By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
March 3, 2011
Circumstances surrounding two of Ghana’s natural resources (crude oil, also called the ‘black gold,” and the actual yellow mineral stuff for which Obuasi is well known) seem to be providing for us some comic relief—although a serious one at that—as we continue to uphold the proverbial “give everything to God” syndrome in our Ghanaian attitude toward problem solving. An understanding of this Ghanaian tendency suggests it at one level as a non-aggressive way of achieving peaceful social co-existence, which is rare in other countries with as much demographic diversity and socio-cultural complexities as we have in Ghana. This pacifist way of handling affairs suggests that Ghanaians acknowledge the role of a supreme deity in their affairs. Thus, the Akan version of “Fa ma Nyame” prevails in all the ethnic groups as a linguistic expression of consolation or resignation. At another level, it is an appeal to God to intervene in our human affairs. This syndrome reinforces the Ghanaian’s religious perch and quest for good neighbourliness.
After all, Ghanaians know that some problems are beyond human endurance or solution. Giving such problems to God is a good way to lift the psychological burden off their shoulders while they turn attention to other matters. What a good way of trusting the Transcendental, whether the problems so passed on to it are solved or not! At least, the feeling that the supreme deity will take care of the problems has its benefits even if they are transient. It is a conduit through which to let go worries. But when this “Fa ma Nyame” syndrome is raised to unexpectedly weird heights, it raises eyebrows and unsettles some of us. Two events involving the use of Christianity to actualize the “Fa ma Nyame” syndrome at the level of problem-solving have emerged. The Christians involved have taken their faith to a ridiculously bizarre level that must not escape comment.
First, the Rev. Mensa Otabil, Head Pastor of the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC), was reported to have said that for many years, he had prayed that Ghana would never find oil. His reason? “Because he believes that (finding oil) won’t help the country develop the work ethic required to develop a productive society.” Again, “I don’t think it will help us to develop the work ethic we need to structure a viable, productive society. I think people would most likely become very corrupt because there are no barriers,” he told the Financial Times of London.
Second, and perhaps the most ridiculous use of Christianity that will ever be recorded in Ghana’s history, came from Obuasi, where the Obuasi Municipal Assembly (led by the MCE, John Alexander Ackon) has teamed up with the local union of churches and AngloGold Ashanti to hold inter-denominational activities to seek divine favour to reverse the dwindling fortunes at the Obuasi mine. Of all occurrences in the country involving Christians’ use of prayer for seemingly diverse purposes, these two events pique my curiosity. I quickly dismissed Rev. Otabil’s revelation as pathetic. Unfortunate Rev. Otabil, God was not on your side because the oil was destined to be struck in Ghana. I don’t think that he heard former President Kufuor’s ridiculous claim that it was because God loved him that he dumped the oil on Ghana’s continental shelf to be discovered during his term in office. Of course, Kufuor too is a Christian (a Catholic, for that matter).
In reacting to the Obuasi event, however, I laughed myself to tears because I felt that the “Fa ma Nyame” syndrome seemed to have been turned upside down in that episode. It amounts to attempting to twist God’s arms. Ghanaians know how to turn to God to help them realize their aspirations. The messages of the “Prosperity Pastors” in churches mushrooming all over the country attest to the connections people make between God and human needs.
One thing I know is that physical problems are expected to be physically solved and spiritual problems spiritually solved. The question, then, becomes: Do the oil find and depletion of the Obuasi gold resources create physical or spiritual problems to be solved by physical actions (moderation in how they are exploited and the cultivation of appropriate attitudes for good citizenship) or spiritually through prayers (hounding and pestering God with all-night howls to intercede in our recklessness)?
I am still unable to see how God will answer the prayers of the Obuasi team. The incredulous element in me emerges, especially when I remind myself of the admonition by the late Steve Biko, the South African Black Consciousness scholar’s words that God is not in the habit of coming down from the heavens to help men solve their existential problems. Ours in Ghana is a thick amalgam of existential problems that we have in one way or the other created for ourselves or allowed others to create for us. Such problems can’t be solved through miracles wrought from the spiritual realm. Well, granted that there is Biblical evidence of what fervent prayers can accomplish, I’ll only muse and wait for the outcome of those calls for spiritual intervention to restore Ghana’s gold reserves at Obuasi. After all, the Bible tells us what Elijah’s prayer could achieve—a torrential downpour after seven years of drought! There are similar miracles in recorded history, particularly in the lives of those who walked close to God, did his bidding, set themselves apart, and made themselves available to be used by God to manifest his powers. Are the Men-of-God we have today of this caliber for God to use as vessels to solve spiritual problems physically?
Common sense should tell us that the Obuasi problem is a physical one. Natural resources are exhaustible for as long as they are extracted and cannot be replenished. In the case of Obuasi’s gold, what hasn’t been happening to it since 1897 when consistent and planned extraction of it was officially encouraged? I recall the massive rehabilitation of the Obuasi mines under Sam Jonah in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the collaboration with the British investors raised gold production to its highest limits. The management of the then Ashanti Goldfields Corporation contracted huge foreign loans to expand the mines, ushering in surface mining in the Sansu area, which created very serious environmental problems. Apart from the degradation of the forests and mountains (all in the search for gold), almost all water bodies in the Adansi area were contaminated through cyanide poisoning. The effluent from the Obuasi mines (the Gold House or PTP area, especially) accounts for the total destruction of the environment, leaving in its trail serious health problems and poverty (in the midst of plenty) for the citizens.
