Ghana's New Nationalism

Thu, 17 Mar 2005 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong argues that the increasing belief and growth of democracy and rule of law is calling for new nationalism grounded in values, new ideology, and the emerging power game and rooted in history

Coming out on the heels of the new generation of democratically-minded Ghanaians touting the democratic and nationalist values of Dr. J.B. Danquah, pro-independence campaigner during the colonial era, during his yearly memorial lectures a few weeks ago is the Greater Accra Regional Minister, Sheikh I C Quaye, who himself recently passed through the deepening values of Ghana?s growing democratic culture about his moral standings, re-named Accra?s Sankara Interchange after Dr. Ebenezer Ako Adjei, one of the eminent ?Big Six? frontline Gold Coast politicians who struggled for Ghana's independence from British colonial rule and became Foreign Minister after Independence from colonial rule under the Prime Minister/President Kwame Nkrumah Convention People Party (CPP) regime in the 1960s.

From the local to the national level, people are talking about those who have struggled to develop communities and the nation, foster her cohesion and raise the consciousness of the nation in relation to her development. The relevance of these is that it give people heroes and heroines to not only relate to but meditate on in their development struggles in the face distress, spiritual and socio-economic challenges. This renewed sense of giving one?s self a bit to Ghana raises a new sense of nationalism, a nationalism born out of the nation?s struggles and resiliency. Two-time military head of state and two-time civilian president Jerry Rawlings and his national struggles in the face of daunting problems comes to mind. The remarkable emergence of the Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11 and his grand development drives, and by this changing the center of gravity of local development in which other traditional chiefs are fast joining, is an example of the new nationalism.

The Ghanaian nation and its emerging new nationalism, born out of democratic and development struggles, did not occur just like that. From pre-colonial, pre-independence times to contemporary times the idea of nation and nationalism has been with us. Premordialists say nations and nationalist have always existed. Obiri Yeboah, the Asante paramount chief, who gave himself up to be sacrificed to save the Asante Empire is an example of local nationalist. Perennialists say nations have existed for long, long time such as the pre-colonial African kingdoms and queendoms but that they take different contours. Anthony Smith, an ethno-symbolist, in ?The Ethnic Origins of Nations,? says that nations and nationalism have ethnic roots, and that there is the ?role of the past in the creation of the present.? Modernists such as Eric Hobsbawm in ?Nations and Nationalism since 1780? argues that nations and its ensuing nationalism are constructed or invented and that the ?past is irrelevant,? while New Marxism and Post-Modernists such as Benedict Anderson in ?Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism? makes the case that nations and nationalism are imagined, and that the ?past is problematic.?

Despite all these divisions, the Ghanaian experiences demonstrate that our renewed sense of nation and nationalism is driven by our past, history, culture and contemporary sense of democracy and development despite what the experts say. Despite some 56 ethnic groups with varying degrees of cultures and histories forming what we call today Ghana, the Ghanaian nation, as Montserrat Guibernau would tells us in ?Nationalisms: The Nation-State and Nationalism in the Twentieth Century,? immediately after the creation of Ghana, was formed out of consciousness of ?community, sharing a common culture, attached to a clearly demarcated territory, having common past and a common project for the future and claiming the right to rule self.? It is from the nation that nationalism emerges, grounded in the ?ideological movement? not only to maintain self-rule, as our on-going democratic projects illustrate, but live in comfort as members of an independent nation.

In this sense, as the linguist Michael Billig says in ?Banal Nationalism,? the Ghanaian nation and its ensuing nationalism, born out of the patriotic struggles to live in comfort, is not only retold at national cerebrations such as Independence Day or Emancipation Day but covered in ?ideological habits? that enable Ghanaians to ?reproduce? the idea of Ghana everyday, ?flagged? in the lives of Ghanaians daily. In today?s reality, nationalism as an ideology uses the Ghanaian past to refresh not only his/her sense of nation today but also live in a democratic settings where threat of military coup and civil wars are out, rule of law and justice prominent, freedom constantly on the march, and holistic development a driving force of democracy.

These beliefs and the on-going development campaigns, from the local to the national, have opened the floodgate for Ghana?s emerging new nationalism rooted in history, ideology, power, democracy, rule of law, and progressive development. However, the ensuing developments, among others, in which Dr. Nkrumah and his group suppressed the growing multiparty system and imposed the one-party one because of prevailing situation temporarily stifled Ghanaians innate, traditional democratic growth. Today?s nationalism climate dictates that Ghana avoids such incident in the present. Ghanaian-Canadian policy analyst Andrew Aryee, of Canada?s Department of Oceans and Fisheries, argues that this may be due to inexperience of Nkrumah and his group. Ghana?s emerging nationalism emanates from her conviction that after her years of painful history of practicing all brands of un-Ghanaian development systems not driven by her innate democracy values: from Marxism/Socialism to Capitalism to Military juntas it is time to look within and float out what can maintain the nation.

As a result of the advent of colonialism and its ensuing imposition of British or Western development values on traditional Ghanaian ones, there have emerged two development values running parallel to each other: the indigenous Ghanaian one and the Western imposed one. This has, for long, affected the Ghanaian level of patriotism to the extent of few people ready to die for Ghana unlike the American, to the extent of local chiefs respected more than the national politicians. But as Ghana?s democratic growth gradually deepen and innate traditional civic values recycled, and those who have ?died a bit? or ?given themselves a bit? for Ghana recognized and honoured, Quaye says of Ako Adjei, "after all he helped to liberate Ghana and assisted to lay the foundations of our international relations at the height of the cold war when the country needed to walk the diplomatic tight rope unflinchingly.? Ghana is increasingly coming to grips with a new nationalism rooted in the ideology of innate, traditional democratic ethos and development. "A nation that does not honour its heroes is not worth dying for," Quaye thundered in the climate of the new nationalism emanating from Ghanaian innate development drive: a respect for struggle, steadfastness, truth, perseverance, sense of history, hardwork, discipline, balance, patience, tolerance and timing, tenacity, justice, honesty, fairness and other virtues that drive holistic development.

All our national heroes and heroines, from Queen Yaa Asantewaah to the mathematician Prof. Allotey to the creative mechanics at Kumasi?s Suame Magazine embody all the above nationalist and patriotic values. Most part of President John Kufour?s Independence Day on during his March 6 speech should have been devoted more and more at such people and institutions in relation to reinvigorating and reinventing Ghana?s nationalism and nation. For nation building is also rooted in spiritualism, hope, inspiration and ideals emanating from one?s innate, traditional values and history first, before any examples from other nations and nationalisms. For his uncommon distinct services to Ghana, Dr. J.B. Danquah?s name is being touted to re-name the University of Ghana after him for floating the idea of the establishment of the university and for naming Ghana ?Ghana? and for struggling for the rule of law, freedom and democracy to the extent that he died painfully.

Already, nationalists like Ohene Djan?s outstanding contributions to Ghanaian sports development has been recognized and the Accra Sports Stadium named after him. For using his spiritual powers to create the Asante Empire, unlike others who have used theirs to stifle the development of Ghana, the legendary Okomfo Anokye got a huge hospital named after him. First President Nkrumah, for his liberation and development struggles, has various national symbols name after him such as the Kumasi University of Science and Technology. Notwithstanding its contentious nature, Gen. Emmanuel Kotoka is named after Ghana?s only international airport in Accra for leading in the overthrow of the tyrannical and dictatorial Kwame Nkrumah and his Convention Peoples Party (CPP) government in February 1966.

All these are to boost Ghanaian nationalism and its ensuing act of patriotism. Patriotism emanates from nationalism. This means there have to be a conviction that nationalism is working, then the act of driving nationalism give birth to patriotism, and this has positive multiplier effects in nation building and holistic development. The United States? Museum of Patriotism, dedicated to encouraging the spirit of patriotism, and which I suggest that it be replicated in Ghana to drive home her development vision, says, ?True patriotism is based upon devotion to the American ideals of equality before the law, economic freedom, and civic virtue.? As Ghanaians remember those who have devoted themselves to this or that for the progress of Ghana, who have given a bit of their lives for Ghana, as we hear of Americans constantly extolling the Ronald Regans, the Thomas Jeffersons, the Abraham Lincolns, the George Washingtons, the Oprah Winfrehs, the Ralph Waldo Emersons and the Bill Gates, there are many people who are inaudibly pushing the democratic and development of Ghana; they too are nationalists, they too are the Ohene Djans, Kwame Nkrumahs, J.B. Danquahs and Ebenezer Ako Adjeis. They may be the true Ghanaians despite removed from the powerful ideologues of the mass media.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.
Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi