07.10.2004 Feature Article

(In)Dependence: The Culture/Cycle of Dependence in Post Colonial Ghana

InDependence: The CultureCycle of Dependence in Post Colonial Ghana
07.10.2004 LISTEN

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, second, it is violently opposed, and third, it is accepted as self-evident” Arthur Schopenhauer, Philosopher, 1788-1860. Engineering principles for solving problems require the consideration of the entire system. Otherwise, it is usually difficult, if not impossible to focus on the most critical issues or to effectively solve real problems. In order to solve the problem of poverty, underdevelopment and the lower standard of living of the good people of Ghana, one has to consider the entire system including issues that are usually considered off limits for national discourse. The only way forward for the good people of Ghana to break the cycle of poverty and underdevelopment is to confront the painful truth about our system and hopefully set a stage for the future generation to find real solutions to the real problems facing the people of Ghana. This article attempts to highlight an important issue that has intentionally been left out of discussion by the political leaders, the ruling elites and the elite media for the past fifty odd years. Some in the political leadership and the ruling elites will be offended and hurt emotionally by this exposition of the hidden truth (taboo), but what is new, the truth sometimes hurt. In 1957 Ghana attained independence when England transferred power to the native political leadership. This was a historic event because Ghana was the first nation south of the Sahara desert to become “Independent.” Since then, there have been several debates about the benefits and the disadvantages of the event. As I write now, the debate goes on among Ghanaians on whether that historic event has had any positive impact on the advancement of the good people of Ghana. In fact, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, one of the founding fathers of the independent movement has been quoted as stating that “the independence of Ghana was meaningless unless it was linked with the total liberation of Africa” I do not know what he meant by that statement but if we consider the literal meaning, it becomes obvious that Ghana's independence has been meaningless and continues to be meaningless since we do not have total liberation of Africa. Obviously, the debate will continue and people will continue to have different views about this issue. However, I believe that any independent observer will agree that this act of independence in 1957 created a culture of dependency among Ghanaians.

This culture of dependency was initiated by the government among the political leadership and was followed by the ruling elites. Eventually it permeated the whole society and the culture of dependence was born. Native Ghanaians who before March 1957 were living within their extended family structure in “plan B” houses were allowed to move into European single unit bungalows with attached boys quarters where their maids and servants lived. Native Ghanaians who had never ridden bicycles let alone driven automobiles were provided with chauffeur-driven luxurious automobiles all because they had become part of the political elite.

Ghana, and for that matter Africa, has been full of ironies. The native politicians in the independent movement were staunchly against colonialism, yet when they took over the political leadership after independence, they maintained these colonial practices of dependence on the government and in fact strengthened them. The political leadership and ruling elites were composed of native Ghanaians who had embraced the European culture by attending European churches and schools, worked for European commercial entities, worked for the European governments in various capacities as civil servants and worked for private European companies. These Ghanaians, who constituted less than 5% of the native population, were in fact collaborators for the European colonization. Yet they used colonization as their battle cry for the independent movement. Then after attaining independence, these political leaders and ruling elites began to show their desire to enjoy the same European (EU) lifestyles previously enjoyed by the colonial masters. The only way for these few Ghanaians to enjoy such EU lifestyles was to depend on the government for these privileges. The newly created independent government found it necessary to create government institutions to provide and maintain this culture of dependence for the political leadership and the ruling elites. Subsidized housing units were constructed for the political leadership and ruling elites with free utilities, and chauffeur-driven automobiles were provided and maintained for them. In fact, all the basic necessities that make the enjoyment of the EU lifestyles for these special Ghanaians were provided by the state. The consequence of this was that individuals who had previously depended on their hard work to earn a living began to abandon that culture and look for ways of becoming part of the political leadership and ruling elites in order to enjoy the EU lifestyles.

A cottage industry was actually created by the top political activists including Mr. Krobo Edusei and Mr. N.A. Welbeck to engage in the recruitment of ordinary citizens to become part of the ruling elites in order to enjoy these lifestyles at the expense of the government. Private commercial businessmen found it appropriate to pay bribes to get employment at the newly created Ghana National Trading Corporation, farmers paid bribes to get employment at the newly created Farmers Council, elementary school teachers paid bribes to become leaders in the newly created Young Pioneer Movement, local sub-chiefs paid bribes to be appointed paramount chiefs, ordinary common people paid bribes to the ruling part to be appointed as District Commissioners (DCs). We can make a list of all the different types of government dependency that were available to different groups of Ghanaians including but not limited to the elementary school teachers, secondary school teachers and administrators, lecturers, professors and administrators at the universities, the legal professionals, the civil servants, the police officers, the chiefs, religious leaders, state enterprises' employees, public and quasi-public company senior employees, private company senior employees etc. The bottom line was that all that a citizen of Ghana needed was to become a member of the ruling elite through whatever means, and they could become dependent on the government for the enjoyment of the EU lifestyle. In fact, a few years after independence, it became necessary for Ghanaians to become part of the ruling political elite to be able to enjoy the basic necessities of life (not including EU lifestyles). It was a well-know fact that citizens from other neighboring countries in West Africa took advantage of this culture which continues today in Ghana. Meanwhile these acts by the government put a tremendous strain on the economy and it was no wonder that after few years of attaining independence the government became broke and could not afford to continue to provide basic services to the majority of the population.

The culture of dependence on the government began to spread from among the political leadership to the common and ordinary Ghanaian and with time the average Ghanaian could not survive without depending on something be the government, church, European philanthropy, friends, and even family members. The epitome of this culture of dependence was the Ghana Information service documentary film of the late 50's and early 60's that was titled “Mr. Mensah Builds a House” Those of us from the baby boom generation will remember this documentary film that sought to highlight the issue of dependency by Mr. Mensah on his European employers in the big city whiles his nephew depended on the resources that Mr. Mensah sent to him in the village to build Mr. Mensah's retirement home. Another evidence of this dependency could be found in the perks that were provided for the graduates from the two universities in Ghana, Legon and UST during the early years after independence. These lucky graduates from the universities were provided with company and personal automobiles, European style bungalows with the proverbial boy's quarters without any responsibility for maintenance, utilities and general upkeep of the housing property. In fact these “African Europeans” as they were commonly referred to, considered these bungalows as their private properties and used the land surrounding these bungalows for business ventures such as erecting clay ovens for their relatives to bake bread, wayside shops, rearing chicken and goats and other farming ventures. This practice still goes on and the Tema Township has now been converted into a little farming village with all the owner farms around the state owned housing units. An interesting aspect of the education system that produced these graduates was that while they were going to school in the two universities, they did not have any responsibilities for their personal upkeep because the system provided for their housing, food, some money for clothing and even the option to stay at the campus during vacation. The students were actually given spending money by the government just for being able to get admission to these universities. The sad part of this story was and is still that there is no accountability and the government did not and still does not expect any returns from the investment that it made on these elites. Unfortunately for current university graduates, the reality is that the government cannot afford to provide these perks anymore.

Another important example of dependence can be found among the security forces, vis a vis the military and the police services. The dependence on the government by the members of the security forces was carried to such an extent that it became imperative for them to take over the governance of the country by force in order to continue to enjoy more dependence on the government. Military leaders such as Mr. Acheampong and Mr. Rawlings who could not earn descent lives by their own hard work in the military used the government system to become prosperous and enjoy the EU lifestyle after they became Head of state through military force. Even now, Mr. Rawlings continues to believe that the only way for him to live a descent lifestyle is to depend on the government or friends from abroad.

It is quite clear to any fair minded observer of the political and social system of Ghana that this culture of dependence on the government by the political leadership and the ruling elite has created a vicious cycle of poverty and low standard of living for the majority of the people of Ghana. This culture has permeated the whole economic structure and at any moment in time, somebody is trying to depend on something to survive. It is a shame that in our current culture in Ghana it is expected of people to use their elite status to provide a better living for themselves and their families by depending on the government or the companies they work for. Even the institution of chieftaincy, has become a victim of this culture of dependency. Nowadays, some chieftaincy stools have engaged in the appointment of non royalty including foreigners (particularly from Western Europe and US) as chiefs with the hope of reaping some economic and financial benefits from these non royals. The truth is that unless we step out of the vicious cycle and break this culture of dependence, the level of poverty will continue to increase no matter who is in power and Ghana can never achieve prosperity and higher standard of living. This is not rocket science. The data are clear and obvious. No government of Ghana can expect to have a sound economic policy and provide the necessary infrastructure and resources needed for national development unless they face the truth and take serious steps to break the culture of dependence which is a drain on the economic resources of the country. Ghana has had several political leaders with varying political persuasions ranging from communism to capitalism as well as military dictatorship, yet the good people of Ghana have not seen any significant improvement in their standard of living during the fifty odd years of “independence.” It must be abundantly clear to the ruling elites that something is fatally wrong and what they have been doing for the last fifty odd years have not worked. The time has come for the good people of Ghana to seek true independence and break this backward culture of dependence that “Independence” brought to our country. We cannot continue to perpetuate this culture of dependence and expect to move our people from poverty while bringing prosperity to the majority of the people.

The culture of dependence on the government is everywhere and it should be broken. Our political leaders including the Head of State have become international beggars who go around the world to beg for economic dependency. It has now become a requirement for any government of Ghana to depend on the economic dispensation of international funding organizations and foreign countries to be able to provide for the basic necessities of live for the good people of Ghana. This phenomenon is unacceptable in this day and age and our dysfunctional political and ruling elites should be ashamed of themselves. The culture of dependency has become so prevalent that it has permeated into the non governmental entities as well. It has even reached extraordinary proportions within some private and semi-private corporations where the ruling elites of these corporations have become chiefs who use the assets of the corporations as their “stool properties” The responsibilities of the government and private companies are to provide employment for the people of Ghana and it is the responsibility of these employees to earn their living. They should not expect the government or the company they work for to provide for their living. This is not right. It is insane and dysfunctional for the elites in Ghana to expect this culture of dependence to continue. The resources of Ghana cannot meet this huge burden of providing for the EU lifestyles of the political leadership and the ruling elites, especially since they have not shown the capacity to generate the required revenue to pay for the cost of these benefits. The basic common sense approach for normal human living within civilized societies is that they do not spend the money they do not have. The political leaders and the ruling elites should not expect to enjoy the lifestyles that they are not capable of providing indigenously through their God-given talents and skills in Ghana. I believe strongly that the economic problems facing Ghana are not too complicated and surmountable. The deliberate attempt by the political leadership and the ruling elites to ignore such issues of dependency on the state in formulation of national policy is a contributing factor for the apparent inability to solve some of the problems facing Ghana.

If the political leadership and the ruling elites make a serious effort to break this culture within their ranks, it will trickle down to the ordinary folks and with time this whole culture of dependence will begin to subside. It is the only way forward for true emancipation of our people and true independence for the good people of Ghana. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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