Last week marked the 46th anniversary of the Centre for Civic Education, introduced by the late Rt Hon Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia when he was political advisor to the National Liberation Council (NLC). I was then a secondary school boy and ever since, I have studied further into the relevance of civic education in a country like Ghana, where over half the population are stark illiterates, 50% of the rest are semi-literate, 50% of the remaining perceived better informed do not worth anything to write home about and 70% of the rest, the so-called class of intellectuals have proved to being miseducated, dishonest, selfish hypocrites, cheats and pillagers of national treasures. This leaves only 3.6% of the population of Ghanaians erudites who appear to be in touch with a sense of civility for nation building. The aims and objectives of the 46 years old NCCE as it has been known became a propaganda wing of SMC during the Unigov campaign, then again, a propaganda wing of the NDC 1&2. Under President Kufuor's NPP, NCCE's civic education agenda that had been derailed for decades did not see much help in putting it back on its purported tracks. Many Ghanaians today scorn the NCCE and what they stand for; taking them for propagandists simply because their duty to educate as outlined below has been shirked for what is seen as a continuum of deceit to favour misgoverning regimes to stay in power.
Last week, upon invitation to deliver an address on the 46th anniversary of NCCE, the Asantehene Otumfuor Osei Tutu II arrived in Accra with a retinue of 100 chiefs drawn from B/A and Ashanti, clad in their traditional regalia to deliver an address that indeed bordered very little on civic education as required. His speech was arguably a sentimentally tailored emotional attack on use of bad language on radio. Ethics as in the use of language anywhere is a tiny fraction of moral/civic education for an address on the occasion. Civic education seeks to evoke citizens' awareness of their rights, duties, responsibilities, patriotism, democracy, national and cultural values as citizens etc.
The occasion that was markedly a display of regal opulence in the form of a durbar of chiefs was graced with sinking into a rather plagiarised statement previously made by John Mahama on insults and what he had identified as incivility, occasioning a breakdown of discipline on Ghana's airwaves. Dr Tony Aidoo has also this week added his voice to how Ghanaian society has degenerated into a culture of indiscipline over the past few decades; a culture in which he has patronised and contributed to grow and an indication of having at last identified how wayward he has been. Below are issues that I deem would have been more appropriate to have been included in a high profile speech for an occasion such as the 46th anniversary of such an important National institution whose aims and objectives have been somewhat moribund and seeking redivivus to enlighten Ghanaians into a brighter state of political, cultural and societal civility; a rebirth of personal, community and national awareness as citizens.
To begin with, touching on rights, duties and responsibilities of citizens, it would have been important to draw the attention of Ghanaians to note the distinction between ordinary rights and fundamental rights. The rights of Ghanaians have been trampled on and denied. Ordinary rights as may be explained to hapless Ghanaians can be protected by action against citizens, and also against unauthorized or unlawful State interference; but these rights will not be protected by court action that will compel Parliament to amend the offending legislation or to abrogate it. Fundamental rights, by contrast, may or may not be protected against infringement by citizens. In fact, some fundamental rights can often be asserted only against State agencies, but these rights do enjoy a measure of protection against any State interference; including repeal or restriction of any such right by the legislature through its ordinary law making procedure.
To every right there is a correlative duty. Rights pair up with duties, therefore one cannot exist without the other. For every given right there must be a corresponding duty. These legal duties exist to enable those who wish to enforce their civic rights to identify a defendant against whom actions may be brought. In other words a civil right can only be enforced against a person who owes the applicant a duty by law.
But in addition to these duties by law, the law places obligations on persons by virtue of their citizenship. These obligations are referred to as civic duties and responsibilities. Ghanaian citizens must therefore, be as fully aware of their civic duties and responsibilities, as they must of their rights; hence any public-spirited citizen will always try to strike a balance and find a proper relationship between rights and duties as well as responsibilities. We should, therefore, be just as concerned with our duties and responsibilities as we are with our rights; and it is imperative that we try hard to find the proper relationship between rights and duties and responsibilities. A democratic society requires the active participation of all its citizens in the affairs of the nation, as well as the awareness by its citizens of their civic duties and responsibilities. In order for government to be effective, citizens must fulfil their civic duties. Citizens who choose not to fulfil their civic duties must be prepared to face legal consequences ie, for breaking the law. On the other hand civic responsibilities are fulfilled by choice. They are voluntary but may bear distasteful penalties including:
Obeying the laws of the country
Paying the taxes levied by the government
Serving on a jury or as a witness in court etc.
There are also others that bear no punitive action, like:
Registering to vote and voting,
Serving on statutory boards and committees etc.
The government, Civil Society organizations and the individual citizen all have a role to play not only in ensuring that the right conditions exist for the protection and enforcement of fundamental rights, but also for the exercise of individuals' civic duties and responsibilities such as:
Taking action wherever society can to improve our economic, cultural and social development, and to promote self-reliance.
Being equiparate and equanimous in treating one another as members of a one Ghana family.
Acting with integrity, sharing with others, caring for others, promoting sound values and guiding the next generation.
Participating actively in affairs that affect society by joining with others to create resources and facilities in our communities.
Building leaders in our communities by identifying and nurturing people who can take responsibility for themselves and for other people.
Civil Society organizations in Ghana also have civic responsibilities and a role to play in building and moulding good citizens. These include:
Helping to create a good society by educating people on issues relating to active citizenship.
Playing a central role in making Ghanaians aware of our rights and responsibilities, and preparing people to undertake those rights and responsibilities.
Building community leadership through facilitating access to information and training.
Playing an effective role in promoting a strong, capable and responsible Civil Society which is able to work in partnership with an active and equally responsible State.
In view of the unequivocal obligations imposed on all States by the principle of universal human rights instruments, it is the responsibility of governments:
To uphold the constitution and ensure that fundamental human rights are guaranteed and observed.
To enable citizens to participate effectively in governance through freedom of expression and the media, freedom of association and assembly, and the right to information in all its forms.
To ensure the full practical realization of human rights including the economic, cultural, environmental, and social rights of all citizens with particular attention to disadvantaged groups such as children and the physically challenged.
To work with citizens and Civil Society organizations to ensure equal opportunities, and the equitable distribution of the resources of the State
To sustain the physical, natural and human resources of the country and invest in such infrastructure and other services as will enable citizens to develop appropriate economic and social ventures.
To create an enabling legal and political environment for the smooth functioning of Civil Society organizations.
To develop and implement measures, which involve Civil Society organizations and citizens, to avoid maladministration and ensure transparency and credibility in the body politic.
To share information, consult citizens and encourage debate on matters of national concern, so that citizens may be in a position to hold public leaders and officials accountable for their actions.
To demonstrate tolerance of dissent. In this regard it is imperative that whether or not the voices are appreciative or critical, informed or ignorant, narrow or holistic, precise or vague, they have a right to be heard. Constructive disagreement, devoid of insults must not be treated as either a sin or a crime.
On the concept of national pride it is generally recognized that in order to build an economy and improve the social services of a State there is a need to boost the national pride of Ghana. National pride is not about entitlement, or jingoism [being better than any other nation]. It is about being self-aware; it is about knowing our history and honouring the sacrifices of our ancestors; it is about valuing our unique culture and preserving it in the modern world; it is about cherishing our sacred traditions and passing them on to our children. It is about uplifting our community so that the success of one is properly understood as the success of all.
Ghanaians should never be afraid to applaud our fellow Ghanaians when they do well because that is the source of our pride. Quite contrary to the above, Ghanaians tend to take a negative attitude towards the success of other people within Ghanaian society. We have all either witnessed or seen confiscation of lawfully acquired property by the State without reasonable cause, harassment to frustrate businesses for political reasons etc. We tend to look upon the successful among us with envy and even with disapproval rather than celebrating it. We do not recognize that a successful achievement by anyone of us adds to the success of our nation. Success is to be emulated, not despised or disapproved. Success by anyone of us adds to the pride that we feel towards our country. Therefore, we should not envy the success of our fellow citizens. We should rather emulate it and be proud of it because it is what will make our Ghana great.
