Succeeding the Right Way: The Problem of Culture in Ghana

Sat, 8 Sep 2007 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

The great American filmmaker and storyteller, Ken Burns, aptly captured the essence of life when he emphasized that every experience is an anecdote — a series of individual stories carefully woven together over time to make sense out of human events. Each person’s life is a story, which is why those who sneer at great personal stories, meant largely to elevate the spirits of the downtrodden and give encouragement and hope to those in despair, seem to completely miss the point about life and all of its associated complexities.

Names like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela will most likely evoke feelings of bravery, determination, freedom, liberation, and compassion. Conversely, names such as Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Benito Mussolini tend to be associated with evil, greed, ruthlessness, depravity, massacre, and the like. Here comes my point: How would people describe the typical Ghanaian?

Ghanaians, perhaps by virtue of their culture, tend to value physical possessions such as pieces of land, cars, and houses over more intrinsic qualities such as courage, loyalty, truthfulness, patience and patriotism, among other great human qualities. Has the Ghanaian misplaced his/her priorities in search of the mundane? Is the Ghanaian more interested in the fleeting passions of life, rather than the consequential and the eternal?

Hardly a day goes by without one reading about a few Ghanaians voluntarily becoming “couriers” for some overseas-based drug barons, with all of the attendant irreparable harm to themselves and the nation as a whole. For every Ghanaian trafficker arrested, there seems to be another willing to take his/her place. Thus, a nation that was once well-respected in the community of nations has now been labeled a hub for traffickers. As a result, Ghanaians are now subjected to the most dehumanizing searches at airports and other points of entry outside of their nation. Has the nation’s psyche been damaged? If so one may be tempted to blame the preceding problem on poverty and lack of resources. But is Ghana the only poor nation in the world? The answer is a resounding no! It therefore makes sense to fault some Ghanaians’ desire to become rich overnight on cultural leanings and beliefs.

As a society that trivializes polygamy, for instance, those who believe in having multiple wives, girlfriends, or concubines simply have to find a way to be the “man” in the lives of these women. Does it surprise anyone therefore that some people in government and positions of authority rarely agonize over their own misuse of state resources? How else will a few members of parliament and ministers of state be able to support two or three women, some of whom are relatives of their wives, or even nannies to their children? At least their salaries are public knowledge!

In a society where people generally disparage long-term planning in favor of immediate consumption, not to mention the ills of consumerism, how else can one explain the impatience of men to become millionaires overnight? What else will cause a sitting member of parliament to dabble in the shipment and distribution of cocaine overseas except that he undervalues his salary and the perks associated with his position? Perhaps, Ghanaians can learn from a man like Warren Buffet, who, as one of the richest men in the world, recently gave away thirty of his thirty-seven billion dollars to charity. What makes the story compelling, however, is the fact that this self-made billionaire still lives in the same townhouse he purchased in 1977, although he could easily over the years have bought several mansions and a fleet of expensive cars for his indulgence! Can Ghanaians learn something about modesty from this man?

Perhaps Ghanaians can improve their life expectancies by making a few changes to their daily lifestyles: incorporating into their schedules an hour of exercise each day, eating healthy foods, and “slowing down” a bit in their efforts to outdo their next door neighbors, as far as worldly possessions are concerned. Many people engage in all sorts of questionable enterprises just so others can clap their hands for them — literally and figuratively ? and say to them, “Well done, you faithful son or daughter of so-and-so family and clan, you have made us proud!” What a pity!

One of the most deplorable “deficiencies” of Ghanaian men is their unwillingness — or is it inability? ? to play an active role in raising their children. Don’t get me wrong as most men provide the basic needs of their children ? food, clothing, shelter, textbooks, money for school fees, among others. In their warped imagination of “manliness,” nonetheless, they do not realize that the most important ingredient of a parent-child relationship is simply being available to these children.

For some of you reading this article — and I hope you are honest with yourselves ? how many of your dads ever looked over your homework when you were in primary school, or spent time with you on Saturdays, or took you fishing in the nearest body of water? How many of you wished your dads simply stayed home more as you were growing up? I hope no one sees this remark as a castigation of Ghanaian men, or their parental incompetence per se, but as the beginning of needed dialogue to transform their psyche, in favor of getting them involved in the everyday affairs of their children, and not leaving the bulk of the work to their wives. Is it any surprise most children, both boys and girls, grow up doting on their mothers, since the parental oversight was asymmetrical all along?

In her bestseller, Succeeding Sane: Making Room for Joy in a Crazy World, Bonnie St. John Deane, the Harvard- and Oxford-trained former Clinton administration official asserts, “People act as though their life is a seesaw with achievement on one end and personal happiness on the other. A person can choose to tip the seesaw toward achieving more money, power, or fame; toward family, spiritual growth, or serving others; or to be balanced somewhere in the middle and settling for less of each.” Putting aside family, friends, health, and relaxation in pursuit of wealth, although wealth in and of itself is not a bad thing, will only end in pain and frustration years later. As someone else pertinently put it, many people sacrifice their health for wealth, and then spend their wealth to get back their health!

The story is told of a man so determined to succeed in the corporate world, he constantly made excuses whenever his son asked him to attend his football games. Over time, this boy became an accomplished man himself. It was now the father’s turn to regularly invite his son over, but the latter had also developed his father’s apathy: he never once visited his lonely dad and blamed it on his work schedule. If Ghanaians teach their progenies character, modesty, hard work, honesty, empathy, vision, patience, and selflessness, these children are likely to hold on to such when they grow up, and will unlikely be plagued by the greedy, win-at-all-costs, to-hell-with-everyone lifestyles that have befallen their parents. Together Ghanaians can change the culture of avarice one person at a time!

Daniel K. Pryce, MPA. The writer can be reached at dpryce@gmu.edu.

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

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.