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Opinions of Friday, 9 April 2004

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Tradition And Change

Following the World Bank?s developmental cooperation with Ghana?s traditional Asanteman Council, Kofi Akosah-Sarpong looks at the implications for tradition and change in Africa?s developmental path

It may appear low key in the larger schemes of Africa?s contending development variables but the World Bank?s chief scribe James Wolfensohn?s development dance with Ghana?s top traditional King, the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, in Kumasi this week reveals the on-going attempts to corrects the errors of yesteryears in Africa?s development drive, where traditional institutions were left out in not only policy development, local indigenous institutions such as Otumfuo?s Asanteman Council are receiving global recognition for commitment to the development and well-being of people.

The World Bank, created in Eurocentric values, as are the colonial values imposed on Africans and which effects Africans have not been able to extricate themselves from in order to ground their development process in their own traditional values such those in Southeast Asia, has not factored in Africa?s values in Africa?s development process. The new development thinking between Africa and the Western world was revealed when Wolfensohn said the ?world has a lot to learn from the wisdom and ingenuity of the Asantehene, who had combined traditional leadership and modernity to promote social justice, development and unity among his people,? the Ghana News Agency reported. Before this, as literature of anthropology of development reveals, the Western world had seek to impose its development paradigm on Africa because it found Africa ?primitive? and need to be ?civilized? in the development process. In thinking is snubbed Africa?s tried and tested indigenous values and wisdom, and over the years tried to make the European out of the African. The result, as Dr.Y.K. Amoako, the Ghanaian-born UN?s Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) observed, is Africa being the only region in the with the most dominant foreign models in its development process. It is, therefore, not surprising that Africa appears confused in the development process compared to other regions of the world.

The lack of local traditional input into central government policy development process reflects the lack of realism in Africa?s central governments policies. Africa?s policy development reveals lack of consultation of not only traditional figures but also the people. It is, therefore, not surprising to see African development policy unrealistic in relation to the African environment. It therefore sounds refreshing to see Wolfish accompanied to the Asantehene?s Manshyia Palace by the Ghana?s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Mr. Yaw Osafo-Maafo, Minister of Regional Integration and NEPAD, Dr. Kofi Konadu Apraku, Ashanti Regional Minister, Mr. S.K. Boafo, World Bank Vice-President, Mr. Callitos Madavu, World Bank Ghana Country Director, Marcus Carson and other officials from the World Bank go to the traditional source of Ghana?s development roots and interact with the frontline forces of the local development process.

The World Bank-Asanteman Council development meeting not only revealed the traditional and the global interacting for development but show the World Bank and other international development agencies realistically warming up to the ?imaginative and positive response to the request made by the Asantehene, that the bank involves traditional authorities in the design, execution and monitoring of development projects executed.?

The World Bank response to the Asanteman Council had resulted in the ?formulation and approval of a novel and innovative project by the World Bank captioned "Promoting Partnerships With Traditional Authorities", the first of its kind in the world, which is currently being undertaken in Asanteman, as result of the new thinking of the Asantehene and his team of globally-minded advised (The Asantehene himself is a global persona, having lived and studied in Britain and Canada for considerable length of time, and traveled worldwide. This has sharpened his sense of the development process. He is said to be surrounded a team of first-class development experts and researchers). By acknowledging that the World Bank had a ?lot of respect and dignity for the Asantehene and was impressed by how he was combining colourful traditional leadership and culture to promote education, health and economic well-being of his subjects,? the world?s number one money lender and development agent has changed the chemistry of Africa?s development path, which has not seen the traditional reflected in the national and the global in the development process.

Wise and realistic in the development process, Otumfuo Osei Tutu said ?the involvement of traditional leaders and their people in the bank's operations was a logical extension of the bank's own evaluation of actors other than its conventional partners and the recognition of the importance of innovative mechanisms for reinforcing the development endeavours of its clients.? By lobbying the World Bank and other international institutions to directly consult traditional rulers in Africa?s development process, the Asantehene, is not saying that African central governments should be bypassed in seeking development assistance from international agencies but complimenting them. (Over the years, some African governments, including some in Ghana, have undermined local chiefs attempt to seek help to develop their communities for the simple reason that it will belittle the central government in the eyes of the people).

In a continent, especially West Africa, where traditional rulers are known to be corrupt and partly the cause of the maldevelopment of their people, Otumfuo Osei Tutu ?assured the World Bank that the Asanteman Council would do all in its power to make the project succeed so that it would be replicated in other parts of the country and Africa.? By thinking higher beyond the shores of Ghana and bring the Washington-based World Bank to the local Ghanaian development process, the Otumfuo has brought dignity and respect to a traditionally ancient institution that has lost its clout because of varied reasons including slave trading, unproductive litigations, mindless corruption, impractical in the development process, and irrational in terms of massive dabbling in juju-marabou to the detriment of practical, rational bread-and-butter matters.

Otumfuo Osei Tutu II?s development ambitions is increasingly being recognized not only by global institutions such as the World Bank but by the local Ghanaian community cut across all ethnic groups, which describe him as the Biblical Solomon for his developmental wisdom in a traditional chieftancy not only institution mired in corruption and mistrust but known for being lethargic in the development process. The extend of Otumfuo Osei Tutu II?s development drive is reflected in the University of Ghana, which bestowed an honourary doctorate degree on him, ?recognition of his tremendous contribution to education, particularly in the setting up of the Otumfuo Education Fund, which has benefited several thousands of students through out the country? and ?for his efforts at revitalizing the chieftaincy institutions and bringing chieftaincy abreast with contemporary development and contribution to alternative dispute resolution,? the Accra-based Evening News reported.

However, beyond the World Bank and the University of Ghana recognizing the Asantehene?s developmental moves there are numerous socio-cultural problems the Asantehene, relatively young at 50-something years, have to tackle if his on-going development process is to gain root. Just as he has used his position to set in motion development programs, he should set up a commission of experts drawn from all disciplines to investigate aspects of the Asante culture that inhibit development. The World Bank, which has been warming up to the Otumfuo, has itself noted elsewhere that for every US$1.00 the Asante earns he/she spends US$.50 on funeral ceremonies against socio-economic development issues like education, health, shelter, research, water, food and other development infrastructure. The Otumfuo is yet to mount public education campaign against the high incidence of believes in juju, marabou, witchcraft and other such native practices among his subjects in the development process. Not forgetting the high incidence of suppression of women in the Asante culture. The Asante women, hardworking, are key backbone of the Ghanaian economy, and the lessening of their cultural burden will speed up their development process.

Development experts have observed that such aspects of the Asante (and African) culture have implications, negatively, in poverty-alleviation and democratization. Otumfuo Osei Tutu II?s on-going development process will be on sound course if he initiates a socio-cultural engineering process taking into consideration a look at the cultural aspects that blocks the development process. That is what tradition and change is all about.



Email Author: kasarpon@hotmail.com