On a recent trip to Ghana, listening to the voices of everyone I came across, the common theme relating to almost everyone was that of poverty and a seemingly unwinnable battle for survival.The voices of hopelessness and the resultant downward spiral in peoples living standards made me understand the reality of poverty in our Country and the plight of a broken people. This helplessness does not only provide us with broken people but with broken systems, inadequate resources and indeed inadequate management of everything including a serious deteroriation of the environment in which people now live in. Ghana is a christian dominated country and has remain so since the middle of the eighteenth century when the natives were first converted to christianity by European colonialists on the coast of the then Gold Coast. There is no doubt that since that period religion has been a force for so much good. The early churches played a big role in the provision of health and educational infrastructure, the set up of basic agricultural and cottage industries, some of which are still serving the country very well up to today.
In this current environment of hopelessness, Christianity and the commitment to religious faith is once again experiencing phenomenal growth as the only coping mechanism available to a vast majority of our countrymen. The worrying thing for me unfortunately is that most people in our country today are being totally denied an opportunity to have a rational understanding of issues and find meaningful and practical solutions to them. They are rather increasingly relying solely on the only growth industry, the selling of HOPE by the ONE MAN CHURCHES proliferating all over the place up and down the country. A situation has arisen today where any body who has fallen on hard times wakes up and decides he has seen a vision which leads to the establishment of churches and mosques in school classrooms, market places, on football fields and even on our beaches, to exploit the vulnerability and gullibility of our citizens. The proliferation of religion itself is not a bad thing, but the worrying thing for me is how a significant number of the FOUNDERS, GENERAL OVERSEERS, PROPHETS, BISHOPS,, CHIEF IMAMS, MALLAMS e.t.c are abusing the goodwill of their fellow citizens to bleed them dry and further impoverish them and their families in the the name of religion. A significant majority have been led to believe rightly or wrongly that religion is the panacea of all their problems. Therefore they spend night and day, seven days a week going from prayer meeting to prayer meeting, from convention to convention, from week -end tongs sessions to week- end tongs sessions and in the light of the huge socio - economic problems that the country , communities and families face on a daily basis, the only skills being imparted at most of these sessions is that ability to speak in TONGS. (I must remind the reader that this is the 21st Century).
We now live in an artificially spiritually dominated country where it does not matter anymore whether the gutters are clean, God will do it, whether people can provide food for their families, God will provide it, whether the children attend school , God will do it. This assertion does not apply to everyone of the emerging churches and mosques, but frankly I think simply a few clever "cowards" have identified the fact that dealing with problems of socio-economic and development issues are too challenging and therefore they would not touch that aspect of things with a barge pole. On the other hand it does not take a degree in rocket science to "chew and pour" verses from the Bible or Koran for that matter to convince gullible people to suffer now and expect their reward in Heaven or paradise. Hence the boom in one man churches.
Having said that I must repeat that I am aware that religion has been a force for good in our country. Look at the record of those who introduced traditional christian religion into Ghana for instance, the Anglicans, Presbyterians, Catholics. Methodists e.t.c. apart from preaching salvation and the second coming of christ, they build schools and other institutions of learning, community facilities, hospitals, were fully engaged in community development and imparted knowledge to their flock which not only enhanced their lives but gave them a fighting chance to overcome poverty, disease, ignorance and squalor.
The spread and proliferation of the other brand of religious organisations which are not accountable to anyone but the leader, (one man church) today can be understood by a recent experience in Ghana. During a brief encounter with an old school mate who I met in Ghana recently, who has set up his own one man church, on a children's playing field in an Accra neighbourhood surrounded by choked, smelly, open drains, the first question he asked me was, what church did I attend and whether he could invite me to a prayer meeting that evening. It struck me that reality was proving stranger than fiction, because even though he was more knowledgeable than I was in our school days, this guy was quite notorious and regularly broke evry rule in the disciplinary code of the institution. I told my friend I had very important business to attend to so will not be able to attend all night prayer meeting from Monday to Sunday. With his classic understanding of what he described as the glory of the teachings of the bible, he said he will pray for me to be saved. Of course he was the leader of the church and I understand the church was building him a house. To me I felt having a church session in a putried, smelly, mosquito infested environment is puting too many peoples lives at risk of certain death in the near future. Some of these one man churches/mosques sadly have degenerated into THEATRES, where people have forgotten the issues that matter, such as degrading environment, illiteracy, mass poverty, lack of opportunities. The so called bishops and pastors or imams speak eloquently about a David and Goliath battle between Good and Evil and increasingly the majority of people buying into this hope are young and middle aged women who due to their unjustifiably huge burdens of responsibility in Ghanaian society, have lost hope and can only find salvation in the one man churches springing all over the country. The endless prayer meetings and tongs sessions denies them an opportunity to be productive and earn an income to feed their families.They are constantly being asked to contribute money that they don't have whilst a gaping divide in life styles, continues to widen between the flock and the elders. Development means enabling such people to achieve a better life for them selves and their families
It is a known fact that educating young girls is one of the most effective weapons in the fight against poverty. Most enlightened people are aware that once a woman is literate there is a dramatic effect on her families health and stability and the growth prospects of the country as a whole. Further more the world bank believes that an increase of 1% in the share of women receiving education up to secondary level would lead to a rise of 0.3% in per capita income.
Every religious organisation should exist to serve the people of its community like was practiced by the pioneers, but is that what is happening now in our country ? Why can't all these institutions that constitute the only growth industry we have in Ghana today not be made to take part in the the socio economic development of the country. They can engage in personal development programmes for our women, initiate community based projects, ranging from the provision of educational and health institutions be the source of micro finance programmes for the community with government support.
It is not wrong to suggest that it is time for the state to intervene and set up guidelines for religious organisations who want to operate as charities with the necessary checks and balances. All those great quotes from the bible or koran by all means but frankly life is too short. The concerns of the churches and other religious organisations must also include feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, reaching out to beggers and the homeless and extending the love of God to all who will receive it. Stephen Nyako Management Consultant Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.