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Growing Cultural Voices To Re-think Ghana

Fri, 25 May 2007 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Developmentally, despite its 50 years of corporate existence, indigenous Ghana and neo-liberal Ghana are worlds apart. It will take more than the late President Kwame Nkrumah’s (1909 - 1972) acclaimed visions for Ghanaian elites to bring them together. Nkrumah didn’t make any remarkable attempts to bring the two worlds together. Unarguably, Nkrumah may be great but could not move comfortably between the two values, resulting in his violent overthrow in 1966, as a result of his virtual non-harnessing of traditional institutions for progress. Nkrumah’s profound marginalization of traditional institutions or the “base,” more appropriately traditional rulers, as bastion of Ghanaian development process explains his low grasp of development in the Ghanaian environment.

Nkrumah’s successors are no better. The late Prime Minister Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia (1913 - 1978), perhaps the most heavily neo-liberal value-influenced of Ghanaian rulers and coming from traditional royal home, which should have given him immense grasp of the functions of traditional institutions, did not show any remarkable inclination to mix neo-liberal values with Ghana’s norms, values and traditions in the country’s progress. Perhaps Nkrumah and his associates have studied too much of Western systems that they were blinded from the very Ghanaian environment they come, and which helped distort Ghana’s progress in the long haul.

It is paradoxical that it is after 50 years independence that there are calls Ghana-wide for traditional institutions to be given the consent to fill some of the 30 percent government appointee seats in the 138 District Assemblies to better mirror not only the relevance of traditional institutions, as part of the broader mechanisms for Ghana’s progress, but also the general norms, values and traditions that are the factual bedrock of Ghana’s development process. When sometime ago University of Ghana’s Prof. Kojo Yanka suggested the intellectualisation of Ghanaian languages in its development process, he was in effect saying the intellectualisation of the Ghanaian culture for progress. That’s mix the indigenous with neo-liberal. In their attempts to re-tool Ghana’s progress, Ghanaian elites can draw inspiration from Southeast Asia. From Japan to Malaysia to South Korea to Vietnam, Southeast Asian elites have been able to move skilfully and comfortably between their indigenous values and the dominant neo-liberal ones, and adroitly mixed the two in their progress. Itself, the dominant Western world’s progress has evolved by the ability of its elites to appropriate values from afar into theirs. In all measure, as America social scientist Francis Fukuyama would tell you, you start your development process from your cultural base first and appropriate from around.

Such thinking is gradually emerging in Ghana. Samples, as increasingly carried by the progressive Ghanaian mass media: Refracting more from the distortions that neo-liberal values have done to Ghana, Prof. George Hagan, chair of the National Commission on Culture, suggests the examination of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals from a Ghanaian cultural perspective as a fundamental and strategic means of achieving success by the target date of 2015. Sampson Kwaku Boafo, Minister of Chieftaincy and Culture, complains that Ghanaian culture has changed for the worst in the years since independence from the long-running colonial rule to the detriment of larger progress of Ghana. Prof. George Hagan, chair of the National Commission on Culture, has secured funds from the European Union (Two million Euros) to use appropriate Ghanaian culture to “support human resource development; employment; income generation; research and of non-State actors from the cultural sector.” Dr. Nana Oti Boateng, King of New Juaben Traditional Area in Ghana’s Eastern Region, talks of how traditional institutions are inherently more democratic than the current dominant neo-liberal one. Alhaji Adams, administrative manager of the Timber Industry Development, enjoined traditional rulers, politicians, and the youth to take up and use traditional alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in resolving conflicts. Prof. Kwame Gyekye, coordinator of the Ghana Golden Jubilee Lecture Series, argues for a national direction driven by cultural values that inspire national character and progress, and that this need has come about because of “disregard for indigenous culture in favour of European ethics and institutions during the colonial era.”

These progressively different views of utilising Ghanaian values in the country’s progress reflect attempts to re-think Ghana’s progress from within its values as a way reconciling it with the neo-liberal values for progress. Sheikh Quaye, Greater Accra Regional Minister, adds his voice to the growing calls to set up a Royal College for Chiefs (Traditional Rulers), as a forum to “deliberate effectively on local governance issues.” Such gap between Ghanaian values and Western ones has created in its wake rupture between the two values in Ghana’s progress; making Ghanaian culture deteriorated within its own environment, and is partly responsible for the developmental distress of Ghanaians. In such unbalanced atmosphere, Ghanaian elites have not been able to harness the tension between the two values for progress, as the Southeast Asians have done by weaving together neo-liberal values and their own norms, values and traditions to create the rich tapestry of paradigms that drive their progress today. Still, the Southeast Asian elites did so because they have simultaneously thorough confidence, respect, regard, and deep grasp of their values in relation to Western ones as the foundational basis of their progress.

For 50 years, Ghanaian elites have not been able to re-think the impact of ex-colonial neo-liberal values on their traditional values, confidence, and dignity in the larger context of their progress. That’s why Bernard Guri, of the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development, is arguing that “research had shown that over 75 per cent of Ghanaians were still dependent on their traditional authorities for governance and social organization.” The picture is here are imbalances of values across the whole development process. The sense is that Ghanaian elites, for long unable to mix their acquired neo-liberal values with Ghanaian/African ones, are yet to grasped the fact that all development starts from one’s core values first and any other second.

From the Europeans to the Southeast Asians, it is from such understanding, dexterity and manipulability of development elements that have seen countries such as communist Vietnam, which went through horrendous war from 1959 to 1975, able to mix its indigenous values, the neo-liberal free market enterprise and socialism (the mixture dubbed "Doi Moi" or "Renovation") in its development process, and emerge today as the fastest growing economy in the world with 8 per cent annual Gross Domestic Product growth. Ordinary Ghanaians expect their elites not only to go the Vietnamese way but sit down, calm themselves and think deeply about their development process as way of not only understanding their immediate environment, of which they appear not to know well enough, but how, like the Vietnamese elites have done, operationalise to mix the dominant neo-liberal values with Ghanaian/African indigenous values for progress.

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

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi