J.H. Mensah and Ghana Speaks

Wed, 24 Oct 2007 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Whether rhetoric or not, Mr. Joseph Henry Mensah, President John Kufour?s National Development Planning Commission czar, and one of Ghana?s leading thinkers, asked ?Is failure in our genes?? He asks in the context of Ghana?s progress. Despite Mr. Mensah?s question opening troubling historical memories of the colonialists? wrongly holding the view that Africans are ?incapable of any intellectual activity,? as Jennifer Gurbin, of the University of Ottawa, writes, informed by Gustav Jahoda?s ?Images of Savages: Ancients Roots of Modern Prejudice in Western Culture? (1999), Mr. Mensah?s statement needs critical analysis without any misinformation, as Ghana?s progress comes in the forefront of its nascent democratic growth. This is where Ghanaians are speaking, saying, ?What is wrong with us, despite our rich cultural values?? ?Where are our elites, as directors of progress?? ?When do we get out of this mess??

Despite Mr. Mensah?s question dealing with progress and Ghanaians elites? inability to grasp their development process, the question also raises the issue of how far Ghanaian elites have grasped Ghana, in the context of its traditional values, in the country?s progress. The reason is that the elites are the directors of progress, so how they grapple the elements of progress is symptomatic of Ghana?s level of progress. No doubt, Mr. Mensah is so unhappy with Ghanaian elites? grasp of their progress that he is advocating, as Ghanadot.com, JoyFM and Ghana News Agency (October 17, 2007) reports, ?radical improvements in the nation's economic performance to propel it to excellent levels of standard of living.? This will come from the brains and comprehension, if Ghana is to speak realistically of its progress, as it will come from opening Ghana?s cultural values, especially the hugely untapped informal sector, for progress.

?We have to convert the individual and the communal self-image of the Ghanaian at work from that of the present Third World, low performing, low income Black African, and replace it with a new image of higher standards of performance, new ways of doing things,? Mr. Mensah thundered. Mr. Mensah?s insights of Ghanaian elites? lackadaisical grasp of their progress come from his years in the national and international development scene. At 78, he has seen it all, having played with all sorts of the globally known development paradigms ? from Marxism to Socialism to Dependency Theory to Conservatism to the neo-liberal free enterprise, sometimes mixing some of them, and battling the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. As much as everyone knows, the main reason for such depressing state of affairs is lack of confidence, particularly of Ghanaian elites.

First President Kwame Nkrumah saw this shortcoming and floated his African personality concept. But that didn?t go far enough in terms of weaving the concept into policy-making and bureaucratization. Incumbent President John Kufour saw the confidence-progress challenge, created the Culture Ministry as lubricator of progress, floated a new education curriculum and inserted Ghanaian traditional values as one of the ways of growing confidence in the development process. The implication of all these attempts at addressing the confidence-progress conundrum is that at 50 years Ghana is yet to have a thorough grasp of its development process, at least if Mr. Mensah?s observations, drawn from his advanced age, 78, and his vast experiences on the national and international vistas, are to be used as a measure of Ghanaian elites grasp of their progress.

As Mr. Mensah indicated, while Ghana is currently doing well in governance ? there is remarkable democratic growth ? other developmental values needed to balance Ghana?s progress are either still weak or are yet to be unearthed or have not been understood. One of these problems is ?low expectation.? This makes the development issue as much of a psychological battle as it is of the provision of material comfort for Ghanaians. And this place the ?low expectation? in the historical perspectives as it is of confidence challenge. ?In one field of endeavour leaders put in charge are content simply to maintain past and present levels of performance. They do not sufficiently motivate themselves or their subordinates to strive for higher standards,? Mr. Mensah reports, giving insight into why contemporary Ghanaian bureaucracy and policy-development regime appear not to radiate the intellectual rigour that comprehends Ghana?s progress from within its traditional values as the Southeast Asians have done.

Part of the broader reasons why there is this state of affairs is that Ghanaian traditional values, as the key foundational confidence booster, are yet to be appropriated as fully as possible, as the Southeast Asians have done, to not only grow confidence but also as part of policy-development and bureaucratization in the neo-liberal system. Nowhere do we see this more than the Japanese development process with its management system called ?Kaizen,? a mixture of Japanese traditional values and neo-liberal management system. Pretty much of the Japanese confidence in their progress comes from their ability to mix their traditional values with the neo-liberal ones.

Ghanaians elites, seen more or less in their bureaucrats and policy planners, are yet to go the Japanese and other Southeast Asian countries? way by openly appropriating Ghanaian traditional values in relation to the neo-liberal values for progress. As Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw indicate in ?The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy,? other countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia have overcome the confidence-progress dilemma by thorough understanding of their traditional values in relation to their neo-liberal heritage. Ghana?s progress requires an understanding of the nation?s core traditional values and experiences, its colonial legacies and world development models. With decentralization wobbly and the Parliament of Ghana yet to assert itself as a centre where Ghanaian traditional values flow for progress, Mr. Mensah held responsible part of the low self-esteem in ?excessive powers in the presidency.? This reflects the unGhanaian nature of the Ghanaian presidency. As Dr. George B.N. Ayittey, of the American University in Washington, USA, examined in Ghanadot.com (October 15, 2007), African traditional leadership do not have excessive powers, they are balanced by other matured traditional structures, thus putting at bay any excessive powerful leadership that will undermine the community in the long term. The incorporation of this value into the Ghanaian presidency will help in the development process by reminding any President that his or her presidency flows from Ghanaian traditional values as much as it is from the neo-liberal system ? as the Japanese have consistently exuded. Such missing authentic traditional Ghanaian values may explain Mr. Mensah?s strong view that Ghana?s development agenda is immature and unscientific, and has no guidance whatsoever from Ghanaian norms, values and traditions.

A dose of balanced confidence, drawn from Ghanaian values, with a pinch of holistic intellectual bravery, as the Southeast Asians have demonstrated, driven by Ghana?s history, traditional values and neo-liberal values, will be the right anti-dote to overturn Mr. Mensah?s ?failure in our genes? expression. In this way, Ghana will surely be speaking in a balanced and understandable way towards her progress.

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

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi