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Opinions of Friday, 21 January 2011

Columnist: Darko, Otchere

The Government Should Control Funeral Celebrations In Ghana

By Otchere Darko

When society elects some members among it to form a Government to run and manage the affairs of State, it expects this Government to make and enforce laws and regulations that ensure that civil liberties are pursued with responsibility and sensibility. When people pursue individual liberties without taking into consideration their duty to society generally, then they cross the boundary of acceptability.

Weekends in Ghana have become times for funeral celebrations almost in every community in Ghana....... times when disruption of work, public order, peace and norm becomes acceptable in Ghana. Many hospitals and mortuaries become congested with mourners removing their “precious bodies”; many public roads are blocked with or without permission; many workers abandon work and leave for funerals; many parts of cities, towns and villages become saturated with boozing and misbehaving mourners; general atmosphere everywhere depicts colours of black and red symbolising melancholy, danger and anger; horns of taxis and private cars sound continuously as if the “devil” is on the loose; people splash cash gifts and funeral donations as if they manufacture money in their houses; permanent and ad hoc funeral committees lay long tables at all funerals to “scoop” from sympathisers the largest funeral donations as they can extract from funeral attendants; music playing, dancing and partying proceed alongside mourning creating contrasting atmospheres of sadness mixed with joy; and every hour out of a total of approximately sixty weekend hours is consumed by what has become known in Ghana as “Ghanaian funeral celebration”.

The annoying part of the whole drama is the fact that in some communities in Ghana funeral donations are compulsory fees that must be paid by all citizens of such communities, whether they are in town or whether they live abroad. One of such communities is where I come from. If a citizen fails to pay the prescribed compulsory funeral fee, that citizen forfeits his or her right to have a proper funeral when he or she dies. This means that citizens who stay abroad, or who live far away in some parts of Ghana have to make some arrangements for members of their families in town to pay on their behalf all funeral fees in respect of the funerals of all people who die in the town or village. However in all these communities that include my own, there are no “health care committees” that collect “health care fees” to help provide care for people who are ill and need medical care that is beyond their individual capabilities. When one considers the way we cherish dead in Ghana and spend thousands and millions of cedis on funeral while we never care as much about the millions of living Ghanaians who are poor and old who need our care, including health care, one wonders whether Ghanaians have any sense of value and priority.

In my opinion, it is time for the Government to do something realistic to stop the on-going waste of resources, time and everything on funerals. The practice of leaving individual communities and leaders to decide how funerals should be celebrated in various communities is a betrayal of public trust in the Government and, therefore, wrong on the part of the Government. The Government must make laws to regulate the way funerals can be celebrated anywhere in Ghana. Such laws should include a provision that restricts funerals to pure “family affairs”. By this I mean funerals must as much as possible be held within family confines. This means the practice in certain communities, such as my own, that allows funerals to be held at prescribed public places set aside for funerals should be outlawed. If funerals are “family affairs”, then the practice of blocking roads and streets for a whole day or for as long as a funeral last should also be outlawed. This would mean families have to plan the funerals of their deceased ones such that the ceremonies do not cause roads or streets to be blocked for longer than reasonable and cause public nuisance to road users and travellers. Families should also not be to lay tables for funeral donations and more specifically no community should make any form of arrangement that forces citizens of the community, other those who are members of the immediate or extended families of the deceased, to pay compulsory funeral fees. The Government regulatory laws should also prohibit the idea whereby communities set aside some special days as “funeral days”. This means families should make their funeral arrangements as it fits their members...... not as it fits the “community funeral timetable”, as it happens in my own community. Government funeral regulatory laws should also include provisions that limit funerals to only the day the deceased is buried. This is the common practice in most “civilised” communities.

There are many other areas where the Government can, and should make laws to control the way we waste time, resources and our energies on funeral celebrations. I am not a Muslim and do not want to bring religion into a discussion of this national character. However, I want to say that any Government regulation should be guided by the “simple way” Muslims generally conduct their funerals. *Readers who are not Muslims should not take offence from my recommending “Muslim funerals” to the entire Ghanaian population. All communities can, and should always borrow some good ideas from other communities. This is how civilisations and values spread from place to place in the past. *I am aware that my call on the Government to make laws to regulate funerals is Ghana will have a steep mountain to climb to reach welcoming ears at the top. This is because Ghana is a country where all our politicians use funeral ceremonies as platforms for their political campaigns. How can you convince an “African cat” that mouse-chasing is wrong and should be discontinued? An impossible task; or, at best, a daunting one; I vouch! All the same, it is a task that must be performed. *In my opinion, existing parties, and new ones that may spring up in future should tell Ghanaians how they view funerals celebrations and in the country; and how they plan to control them, if they disapprove of the way we waste time, resources and energies on funerals while more important community needs remain unattended to.

Source: Otchere Darko; [This writer is a centrist, semi-liberalist, pragmatist, and an advocate for “inter-ethnic cooperation and unity”. He is an anti-corruption campaigner and a community-based development protagonist. He opposes the negative, corrupt, and domineering politics of NDC and NPP and actively campaigns for the development and strengthening of “third parties”. He is against “a two-party only” system of democracy {in Ghana}....... which, in practice, is what we have today.]