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Opinions of Saturday, 17 January 2009

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The dawn of development wisdom

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

For the good part of its corporate existence, Ghana has seen the destructive practice of new regimes either discontinuing or destroy development programs of the previous regimes. It doesn’t matter whether civilian or military junta, it has been the same old, same old unconstructive thinking. It emanates from certain dark aspects of the Ghanaian culture.

It is the Pull Them/Him/Her syndrome. The macro of this syndrome is where successive governments destroy other governments’ project – it is Pull Them Down. In contrast, the micro is Pull Him/Her Down syndrome where individuals destroy individuals, in the fashion of crabs trying to pull other crabs down as they try to move out of a trap, from progressing.

But over time, there appears to be development consciousness that Pull Him/Her Down or Pull Them Down is a development obstacle and inhibit progress and has to be eliminated. Now there appears to be an awakening, after years of self-destruction. The new understanding is that in either destroying or discontinuing or not thinking how to recast the developments projects of previous regimes, Ghana is hurting itself developmentally.

The solution to refining the Pull Them Down syndrome, at both macro and micro level, is wisdom. Yes! the age old Okomfo Anokye wisdom that saw him and his pal Osei Tutu 1 create the great Asante Empire. For the past 51 years as a sovereign development project, wisdom, as a developmental mechanism, appears to have gone into exile, seeing Ghana appear immature, mindless, rudderless, soulless, and self-doubt. Wisdom, say the sages in all cultures, is “knowledge, understanding, experience, discretion, and intuitive understanding, along with a capacity to apply these qualities well towards finding solutions to problems.”

Developmental wisdom for that matter, as Osei Tutu 1 and Okomfo Anokye did. By failing to appropriate the traditional wisdom of the coalition of the 56 ethnic groups that form Ghana, contemporary Ghanaian leaders/elites have revealed the global view that African leaders/elites cannot think well – more from within their cultural values in their development process.

But things will change. New Ghana President John Atta-Mills stated the obvious when he said, two days before his inauguration on January 7 that in all things that he asks from God, he seeks for “wisdom” in ruling Ghana. That’s pretty much a new open presidential vision on the Ghanaian politico-development scene. This will make him neutralize the Pull Them Down syndrome that has destroyed large number of development projects left behind by previous governments.

Atta-Mills, though a former professor of law at the University of Ghana, knows the power of knowledge but quickly acknowledges with humility the immense values of wisdom in development, and indicates that wisdom will drive his development process and asks for God’s guidance openly. This is very humbling. By touting wisdom as a developmental motor, Atta-Mills has tapped deep into Ghanaian traditional value, where, from ancient times to now, wisdom, as a high virtue, guided progress.

Lack of deep wisdom has cost Ghana dearly as it struggles to progress. After first President Kwame Nkrumah was over-thrown in 1966, apart from the Akosombo Dam and the Valco Aluminum Smelter, most of his development projects were left to rot or sold under suspicious circumstances by either successive military or civilian governments. For what? For the simple reason that part of the Ghanaian brain, formed by our culture, where the Pull Him/Her/Them Down syndrome emanates from outweigh the more rational and human parts that should have instructed us to continue with these projects or at least re-jiggle them for progress.

The Convention Peoples Party (CPP) and Peoples National Party (PNC), among other civil society and political groups, vehemently criticized the Jerry Rawlings led Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) and its successive National Democratic Party (NDC) for selling most of the Nkrumah established projects without higher national interest (or wisdom, if the Atta-Mills new thinking is anything to go by), lacking transparency and accountability, and selling the state enterprises to cronies or their proxies under dubious circumstances. This contradicted Rawlings high sounding mission of accountability that saw some people publicly killed.

Under various regimes, Pull Them Down syndrome saw Nkrumah’s projects such as Meridian Hotel in Tema, Atlantic Hotel in Takoradi, City Hotel in Kumasi, Ambassador Hotel in Accra, Peduase Lodge in Aburi, Kwame Nkrumah Flats at Laterbiokorshie in Accra, are among state enterprises either sold under suspicious circumstances or left to rot. From the first military junta, the National Liberation Council (NLC), under Lt. Gen. Joseph Ankrah, to the NPP under President John Kufour, Job 600, an imposing edifice that hosted the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit in 1965, under the chairmanship of President Nkrumah, have been left to rot for the past 45 years, while current Members of Parliament, who could use it for various national purposes, struggle for offices to work effectively.

The more serious aspects of the dark syndrome were seen in the 21 years of the military interregnum. Unlike military juntas in Southeast Asia and Latin America that drew from their ancient traditional values and laid down their regions progress in a mixture of raw military muscle and tenacity, wisdom and good thinking, open-mindedness, and building upon previous regimes’ development programs, Ghanaian military juntas did not, thus scrambling the development path big time.

And if the military juntas lacked wisdom, prominent Ghanaian scholars like Dr. Kofi Busia (prime minister) and Dr. Hilla Limann (president) were more or less no different from the senseless military juntas thinking. From the Ghanaian experience, while Busia and Limann may have immense academic knowledge (as the Ghanaian calls “book-long”), they didn’t demonstrate wisdom in building upon development projects of what other previous regimes have left behind. They were blinded by their so-called ideologies and small-mindedness. It doesn’t matter their political ideological bent – Busia was of the NPP capitalist pedigree and Limann of the Nkrumaist socialist breed – wisdom that cut across all thinking was lacking, and in the interim further stalling Ghana’s progress. One of the key success stories of Kufour was his wisdom in building upon previous regimes’ thinking and developmental initiatives – from Nkrumah to Rawlings. In a departing speech ringed with common sense and intuition, Kufour strongly advised Atta-Mills and the NDC, as a matter of wisdom and national priority, to continue with his integrated aluminium smelter project which is actually a continuation of Nkrumah’s. Kufour explained that “Its various components are bauxite mining, an infrastructural rail link, development of alumina refinery, a dedicated energy source and a full utilization and possible expansion of the Volta Aluminium Company Limited (VALCO) smelter.” In a demonstration of the fact that wisdom cut across all political ideologies or thinking or ethnicity, despite Kufour being NPP, he believed these development projects would “give a major boost to the economy and help to realize the dream of Kwame Nkrumah for industrialization, which inspired the construction of the Akosombo Dam. Government has worked extensively on this integrated project and much progress has been made. It should be realized within the next five years.” The five-year realization of the integrated aluminium smelter project rests on the shoulders Atta-Mills and his NDC and future governments – bearing no bias, no bull as CNN’s Campbell Brown would say. Atta-Mills, 64, a former Nkrumaist-turned-Rawlingsian-social-democrat, who has seen such Pull Them Down syndrome thinking and practices for the past 51 years as Ghana ramble through wide range of regimes, is moving away from such counter-productive long held culture of mis-government, and, as he said, “Ghanaians can expect him to continue with projects initiated by President John Kufuor.” The new development wisdom, reflects Atta-Mills, is that “governance and development are processes, and since no one man can surpass them all, there is every need to continue initiated projects while new ideas are developed and implemented.”

No doubt, despite the ruling NDC when in opposition criticizing Kufour for building the new presidential Golden Jubilee House as the new seat of government business without due regard to other more pressing developmental priorities, Mahama Ayariga, the new presidential spokesman, said though the NDC “still stands by its disapproval about the building of the Golden Jubilee House,” it “cannot allow it to go waste so we (NDC) would inhabit it.”

Waste? Yes, waste! By mentioning “waste,” Ayariga punched into Ghana’s development history of governments’ massively wasting away development projects started by other governments. And why should we waste development projects started or finished by previous governments – because we lack the collective power of wisdom, we have been shallow and juvenile in thinking more with the destructive part of our brain where the Pull Them Down syndrome resides. Ayariga isn’t as old as his boss but has some insight that wisdom is the key to development. Ayariga’s balanced thinking aside, Atta-Mills stated the broader attempts to refine the Pull Them Down syndrome, part of the wide ranging Ghana-wide efforts to filter certain parts of the culture that inhibit progress, when he said that “The main objective of going into politics is to help people improve their lot; to develop the country; so we will continue with the development and make sure that Ghanaians can live in peace and then can live in reasonable comfort - that is what we want.”

While it may sound heartfelt to hear such thoughtful words from Atta-Mills and his team today, in the deeper African traditions it isn’t. As part of its philosophy of continuity and communalism (“cooperation,” as development experts say), African traditions advocate for continuity in all development facets in order to sustain progress, maintain society, avoid waste and neutralize misgovernment. In fact, the ex-colonial British colonial heritage also talks of the same thing but post-colonial Ghanaian elites/leaders, out of sheer immaturity or under the hypnosis of the vicious Pull Them Down syndrome, threw such developmental wisdom away, mangled such developmental wisdom and saw Ghana parambulating world-wide for developmental wisdom as if they have nothing originally.

Kufour, who has been on the Ghanaian political scene for the past 40 years, is aware of the wrong thinking of successive governments in letting development projects rot. During the heat of the just ended electioneering campaigns, the NDC, then in opposition, accused the then ruling NPP of rehearsing and continuing with projects it left behind and developing them without giving the NDC some credits, for political expediency. Notwithstanding the non-giving of some credits to the NDC, it was a positive goal compared to the old practice of totally killing of projects all together as was the case previously.

In a flash of developmental wisdom, Kufour enjoined Atta-Mills to “continue the economic and social policies that he started”… “to maintain the gains he chalked during his eight years in office” in order to “accelerate the country’s economy to the likes of Singapore and Malaysia which at a point in time were at the same level with Ghana.” In building upon Kufour, and by extension previous governments, Atta-Mills will further push Ghana “into a middle-income economy by 2015,” as Kufour had started to “attain.”

From all flourishing countries, whether they are capitalist, traditionalist, communist, socialist, social democrats, theocracy, monarchy, there is no other ways of progressing rapidly without such thinking and practices. Atta-Mills’ new wisdom project, as a build up on previous regimes’ development thinking and projects, is a good omen for Ghana and demonstrates the emerging development philosophy expected of the “Black Star of Africa.”