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The Dawn of Ghana’s Renaissance

9 November 2005 at 00:22 | 663 views

Our Ottawa correspondent, Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, after deep reflections and consultations, announces the dawn of Ghana’s Renaissance in her development process and concludes that the process is irreversible.

By Kofi Akosa-Sarpong

In some sort of mystery, ever since her birth on March 6, 1957, which rolled off Africa-wide campaigns for independence from European colonial rule, Ghana, a medium-sized country with about 56 ethnic groups,19 million people and with over 2 million in the diaspora, has radiated hope and ideals continentally, becoming a lightning rod in Africa’s development process. Now, from all the signals emanating from her culture and elites at home and abroad, some sort of a Ghana Renaissance or Enlightenemnt or Reformation or "Tokugawa Enlightenment" (the Japanese version) is brewing, just as it happened in Europe in the 18th century.

The new thinking, which is eclectic, as are others that have happened before it, is that colonialism closed off the opening (and so were inept post-independence Ghanaian governments) and right appropriation of Ghana’s values in her development process, brewing confusion, low self-esteem and crisis of confidence in Ghana’s development process. This did not give Ghanaians the right atmosphere to refine the values deemed "injurious" to their progress as the Europeans did in their Renaissance or Enlightenment period. In this sense, colonialism did not give Ghanaian/African values the much needed room to metapmorphose developmentally. For, throughout the world, "developed" countries like Britain, the United States, France, Russia, Germany and Spain and ex-colonies such as Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Malaysia and China progress have been driven by their values first and any other borrowed ones second. Current international development literature reveal that almost all countries doing well have succeeded simply because they are able to use their innate values, refined the injurious ones, as the Europeans did during the Enlightenment, and mix them with any borrowed values, as the dominant approach to their development process.

In Ghana today, there appears everywhere ferments of attempts to think well, think aloud, put daylight on dark, old "injurious" cultural values, awaken the good values for national development, re-invent the system from within Ghanaian values, and where appropriate, mix the old and the new in the climate of the on-going development engineering - change if possible, globalise values where possible, and improve the Ghanaian way of life by confronting outmoded values head-on. And bring Ghanaian values in the forefront of the development process within the structures of her colonial legacies and the enabling aspects of the global culture, just as the European Enlightenment was meant to break "from the past" and replace "the obscurity, darkness, and ignorance of European thought with the "light" of truth."

Michael Baffoe, executive director of Canada’s Montreal, Quebec-based teenage boys mentoring outfit ’The Balck Star Project" and a McGill University doctoral candidate, has called on Ghanaians, especially traditional rulers, the main carriers of cultural values and as research indicates the people who can effect rapid progress, to scrap their "obsolete customs and traditions!!." "Our traditional rulers must conform to the modern trend of society’s development and do away with those customs and traditions that stand in the way of society’s development. They must embrace modernization and abolish all those outmoded customary practices that actually belong to the middle ages. If this is not done, many of our traditional areas will remain backward and under-developed for so many generations to come. At the same time they also become a hindrance to other peoples businesses that contribute to the general development of the country," wrote Baffoe in the climate of the renaissance thinking.

Backed by the power of the increasingly progressive mass media, developmentally conscious non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and a new generation of intellectually bold elites, are two state commissions which are in the forefront of this developmental changes. The National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE), a largely public education venture aimed at righting confusions created by colonialism and lazy Ghanaian governments’ inactions over the years by hammering civic virtues from within Ghanaian cultural values, and the Commission on National Culture (CNC), more or less a culture policy think tank aimed at letting Ghanaians think better based on their culture first and any other second, are increasingly becoming conduits for the development process’ reanaissance platforms.

