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Opinion | Sep 27, 2013

End Of The Dilemma: The Tower Of Babel—Part III

End Of The Dilemma: The Tower Of Babel—Part III

Let's go straight to today's topic: The role and the question of race, religion, and ethnicity in our national politics. But we'll have to begin the conversation with quotations from some of our greatest thinkers:

'The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line'W.E.B. Du Bois.

'We will eradicate all discrimination, whatever its origin, and we shall ensure for everyone a station in life befitting his human dignity and worthy of his labor and his loyalty to the countryWe shall institute in the country a peace resting not on guns and bayonets but on concord and goodwillI ask you to sink your tribal quarrels: They weaken us and may cause us to be despised abroad'Patrice Lumumba.

'In the struggle for real change and a just peace, we will have to overcome the terrible heritage of the insult to human dignity, the inequalities, the conflicts and antagonisms that are the true expressions of the apartheid systemTo overcome them, we will have to succeed to build one nation in which all South Africans will be to one another sister and brother, sharing a common destiny and shorn of the terrible curse of having to define themselves in racial and ethnic terms'Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela.

'I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character'Martin Luther King, Jr.

'A growing number of our so-called black intellectuals and artists believe that the best way forward is to ride on the backs of their people'Molefi Kete Asante.

I believe these four critical observations should suffice for today's conversation. And it's also apparent from the afore-cited quotations that race and ethnicity are indeed real problems in today's world, not least of which is Africa. Now let's go back to Wole Soyinka again. He rightly admits in 'Of Africa' that if America, a racist country at that, can elect a person of African ancestry, a black man of Luo ethnicity, president, then, he sees no reason Kenya shouldn't learn from thatthat precedent.

Soyinka believes Kenyan's democratic process must allow enough political space for the accommodation of ethnic diversification, so that qualified minorities can also partake in leadership positions, principally the presidency. Since Kenya's independence, it has turned out, only one 'outsider,' Daniel Arap Moi, a Kalenjin, managed to slip via the thick ethnocentric fog to become Kenya's president. The Odingas, father and son, Luos, almost, although unsuccessfully, snatched the presidential relay baton.

But Soyinka's Nigeria has its own fair share of problems, a cornucopia of them. A truism flies across Nigeria's social and political landscape that Hausas are born natural rulers, Igbos businessmen/women, and Yorubas intellectuals/scholars. Yet Nigeria has about 250 ethnic groups. So, what defines the criteria for Nigeria's multiethnic exclusivism from the presidential pie? It is no wonder that, according to Soyinka himself, the British would rig the first Nigerian elections in order to put the Hausas in the presidential seat. Even more strategically Machiavellian, the British neocolonial calculation would also cover the massive enlistment of Hausas into Nigeria's security services, a decision, which, concomitantly, was accompanied by the North's underdevelopment. This is not unique to Nigeria, however. The same thing happened in Ghana and Uganda, producing the likes of Idi Amin. This phenomenon is captured in the Eurocentric Africanist Godfrey Mwakikagile's 'Ethnic Politics in Kenya and Nigeria.'

The problematic of political pointillism: In Sudan it's regionalismNorth v. South, or Arabized Africans v. non-Arabized Africans, religion, and ethnicity; in Somalia it's clanism, territoriality, and Islamism; In Ivory Coast it's regionalism and ethnicity; in Iraq it's Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis; in America it's race, class, and ideology; in China it's Han Chinese against Uighur people and the Chinese government against Tibetans; in Burma it's ethnicity and religion; in Malaysia it's majority Malays, Indians, Chinese, and religion

'If you're a Muslim immigrant you're more easily able to get citizenship than if you notIn education and in certain professions, Malays are favored through quota systems. Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world where ethnic majority community benefits from quotasThe judiciary, the civil service and the Police do not reflect the racial composition of the nationPlaces in prestigious residential schools in Malaysia are offered only to Malay students, while across the country Malays are given a quota to enable them to have better access and to progress well to tertiary education,' writes Farah Mihlar in 'Ethnic and Religious Discrimination: Big Challenge for Malaysia's Minorities.'

The work of the African American conservative scholar Dr. Thomas Sowell on Affirmative Action and multiethnic politics in four major countriesMalaysia, Nigeria, India, and Sri Lankaconfirms Mihlar's observational statistics. Further, the research work of Dr. Syed Farid Alatas, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore, corroborates Sowell's and Mihlar's work. Seriously, the chronic problem resulting from Malaysia's ongoing brain drain, mostly involving its Indian and Chinese minorities, negatively impacts Malaysia's economy. But quite apart from Asian problems, how do we satisfactorily resolve the kaleidoscope of Ghanaian (and African) problems of ethnicity, ethnocentrism, religious intolerance, classism, regionalism, sexism, inequitable distribution of natural and non-natural wealth in an African context? We take up this question on the last page.

Let's continue: Related to the matrix of questions connecting the problematic of ethnicity, race, and religion are the shameless and blatant commercialization of political lies, possible lack of political conscientization and even political gullibility on the part of the electorateall being serious national liabilities. A good example is South Africa's 'Secrecy Bill.' This state information bill was a constitutional instrument which the Apartheid government had used to bully whistleblowers and journalists, the ANC, and other black organizations from divulging state secrets to the outside world. In fact, the ANC fought unsuccessfully to have it revoked. Yet when it came to power, it, too, re-instated, or, should I say, imposed a revised version of the 'pariah' law on the new South Africa. The masses protested without success. But what did the electorate do on election day? They overwhelmingly gave President Zuma an extended mandate!

Thankfully, President Zuma has seen fit to reject it, refusing to append his presidential authority to it, and, instead, asking parliament to revise it. What for? In fact, what signals do our 'crazy baldhead' political leaders send to the electoratethat they are shameless copycats of or, more pointedly, not better than their brutal colonizers and their devious drivers of Apartheid? Ghana's Freedom of Information Act sits like Aztec-Mayan mummy in the cemetery of parliamentary inaction waiting for the magic wand of 'Only God-knows-what'!

Actually, electoral nescience directly plays into the hands of those ungrateful politicians who desire nothing positive and good for Africa except democratic, developmental, and intellectual decay. This calls for pro-active self-education on the part of electorate in the areas of political psychology and of international politics. Al Gore tried to have the televising of congressional policy deliberations made into law but without apparent success. His goal was the political education of the masses, the electorate. Therefore, his creative role in indigenizing Al Jazeera in the competitive marketplace of electronic journalism is commendable. Alternative journalism adds balance and diversity to knowledge economy. Fortunately, I don't think Ghana necessarily slacks in this area, except that press and speech freedoms have, to say the obvious, become cheap articles of divisive partisanship incapable of Ghana's democratic self-perpetuation.

Therein lies the conundrumthe complex psycho-electoral relationship between the elector and the electee. Why does the elector enthusiastically get caught up with the elector in the imbroglio of a cheap political barter economy? Not too long ago African Americans, Black South Africans, and Africans from other parts of the continent bartered blood and tears for majoritarian democracy, so what suddenly changed the democratic equation? Why must the electorate barter its collective conscience for a pittance, for promises of political trinketry? In a hopeful dispensation where psychological democracy finds free expression in the liberal marketplace of ideas, why must the sweet talk of political romanticism trump the authority of conscience and human dignity? Why do our politicians play us for 'useful idiots'? Pointedly, the burden or exercise of electoral responsibility must not come cheap in the political 'stock exchange' of electoral marketability! Why don't we learn to cherish our electoral franchise the same way our decent young girls and women prize their hymnal virginities?

Yet the balance sheet of political accountability skews unfavorably toward the seemingly helpless electorate, with the latter wallowing in the liabilities of disenfranchisement, of second-class citizenship, of political prostitution, and of rejectionuntil the next round of election comes up. Then again, the political windfalls of 'ownership equity' and 'assets' go to the smooth-talking politician, his family and friends. Finally, Islamic terrorism is threatening to derail our democracy. Incidentally, the American 'drug war' widens the geographical diameter of the illicit drug activities to encompass Africa. The illegal Western war against Kaddafi released the pangs of terrorism to trample on Mali's ancient civilization. Yet it is the same problem creators, America and the rest of the West, we went to for help. Why must we allow Nkrumah's standing African High Command to remain merely academic, I mean, sandwiched between the white pages of books?

The other equational variable in the political and social conundrum is the increasing monetization of the democratic process. Indeed, this is becoming unbecoming. And yet nobody seems to care. Further, monetization replaces fealties, patronage, conscience, intelligence, accountability, decorum, humility, wisdom, and talent. This is why so many of our politicians are hopelessly unqualified and dangerously corruptnot cut out for the onerous task demanded of electees' political bailiwicks. Naturally, this smile of elucidation flows seamlessly into a hearty guffaw of our next preoccupation: Nepotism and cronyism. These two are serious problems in the body politic. This is when political ethnocentrism rears its ugly head. Do we know political ethnocentrism drove George Padmore, the brilliant and indispensable Pan-Africanist theoretician, from Ghana?

Quite interestingly, Desmond Tutu respectfully claims the global icon of resistance to social, racial, and political injustice, Nelson Mandela, tainted his legacy with a foible, which, he insists, bordered on Mandela's filling his cabinet with political neophytes, members of the ANC with whom he had shared a long tradition of activist solidarity. Our politics must move beyond personal and social solidarities, beyond ethnic, social, and financial considerations. Ironically, the globe-trotting ex-President Kuffour replicated it in Ghana, too. For instance, he refused to extend portfolios to certain qualified political individuals from certain geographies because of their ethnicity. Competence, good citizenship, honesty, and ideological loyalty must be the yardsticks of political officership. If the 'winner-takes-all' isn't working, why not federalize the state, that is, decentralize the presidency and parliament? Why have our leadersone after the othercreated shadow concerns for the exclusive luxuriation of our national coffers?

What are we doing about the political de-artificialization of our national boundaries? True, Kwame Anthony Appiah says 'race' has no scientific utility in psychosocial intercoursevia methodological postmodernism. But Cornel West also says 'race' matters. So, who can we fall on to objectify the sociological signification of 'race' or 'ethnicity' for us? Appiah's preoccupation jibes with our theory on ethnocentric divisiveness. Why is ethnicity a problem in Africa? Is modernism the equal of traditionalism? Must we follow the logic of University of Delhi's philosopher, Dr. Vijay Lal, who believes ancient civilizations were more 'progressive,' more responsive, and more accommodating to diversity, to man and his environment, than the inventive modernism of the 'nation-state?' My answer is no. The lifework of Yale University Dr. Ben Kiernan, as well as those of Ama Mazama, Adam Hochschild, Robert Gellately, Molefi Kete Asante, Ivan Van Sertima, Cheikh Anta Diop, and several others invalidate Lal's hypothesis.

Let's look at some of the proposed solutions to our problems: Implementing responsible, liberal educational system; acquiring and harnessing technology; reevaluating Nkrumah's urgent call for African unification (continental federalism); building strong institutionsdemocracy, judiciary; combating brain drain, ethnocentrism, and religious intolerance; eradicating ignorance and fighting retrogressive cultural traditions; inculcating our people with a sense of transparency, respect, tolerance, fairness, social responsibility, and accountability; promoting the philosophy of hard work and of social justice as far as ethnic minorities are concerned; building stronger armies; divesting the African world of inferiority complex

Let's add a short bibliography for further reading if you don't mind: Cheikh Anta Diop's 'Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State'; Joshua Halberstam's 'Work: Making A Living'; Dambisa Moyo's 'Winner Take All: China's Race for Resources and What It Means for the World' and 'Dead Aid: Why Aid Makes Things Worse and How There's Another Way': Walter Rodney's 'How Europe Underdeveloped Africa'; Amos Wilson's 'Blueprint for Black Power: A Moral, Political, and Economic Imperative for the 21st Century'; Wole Soyinka's 'The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness'; Syed Hussein Alatas' 'The Myth of the Lazy Native'Many (and more) of the solutions can be found in these volumes!

And for those of you who are interested in the political economy of 'brain drain' and how it affects Ghana's economy, please see NYU Yaw Nyarko's paper 'The Returns To The Brain Drain And Brain Circulation In Sub-Saharan Africa: Some Computations Using Data From Ghana.'

'The Asante Fellow Report' published by the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, and NYU's Africa House, directed by Dr. Yaw Nyarko, have valuable research information on some of the questions (and more) we have raised and attempted to answer.

Finally, let's go back to page one where our foundational problems and solutions are clearly statedlisten attentively to Du Bois, Asante, Mandela, and Lumumba! And when you're done answer the following question: What does 'Willie Lynch Letter: The Making of a Slave' say about our fragmented psychology?

The final installment'End of Dilemma: The Tower of BabellV'is in the works.

Francis Kwarteng
Francis Kwarteng, © 2013

This author has authored 549 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: franciskwarteng

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