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21.06.2021 Feature Article

Conversations for our Nation

Conversations for our Nation
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Conversations for our nation: “Jaw-Jaw is better than War-War”

I could not have been more than 8 years old but I remember it quite vividly. It was a Saturday in Kumasi and I had just been to Catholic confession. My father had picked me up and we were driving home. I asked him with the innocence of a child, “Who does Father Klaver confess to?” After what seemed like an eternity, he said to me “if he has anything to confess, he talks to the bishop “. We continued to drive. I think he knew it was coming. Then I asked “Who does the bishop confess to? “I didn’t know where this was going but he may have known. He calmly said, “He confesses to the Cardinal or to the Pope”.

Now you must understand, that I come from a foundational Catholic family in Ghana. My great-great-grandfather, Hermanus Ulzen was a Roman Catholic in Elmina, having been returned from Indonesia after military service in 1837; where he was baptized. The SMA Catholic missionaries arrived in Elmina in 1888.

So I went on and asked about the Pope. He calmly said, “The Pope speaks to God.” We left it at that.

Of course, years later, I was to learn of the Catholic doctrine of Papal Infallibility, which I am very sure my father believed in totally. Now, when I look back, he could have shut me up or completely discouraged me from that line of questioning but he didn’t. He was willing to hold back, so as not to stifle my curiosity.

Conversations are very important. That is how citizens of nations learn about themselves. It is through comfortable and uncomfortable conversations that policies, statutes and laws come into being. Ghanaians have always had an opinion about everything.

As the fourth republic has grown, one would have expected it to mature. Sadly, during this particular version of it, our national pastime of expressing ourselves strongly about almost anything and everything, has become uncomfortable. We are supposed to be one of the most mature democracies on our continent, yet members of the government bristle at criticisms from the citizens who employ and pay them.

The impunity of being in power, seems to have taken over. We have an executive branch that is all knowing and will not engage in any conversation or consultation with anyone. We have a judicial service, which seems to criminalize any expression of dissent or free speech in the public space about their work. Yet, we pay all these people to work for us. They are our employees.

If we are going to make the necessary progress, we must understand the core principles of democratic governance. The necessity of true servant-leaders at this stage of our development, cannot be over-emphasized. Humility in leadership, is the key ingredient in the recipe of success of this democratic experiment. It is indeed an experiment and it can end well or end badly, depending on how we manage it.

We seem not to focus on the democratic principles that should guide our decisions but rather we personalize issues, become highly emotive and do not think critically about how we can make our country grow and serve its citizens progressively.

Of the recent topics of national conversation, including the elections; deaths and number of versions of results, the Achimota - Rasta debacle, #fix the country ruminations, inconsistent application of Covid rules by party color, rising crime, presidential travel costs, and a host of others. In each case, fundamental principles which should guide our discourse and conduct seems to be lost in the noise of the marketplace of ideas. Instead of analyzing, we are asked to ignore or blame. Or instead of offering well thought out solutions, or better still, asking for ideas, leaders become defensive or take offence. How does such an attitude solve national problems?

We seem to have lost our way in not understanding that democracy is simply not about voting but indeed quite fundamentally it is about protecting the rights of minorities and preventing a tyranny of the majority in a pluralistic society.

Though numerically, the majority of Ghanaians identify themselves to be Christians, this has not translated into Christian behavior that would impact matters such as rampant corruption and theft of national assets. It also has not translated into accepting all God’s creations on this earth as his and treating our neighbor as ourselves, as is the Christian teaching. We must always remind ourselves that we are a secular republic.

Our leaders speak to us imperially, with directions, instead of telling us what the constitution requires them to do on a daily basis, in the service of the nation. This is how the citizens of the country become married to the constitution, imperfect as it is, as a starting point for continued conversations about improving our standing as a nation on the global stage.

It’s all about conversations about the constitution. Let’s improve it and let it serve us better. That is how we become a rule-governed and law-abiding society, without exceptions for anyone or any group of people.

T. P. Manus Ulzen is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Alabama, Annual Visiting Professor at the University of Cape Coast School of Medical Sciences and author of “Java Hill: An African Journey” – A historiography of Ghana

He is Interim Chairman of the Progressive Alliance for Ghana (PAG) a social & economic justice movement.

In this Father’s Day dedication to all my readers, I remember my late father, E.A. Ulzen for nurturing in me a free-thinking spirit and always encouraging me to express my views.

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