The Ghana development challenges span history and culture, informed by years of wrong and unbalanced thinking and beclouded by foreign dominated values because of colonialism and an education system that is not based on Ghanaian values and examples but largely the colonialists. Now after much confusion, it appears the country’s elites are not only trying to clear their heads but also attempting to think holistically from within Ghanaian values and experiences. When the Accra-based "Public Agenda" reported that Prof. Nana Araba Apt and her Board of Directors, of Help Age Ghana, a non-governmental organization, "suggested that labelling people as witches should be criminalized to safeguard the dignity and human rights of older persons in the country," both Help Age Ghana and "Public Agenda" were attempting to think well and bold from within Ghanaian and global values and expose the implications of witchcraft and other such baseless supernatural beliefs in the development process, especially Ghanaian seniors who have for centuries been destructively branded witches.

Such trends had occurred because the 56 ethnic groups that make up what is called Ghana were evolving with all their values when the slave trade and colonialism slammed them, disrupting and stifling the evolution of their progress based on their values, and putting them in a long-running confusion and darkness. With wrong thinking and superiority complex, the European colonialists imposed their development paradigms on the 56 ethnic groups who had been compartmentalised into what was to be known as the Gold Coast. By doing this, the British colonialists not only darkened the growth of indigenous values of the Gold Caosters nationally but also did not find it fit to appropriate some of their values in their development process. This partly affected the self-esteem and self-confidence of the Gold Coasters development, making them think the European/Whiteman is next to God in the development scheme of things and that the African is at the bottom of the ladder of human progress (even Western anthropologists touted this view till Frank Boaz and Ruth Benedict shattered such nonesense with cultural relativity based on the "undoubted truth that human cultures are very different from each other and often embody very different values").

After independence from the British on March 6, 1957 Gold Coast was re-named Ghana by the indigenous elites. Despite some of the much more enlightened ones such as Dr. J.B. Danquah (who named Gold Coast "Ghana") advising that Ghanaian values should direct Ghana’s core development policies, he was unwisely ignored by the largely well-placed and emotionally-ridden and confused elites who were drunk with European values and thought the emerging Ghana’s problems would be solved by adopting European values such as the use of British English language as the sole national language instead of having one indigenous language and the English language as national languages as other ex-colonies have done. From the first President Kwame Nkrumah and his Convention Peoples Party (CPP) to the incumbent President John Kufour and his National Patriotic Party (NPP) ( and in-between them the military juntas that Ghana had experienced) none made strenuous attempts to either bring Ghanaian values in the forefront of policy development and fuse them with the country’s colonial legacies and the enabling aspects of the global culture for national development. As Dr. Y.K. Amoako would say, all the development paradigms in Ghana have been foreign dominated because of this, setting the stage not only for confusion but also false development practices which the average yam farmer in a remote corner of Brong Ahafo does not understand since the country’ expected progress is not directed from her innate values first and any other second.

For this long-running shaky grasp of the development process, as recent studies by such development giants like the World Bank, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Dr. George Ayittey and Dr. Francis Fukuyama (of "The End of History" fame), reveal, the good aspects of Ghanaian culture have not been appropriated for policy development in order to demonstrate openly how Ghanaian values direct her development process within the framework of her colonial legacies and the global culture and help the growth of the country’s values. Still, because of the elites’ unrealistic thinking (elites are the key development directors everywhere), certain powerful indigenous cultural values such as belief in witchcraft as the cause of misfortunes that are "injurious" ( as Ghana’s Vice President Aliu Mahama says today) to progress or excessive reliance on juju-marabou mediums which weaken reasoning and trust, thus inhibiting the development process, have been entangling Ghana’s progress. All these have not been addressed decisively in terms of national development. This has made even the elites not only belief in such "injurious" superstitions but are the leading dabblers in such, making the elites intellect beclouded by the inhibiting cultural values to the detriment of the healthy values such as the tapping of traditional rulers as human resources materials in national development almost 50 years after independence from British colonial rule.

As a result, one cannot discuss Ghana’s development process without talking about her cultural and spiritual foundation as the American social scientist Dr. Francis Fukuyama indicates in "The End of History and the Last Man" that one cannot discuss European progress without discussing her spiritial or cultural origin. But where the spirituial or cultural foundation is heavily entangled in "injurious" or inhibiting values then the development process becomes a big problem, weakening one’s ability to reason from within one’s values or environment and beyond in an attempt to drive progress. Furthermore, reminiscent of Max Weber’s "The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism," where religious orders used their callings as the foundation to spur European progress, some Ghanaian thinkers have been calling for spiritual/religious bodies to disentangle themselves from the use of negative spiritual/religious practices, most emanating from within the culture, that undermine progress, and use their metaphysical foundations for progress as the Europeans did. Vice President Aliu Mahama’s view that "the degree of moral decline and the extent to which national life was being affected, should be a matter of serious concern to the political and religious leaders" drum home the implications of the spiritual/religion in the development process. This problem has occured because Ghana’s moral underpinings, nationally, have not been grounded in her innate values and the African environment, but is increasingly being sucked into the moral decadence of the Western world.

It is in this context that a report by Florence Gbolu and Dave Maass in the Accra-based "The Ghanaian Chronicle" that Ghana’s Commission on National Culture (CNC) is to "research outmoded cultural practices that are potentially damaging to the rights of individuals" and help refine them not only confirms the evolving thinking about the dawn of a reanaissance but also a new thinking that invites Ghanaian thinkers to tackle the country’s development challenges holistically. Before the encouraging Gbolu and Maass report, there have been increasing debates, loud thinking, discussions, and media commentaries/articles about Ghanaian culture and progress. Incidents such as Vice President Aliu Mahama talking of government working to remove the "injurious" cultural elements that are counter-productive to the progress and a non-governmental organization, LAWA-Ghana Alumnae Incorporated, made up of group of women lawyers, after a research on polygamy and its effects on women and children, fighting for a "complete ban and criminalization of polygamy under all forms of marriages in Ghana" so as to ensure "the inclusion of women’s rights in laws on the registration of marriages in Ghana and also bring into reality the goal of equality between men and women" demonstrate the dawn of a renaissance.

These statements and activities are many of the enlightened thoughts that are fast opening the floodgates for serious debate about the Ghanaian culture and the country’s progress, a process not critically thought of since independence. As Ghanaian elites debate the implications of their culture in national development, which invariably means changes in Ghanaians world view in relation to their way of life, there are reminiscences of Europe’s pre-Enlightenment era, which is still on-going, that was primarily about changes in the European world view of their culture in relation to their progress. The European pre-Enlightenment started in the middle of the 18th century and the activity of the thinkers such as the French rationalist (the likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and François Marie Arouet, who signed his name "Voltaire"), who fully articulated the cultural values and consequences of Enlightenment thought. The European Enlightenment thinkers, like what is happening in Ghana today, were a "heterogenous mix of people who pursued a variety of intellectual interests: scientific, mechanical, literary, philosophical, and sociological. They were united by a few common themes: an unwavering doubt in the perfectibility of human beings, a fierce desire to dispel erroneous systems of thought (such as religion) and a dedication to systematizing the various intellectual disciplines."

Like the on-going development awakenings in Ghana, the rallying cry for Europe’s pre-Enlightenment thinkers "was the concept of progress" or as it is called in Ghana today, "the development process." The Europeans thinkers general argument was that "by mastering both natural sciences and human sciences, humanity could harness the natural world for its own benefit and learn to live peacefully with one another. This was the ultimate goal, of rational and intentional progress." Still, like what is happening in Ghana now, none of the pre-Enlightenment thinkers engaged too much on abstract but rather they were "primarily concerned with the betterment of society and human beings so their focus was overwhelmingly practical. This concern was focused on reforming individual human beings and on outdated human institutions and belief systems." So when Ghana’s Health Minister, Major (rtd) Courage Quashigah and his associates, enjoined Ghanaians to eat well so as to live a healthy life and short of that they should not blame witchcraft for their sicknesses, he was in effect indicating the well-being of Ghanaians and the dispelling of an injurious Ghanaian cultural belief systems which generally pin misfortunes on witchcraft and other negative supernatural beliefs.

The European pre-Enlightenment thinking that transited and opened up the full European Enlightenment and its subsequent development process emanated from within European cultural values, taking on "variety of contradictory turns," in a climate of holistic thinking, covering almost every facet of the Europoean life as Ghanaian thinkers are attempting to do now. As Richard Hooker, of Washington State University, USA explains in "The European Enlightenment" (1996), the "the transition to the full Enlightenment" spans the "new natural science of Isaac Newton, the social and political theories of thinkers such as Hobbes, the empirical psychology of John Locke, and the epistemological revolutions of Blaise Pascal and René Descartes." All of these thinkers and innovations built on ealier debates and thinkers such as the Newtonian thought deriving from the "thought and science of Francis Bacon, Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus, and ultimately, Roger Bacon in the thirteenth century."

In the same vein, for the past years, leading to the fuller debate about the Ghanaian culture and progress today, there have emerged Ghanaian thinkers and non-governmental organizations boldly taking on the culture and development process. The most influential of the Ghana’s culture-progress thinkers today is Dr. George Ayyitey, a development economist at the American University in Washington, D.C. In presentations, debates and publications such as "The Plight of the African Chief," "Africa Betrayed" (1993), "Africa Unchained : The Blueprint for Africa’s Future" (2005) and "Africa in Chaos : A Comparative History" (1999), he is helping, boldly, to open the culture-progress debate which has helped sparked Ghana/Africa-wide search for solutions for Ghana/Africa’s progress from within Ghanaian/African cultural values, hence the Dr. Ayittey-coined "Africa solutions for Africa problems," a development process mantra recited Ghana/Africa-wide.

Besides Dr. Ayittey, the influential of the Ghanaian thinkers is Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, a veteran development journalist. In long-running, engaging and controversial culture-progress essays, commentaries, feature articles and reports that culminated in his master of journalism thesis at Canada’s Carleton University entitled "Africa Journalism Within the Ethos of the African Renaissance" (2001), Akosah-Sarpong, drawing from the South African-originated African Renaissance process, central concern is twofold. First, Ghanaian/African journalists, as one of key agents of progress, and like other Ghanaian/African elites formally trained largely in Western values, have to re-educate themselves in Ghanaian/African history and culture for a fuller grasp of Ghanaian/African values in relation to Ghana/Africa progress. Second, having grasped the implications of Ghana/African culture in the development process, the Ghanaian/African journalist should work, through interpretation Ghanaian/African values in their reports, to awaken and reform the Ghanaian/African outdated cultural institutions and belief systems, and in doing so, tout the culture, and mix it with Ghanaian/African colonial legacies and the enabling aspects of the global culture in their work. This will bring Ghanaian/African culture, like the colonially imposed values, into the forefront of news reports and policy making, and in the process, create holistic policies driven by Ghanaian/African values.

Like the pre-Enlightenment transition to full European Enlightenment, the on-going attempts to ground Ghanaian development process in her cultural values by awakening the culture, refine the "injurious" aspects, fuse them with the good parts, and mix them with the country’s colonial legacies and the enabling aspects of the culture, foretell the dawning of a Ghanain Renaissance driven by her cultural values. The advantage the on-going Ghanaian Renaissance has over the European one is that globalization, which is the trans-border flow of information, mass commincations networks, capital flows and peoples, enables Ghanaian thinkers to have a of lot room to engineer with, progress-wise, and open up their indigenous culture and graft it with their colonial legacies and the enabling aspects of the global culture in the development process.

Still, unlike the dark pre-European Enlightenment period, today’s modern climate helps Ghanaian Renaissance engineers to "research outmoded cultural practices that are potentially damaging to the rights of individuals" easily and refine them to smooth the development process. The increasing questioning of excessive funeral ceremonies to the detriment of healthy socio-economic well-being of Ghanaians is one of many campaigns to refine some aspects of the Ghanaian culture deemed inhibiting in the development process. And so is the Eastern Regional Minister, the Mr Yaw Barimah, assuring that the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) recognizes the importantce of traditional rulers in the development process and that the government would "consult and co-operate with traditional authorities to ensure rapid development." This is a far departure from years past when traditional rulers were marginalised by both the colonialists and Ghanaian governments in the development process.

The current thinking by Ghanaians to awaken and use their culture, the colonial legacies and the enabling aspects of the global culture in their development process (appropriately giving Ghanaian cultural values similar prominence as foreign imposed values) is largely built on the country’s past: what others have been saying and did not say, on what others have been doing and did not do, on what others have been thinking and did not think, on others actions and inactions. This spans the ancient times of Ghanaians forefathers to the colonial era to independent period to policies of both civilian and military regimes Ghana has come to experience. No doubt, the progressive, one the enlightened mass media mediums in the forefront of Ghana’s development process, painfully, summarises that since independence almost 50 years ago, Ghana has experienced only 16 years of multiparty system, 21 years of brutal military rule, and 6 years of autocratic one-party rule.

President John Kufour, a political veteran who has seen it all in the rough-and-tumble of Ghanaian development process, gives reasons for such unprogressive development, in a lecture to an audience at the University of Connecticut, USA on Ghana’s on-going democratic transformation, that, "Within a decade of independence, the democratic multi-party constitution had been jettisoned for a ’one-party’ system. However, military regimes worsened the plight of the people with dictatorial, inefficient and worse corrupt practices than the hapless constitutional regimes they displaced. The common suffering of deprivation through bad economic management, lack of accountability and transparency, injustices under a cowed judiciary, muzzled media and destruction of the private sector had awakened the people beyond tribal, religious and cultural divide to demand their citizenship and democratic rights. The culture of silence out of fear, which stifled the nation for over a decade, suddenly shattered introducing multi-partyism, the rule of law, judicial independence and a large measure of separation of powers between the Executive and the Legislature."

For this background, the central ideas of the Ghanaian Renaisaance thinkers rest on two key issues:

1. The development process. The Ghanaian renaissance thinkers, some through their institutions such as the numerous non-governmental organizations, both at home and abroad, are convinced that Ghana’s progress should be driven by her cultural values and traditionl institutions first and any other second. In the forefront of this thinking include mass media outlets like "The Ghana News Agency," "The Ghanaian Chronicle," "Palavar," "Public Agenda," "," and "The Accra Daily Mail;" thinkers (there are plenty of them) but ones that easily come to mind are Dr. George Ayittey and Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, and numerous non-governmental organizations. From their bold, tireless thinking, one can imply that the Ghanaian development process is largely a struggle of the improvement of Ghana in developing a new development knowledge based on her cultural values as. Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman, a USA-based Ghanaian legal scholar revelation that mediation as a legal tool, which is being touted by Western legal experts today to resolve conflicts, has been a Ghanaian/African value long, long time ago before colonialism came to Ghana/Africa and that there should be "reinstitution and reinvigoration of Mediation as a conflict resolution tool" to resolve conflicts in Ghana. All these means developing the new thinking to manipulate the Ghanaian and global cultures through the booming international mass communications networks and technology. This will help overcome ignorance and development misunderstandings, refine the distortions of colonialism to Ghanaian values, and overcome cruelty and violence, sometimes perpetuated in the name of culture such as "witchcraft" and "trokosi," which enslaves teenage girls for sins committed by their parents, through social improvements and government structures.

2. Religion/Superstition: With a culture deeply mired in religion and superstition, religion, juju-marabou mediums, prophets, and other spiritual practices have massive implications on Ghana’s development process to the extent of entangling the development process. Writes Y. Fredua Kwateng, of the University of Toronto, in response to my article "When Superstition and Journalism Collide," "The spiritual or religious interpretation of events has not helped us to develop - to reduce poverty, ignorance, diseases. Indeed, history tells us that societies that are entraped in religious or spiritual interpretation of events are backward compared to those that use reasoning or rationality. This is because God has given humanity agency(brains) to make a better life on earth. Societies that fail to apply this agency tend to suffer terribly on earth." The new Ghanaian thinkers are aware of Fredua’s thinking and are struggling to refine it, aided by the fact that Ghanaians are by nature religious tolerant. The core thinking of the new Ghanaian renaissance thinkers about religion/superstition and the development process applies to two related ideas, that: a) religion, and other related spiritualisms, "should be reasonable and should result in the highest moral behavior of its adherents"; and b) the knowledge of the visible, natural world and the human world such as poverty has nothing to do whatsoever with religion, the supernatural and other superstitious beliefs and "should be approached completely free from religious ideas" and other spiritual beliefs or "convictions."

The miracle years of the Ghanaian development process thinkers are only recent, more so as a young country in terms of independence from British colonial rule in 1957, starting with the dawn of multiparty democracy, that’s in 1992 and on-going, that opened the doors for bold discussions about their state of being, especially how to both open up their values for progress and, in the process, "research outmoded cultural practices that are potentially damaging to the rights of individuals" and the development process. President Kufour thinks the awakening came because of years of brutal military juntas and autocratic one-party regimes. Before this, there had been sparks of some renaissance such as former President John Rawlings revelation at South Africa’s Witswatersrand University that the current local government system, which begun in 1982, was created from within the values of Ghanaian tradition despite international and some internal pressures to impose it from outside. The local government system is perhaps President Rawlings’ greatest policy work for Ghana in his almost 20-year rule.

Not only has the dawn of multiparty democracy helped opened up much more thinking aloud, a true Ghanaian/African value suppressed by both colonialism and inept Ghanaian governments, but also Ghanaians have broken away from years of culture of silence that gripped them from military and one-party regimes. Added to this is the international system that is increasingly putting searchlight on Ghanaian/African cultural values as part of finding solutions to Ghana/Africa’s development process, unlike years past when Ghanaian and African values were marginalized in their development process and Western values imposed. After all the man who coined the development process term "African solutions for African problems," Dr. George Ayittey, is a Ghanaian. A World Bank study has advised African governments to mix their cultural values with their colonial legacies as part of solving Africa’s development problems. A moving case in point is Ghana’s Chief Justice, Justice George Kingsley Acquah, announcement that the "Judicial Service in collaboration with the World Bank was developing a project that would re-empower" traditional rulers "to settle domestic disputes."

From the bold thinking of Ghanaian elites, the increasingly flowering Ghanaian Renaissance emanates from these thoughts: that Ghanaian/African cultural values are as human and universally rational as any other globally and should be employed openly, through reason alone and not any supernatural interpretations, in Ghana’s development process; that the truth emanating from Ghanaian/African values in the development process can be seen only through visible observations, reasoning and "systematic doubt" such as the fact that witchcraft does not cause accidents but human errors; that the Ghanaian/African experience is the foundation of human understanding of Ghanaian/African truth in the development process and that experience is prefered over any unreasonable authority;

That the Ghanaian life and progress, bruised partly by the long-running colonialism and military-one party autocratic regimes, can be understood better from Ghanaian/African values and experiences first and any other second in the development process, and once understood, Ghanaian progress can be engineered through her cultural values, her colonial legacies and the enabling aspects of the global culture; that the on-going Ghanaian Renaissance is "largely a history of progress" awakened by years of unnecessary errors, stupidity and the misunderstanding of the development process by earlier elites who could not think very well; that Ghanaians current conditions, of poverty and distress partly caused by colonialism and unrealistic Ghanaian government policies, can be improved by rooting Ghana’s education in the mixture of her values and her colonial legacies, which would develop Ghanaians "rational facilities;" and, lastly, religious and other superstitious beliefs have less or "no place in the understanding of the physical and human worlds."

The Ghanaian Renaissance, naturally, is on-going, engineered not only by her new generation of bold thinkers but also some sort of forces emanating from her ancient development thoughts that seeked the public good, which emanates from Ghanaian/African ethos of communalism, and this is expected to have a spillover effect on the rest of Africa, since Ghana, the first country in sub-Sahara Africa to gain freedom from colonial rule after bitter protracted battles, is seen as Africa’s development process light, ideal and hope.

Photo: Dr. George Ayittey, famous Ghanaian Economist.