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Opinions of Monday, 22 December 2008

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The idiocy and prospects of Gbediame’s juju

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

Despite being a Member of Parliament (MP) for 12 years that should have taught him to project high rationality and knowledge as part of his legislative work, Gershon Kofi Bediako Gbediame, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) MP for Nkwanta South constituency in Ghana’s Volta Region, did not.

Gbediame has been involved in juju, perhaps for years or in a frantic rush for power in the run up to the December 7 general elections, and it is giving him either some mental illness or no-peace-of-mind or something close to that.

The Accra-based Daily Guide, part of the section of the media that is constructively watching the Ghanaian culture and its impact on progress, reported that Gbediame, perhaps for some unresolved spiritual issues, was seen arguing with a Togolese voodoo priest. That’s deadly, in the broader African spiritual realm, you don’t anger a juju-marabout medium, no matter what, you just walk away for the safety of your soul if there is (or are) any unanswered issues.

Some weeks later, as Daily Guide’s Wise Donkor reported, Gbediame “was in a meeting with some party executives [in the run up to the December 7 general elections] when suddenly he began screaming and was about to run but was restrained by those around him.”

Approached, the Togolese voodoo priest denied any association to Gbediame’s sudden and mysterious mental illness. Most traditional priests refuse to attend to erring dabblers to teach them lesson. Various spiritual sanctums aren’t helping either, telling Gbediame to confess the wrongs he has done for spiritual restitution or live in perpetual juju cursed universe where life is a torment.

To the non-Ghanaian, it may sound nonsense but to the superstitious Ghanaian, whose brain has been moulded by his/her culture, as Richard Nisbett indicates in The Geography of Thought and the new academic area of neuroplasticity (you can check Norman Doidge’s new work The Brain That Changes Itself) reveals, Gbediame might have violated certain voodoo ritual rules that were spiritually administered for him for the alleged success of his political life and the consequences are instant and deadly.

Gbediame’s anecdote, more as an MP, brings into the public domain the Ghana-wide discussions about how certain aspects of the Ghanaian culture hinder progress and also weaken the intellectual climate needed to drive development. Some Ghanaian elites, such as University of Ghana’s Kojo Yankah, think certain aspects of the Ghanaian culture, such as its languages, have to be intellectualized for progress.

Juju weakens reasoning and makes it very difficult to rationalize developmental issues. Juju jams the mind. It opens the emotional parts of the brain more than the rational parts, thus making the dabbler stupid and juvenile to the point of self-destruction as Gbediame’s case illustrates.

Still, juju can make one person destroy another without considering the consequences. In a way juju can make one overly wicked and inhuman, inducing a false sense of bravery. Despite being spiritual, because it is a negative spirituality, juju makes the dabbler spiritually weak – but the dabbler may feel, falsely, that he/she is spiritually strong. Juju feeds the ego, makes the dabbler very egocentric, and either weakens or destroys the human element of humility. No doubt, juju is highly sort after by Ghanaian/African “Big Men” and “Big Women” in their ego trips as is the case with Gbediame.

Talking of juju and African “Big Men,” Gbediame reminds me of the late Liberian President Samuel Kanyon Doe. With little rationality and understanding of his country, Doe’s presidency was heavily wheeled around juju-marabout mediums instead of higher rationality of issues on the ground (Like juju in the Volta region of Ghana, Doe’s ethnic group, the Krahn, who flow between Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, have high incidence of juju practices). There is high incidence. At certain periods, Doe had human sacrifices where female virgins were sacrificed with their blood used as ritualistic bath by Doe. No doubt, Doe was so blinded from higher wisdom about the pressing issues on the ground, and seriously believed in his juju-marabout mediums to the point of enslavement, that he subsequently sent Liberia into deadly explosion that lasted for almost 14 years.

Back to Gbediame, juju, the Volta region and Ghana. Among Ghanaian ethnic groups beliefs in witchcraft have had devastating impact on the greater progress of families. In the northern regions, there are carefully crafted campaigns to refine cultural inhibitions such as female genital mutilation and excessive reliance on juju-marabout mediums in addressing social problems – Ghanaian decorated journalist Kwaku Sakyi-Addo has revealed that part of the reasons for the on-again, off-again internecine conflicts in the northern regions is easy access to talismans and other spiritual paraphernalia prepared by juju-marabout mediums.

In the Volta region, for the past years, attempts are under way, including legislative banning, to stop the traditional trokosi practice in certain areas, where female teenagers are enslaved to shrines for sins committed by their parents. In some places in the Brong Ahafo (such as Bibiani) and Volta regions, hunchbacks and other physically handicapped people are abducted and killed for various traditional rituals.

The issue of tackling certain cultural inhibitions is now an accepted part of the challenges confronting Ghana’s progress unlike some years ago. It doesn’t matter which geographic location, the media, some religious bodies and some civil society organizations are helping to educate Ghanaians about how certain cultural values hamper their progress.

It is in these perspectives that the Gbediame affair raises the implications of juju and certain restraining cultural practices in his Volta region’s progress. The universal thinking is that Gbediame, as a legislator, should be a lightening rod and the number one facilitator of progress for his region devoid of any negative cultural entanglements. By nature hardworking, with deep love for education (in proportion the Volta region has one of the highest index of educated people in Ghana, particularly the Ewe ethnic group), certain inhibiting cultural practices have stifled the progress of some Voltarians.

Parts of these inhibitions have implications in trust as a progress issue. With strong incidence of belief in juju, this has created mistrust among some Voltarians and has impacted negatively on their progress. No doubt, despite their high education rate and hardworking, the Volta region is one of the poorest areas in Ghana.

More based in the Greater Accra and Ashanti regions; a good number of rich, wealthy, prosperous and highly educated Voltarians resident in these areas do not go back or connect to their homeland communities after they leave to help in its progress for fear of either being killed or destroyed with juju or witchcraft. Those born outside their region aren’t different. The juju dreadfulness is transferred to them by their parents – a process anthropologists call meme. Juju hates progress and, as Gbediame shows, is counter-productive. The result is the Volta region being the poorer in the larger Ghanaian development scheme and some Voltarian emigrants to other parts of Ghana helping to develop other regions to the detriments of their folks and their home region.

Excessive juju beliefs by some Voltarians undermine Ghanaian/African culture of communalism (or in development-speak co-operation) ideals as bulwark for progress. Juju creates huge mistrust among families and communities. In this sense, American thinker Francis Fukuyama, author of Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity, would measure the Volta region as “low-trust-land” in relation to its low progress or the German sociologist Max Weber, author of The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism, writing about the impact of protestant religion on culture and economic success in 19th century Germany, would say juju and other inhibiting cultural practices have had negative effect on some Voltarians’ progress.

Some aspects of the Volta region, as the Gbediame case exemplifies, occupies a problematic place in a Ghana that is increasingly becoming intertwined with the global science and technological development process – a harbinger for higher reasoning and rationality. If in Gbediame, his unspoken juju beliefs might have aided him in his 12-year sojourn in the Ghanaian Parliament before he was equally knocked down by the same juju is anything to go by, then can juju be re-engineered to serve the Volta region and Ghana better?