Patriotism connotes love and loyalty to one's own country. The country that we generally love, (Ghana) is the country of our birth. A patriot supports his country; is inspired by it; cares deeply for it and is prepared to serve and defend it. Genuine patriotism would be of great benefit to Ghana. Ghanaians ought to be proud of Ghana where we belong. Being patriotic gives Ghanaians a common purpose, and rallies all of us to support our government in time of need. In order that our country may prosper and thrive in the future, we ought to cultivate a spirit of common purpose through patriotism - a sense of national pride. The true patriot is proud of his country's virtues and is eager to correct its deficiencies. A true patriot also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of those who belong to other countries who have their own specific virtues. A patriot respects his country's constitution and will not subvert it but will work hard and serve in any role or capacity with truth, honesty and dignity.
Patriotism should not be conditional, rather Ghanaians should not be so blinded by it that we are unable to face reality. A genuine patriotic Ghanaian owes duty to Ghana and not necessarily to its leaders and factions. Therefore wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it. Criticism is not unpatriotic but must be constructive, devoid of insults and insinuations. We should always remember that patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and the government when it deserves it. But the context and timing of criticism should also be appropriate. Here is a statement by Sir Winston Churchill which illustrates this. 'When I am abroad I always make it a rule never to criticize or attack the government of my own country. I make up for lost time when I come home'.
It is also very important to distinguish between patriotism and nationalism. The difference is vital since nationalism is often mistaken for patriotism. The patriot has a form of affection to his country somewhat akin to family love. We love our family because it is ours hence that bond which draws us together is unbending. The patriot therefore loves his country because he belongs to it. He can laugh at it in the same way that members of a family laugh at each other's foibles since affection takes for granted the imperfection of those whom it loves. Nationalism, on the other hand, has often been said to be grounded in resentment and rivalry. It is militant by nature and its typical style is belligerent. The nationalist has to prove that his country is always right.
Ghanaians ought to be extremely careful in ensuring that love for our preferred political factions does not in any way compete with our love for our country, since love for party often manages somehow to commingle itself with patriotism. It is imperative therefore that, at all times, we be on our guard and avoid becoming so beholden to our respective political parties which disables us from placing love of country ahead of the particular political party which we support. The good Ghanaian citizen would always place patriotism beyond the sphere of political affiliation because patriotism does not consist in putting our blind trust in anything that our political leaders tell us, especially in circumstances of wanton propaganda in misgovernaunce.
Further on civic education, in order to create the kind of citizenry which we would wish for in this twenty first century, Ghanaians should not only be made aware of their rights, duties and responsibilities, we should also be prepared, so that we are able to exercise those rights and become aware of our duties and undertake those responsibilities willingly. Spreading the message of good citizenship can be done in many ways. One example could be by documenting information about Ghanaian citizens whose attainments ought to be emulated; and honouring those who have demonstrated consistent good citizenship. There can be no better way to promote good citizenship than to recognize it wherever it exists.
Civic education is an important avenue through which Ghanaians, like citizens of any country could be educated about the important role that they are expected to play in the development of our country that is so dear to us. This will serve to widen the relationships among individuals and groups. It should also bring about a sense of duty and responsibility in each individual towards the family, the various communities and the nation at large, through a shared understanding of the value of rights, duties and responsibilities.
Concluding on our civic education duties and activities on young people, there is the added advantage that the youth especially will be caught at an age where they could be more easily taught to develop the necessary skills and attitude to appreciate the values and moral judgement which are necessary to create social consciousness. In fact the use of the school or college could prove to be the most effective means of bringing positive transformation in the attitude, nature and character of our teen-age generation by instilling in them the spirit of mutual understanding, co-operation, friendship, love and respect which should be shown towards others.
It is perhaps only through civic education that we could succeed in creating that kinder and gentler society which continues to elude us. We would also be able to give life to the import in our Twi version of National Anthem: 'Yen ara yen asase ni'. We are reminded in the lyrics of the song that the success or failure of our country depends on our own deeds. Being mindful of this is the only way to guarantee diligence in striving to help build a prosperous and peaceful Ghana.
Adreba Kwaku Abrefa Damoa; (London, UK)