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09.05.2007 Feature Article

Mr. Bernard Guri and the Remaking of Ghana

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong on the remaking of the Ghana nation-state following the fact that most Ghanaians appropriate Ghanaian/African traditional values for their survival.

Mr Bernard Guri is the executive director of the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development in Ghana. The name smack of an obscure outfit with big heart. The reason is that the problem with the development of the Ghana nation-state is how to mix indigenous values with the dominant neo-liberal values. Despite the small nature of his NGO, Guri has touched on something big, unaware of its huge implications for the remaking of the Ghana nation-state.

As Ghana's indigenous values struggle with the ruling neo-liberal values for sustainable progress, for sometime, there have been wave of talks of mixing Ghanaian indigenous norms, values and traditions with the ex-colonial British neo-liberal values currently running Ghana. The idea is not that in doing this some of the inhibitions in the culture will be refined for progress, but the need for the mixture is informed by the fact that the lack of mixing Ghanaian values and the ruling neo-liberal values have stifled Ghana's rich indigenous values for greater progress. And this lack thereof is partly responsible for the long-running distortions and inadequate sustainable development of Ghana.

Guri is quoted by the Ghana News Agency (May 4, 2007) as saying that “research had shown that over 75 per cent of Ghanaians were still dependent on their traditional authorities for governance and social organization.” Guri has opened the logic of illogicality in Ghana's development process. If 75 per cent of Ghanaians use traditional political institutions for their governance and social organization, then it is logical that these traditional institutions should first inform their democratic governance. Despite this reality and clear logic, the Ghana nation-state, as a development project, is not governed in this sense, thus making the Ghana nation-state an absurd venture. Guri is saying that the logical way to develop Ghana is simple: Ghanaian/African indigenous norms, values and traditions mixed in proportion with the dominant neo-liberal values are equal to the mechanisms for the progress of Ghana.

The reason is not far-fetched. Ghanaian political elites, who should have known better, continued totally with ex-colonial British values without making attempts to mix that with Ghanaian/African values, in ratio, in Ghana's progress. It is for this reason that Guri is saying that "ignoring our indigenous resource base means ignoring the largest part of the potential for the development of the people." What Guri is saying is that this is partly responsible for most of Ghana's developmental troubles. And Guri doesn't blame the ex-colonialists too much but pretty much the post-independent Ghanaian elites, who appear not to have thought seriously about the Ghana nation-state before venturing to take over from the British. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first President, despite being touted as “leading Pan-Africanist,” “visionary” and “big brain,” is on record as having spent good ten years in attempting to 'crush' indigenous Ghanaian chieftaincy system in the larger scheme of Ghana's progress. By this token, Nkrumah immensely undermined Ghana's long-term progress by attempting to destroy its frontline indigenous institutions, and this made most of the great things Nkrumah did weakened in the long term. Luckily for Ghana's progress, incumbent President John Kufour appears to be correcting this enormous developmental gap, in the words of Guri, by “supporting traditional authority by establishing the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Cultural Affaires” and collaborating with external institutions such as the World Bank.

No doubt, in the 1980s and good part of the 1990s as the African nation-states face severe crises and it appear to be crumbling because of the schism between ex-colonial legacies and African indigenous values, the London, UK-based “African Confidential” (January 6, 1995) proclaimed the “Unmaking and remaking the state” and asked rhetorically “If it is clear that the present state system is in serious disarray, it is equally clear that there is no obvious replacement.” The newsletter explained that “There are signs everywhere that the era of the nation-state is fading and nowhere is this clearer than in Africa, where its roots are shallowest. The awkward marriage of the 'nation' in the sense of an ethnic coalition and the 'state' as the principal source of political authority is coming under pressure from above and below.” The fact is the roots of African nation-state are not shallow, for it stands firmly in African values. What is shallowest is the “state,” as ex-colonial creation, not skilfully and properly rooted in the “nation” as a development project.

While such defects in the construction of the African nation-state may be true, the facts on the ground, as Guri partially indicates, is that Africa's political elites and governments have not worked “to strengthen the capacities of traditional authorities by making resources available to them as a foundation for sustainable development.” What Guri is saying is that to contain the nation-state from fading, African nation-states should go the Southeast Asian way by mixing its ex-colonial legacies with its indigenous values in the greater development process of Africa. As Ghana's Dr. Y.K. Amoako has observed, Africa is the only region in the world where its development process is dominated by foreign development paradigms to the detriment of its rich values for progress. In a way, Guri is saying the same. It is no wonder that because of the false start of the Ghana nation-state as a development project, Ghanaian elites that followed Nkrumah and international “development agents,” largely a carry-over of ex-colonial legacies, “did not sufficiently consider” Ghanaian/African traditional “institutions in their planning,” observed Guri.

As international development opens itself up and attempts to correct many an error of yesteryears visited on ex-colonies such as Ghana, many of them are helping to bring the long-suppressed traditional institutions openly and strategically into Africa's development process. Apart from the German-sponsored forum that Guri spoke in the northern part of Ghana, the World Bank, one of the key faces of Western development paradigms that have for long not factored in African indigenous values in its policy-making, is currently correcting this historical mistake by appropriating Ghanaian/African traditional institutions in its programs. This is what Guri is saying: development agents – local, national or international – should sufficiently consider Ghanaian/African traditional institutions in their planning for the sustainable development of Ghana.

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, © 2007

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

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