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The Trouble With Patriotism

Thu, 20 Oct 2005 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The idea of some Ghanaian elites talking "The Role of Patriotism in the Affairs of Ghana Today - Public Scene" resonates patriotism into the development process today, and demonstrates a deeper link between Ghanaians inner values and their progress. Because of Ghana's long-running encounter with colonialism, patriotism in terms of national development has become a complicated issue. The complications have come about because of practical, historical and cultural reasons. The reason been that Ghana, at 48 years, is too young in terms of growth of a nation-state project which has come about because of forced coalition of the 56 ethnic groups that make up Ghana with each group's heroes/heroines, history and culture, thus making the issue of patriotism each ethnic group's thing first and the nation-state second. So patriotism is stronger at the micro, ethnic level than the national level - King Osei Tutu 1, who created the Asante Empire and is seen as a hero and a patriotic figure among his group, is not seen the same way by other ethnic groups in Ghana as the Asantes see him.

At the national level patriotism is weak because Ghanaian elites, since independence from colonial rule, have not work out policies from within the values of the 56 ethnic groups unto the national level to create visions of patriotic heartfelt poems, stories, articles, tributes to heroes/heroines, troops, veterans, heads of states/prime ministers/presidents, and other great Ghanaians; famous quotes; music / songs; artwork; references of interest; listings of great sites and worthy charities; patriotic photos; patriotic thoughts; solemn remembrance of national tragedies; and, museums and stores showcasing not only Ghanaian values but also those who have given themselves a bit for the project called Ghana.

Still, the patriotic complications have come about because the British colonialist who compartmentalized the 56 ethnic groups into what is today called Ghana did so with no love for the 56 ethnic groups via their innate cultural values. Each of these groups, practically, had their own level of patriotism in terms of struggles, history and experiences which shaped their values before becoming Ghanaians. Despite this, patriotism is about fervent love and pride, expressing one's self and sharing. In the practical Ghanaian terms, the mother of all patriotism is heavily about sharing.

In this sense, as a heterogeneous country, patriotism has largely being more or less love of one's ethnic group first and any other second born out of the struggles to live well from threatening elements of both nature and humanity. What I mean is that Ghanaian patriotism has, realistically, being, say, the Fante, or any other ethnic group for that matter, loving his/her ethnic group first and any other second emanating out of their struggles to live in comfort inform by their struggles, experiences and history. Once again, Ghanaian elites have not worked, sadly, since independence from British colonial rule in 1957, to create policies or projects that will let all the 56 ethnic groups feel or love each other in patriotic terms driven by the collective groups' struggles, history and experiences. This oversight by Ghanaian elites has Ghanaians of different background interprete "patriotism" differently and this having implications in Ghana's progress.

If all Ghanaians agree that patriotism is all Ghanaians heritage and culture, then these virtues have to be hammered constantly in the national psychic and the Ghana project such as during Emancipation Day, Independence Day, cultural festivals, and the birth-days of most of the founding fathers and traditional rulers of Ghana to re-awaken in Ghanaians patriotic zeal and development goals. Dr. Hilla Limman, the late president before President Jerry Rawlings, once remarked that his ideology was "Ghana." By this President Limman revealed a striking Ghanaian patriotic vision, cutting across ethnic lines. The relevance of President Limman's patriotic statement is that there has not been any open project, such as the teaching of patriotism and development in schools (or the teaching of "Ghana" or "Ghanaian Studies"), since freedom from colonial rule, to juggle all the patriotic virtues of the 56 ethnic groups in national development.

But rather, as Prof Agyeman Badu Akosa, a clear example of a patriot and the Director-General of the Ghana Health Service, is quoted by the Accra-based mass circulation "The Daily Graphic" as saying, Ghanaian elites have used the country's patriotic values, latently, in "exploiting the poor and vulnerable," most of whom are more patriotic than the elites in practical and development terms. The issue of patriotism came at the the 12th William Ofori Atta Memorial Lectures in Accra. Ofori Atta, himself a patriot born out of his nationalistic, spiritual rebirth, democratic and development struggles, is a perfect being to invoke the issue of patriotism and development unto a patriotically confused and hungry Ghanaians in their development struggles.

