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05.03.2007 Feature Article

CULTURE AS DEVELOPMENT VEHICLE

The German Ambassador to Ghana, Peter Linder, statement, carried by The Accra Daily Mail and AllAfrica.Com (March 1, 2007), that other West African states should copy the increasing integration of traditional chieftaincy institution, or more appropriately cultural values, into the Ghanaian development process further raises the increasing understanding of what is development as a mechanism of the interaction between one's indigenous values in relation to global ones. Notable here is not only a non-Ghanaian observing the gradual attempts by Ghanaians to integrate their culture into their development process, a process that wasn't undertaken in the early 50 years of Ghana's birth, but the fact that as Ghanaians think about their future progress during their year-long celebration of 50 years of independence from British colonial rule, they are becoming aware, echoing the growing international development literature and research, that they will development better and sustainably, if they integrate their norms, values and traditions into the existing ex-colonial and global structures in their development process.

The need for Ghanaian elites to mount a new development planning paradigm, as Cristina Losito, of the London, UK-based Centre for Creative Communities, argues, comes not only from the fact that Ghana/Africa development paradigms are heavily foreign dominated to the detriment and growth of African values but in the wake of the Western world and their dominant neo-liberal values increasingly balancing out to integrate the values of non-Western peoples in their international development programs. Losito, among others such as America's Francis Fukuyama and India's Nobel Prize winning laureate Amartya Kumar Sen, argued recently that the European Union, in its policies with non-Europeans, is developing the fact that culture and development are tightly interlinked but “bringing cultural policies into the center of social policies is a major challenge.” While Ghanaians have been seeing such challenges with their bureaucrats, who are finding it difficult to mix Ghanaian/African values with that of the global, others have skillfully been able to surmount this challenge and worked it. From the Japanese to the South Koreans to the emerging economic giants the Chinese and the Indians, the ability to mix neo-liberal development values with that of their own is empirically evident.

The central issue here is not cultural arts, which in its broader “sense provide a bedrock for education of the human mind, social skills, cohesion and long-term economic entrepreneurship,” as Losito explains, of which Ghanaian elites have done very well in the past 50 years in bringing to the forefront of Ghana's progress but bringing Ghanaian/African norms, values and traditions into the heart of national policy planning so as to harmonize the prevailing global structures with their indigenous ones is the challenge in the future progress of Ghana. For the past 50 years, Ghanaian elites have found it very difficult to extricate themselves from the dominant neo-liberal structures and balance their national development with the enabling aspects of their norms, values and traditions. Ghanaian bureaucrats and their elites can learn from Canada, where for the past years the Federal Government has mandated that all policy development should include the concept of sustainable development priorities and principles. That's integrating Canada's indigenous Aboriginal people's perspectives and other world indigenous norms, values and traditions, where appropriate, especially on the heated issue of the environment, in national policy making. Canadian local, municipal and provincial governments are doing same.

As the African darling of international development agencies such as the World Bank, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the International Monetary Fund, Ghana, 50-year-Ghana should seriously note that such international development agencies are more and more refining themselves from years of seeing the international development scene sorely from their neo-liberal ethos and attempting to integrate their programs with non-Western values. The prominent Indian economist Amartya Kumar Sen, of Harvard University, in a recent discussion on culture and development in relation to the World Bank, asks, “Why should culture interest the World Bank at all? Isn't it plausible to presume that the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development is busy reconstructing and developing? These are not, in fact, hard questions to answer, for cultural issues can be critically important for development. The connections take many different formats, related to the objectives as well as instruments of development. Cultural matters are integral parts of the lives we lead. If development can be seen as enhancement of our living standards, then efforts geared to development can hardly ignore the world of culture.” The answer to Amartya's questions is simple: earlier the World Bank and its associates ignored the values of non-Western peoples when dealing with their development processes, imposed Western neo-liberal values verbatim on them, and partly caused some of the huge development crises in places like Africa, where foreign development paradigms still heavily dominate its development processes compared to other regions in the world.

In an era where progress means opening into others globally for ideas and wisdom, and reconciling values in this regard, as Ghana ponders its 50 years of corporate existence, its elites, more directly and practically its bureaucrats, as directors of progress and as part of their broader contemplative state, could look at the success stories of some of the Asian nations, some of which, like Malaysia, Ghana was far ahead 50 years ago but fell because its elites could not balance their indigenous values with their ex-colonial legacies as the Asians did. “Are cultural values responsible for Asia's remarkable postwar economic success?,” asks the prominent American international development thinker Francis Fukuyama, of Johns Hopkins University, in revisiting the role of cultural values in Asians economic success during the recent crisis that struck the Asia region. Reflecting the complex nature of mixing culture and progress, Fukuyama argues that while earlier Asian thinkers such as Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew would have said “Yes” to his question, “many observers today claim that Asian values, far from explaining economic success, are themselves the prime cause of the cronyism that afflicts the Asian countries.” At a deeper realm, what Fukuyama is saying is that despite Asians being praised globally for successfully appropriating their values for their progress, there are still some cultural inhibitions, such as cronyism, that are stifling their progress that have to be refined. It is in this context that Ghanaian elites, especially the bureaucrats, should think of the unthinkable about the progress of Ghana as the nation-state enters another 50 years.

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, © 2007

This author has authored 338 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: KofiAkosahSarpong

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