In the madness to earn revenue, we’ve forgotten that the gold-bearing rocks are not inexhaustible or that the organic substances that coalesce to yield crude oil have their limits. Any mindless exploitation of these resources leads to only one end: depletion. If we are being told today that the Obuasi area is depleted of its gold reserves, we shouldn’t turn to God to replenish them. On the flip side, can it not be that God is rather using this instance to caution us against being reckless in exploiting our natural resources? What will we leave behind for posterity if we exhaust every resource today? The depletion of Obuasi’s gold is a clarion call for us to hasten slowly. We must reconsider the attitudes that have led to the current problem and make amends. God will not turn soil or rocks into gold just because a group of people have urged him to do so. If he were in the habit of doing things of this sort, he would long ago have answered the prayers of all other “religious” people in many deprived parts of the world to rain down “manna.” Wouldn’t it be a blessing for God to turn all the deserts into viable forested regions flowing with rivers and streams with aquatic resources to serve human needs? Certainly, the days of manna are no more with us, and nobody should waste anybody’s time asking for the impossible.
As is already moot, God didn’t answer Rev. Otabil’s prayer. Ghana, indeed, has already begun exploiting the huge petroleum resources and is anticipated to hit more reserves in other parts of the country in the future. But I like this candid aspect of Rev. Otabil’s viewpoints: “People would become more corrupt when the country finds oil because there will be no barriers.” Corruption is the bedrock of the petroleum industry, at least, as we can tell from happenings in (African) countries rich in petroleum reserves. Considering the tension that the discovery of the black gold has already raised, I share concerns that the oil find might create more worries for us than we can cope with. The manner in which the Petroleum Bill was passed in Parliament and the looming threat that the NPP Minority may go to court to prevent the implementation of that Act reinforces the discontent among the Chiefs of the Western Region that their demand for a 10% share of the oil revenue was spurned by the authorities. Already, the stage has been set for trouble. Should the black gold turn out to be our curse, Rev. Otabil’s apprehensions will be justified.
If any militancy emerges among those embittered by the handling of the petroleum issue, it will compound the problem. I hope that what is destabilizing the Niger Delta Region in Nigeria will not surface in Ghana. If it does, the oil find may end up being our doom. Thus, apart from the fear (as expressed by Rev. Otabil) that the oil find will spawn corruption, there is the likelihood that it will also introduce more anti-social acts to worsen the plight of the people. God’s ears must be full by now. Whether he will answer the prayer of the Obuasi congregation is in the womb of time. But all these prayers for diverse purposes coming from Christians raise more troubling questions than the answers that they can provide for us to learn how to do God’s bidding first before asking him for his mercies. In a country where almost every corner has a church house but where crime and other anti-social acts (among and committed by the clergy, the laity, and the congregation) are on the rise, any attempt to use the medium of religion to seek God’s intervention in human life raises many disturbing questions, beginning with the Church establishment itself.
The Church in Ghana today cannot absolve itself from blame as a major player in our national crisis. It leaders and members must acknowledge this fact and make determined efforts to turn a new leaf for the betterment of our nation. The Church leaders must be told that their role in our national crisis is undeniable to the extent that they continue to preach virtue and practise vice, even with impunity under the cover of the Bible. They glibly quote the Bible to justify to themselves their exaggerations, falsehoods, and frauds. Their increasing deficit in integrity is worrisome. God doesn’t use such vessels.
The Church itself is sitting on a time-bomb. Its image has been dented by the nefarious activities of its leaders for whom it has become an avenue for unhealthy competition for material wealth, which contradicts the tenets of their calling. Not only is this acrimony destabilizing the ranks of the Church leadership but it has also spread to infect the congregation and become the impetus for mischief in the society. Talk about the bitter rivalry between the orthodox and the so-called charismatic churches in terms of membership drive and the enculturation projects of the Catholic Church, for example, and you will be exposed to hypocrisy, murderous lying, and exploitation of the gullible church members by their own leaders. Having turned the House of God into a den of liars, extortionists, and manipulators, they can’t claim to be available to be used by God to perform miracles.
In all certainty, it is difficult to remove God’s hand from our human needs; but I am worried at the pervasive religious fervour and showmanship, which has the potential to numb the people into throwing up their arms in despair and waiting for God to solve their existential problems. Obviously, the more a man is in “a religious excitement,” the less he has to do with reason. Let’s comprehend the problems that face us today as “physical problems” and find better means (through pragmatic policies and productive habits of mind and action) to solve them.
Escaping into the spiritual realm to attempt twisting God’s arms to do our human bidding will not solve those problems. It will only make us a laughingstock for serious-minded people in other parts of the world who know the problems militating against their development and take prompt and decisive actions to tackle them instead of burying their heads in the spiritual quicksand to be swallowed up and doomed.