Large information about Ghanaians who have given a little bit of their lives for Ghana's progress is not encouraging in the public domain. Who is Okomfo Anokye and what did he do not only in terms of the Asante State but also for the entire Ghana? Who is Kwame Nkrumah and what was his dreams about Ghana? Who is J.B. Danquah and what was his democratic visions? Who is Addai Cutlass Centre, the late Kumasi-based philantropist who provided a lot of shelter for the poor? Who is Kofi Busia and what was his democratic struggles? Who is John Jerry Rawlings and what was his long-running national development struggles? Who is Yaa Asantewaah and how can we draw from her nationalistic drives? And what about all the Ghanaians who work honestly in their small corners to make Ghana move? Are they all patriots? Yes!

In this regard, Dr. Akosah's statement that "middle-class professionals in Ghana had turned their backs on the places they came from and disrespected their less fortunate brothers and sisters" demonstrates that patriotism first flows from the micro to the macro, from the rural to the urban, from the village to the regional to the national. And in terms of the increasing population of Ghanaians abroad, patriotism flows from the global to the village - when Ghanaians abroad sent remittances and other development goods and services home, they are demonstrating patriotism. And so when the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11, or any of the development-minded traditional rulers for that matter, seriously get involve in the development of their villages or towns, they are demonstrating practical patriotism, they are showing love for the progress of their denizens. Patriotism, now, in the current Ghanaian development thinking, is, how one eats well, drinks well, and sleeps well in an atmosphere of peace dictated by Ghanaian values, experiences, history and culture.

Patriotism, therefore, becomes tangible and not any intangible, amorphous, intellectually unmanageable entity in the Ghanaian development context. Patriotism becomes manageable, from the micro to the macro, in this sense, as Dr. Akosah indicated, when "the privileged few in the society" work "to maintain and improve the very systems that allowed them to come out of poverty and illiteracy," especially connecting with the "the rural and village folk" in order to eliminate "their squalor" in the larger Ghanaian development journey. Patriotism also means thinking well, which means thinking holistically and beyond one's self, in the Ghanaian value of communalism, and helping to neutralise the largely negative, Pull-Him/Her-Down-for-Me syndrome (of which there are large dose in Ghana's development obstacles) as Dr. Akosa said of "many attempts at extending affordable and reliable health delivery to the rural areas where 60 per cent of the population lived, had been fiercely resisted by some managers of the teaching hospitals." A patriotic lesson: when my senior brother Dr. Emmanuel Tuffour, a Ghanaian-American medical internist based in Cleveland, Ohio, USA out of patriotic calling opened the now progressive Aniwa Medical Centre in Kumasi some years ago, he waged through not only negative elements but a system that is patriotically weak in development terms, sodiering on, seeing the Aniwa Medical Medical Centre becoming one of Ghana's leading private medical centres.

Patriotism is dynamic, on-going and always calling on those who care to use it to think and live well. Patriotism is enhanced with constantly emerging new ideas as a soceity attempts to live well. The introduction of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), "to provide quality health care to all the people of Ghana" as mentioned by Dr. Akosah reveals his fuller grasp of patriotism and national development. Patriotism is a spiritual value, it emanates from within one's culture, and it is as Ghanaian as it is universal, for patriotism flows from within one's innate values and is radiated by one's history and experiences. If we agree on that, then patriotism should help us minimise favourtism which undermines accountability, a true Ghanaian/African value but weakened by colonialism and inept elites who think accountability is Western or colonial. Dr. Akosah's suggestion of "setting up of a watchdog body to investigate and expose greedy and dishonest public officials" should be seen as purely invoking Ghanaian/African patriotic value of communalism in solving Ghanaian problem.

For the progress of Ghana and in order to integrate all the patriotic values and experiences of the 56 ethnic groups that make Ghana, a Ghana National Museum of Patriotism, as the Americans have done, to let Ghanaians, especially the youth who need a high diet of patriotic feed for the future progress of Ghana, "explore what patriotism meant to those" Ghanaians "who came before us, as well as what it means to many of us today. We all share a belief in an idea called" Ghana. The Ghana National Museum of Patriotism would let Ghanaians "experience how that belief was - and is - expressed. Expressed not just in words, but in actions: both great and small." With patriotism a troubling issue in Ghana's progress, a Ghana National Museum of Patriotism would help Ghanaians "recognize that true patriotism is based upon devotion" to the Ghanaian ideals of freedom and justice, and civic virtues born out of Ghanaian cultural values and experiences. In this sense, the patriotic museum would "echo the words and dreams" of Ghanaian "patriots throughout centuries."

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

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi