Quashigah: Appetite for bold thinking

Tue, 12 Jan 2010 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

For some time, Ghana’s former Agriculture and Health Minister, Courage Emmanuel Kobla Quashigah, a retired major from the Ghana Armed Forces who died in an Israeli hospital on January 5 at 62, have been in the forefront of the emerging Ghanaian/African enlightenment project. The project, largely undertaken by its advocates pro bono, seeks to appropriate Africa’s traditional values for progress by simultaneously exploiting the enabling parts for policy making and exposing the inhibiting aspects for refinement.

Quashigah reflects the simple, wisdom orientated aspects of the budding African enlightenment project. In Quashigah, Africa’s traditional values have to be understood and carefully weaved into Africa’s progress as a matter of practicality and prosperity. In doing this, Quashigah believed that much of Africa’s psychological scars that have come from the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism will be healed. Still, it will correct the fact that Africa is the only region in the world where its development paradigms are dominated by foreign development paradigms to the detriment of its rich and tested traditional values. This situation reveals African elites as weak and lack holistic thinking in their societies’ progress.

Quashigah was convinced that, it is not just factoring in the African culture in the development process just for factoring in sake but rather that while appropriating the enabling aspects for policy making, at the same time the inhibiting parts, too, should be considered and attempts made to refine them through democracy, human rights and freedoms. This also demonstrates Quashigah’s transformation as key part of a military junta under Jerry Rawlings into a democrat and the need to use democratic tenets to help enlighten Africa’s progress by taking on the inhibiting parts such as human sacrifice, Pull Him Down, and witchcraft.

Quashigah led a courageous life, a key ingredient that he brought into the enlightenment mission, taking on complicated subjects no matter the consequences such as how African traditional food is healthier than Western ones. In some sort of transformative way, Quashigah tackled one of the most pressing challenges facing Ghana and Africa – how to skillfully appropriate the suppressed Ghanaian/African traditional values in its progress so that they can be opened decisively for development. In this regard, a few weeks before he died, he wrote a brilliant article about the on-going decentralization review, arguing for traditional institutions are factored in.

Still, Quashigah demonstrated a well developed mind that has good holistic grasp of Africa, its prospects and its challenges – more from the challenges emanating from its cultural values. The challenge is not only to appropriate Ghanaian cultural values openly in its progress, the challenges are also how to refine the inhibitions within the culture in the development game. In Quashigah’s native Volta region, trade and investment experts confirmed recently what some of the enlightenment thinkers have been saying by advising that certain negative cultural practices (such as the fearsome juju and human sacrifices) drive away investors, hence the region’s abysmal progress.

In Quashigah, this will be done by skillful policy making driven by research owned by Ghanaians/Africans through their traditional norms. Such challenges have occurred because either the extremely long-running colonial rule, which concealed African values, or post-independence African elites' weak grasp of Africa's traditional values in its progress, certain parts of Africa's traditional values deemed unconstructive have not seen conscious attempts to distill them for greater progress. The thinking here is that there is the disastrous interdependence between the enabling aspects of African traditional values and the inhibiting parts such as the immense influence of juju-marabout spiritualists on African elites and progress.

No doubt, Quashigah argued that “no country could develop if it relegates its culture to the background and concentrated on Western values that were of little relevance to its people.” By this Quashigah wasn’t saying Western values aren’t relevant to Africa but that Africa’s values and that of the West should be mixed as a matter of confidence and psychology.

For Quashigah, African elites, as directors of progress, should “harness the human resources of the country, taking into account their cultural beliefs and accepting only good foreign cultures.” The test is how Ghanaian/African thinkers with supposedly thorough grasp of their traditional values would be able to play with their native values and the dominant neo-liberal ones currently running Ghana for greater progress. In the long term, as Quashigah asserted, it will demand “complete overhaul of the education curriculum in line with the people's beliefs and practices.”

That means African traditional values will be accorded as much prominence as the Western ones in the content of education curriculum in preparing the minds of the African youth for progress. This is expected to have two-fold effects: raise the level of confidence among Africans, more the elites, in regard to African traditional values and help develop a new generation of elites who can think holistically from the foundations of their traditional cultural values up to the global level.

Like Southeast Asians, Quashigah's famed bravery drove him into this feared territory of thinking and believed that this will help midwife the new African enlightenment thinking in a society that fears change, that is entangled by some destructive parts of its culture, and that do not consider its traditional values as good as that of any other in the world. Quashigah did this through sustained advocacy and public education that primarily aimed to influence policy making that are needed to appropriate suppressed African traditional values for progress.

Though not an academic, with strings of degrees and writings, Quashigah’s simple thinking and wisdom, of the need to consider African traditional values in the continent’s progress, were more or less a reflection of George Ayittey, part of the new African enlightenment thinkers, of the American University in Washington DC and named one of the top 100 thinkers in 2009 and author of “Indigenous African Institutions” (2004), “Africa Betrayed” (1992), “Africa in Chaos” (1998), and “Africa Unchained: The Blueprint for Development” (2004).

In Quashigah, the task is how the supposedly refurbished Ghanaian/African thinkers will be able to work with Ghanaian/African traditional values in the context of the “problems facing the country (Africa) and come out with workable measures to address them,” as journalist Kwesi Pratt Jr, has argued elsewhere. As part of Quashigah’s enlightening legacy, the test is how Ghanaian/African thinkers will demonstrate the ability to communicate these new ideas and influence debate outside of it. It is when this serious ground work is done that Ghanaians/Africans will be able to reconcile their traditional values with the global ones for sustainable progress.

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi