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09.04.2008 Feature Article

RE: The Problem with African Spirituality. Part 2 …Opare-Addo was ‘Funtastyc’

Once is a long while, a good writer gives you reason to lose yourself in the wonder of his scholarship. Often such authors succeed in transporting you into a wonderland where their thoughts are weightier than the edicts of a medieval King. They are big on research, great on content and powerful in delivery. When that happens, you can't help but ask: who is this author? And that is exactly what Ghanaweb readers did when they read Kofi Opare Opare-Addo's take on the above subject, which appeared to be a rejoinder to my rejoinder to Akosah-Sarpong's lone campaign on African spirituality, but in the end wandered off to something that was only as good as a 'literary panyarin.' For, Opare-Addo succeeded in killing us to accompany his thoughts into his wonderland when he decided to celebrate style rather than substance. Where scholarship was his gain, clarity was our loss: it was difficult to put a central theme to his argument, even though it was clear that he masterfully explored quite a number of themes in worrying detail, as if pedantry had suddenly become less sinful than the gobbledygook of journalese. Even so, there is one thing you couldn't take away from him: he was funtastyc as Ayi Kwei-Armah was beautyful. Mark the use of 'Y' in the deliberate misspelling of the two words.

What readers might have failed to spot was that Opare-Addo's article had been published on the first day of April, so we could be excused for confusing his 'fantasy' for 'fantastic.' Otherwise, why would he say my article was “long, winding but interesting” and then proceed to pen a piece that was nearly twice as long? In any case, I wonder how one thing could be winding and interesting at the same time. If a line of argument is winding, it means a coherent thought does not run through. Often such an argument is, as the word suggests, wound up and coiled up in an entangling web of possibilities, and it makes meaning difficult to decipher. It is only Mr. Kofi Opare Opare-Addo, a Ghanaian whose name sounds like Boutros Boutros Ghali, who could find such a 'winder' interesting. Whatever happened to names in Ghana? Is it a revolution of a sort? Who is Kwaku Addo Sakyi-Addo? I thought fans were fine with the original name of the ace journalist. Soon, we would be hearing Kofi Sarpong Akosah-Sarpong if his African spirituality campaign succeeds.

If Akosah-Sarpong was a problem, Opare-Addo was a conundrum. For, while the former was clear on where he stands on African Spirituality, whatever that means, Opare-Addo decided to do a Tony Blair, preferring to take the middle way between Christianity and African traditional religion, and in the end missing the point, just as the former British Premier committed himself to the Third Way ideology, a fine junction between triumphant American capitalism and socialism. As brilliant as he was, Opare Opare-Addo left us shorter than we were when Akosah-Sarpong and this author took their turn on the matter. The commentator who wrote that Opare should desist from “oratorical brilliance” and concentrate on the issues spoke the consensus of discerning readers on the forum. But it was also the view of many, including me that Opare is one of the best columnists we have seen on the forum in recent times. He may be a stranger to Ghanaweb, but he is no stranger to the discussion. Even so, I would prefer to continue my old affair with Akosah-Sarpong, because we have gotten too far to return.

Between the time Kofi Akosah-Sarpong's article was published on Ghanaweb and the time I wrote the first part of this rejoinder, I have had a real life problem with African 'spirituality'. And, may be, it was appropriate that he chose to title his article as the above. For, there have always been problems with the traditional African culture. Over the weekend, a very old friend invited the alumni of a popular university Hall to a naming ceremony in South London. I would normally not attend a ceremony of that nature in topsy-turvy London, but I didn't have enough reason to invent a genuine excuse on this occasion. The other Vandals stayed away because they managed to learn of the name of the baby before it would be unveiled at the ceremony. What is in a name, my fellow Ghanaians, columnist Daniel K. Pryce, asked only recently? Well, in this case, to the discomfiture of Mr. Pryce, the baby had been named after a famous African-American TV star. Folks were worried that the father of the baby had borrowed all two names of the TV star, ignoring the protests of the wife to leave out the surname of the American, at least. So, all the aggrieved invitees stayed away, decidedly. And I must say I felt my tongue 'palpitate' mentioning the name as the Master of Ceremonies. Why on earth will anybody name their baby Oprah Winfrey Yeboah-Asuamah? Well, that wasn't surprising, considering that the son before that had been Clint Eastwood Yeboah-Asuamah Jnr. He said he had named the boy after himself, the father. Meanwhile, he is not Clint Eastwood; he is actually Daniel Yeboah-Asuamah. His alias, Astom Bee, is nowhere near Eastwood.

