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24.03.2009 Feature Article

At War With Seriousness

There is a columnist on Ghanaweb who regularly laces her conclusions with the words, 'we are not a serious nation'. I have always regarded her construction, only from a semantic point of view, as one of those instances in which foreign vocabulary can be 'colonized' by the colonized, and infused with all the nuances that encode the local experience, so that, even if the vocabulary sounds foreign, embedded in its meanings are declensions that vary vastly from those of native speakers of the foreign language.

The expression, “he is not serious”, is so typically, and even uniquely Ghanaian. “Charlie, be serious”, could be the earnest pleading from a friend asking you to clarify the not-so-convincing news from the chick he was connecting you with.. “Abi, the guy be serious oh”, could be the compliments of adoring on-lookers at the unfolding material success of a hardworking upstart. “That man is not serious”, is oftentimes the expression of disdainful regret of a damsel who thinks the man chasing her is not bringing enough gifts and monetary inducements. 'Serious' has even leapfrogged the language barrier and made its way, incorruptible, but rejuvenated, into the ethnic lingo. “Wonye serious”, the Twi man will say; “ebEE serious” as the Ga man smiles or frowns, or the hapless Akan who confuses his 'r' and 'l', waxing boastful about his planned escapade with the tomato seller's daughter, “EnE ma yE selious paa”! “Serious” has so seriously crept into our rationalization of events and issues that when that Ghanaweb writer accuses Ghana of not being a serious nation, then we seriously must consider the seriousness of the accusation.

How serious then is an incoming administration that, in the midst of an economic crisis, one that will seriously affect the commodity prices upon which it is almost entirely dependent, decides its priority is to celebrate our founder with a national holiday. We are not a serious nation. I had hoped for some serious messages of national renewal; of change; of plans to reenergize the fishing industry and transform boat building capability on a national scale so that our fishing would not depend 80% on dugout canoes, especially since the President hails from Cape Coast and its poor fishing villages. But no, in true Ghanaian celebratory fashion, the president decides another holiday for the founding father is best for us all.

You see, there is an opaque melancholia about our president, a brooding taciturn façade accompanied by a righteous sense of wrongdoing and being wronged, all guarding a frantic appeal to the nation to give him recognition. Generally, he is an accident waiting to happen, yet the pathos born out of his sense of righteousness renders even his accidents so ineffectual that most times, they can be safely ignored. The odd time though, his accidents go over board and we are moved to accept more and more that his will be a lame duck presidency. In many ways his is like the simmering flatulence of gasses from the large intestines to the rectum that only lead to the inconsequential fart. I remember sometime back, when he emerged from partial oblivion to announce that if he won the election, he would bring back banker-to-banker lottery. Then again I observed, after he had won the NDC nomination, how he swore he would solve our problems by having garri factories. Now, no sooner has he got the much coveted presidential stool, after he and his VP had campaigned on promises of change, even calling themselves the Obamas of Ghana, than he tells us he wishes the whole of Ghana was a 'prayer camp'. Maybe, with his newly acquired sartorial penchant for Mallam gowns, he would wish us to seriously give thanks to Allah while we wait for the oil. President Mills's longing for a celebratory holiday is only symptomatic of a national malaise of escapism that afflicts the political elite and, has by osmosis, infected the general public, who, in turn, indulge in relentless orgies of enjoyment even as daunting poverty haunts about them, while government functionaries and their connections flaunt their affluence. It 'streamed' from the national enchantment with morbidity when funerals were raised to the commanding heights of national economic activity; then it 'descended' into the elevation of the opium of religion, in this case a rabid Christianity adorned with weddings and noisy orgasmic Pentecostal services, and now, it finally 'distills' into the celebration of the flag.

And what a celebration of the flag we have had! The 50th anniversary of state incompetence and failure was well adorned with flags, so was the filth and not-so-pleasant areas which were painted red, gold and green to mask their foulness even as the government imported cars and trinkets only to sell them or present them to each other. And oh, the African Nations soccer tournament was well adorned with the flag as our nation proved it had come of age with hastily Chinese-built stadiums in localities where they remained half-empty because majority of citizens, clad in red, gold and green 'supportas' could not afford tickets to the continental bonanza. Still they celebrated. As an affluent friend observed, those were proud times to be Ghanaian. And now Asomdweehene, the king of peace, with swift alacrity, writes himself into the history books with another flag celebration, Founder's day. Meanwhile, three months into his presidency, the mausoleum of the Founder, whom he wants to celebrate, is reported to be suffering neglect because it has not received any HIPC funds to ensure water flow to its toilets. Founder's day for the Osagyefo! Mr. Mills must be infected with some nostalgic putrescence from his Achimota School days and their annual Founders Day celebration. What is appalling is that he seriously expects us to recognize it as a stroke of his genius.

While we are here, let us put to rest the myth of Nkrumah and let the man's bones rest in peace. If truth be told, relative to some other nations, independence was handed to Ghanaians on a silver platter by the British. The so called struggles for independence that we like to celebrate were largely the consequence of a bickering political elite who had successfully divided the country into factions of tribe and amorphous ideologies, each faction believing they had the divine right to inherit the power from the British. What we ended up with is a divided national front of Nkrumaist, Busia-Danquahist, Domboist factions and an agricultural country that cannot feed itself, and, having no coherent animal husbandry policy and practice, celebrates the eating of dogs, vultures, rats and guinea fowl as delicacy, a country with little coherence, continuity and synergies fifty years into the development planning process. It is precisely these factions, and their acquired diverse and disparate forms, that plague socio- political life in Ghana today. What justifies the celebration of such self-imposed national rancor and bitterness? In every historical epoch, different currents arise in society and, in their interactions, create the required resonance that birth change. The end of colonization is one such epochal event replete with disparate currents that gave it impetus, and we must be careful not to assign undue weight to any actors as more causative than others even if only for the sake of an overrated nationalism and patriotism. By the end of the 1920s, colonial administration was reaching its highest development where a few men from the mother country could dominate entire populations and dictate an economic imperative to the colonized that solely benefited the mother country. But it had become an increasingly expensive administrative and financial burden on the colonial powers. The policy's final reification would be in training natives of the colonized societies to manage their own exploitation, to undertake and supervise the imposed socio-economic imperative and save the mother country money and headaches from rising nationalist movements and rebellious tribes. Sadly, it was not even a daunting strategy for the colonizers to execute. Political independence and neo- colonialism have been the result. Only when we have succeeded in crafting these circumstances of history into securing, for all our peoples, the means to progress and prosperity, would we be masters of our destiny and history. Then, and only then, may we deserve yet another national holiday.

The most celebrated colonial governor of Ghana, Gordon Guggisberg, understood this only too well and enacted a socio-economic infrastructure regime precisely geared towards the achievement of this reification. Achimota School, his flagship elite school, and later the University College of Ghana would become the factories that would churn out the elite who would supervise this phase of domination. And they both have not failed. Most of the leaders and their henchmen who have governed Ghana have emanated from these institutions, and true to their mission, have presided successfully, for fifty years, over the underdevelopment of the country. It must be satisfying for the ghost of Guggisberg to see his minions at work especially, those earlier ones who wanted to be more English than the English themselves. Guggisberg was so perfect at instituting this colonial apparatus that today not even the British, but our own people celebrate him. In Achimota School, where President Mills attended, Guggisberg is, once a year, celebrated in a Founder's Day parade where half naked boys and girls, in surrealistic suspension of reality, sing his praises and acquiesce in his colonizing mission. This Founder's Day, I believe, is what Mr. Mills, the president of Ghana and old boy of Achimota is trying to spring, like a chicken thief, into the unsuspecting cauldron of Ghanaian hedonist escapism.

We are not a serious nation, and seriously, should we take this accusation.

I have great respect for the Osagyefo's Pan Africanism but as a leader of Ghana's development process, he was deeply flawed and one can only justify his greatness by default. The redeemers, saviors, liberators, democrats and yahoos that have slept walk through the corridors of power after him have been so inept that some of us, perennially embroiled in a petrified search for national identity, are confined into some nostalgic religio-sentimental cocoon that ossifies his infallibility. Principally, I maintain that his industrialization plan was flawed in the technology transfer timeline, and his move towards extreme statism and collectivization were paths that time has proven problematic, to say the least.

What puts the Osagyefo above his tormented detractors and successors is his awareness – nay, even his promise - of a dream that he, himself, never fully conceptualized. He seemed to have a certain sense of the required urgency for development of a nascent nation whose people had, for almost half a century of the preceding 600 years, gleefully warred and sold each other into slavery, and in the last hundred years had continued warring while they enslaved themselves to a debilitating colonial economic imperative.

This urgency is generally lost on today's leaders who have become masters of a perniciously smug gradualism. In the spirit of 'macro- economic stability', they have plunged us into a Shavian world of 'disillusion and doubt', where a recidivist state entitlement has found its latest expression in petty auto theft among the nations' top officials; where politics has degenerated into an 'agonized struggle' between rabid political parties for control of national resources, procurement and the inevitable material rewards to be divvied down the line; whose elite, in total bewilderment, substitute successful, but tenuous political alternation for democracy itself, and still debate whether the nation needs radical change or just gradual change; from whence the state 'robs' its citizens by entrusting self-sufficiency in rice production to a voluptuous American debutante, and then, turns around, and allows its citizens to be murdered daily on unsafe roads, with unsafe drivers, in unsafe vehicles; whose 'spiritual nutrition' arises from the opportunistic siphoning of the blood of a dead ex- service officer, Adjetey, the victim of a colonial over-exuberant shooting, which blood has now been bullied into submission as the collective blood of our struggles, when the man himself, after being bled dry, could not get a decent burial.

If, in such a state, the president attempts to declare a Founder's Day, can we honestly say he acted out of character?

No, he has had life-long personal preparation for this precise moment. As Nana Ama Obenewa, the Ghanaweb writer I mentioned earlier, wrote, “we are not a serious nation”.

Truro, Nova Scotia.

Kwesi Yeboah
Kwesi Yeboah, © 2009

This author has authored 34 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: KwesiYeboah

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