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19.04.2019 Opinion

TALKING: The Ghanaian Paradox

By Charles Prempeh

For the past three months, I have busied myself with ethnographic and archival research. Impliedly, I have been less engaged in political and other social issues. But I do not miss the opportunity to follow popular and academic discussions on vexatious subjects in the country. Sometimes, I get depressed when I listen to our social and political commentators deliberately misinforming the public.

After years of listening to our social and political commentators and our public intellectuals, I see Ghana as a paragon of paradox. Ghana embodies a particular paradox that frustrates nation building. We have a kind of paradox that relentlessly sets us on the path of damaging criticism. We are people who criticize virtually everything.

We have a predilection to speak on issues we are hardly informed about. I see many of our commentators speaking on all issues as if they have been sacralized and promoted to the level of the omniscient God. The know-it-all commentators and their corresponding media men and women always set the agenda for all Ghanaians to follow. In journalism, the debate has revolved around the question of who sets the agenda: the public or the media?

While it is pointless to split hairs over this question, it is important to note that the kind of conversations we have on our media – print and electronic – is a tacit expression of our aspirations and socialization. Our aspirations are to see Ghana rising beyond the doldrums of the basic challenges of life. This is particularly a clear reflection of our nature as creatures. God has deposited a sense of orderliness in us and we find ourselves demobilized when we see disorder.

The Bible informs us that human beings were put in a flawless Garden that had everything human beings needed for sustenance. Lack was not a language in the Garden of Eden. This shows how God etched a certain teleological framework in us. Based on the sense of teleo, journalists have a cliché that ‘good news does not sell, bad news does.’ This is also precisely because God created and invested only good in us – thus rationalizing God’s creative addendum: ‘And it was good.’ This also explains why we repel anything that is bad.

From this angle, the belligerent manner we discussed the residue of ‘dumso’ in recent times is understood. We understand the angst we express about the floods that kill people. We also appreciate why the carnage on our roads causes our heads to spin. These are all pointing to the fact that the Ultimate Reality has deposited a sense of orderliness in us. It is on this premise that I agree with Thomas Aquinas when he appealed to the ontological bent of the cosmos as one of the five reasons to justify the existence of God.

My challenge, however, is that Ghana has reached the point where I cannot but agree with our venerable, James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey that ‘talk is cheap’. We have become so cynical and talkative that we condemn everything that our political leaders do. There is no need to be praise singers or griots when it comes to nation building, but it appears that we have taken our talking to a point of absurdity. The worrying trend is that most of those who comment on some issues are the most ignorant about the subject.

Definitely, as part of the social contract, we have with the political elites, the government is not to be shielded from constructive criticism. Manning a nation is equivalent to the Akan prescient adage that ‘she/he who creates a path may hardly know that her/his back is crooked.’ It is because of the propensity for us to err that explains the need for a well-manicured opposition.

Sadly, what we observe is an opposition that has been christened to only oppose. Any party that is in opposition specializes in just dabbling in damaging criticism. The New Patriotic Party (NPP) when in opposition criticized virtually everything the National Democratic Party (NDC) did. Now, it is the NDC that has taken the position of a party on the periphery. They have sharpened their ax to fell any policy of the NPP.

Consequently, we live in a country where patriotism is directed to a political party rather than the nation Ghana. We live in a country where political parties lead the nation according to party philosophy, regardless of how divisive and destructive such political philosophy may impact on the nation.

Since I started digging into the archives, I have come to appreciate the historical antecedent of the partisanship of our national discourses. For example, membership to the Convention People’s Party, founded in June 1949, was considered supreme to that of the nation. Certainly, if you had a leader who was a personification of Ghana, we could not have expected anything less. Vicious and malicious politics began with the propaganda of the CPP. The CPP blackmailing of some of the key players of Ghana’s political history has fed into the discussion over the history curriculum for our schools.

In 2006, one of my history professors at the University of Cape Coast asked us about the full expression of the abbreviation ‘J.B’ (Danquah). Sadly, over eighty percent of the class got the answer wrong. Some of my friends who are bitterly criticizing the inclusion of Joseph Kwame Kyeretwie Boakye Danquah in the historical narrative of Ghana were the same people who were asking for the inclusion of the history of Ghana in our curriculum. I am fortunate to have been taught and interacted with some of the experts who drafted the curriculum. I can say that while one or two of them may have a latent affiliation with a particular political party, I have no reason to believe that they outsourced their expertise to partisanship.

I know for certain that most of the people condemning the new curriculum know next to nothing about the history of Ghana or curriculum development. Most of them are commenting because it is their sacred duty to follow the (il)logic of their party. Most of the so-named civil societies in Ghana have also mortgaged their political neutrality in their engagement with national discourses. I am not oblivious to the fact that neutrality in an ontological sense is an illusive phantasy. But I dare say that most of our civil societies have become deeply partisan that it is not possible to trust them to make any ‘objective' analysis of national policies. Some of them have become a cymbal of noisemakers. They have become so partisan that they criticize more than politicians. It is either they claim to know it all or they deliberately distort the government's policy.

As a paradox nation, we proffer a solution to every challenge confronting the country without blinking to think. The cacophony of noises is such that most people are talking trash while very few are doing serious thinking. Sadly, the majority that is doing the needless talking is submerging the few that pursues the agenda of critical thinking.

The predisposition to talk is informed by our narrow, self-imposed Akan definition of democracy ‘talk let me also talk.’ Thus, instead of ‘talk, let me listen, reason, and also talk,’ our democracy has become a game of continuous (senseless) talking. Indeed, since talk is cheap, our quest for development has become a race on a threadmill: we are ranting, sweating, but making no progress in overcoming the colonial and postcolonial legacies of underdevelopment.

Following the viciousness of our politics, I know some brilliant academics who have consciously refused to participate in any public discourse. They prefer to remain in the Ivory Tower to publish in international journals for promotion. In Plato’s Republic, we are told that the philosopher-kings must not be involved in the mundane things of life that could undermine their thinking capacity. This is because thinking requires quietness and a bit of isolation. This was exemplified in the lives of all the prophets, gurus, monks, and Sufis of the major religions of the world: they all moved away from the cacophony of noises whenever they wanted to think.

The reason for the needless talk in Ghana is that we hardly hold people accountable for spewing trash and inanity. We have overstretched the freedom of speech beyond the limit of what Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, two key libertarians, would have imagined. We have reached what Isaiah Berlin referred to as negative freedom. Our ancestors have informed us that ‘errors never elude incessant talk.’ Indeed, until we take people on for their deceptive comments about national issues, Ghana will continue to be a paradox.

Charles Prempeh ([email protected]), African University College of Communications, Accra

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