Towarsd New Policy Making

Wed, 14 Dec 2005 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong says that a new policy making system is needed nation-wide that will incorporate the enabling aspects of Ghanaian cultural values and experiences in the current thinking of mixing Ghana?s colonial legacies with her cultural values in her development process

In the climate of Ghana?s emerging renaissance, the latest of which is the country?s Judiciary Services attempting to awaken the culture, mix her indigenous legal values with those of her imposed colonial laws, ?participants at a workshop on Ghana's Trade Policy in Tamale, have called on policy makers to always consult local people for their inputs before formulating trade policies.? Though the participants are attempting to do what their brethrens at the Judiciary Services are trying to do, they are in other words talking in much more broader terms: saying that all genuine policy making procedures are holistic and corporate Ghana since independence has not done that in relation to incorporating the country?s values, experiences and history in her policy development, thus creating unnecessary troubles in the country?s development path. And as the wise and realistic Tamale participants deeply and loudly said, ?The lack of consultation on trade policies (and almost all national policies for that matter) had often resulted in the formulation of trade policies (and almost all national policies for that matter) that negatively affected their livelihoods and increased their poverty levels.?

Why this situation? First, the British colonial regime that created what is called Ghana today, from the word go, either had no respect for the cultural values, histories, and experiences of the 56 ethnic group that came to form Ghana or did know anything about their cultural values and experiences at all. The reason is, London, like other European colonialists, thought, wrongly, that her values was more civilized than that of the 56 ethnic groups? and, therefore, imposed her values and experiences, which inform policies, on them as part of her civilizing mission. With this terribly erroneous mindset, the long colonial rule of London did not factor in the 56 ethnic groups? cultural values and experiences in policy planning. This has created long-running damages, distortions and confusion in Ghana?s progress. Second, much more worrying, the Ghanaian elites who took over from the British colonialist continued massively with the legacies of colonial policy making practices ? that?s almost all serious national policy development did not consult heavily and openly wise and experienced indigenous Ghanaians, their cultural values, traditional institutions, and traditional leaders.

In this regards, Dr. Daniel Tetteh Osabu-Kle, a public policy and administration expert at Canada?s Carleton University in Ottawa, explains that, ?One of the very serious mistakes in Africa's development was the arrogant assumption of the political elite that they knew all the problems and had all the answers. This implied a one-sided approach to development in which development enterprise was solely owned by the elite. It turned out that the elite, both foreign and national, did not know all the problems and had answers to only very few?It is the local people who know what they want and what their problems are. When they own their development, they are more apt to support it.?

Why is the Tamale trade policy session a tip of Ghana?s emerging renaissance? One, Ghanaians are increasingly thinking better today within their rich values in the scheme of their progress unlike years past and, two, because ?peasant farmers, traditional authorities, women association and youth associations, opinion leaders, civil society organisations and community-based organisations among others who attended the workshop,? as the Ghana News Agency reported, in a mark of renaissance thinking were saying that policy making must first flow from those who really are to be affected and as such their cultural values, histories, and experiences should also inform the policy development so as to make the policy realistic and holistic and reflect the true Ghanaian environment. The need for new policy development realism today is that Ghanaian policy planners because of the education they have had take Ghanaian values for granted and as result do not know Ghana very well, and create policies Ghanaians either do not know or do not understand.

No doubt, Dr. Osabu-Kle, author of ?Cultural Democracy: The Key to Development in Africa? (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2000), says, ?It is the local people who know what they want and what their problems are. When they own their development, they are more apt to support it. Policies are courses of action chosen to address identified and defined problems. It begins with identifying and defining the problems. In this respect, while the elite may identify food shortage as a problem, it is the local people who can define what they really need. For example, it is no use supplying tomatoes to people who need cocoyam rather than tomatoes. The involvement of the local people in defining the problems to be addressed is therefore of paramount importance. It avoids putting square pegs in round holes. I emphasize that policies are for the solution of problems and those to be affected must be involved in its creation and implementation right from the beginning to the end.?

In the shape of things to come, what the Tamale policy session participants, and by extension Ghanaians in general, are indirectly telling Accra, Ghanaian elites, non-governmental organizations, and bureaucrats is that Ghana?s policy making must first flow from their cultural values, their histories, and their experiences ? National House of Chiefs, women groups, civil society, traders, street people, professional bodies, traditional instructions, villagers and urban dwellers, fishermen, farmers, artisans, carpenters, non-governmental organizations. This means regardful and respectful consultations of Ghanaians before the policy development process goes to the cool offices of the bureaucrats or the policy-developers, who will then use their trained skills or policy making paradigms in developing the particular policy. The result of this process will see a holistically realistic policy making informed by Ghanaians? cultural values, histories, and experiences first, her colonial legacies and any other foreign value and experiences consulted, second. This is because for long, and still largely on-going, Ghana?s national development policies were developed solely either from Accra or Washington or London without any corresponding heavy input from key Ghanaian traditional institutions, cultural values, experiences, or histories, and dumped on Ghanaians. This long-running oversight, more from the defectively unbalanced thinking Ghanaian elites, has resulted in policy failures after policy failures to the detriment of Ghana?s development process, worsening Ghanaians already disadvantaged situation in the global progress scheme of things.

The Tamale policy session participants can draw inspiration from Canada; where because of Cabinet Directive on Law-making, federal departments, parliament and the provincial legislatures are enjoined by the constitutional distribution of powers to consult indigenous Aboriginal institutions in policy development. According to Ghanaian-Canadian Andrew Aryee, a policy analyst with Canada?s Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Ottawa, policy-makers from federal parliament to provincial legislatures to federal departments, ?are constrained in their law-making powers by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and by certain other constitutional provisions,? to consult the traditional knowledge of indigenous Aboriginals. ?So in the policy development arena of the federal government, failure to consult with Aboriginal groups when policy is being developed is to invite failure to the policy; hence it is all-important to include Aboriginals in the policy development stages in order to ensure fairness, equity and a holistic policy that takes into consideration the interests and traditional knowledge of Aboriginal groups.?

If Ghanaian policy planners are to create a new national policy development system, backed by an act of parliament, as is the case in Canada, and rooted in Ghanaian cultural values, histories and experiences, it will have a snowball effect not only nationally, permeating even regional and local governments policy developments, but also have international implications. Why? Foreign governments, international donors, agencies, non-governmental organizations and institutions that would be aiding in Ghana?s development process would found it fit to go the way of the already laid down policy making system in Ghana, where local indigenous cultural values, experiences and histories are incorporated into policy making, by doing same in the policies they will be developing in helping Ghana?s progress. That?s what the World Bank is, in effect is saying, by helping the Ghana Judiciary Service mix the country?s colonially-imposed mainstream laws with her indigenous customary laws in the dispensation of law and order.

Broadly open incorporation of Ghanaian cultural values into policy planning will not only help develop Ghanaian values in terms of usage, as Dr. George Ayittey, of the American University in Washington, D.C. and author of ?The Plight of African Chiefs,? is advising of tapping Ghanaian traditional rulers as human resources materials, but also help refine the identified inhibitions, as the National Commission on Civic Education is thinking of doing, within the culture that have been stifling Ghana?s progress, such as ?trokosi,? a cultural practice in Ghana?s Volta Region that violates teenage girls? human rights by their being enslaved to shrines/oracles for sins committed by their parents.

The thinking of the Tamale policy session participants, like the on-going mixing of Ghanaian traditional laws with the colonially-imposed ones, is part of the emerging Ghanaian Renaissance, where her cultural values are awakened and reconciled with the colonially-imposed ones in her development process.

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

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi