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23.03.2003 Feature Article

Of Traditions And Cultures And National Development

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Gather a group of proud Ghanaians together and argue to them that some our cultures need to be eliminated if we are going to succeed in our quest for national development, and chances are, you would be booed right out of the room with a white-man-wanna-be label firmly on your back. For sure, they would not give you the opportunity to delineate between cultures and traditions.

Culture, not necessarily tradition, is perhaps the most important determining factor in many a nation’s development. Hence, as we try as a nation to examine the many facets of our lives to determine the various areas of improvements, culture should get a lot of attention.

Of the many definitions of ‘culture,’ the one that is the most curious and pertinent to the subject at hand is “the arts, beliefs, customs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought created by a people or a group at a particular time.” That same dictionary defines ‘tradition’ as “any time-honored set of practices, beliefs passed down from generation to generation.”

Clearly, tradition is permanent in relative terms with culture. What that means is that whereas cultures evolve, traditions remain relatively stable. At the same time, certain traditions die off as other cultures begin, and if unchanged, get passed on from one generation to another long enough to become a tradition.

Now let’s take this out of the classroom, and into real life. For example, today’s world realities are slowly showing us that polygamy, a culture that has sustained long enough to become a tradition, may be coming to an end. At the same time, respect and recognition of women as leadership material is a new culture that is poised to sustain long enough to have tradition possibilities.

For a while, it seemed the Ghanaian culture with regards to governmental change was military overthrow. Today, the dominant culture is through the ballot box. Thank God that the latter is the culture with a bright enough future to become our tradition.

With that in mind, may be we can now talk about the cultures that need evaluation. Our forefathers did a remarkable job of leaving us with many valuable traditions. In fact, very few need mending to suit today’s world.

The first in mind is the extended family. Our individual social obligation to members of our extended family puts some undue pressure on the few that become successful. All of a sudden, they get introduced to ‘total strangers,’ who become ‘family’ by virtue of being the son of the second cousin of their aunt. With the pay rates the way they are, not many well placed ‘success stories’ would resist the temptation of getting a little creative to earn more to support new members of their family.

Then there is the culture of ‘seeing people at home.’ The troublesome student gets expelled from school for causing havoc on campus. A week later, he or she is back in school because the parents went to ‘see’ the Headmaster at home. The lazy worker gets fired only to be back at his or her desk because some people went to ‘see’ the boss at home. That is definitely one of the cultures that must go.

While several others like the two enumerated above must be re-evaluated, many others have served us well. Our monarchy and chieftaincy systems have worked well for us in restoring order in areas where the arm of the central law cannot reach. Likewise, our respect for elders makes us standouts in the world arena. Unfortunately, where our forefathers excelled, we are dropping the ball.

Not only are we doing a bad job of passing down the good traditions to our younger ones, we are allowing new, unproductive cultures to prevail in our society with the potential of sustaining long enough to become traditions.

The first that comes to mind is homosexuality. No matter where you stand on whether it is a natural or nurtured behavior, all we know is that there is a recent surge in the practice. I am convinced that God did not all of a sudden decide to create homosexuals and dump them in Ghana. Four decades ago, you could count on your fingers how many there were in the whole country.

Then there is professional productivity and the lack thereof. In the countryside, the farmers work their tails off under the sun. The drivers go about their duties, the market women sell their products, and just about everyone else do what they can to keep our economy moving. That is, however, in sharp contrast with the culture in the ministries and other government work.

The amount of time spent reading newspapers is easily more than the amount spent to earn paychecks. The dominant culture is an attitude that regards government’s work as no one’s work. Many show up late, read the newspapers, do a little work, and head out for lunch that sometimes include beer. After that it is a wonder how many return to their jobs before calling it a day. Obviously, there is not enough space and your time for me to enumerate all of them. But armed with these differences between cultures and traditions, may be we can now seriously question some of our cultures without provoking our fellow Ghanaians. After all, we don’t get answers if we don’t ask questions.

Jermaine Nkrumah
Jermaine Nkrumah, © 2003

The author has 27 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: JermaineNkrumah

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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