The protests of the Vandals had been that he had thrown away his Ghanaian identity, and by implication his African culture, by borrowing names from North America for his kids. On hindsight, I realise the problem was not Oprah Winfrey; it was the Vandals themselves. Nearly all of them have English names but none of them has considered a change of name or severed links with their fathers for naming them after the disciples of Jesus Christ. Like Akosah-Sarpong, they are fighting the wrong enemy. They subscribe to that weird thinking that you are a true Ghanaian only if you bear a multi-syllabic Atumpan-generated name like Kuntunkununku or a gender-dictated one like Ofeibea or Kwasi. You are not outside your culture if you are Jordan Blake-Civil or Keiliegh Jade Smith. In any case, if you are called Kwame only because you were born on a Saturday, it shows the amount of thinking that went into the naming process.

I am still at a loss what Kofi Akosah-Sarpong meant by developing within our culture? Is Ghana poor because we are at the moment implementing our development strategies outside of our culture? What is the original Ghanaian culture anyway? Out of our own traditional ingeniousness, or perhaps disingenuousness, today we have striptease clubs in Ghana, where Ghanaian ladies who have had no touch with western life, mount platforms and graciously expose the 'traditionally forbidden' regions of their bodies to the delight of pleasure consumed sons of our forefathers. If Bragoro and Dipo were as popular as weddings are today, would we have had the morally bankrupt generation we have at present? The answer to that question is Kyiribra. Churches today use a lot of social ostracism measures (Tu sen) to discipline wayward members. In the same way, 'Asuo twa' was an established custom in the days of old. It was even the practice that a school going boy who was careless enough to put a young woman in the family way was sometimes asked to withdraw from school, to go and do what he does best. How progressive was that anyway? Robbers were not armed but they stole all the same.

To be fair to Akosah-Sarpong, life in those days was less chaotic and perhaps less competitive. That is because there wasn't much to compete for. Today, in the words of Opare-Addo, laptops and mobile phones have become fashion statements in the urban cities of Ghana. And it well that Ghanaians aspire to live better than the inhabitants of Nyanaw and Abokobi, who “still cultivate and eat manioc the same way our ancestors did when Azambuja met Kwamena Ansah on the beaches of Elmina in 1471.” Otherwise, BBC television cameras would today be zooming in and out on Ghana, looking to capture how traditional folks who have never had contact with the 'evils of civilization' live. A programme of that nature currently airs on the BBC, and the title-The Lost Tribes - sums up what would have become of us if Okomfo Anokye had returned from the land of the death with a cure for death, as he was alleged to have promised. If the Golden Stool was real gold, why did Anokye not conjure a lot more gold from the skies? You see, productivity has always been a problem. Is it any wonder that Kufour's cassava starch factory could not produce anything? Modernity has meant that every six months China builds a new power generating plant while Opare-Addo's Abokobi traditional folks still make do with bogya or at best candles.

It is still important to ask whether followers and proponents of African spirituality just enjoy dissipating superfluous thoughts into the air or they mean to set a workable agenda. Their cliché ridden sentences come in various shades and often mean nothing. What does the following mean: let's understand our culture so we can take our destiny into our hands. Another person also wrote: until we understand our past, we can never move forward. I thought you only move forward when you understand the demands of the future and work the present towards that understanding. So, when a reader commented that I am a “classic case of a systematically mentally indoctrinated African”, for not joining Akosah's culture crusade, I was not surprised that he left that blanket statement at that, never bothering to give us successful examples of what non classic cases did to improve lives in Africa. The Akosah crusade will fail until they realise that it is no longer possible to talk of an unadulterated culture in absolute terms these days. Mandarin, the language of the Chinese is about finding itself onto the curriculum of schools in Britain. Recently, there was talk of English kids learning the Sharia law of the Muslim religion. Akosah will be disappointed to know that students at Legon would prefer paying money to learn Chinese to getting free accommodation to take Twi as a course in the university. Is it not a fact that Zimbabwe would have been a better country if Mugabe had not embarked on his 'African spirituality' inspired seizure of white owned farms?

If Opare-Addo thought my treatment of the subject was harsh and dismissive, he should have spared a thought for the NPP government appointee who recently said that chieftaincy is an anachronistic institution. I thought that was the understatement of the millennium. The Yakubu and the Andani clans have always made news for doing nothing. Then there was the recent issue of Togbe Agboada, and of course the Bawku crises. Who are behind the terrible land disputes in Accra and Kumasi? Akosa, wake up.

Benjamin Tawiah: The writer is a freelance journalist and a teacher of English in London.
Email: [email protected], [email protected]

Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin
Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin, © 2008

The author has 235 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KwesiTawiahBenjamin

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