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17.11.2008 General News

Yes, We Can

Many Ghanaians and, indeed, Africans expect greater American economic and other assistance following Senator Obama's victory.

They certainly have missed the import of Obama's achievements. Obama's success tells all Africans that despite the heavy baggage of slavery, colonialism and discrimination they can do it.


The real baggage which weighs them down at the moment is the mindset steeped in dependency and the absence of self-reliance and self-confidence.


Obama's victory is a revolution. It is against the odds. It inspires black men and women and all down-trodden people to get up and work for their own salvation.

Karl Tuffour of JOY FM in a recent programme asked whether Obama could be regarded as an African considering his background.


 He was raised by a white mother and white grand parents. Dr Akwetey answered the question beautifully. He was properly raised and his genius was revealed.


This is nothing new to some of us.

Our teachers, at Achimota, colonialists and idealists, white and coloured, brought us up to respect all that was and is of true value in African culture and blend it with what is good and of lasting value in other cultures.


We became proud fighters for freedom and educated Africans of independent thought just as Obama became proud of his African heritage and fought for the under-privileged through community and political service.

And so instead of asking what the United States under Obama can do for us, let us be inspired by Obama's example and work resolutely for change in Ghana as Obama fights for change in America.

I was very pleased when a friend who is a professor in the medical school of all places showed interest in my efforts and sent me excerpts from the Aggrey-Fraser-Guggisberg Memorial lectures. In the 1968 lectures, Professor W. Arthur Lewis said:

“It is remarkable what a difference just one or two sensible leaders can make to the whole temper of a country.


Take for instance the following riddle. The political temper of seventeenth century Britain was more violent and extremist than anything that has happened recently in West Africa.


Anglicans, Puritans and Catholics were at each others' throats. One king was executed and another chased off the throne.


An observer writing, say, around the year 1715, after the abortive rebellion of that year, would have described Britain as a violent country where consensus was unthinkable.


Yet from the middle of the eighteenth century, just thirty years later, Britain was being held up on the continent as the model of a politically stable society.


What had happened in that interval of thirty years?


Historians now agree that a major element, though not the only one, was the fact that Sir Robert Walpole became Prime Minister in 1721, and held the office for twenty one years.


Walpole was a compromiser, who made it his business to conciliate all the major groups who were fighting each other”.


Sincerely Ghana has more than “one or two sensible leaders”.

The lecture of Professor Arthur Lewis who had worked in Ghana during President Nkrumah's time was on “Some Aspects of Economic Development”.

My correspondent wanted me to pass the extracts on to at least 10 other Ghanaians.


 I was encouraged that even Professors of Medicine are interested in the social and economic development of Ghana and find time to read what I write.


Our professionals should be more involved in development issues. Social and economic development are too important to be left to economists and sociologist alone.

I dwelt on some of the issues Arthur Lewis touched upon in my last article and perhaps that was why my professor friend forwarded the extract to me.

In his lecture Prof. Lewis said, “Let me now come to the third problem of modernisation, namely, the need to establish an effective system of public administration which is both honest and efficient.


I remarked in an earlier lecture that this administrative weakness is one important feature which distinguishes West Africa both from the communist countries and from Western Europe.


Neither an abundance of money nor the best economic policies in the world will solve Africa's problems if the governments waste money and are unable to administer the policies sensibly”.

“The British solution of this problem was to distinguish between politics and administration.


Politicians became Ministers, and could make general policy decisions, but they must first seek the advice of administrators, and when the decision was made, must leave the carrying out of the policy to administrators.


The theory behind this is that politicians are by nature corrupt and inefficient, sot their powers should be strictly limited.


hand, are recruited from the middle class, and so (according to the theory) they can be trusted to govern honestly and efficiently, subject to supervision by Parliament and public”.

“The British division of responsibility between Ministers and administrators serves its purpose where politicians and administrators live by different ethical codes; it serves no purpose where the two live by the same code”.

“In Thailand, for example, the civil servants used to be as corrupt as the politicians, so little would have been gained by dividing responsibility between them on the British pattern.


In the Soviet Union, where politicians and administrators both live by the same code, the Marxian version of the Protestant ethic, the distinction between party and civil service is blurred, and not much would be gained by sharpening it.


In the British West Indian Island of Antigua, the politicians who came into office fifteen years ago were as honest as the administrator, but much more energetic.


When the Ministers insisted on influencing matters which the British constitution normally leaves to civil servants the quality of Antigua's administration improved immensely.


One cannot assume that civil servants are every where better material than the politicians”.

“West African civil servants have been more honest and efficient than West African politicians, especially at the top levels of the civil service — the bottom levels are notoriously prone to expect a dash.


Even the top levels, however, are not quite what they might be, because of what I have already said about middle-class traditions.


The urban middle class is a new phenomenon in Africa, not grounded in the Protestant ethic, and much preoccupied with social prestige, money and conspicuous expenditures.


We have the same problem in the West Indies where, as head of the University, I was much concerned about the quality of the people we were turning out.


The purely academic job we were doing quite well. But the main task of a university is to produce people with high professional standards, which they put before everything else.


 High professional standards are grounded in high ethical standards, with a strong sense of social responsibility.


Our universities tend to neglect this part of the job – tend even to dispute that they have any responsibility for the ethics of their students”.

“When the Minister tables a 70-page bill with 200 clauses, how many members know or can find out enough to be able to criticise it intelligently?


For a member to do this he must have had earlier access to literature which he could study quietly at home. Here lies the intellectual's primary contribution to politics”.

The intellectuals can be of immense value in this area. But they are more interested in maintaining the myth of their indispensable importance. Says Prof. Arthur Lewis.

“But in Africa or the West Indies intellectuals are treated with great deference:


 The masses of the people think, wrongly, that a man with a PhD is the highest product of the African intellect”.

With regard to useful and helpful manifestos Prof. Lewis said, “one effect of publishing good policy analyses would be, as in the British case, to reduce the party political element in administration.


It is quite normal in Britain for the conservatives to adopt policies which were first advocated and explored in socialist literature, and for the Labour Party to put into effect measures hitherto identified with the Conservative Party.


The closer one get to detailed analyses of the problems themselves, the more remote is the party element, and the closer one come to consensus among reasonable people”

“Thus when I try to assess the political future of West Africa, and the possibility that modernisation will be completed, everything seems to lead back to consensus, whether it be the prospect of restraining private consumption, or the effort to build a nation, or the need to establish an effective administration.


I keep searching for a group of leaders capable of inspiring this consensus.


The search is somewhat dispiriting since the current political atmosphere of West Africa is one of the extremism rather than of compromise”.

This compromise need not be based on sharing the spoils of election victory.


 The compromise should be based on shared ultimate goals.


It should be between leaders with vision and dedicated to national development and prosperity.

Prof. Lewis asks: “Can West Africa produce leaders who are radical enough to win the loyalties of discontented masses, but liberal enough to proceed by compromise rather than by arbitrary force?


Who are tribalist enough to win seats in their local constituencies while still retaining the respect and confidence of men from other tribes?


Who are clever enough to give something to everybody out of an increasing national income, while at the same time steadily increasing the share of saving and investment?


The answer is of course Yes. West Africans have had long centuries of political experience in highly organised states, long before Britain or France arrived on the scene.


The tradition of these states, as we are always reminded, was to base action on compromise and conciliation, after extended palaver”.

Yes we can, provided we understand the palaver of elections and Parliament; provided we visit our past and try to understand it.


By K. B. Asante