely on death. There have to be something wrong with such people, at least in Ghana?s current development process era hence the increasing condemnation from within and outside the Ghanaian society.

A Ghanaian-Canadian social scientist who has been observing the on-going dead and development debate blames the growing spiritual churches for the excessive obsession with the dead to the detriment of the living. ?Ghanaian churches worship dead bodies.? He said sadly. ?Why,? I asked him. ?The wake-keepings during funeral ceremonies involve a lot of money spending which could be used to improve the living. The churches make money from this wake-keeping?Three church services for the dead person!!! Nothing like that was done for Jesus Christ.?

I know an Asante man whose father died recently. The father had over 50 children and some 15 of them are in Europe and the United States. As one of the children told me, before the old man died he ate only once a day, was not in good health for long time and the sanitation of where he was living was ?very bad.? When the old man died he was given an extremely expensive burial, with some of the children fighting over who should buy the most expensive casket.

I asked the acquaintance, so why didn?t the children, especially those in overseas, contribute money every month for your father to eat well? I asked him again why didn?t the children contribute money to maintain his house yearly? Lastly, I asked the acquaintance, why didn?t the children contribute money to send the father every year to abroad for medical check-up?

These are development questions that wasn?t considered when the old man was alive by his children, and implemented when he was living but came full blown when he died--worshipping and fighting over the old man?s dead body over his living body. But the question one would is why do a society spend so much money over the dead rather than their living conditions? The answer is because of their culture. And who created the culture? Themselves.

Throughout history people who concentrate excessively on the dead rather than their own development process do not develop greatly, they develop rather slowly like a retarded person. The ancient Egyptians come to mind. As you will see from the magnificent pyramids, ancient Egypt was developing well ahead of most of the cultures in the region, even ahead of the Europeans but was so obsessed with the dead that most of their creative genius, money and energy was concentrated so much on the dead that by the time they were could say the word ?development? Europe had gone too far in the development game. (The European themselves at the early period of their development had the same dead syndrome culture but the dawn of the Enlightenment changed them from a society obsessed with the dead to one that look after the living, informed with reasoning. This occurred not too long ago just over 1000 years ago).

The talks about the dead and the development process signal the sudden outburst of debate about the Ghanaian culture and the development process. It is reminiscent of the European Enlightenment era and reveals on-going revolution, a revolution born out of the on-going development process that comes from within Ghana and not imposed. This is informed by international communication and the growing diasporan Ghanaian population who are increasing comparing their society with the global system. Ghanaian elites and the media, who are being challenged to think through contemporary values and Ghana?a development, are leading the cultural revolution. It is, therefore, not surprising to hear the Minister of Environment and Science, Professor Kasim Kasanga, saying that ?irrational ways of solving problems based on superstition has become the biggest obstacle facing the nation? and, therefore, ?called for the adoption of scientific methods of explaining problems rather than relying on superstition.?


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