Awakening the Sleeping Ghana via its Elites

Wed, 27 Aug 2008 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

Maxwell Owusu, a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, thinks Ghana is asleep as a development project. The issue borders on how Ghanaian elites understand their nation-state to the extent of how they exploit such understanding to the global prosperity level for progress. For Owusu, as the Accra-based Public Agenda reports, Ghana’s near-development-coma has been going on “for the best part of her history.”

This is disturbing for a Ghana that pride itself as the “Black Star of Africa” and that should have translated into remarkable progress in development philosophy, an “African Way,” driven foremost from within its cultural values unto the Africa development terrain. But, if Owusu’s views are anything to go by, then Ghana has been more of Pan-Africanism “media star” without gist. And for Owusu, Ghana’s development weaknesses for the past 51 years has seen the “Black Star of Africa” among the 35 poorest nations in the world. Ghana’s centers of development are far, far behind others. As Owusu noted, it doesn’t matter whether military or civilian governments, the thinking have been the same. For, if “Ghana has lost its focus” and “sleeping,” then by all descriptions that depicts its elites thinking, as directors of progress. Owusu says in the 1950s Ghana was leading many African and Asian countries in development but today they are all ahead of Ghana: once again, centers of development are far, far behind the Asians. In his exasperation, Owusu exclaims, "Good God, what is happening to Ghana?” The fact is what is happening to Ghana is what is happening in its elites' minds. As much as it might sound worrying the African or Asian countries that are ahead of Ghana today have transformative elites who have confidence (and that enhance their psychology) in their cultural values in relation to the global prosperity principles and they are able to think from within their values to the global development ideals. In Africa, Botswana stands out. In Asia, bold thinking by their elites from within their culture in the face of grim developmental challenges transformed into their progress and saw the hatching of the “Asian Way” development philosophy. Whether in Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad, Japan’s Akio Morita, South Korea’s Gen. Park Chung Hee, Taiwan’s Gen. Chiang Kai-shek, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew or China’s Deng Xiaoping, Southeast Asian transformative elites had outstanding grasp of their cultural values and were able to weave them into the global prosperity ideals.

Predictably, though there were some rifts between the Southeast Asian indigenous tradition and the dominant Western neo-liberal ideals in Asia’s march to prosperity, since 1949, as Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw argue in The Commanding Height, “the Asian miracle is now sometimes called “Confucian capitalism,” a reminder of their elites’ ability to blend their cultural values and the neo-liberal development paradigms. The outcome, as Robert Kagan argues in The Return of History and the End of Dreams, is an “Asian arc of freedom and prosperity” stretching from Japan to Indonesia to India. Owusu’s comparison of Ghana to the Asian nations can also be seen in the recent G8 summit in Japan. As members of the G8 found out to their awakening in their June summit in Hokkaido, Japan, argues Phillipe Pons of Le Monde, despite being forged by 18th century European thinkers, Asian nations have created a unique development system based on their cultural values and “not necessarily “western” …When concepts have been borrowed, they have been mixed with local ingredients and redesigned to take new forms.” In China, for instance, as Pons cited Eamonn Fingleton, of the London, UK-based Financial Times, as explaining in In the Jaws of the Dragon, its elites borrow anything appropriate from Western neo-liberal development ideals and blend it with theirs.

In this context, Owusu relates how the Asians, who had been as poor as Africans today, appropriating from among their cultural attributes, “have an ancient culture based on the technology of intellect” and “that knowledge is at the very centre of their consciousness.” Why Ghanaian elites have not been able to do same openly and critically for the past 51 years reveals elites who do not know and understand themselves, as the Greek thinker Plato would say, or are ashamed of their culture, and for this reason, have been circling hopelessly around the world like a headless chicken in their development process as if they have no innate values, as if they have nothing original to drive their progress. No doubt, as Y.K. Amoakoh, former chair of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, says, Ghana/Africa is the only region in the world where its development process is dominated by foreign development paradigms to the disadvantage of its rich cultural values. That tells how African elites are not only “sleeping” but also the nature of their degree of thinking in relation to the continent’s progress.

Owusu, in this sense, thinks Ghanaians (more its elites) are ignorant, more seriously of themselves and their cultural values in relation to their progress. "Ignorance does not only mean the lack of education but the lack of a particular knowledge." And that “particular knowledge” to drive Ghana’s progress and awaken its development process is how its elites will be able to think from within its cultural values to the global development ideals. Short of that “Ghana has indeed been sleeping for the best part of her history.”


Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi