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Development, It's The Culture (1)

Wed, 9 Aug 2006 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

From Adabraka, Ghana to Ottawa, Canada, Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, the development journalist collaborates with development experts in these fascinating discussions about the emerging new Africa development thinking

For almost one hour, Dr. Michael Abu-Sakara Foster, Country Director of Sasakawa Africa Association-World Bank Liaison, with offices in Adabraka, Ghana and Kampala, Uganda, cornered me at the car park of his house at Adabraka, one of which apartments Journalists for Human Rights, a Toronto-based CIDA-funded NGO that seeks to train journalists in human rights reporting so as to empower victims of human rights, had rented. It was wave of Ghana/African development discussions, from unrealistic policy development to false sense of African development.

A northern Ghanaian, Dr. Foster’s views reflects the on-gong talks currently making the rounds in Ghana that Ghanaian elites both do not understand Ghana or see Ghana from totally different development value lens, and so the policies supposed to drive Ghana’s development process, at least at the national level, are not informed by Ghanaian values. For almost 50 years, it has been the other way round, foreign development values dominating Ghana/Africa development process. The result is massive distortions in Ghana/African development process and the apparent confusions in Ghana/Africa progress. No doubt, civil society organizations within the Commonwealth of Nations, members of former British colonies, have called on African Finance Ministers to support home-grown development strategies informed by African values and experiences reached through broad discussions with Africans.

Taking his our northern Ghana as a case, Dr. Foster was at pains how Accra makes policies without any value in-put from the very people the policies are to be affected. As the poorest area in Ghana, policies that are to address the northern part of Ghana are developed in Accra without any in-put from the values of the north and by the time it reach the north it has no relevance to the very people it is to address. This makes Ghanaian policy-makers “mediocre,” as Prof. Ali Mazrui, the Kenyan thinker, would say, since Ghanaian policy making is not informed by Ghanaian values. Despite being Ghanaians, the painful feelings is that policy-makers use non-Ghanaian/African paradigms, unlike the Japanese or Chinese, to make their policies for Ghanaian; thus the policies supposed to address Ghanaians problems and their future progress are not reflective of Ghanaian experiences and values.

Informed Ghanaians/Africans, and even some international development experts such as Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, of the America’s Columbia University-based Earth Institute, are increasingly coming to terms with the fact that a nation cannot progress without letting its cultural values drive its progress. From the Europeans to the newly emerging economic giants China and India, their progress is driven by their key cultural values and experiences. In Ottawa, Dr. Daniel Tetteh Osabu-Kle, the Ghanaian-Canadian political scientist at Carleton University, said the trick is to empower Ghanaian/African values, which have been suppressed for long, in national policy development. What Dr. Osabu-Kle is saying is that Ghanaian values should be seen by all Ghanaians as influencing policy making. Dr. Osabu-Kle said, for instance, the issue of the worsening sanitation situation in Ghanaian cities could be solved by empowering traditional rulers to tackle this problem with minimal cost.

If Ghanaian elites, as key directors of progress, do not think within their values first, and any other second, can we say they are not intelligent? In this context, Dr. Foster asked rhetorically, looking intensely at my face under the hot Ghanaian sun, “Are we (Ghanaians/Africans) intelligent?” The answer is both yes and no. Yes, we are intelligent. Ghanaian rich values and experiences which have sustained them since time immemorial informally direct Ghanaians affairs. On the other hand, No, we are not intelligent, because Ghanaian experiences and values, at the national level, do not dictate the Ghanaian development process but rather, largely, Western values and experiences. No society develops by heavily letting foreign values drive its progress, as is the case with Ghana/Africa now. Societies develop by letting their home-grown values drive their progress, and borrowing, now and then, as the Europeans, the Japanese, and the Chinese have done, from other foreign values and experiences to enrich their progress.

In Ottawa, Andy Kusi Appiah, the Ghanaian-Canadian senior policy advisor with the City of Ottawa, thinks the trouble with Ghana/African development is not with Western values, due to colonialism; the trouble is that Ghanaian/African the elites, who unarguably cannot think reason well in terms of their development process, have misunderstood the Western values in relation to their indigenous values and experiences, messing up the two values, and in the process, created awful confusions in the Ghanaian/African development process. After talking to Andy, I opened the TV and switched to CPAC (Cable Public Affairs Channel) where a conference entitled “Progressive Politics, Practical Solutions: Policy Choices for the 21st Century” was taking place at Mont Tremblant, Quebec. I saw Dr. Jeffrey Sachs and such prominent African development voices like Dan Gardner, a senior journalist with the “Ottawa Citizen,” analyzing Africa’s development problems and appealing to Ottawa and the Canadian International Development Agency to re-think African development and factor in increasingly broad African values and experiences when developing their foreign aids policies for Africa.

Like the Mont Tremblant policy conference, across the Atlantic Ocean to Ghana, and by extension the rest of Africa, that’s what Dr. Michael Abu-Sakara Foster and the increasing development-minded Ghanaians/Africans are saying – let Ghanaian/African experiences and values inform the development process and its policy making.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi