Thursday, December 30, 2010

In a country where the president appoints mayors...

1. Presidential elections are life and death affairs because the winner takes all. This results in disunity from which the country is unable to recover after the elections.

2. There is a national culture of unaccountability that promotes corruption because right from the local level, the officials in charge are not accountable to their local subjects.

3. The economy is stagnant because petty issues that can be handled by responsible local officials are left unattended. If the gutter behind your house is clogged, you blame the president.

4. There is an appalling leadership deficit because there is no training ground for potential national politicians.

5. Nobody cares about local level elections because they do not mean anything.

Both the NDC and the NPP have pretended to be serious about decentralization for a long time, but everybody knows they are joking because they have both had ample opportunity to change the status quo, and yet, it persists.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Of patriotic songs and national anthems

I promised to discuss Yɛn ara asaase ni, a patriotic song that would have been our national anthem if our leaders had mustered the courage to go beyond petty ethnic differences at the height of independence.

This song, composed by Dr. Ephraim Amu, is more popular than God bless our homeland Ghana, the current national anthem, because more people understand the words, and can appreciate its authentic tune. You would be shocked to discover how ignorant Ghanaians are about the national anthem and the national pledge. For instance, very few people know that the anthem has three stanzas. Worse still, very few people can recite the entire first stanza, which they should know because they probably recited it every morning in school.

The national anthem is meaningless to those who have not been to school, even though these people make a significant contribution to our political, economic, and social lives. English is Ghana's official language because it is seen as a neutral choice in the eclectic mix of languages and their associated cultures that could have been chosen instead. Yet, more people speak Twi than speak English, or any other language, for that matter. So, in practical terms, it makes sense to choose the Twi song over the English one.

Those who are worried about privileging one "local" language over others should note that Yɛn ara asaase ni was originally composed in Ewe and later translated to its current Twi form. Hence, those who speak Ewe can appreciate the version of the song in their native language.

The cynic in me can understand the real reason Yɛn ara asaase ni was not chosen: it is a stern admonishment from a father who is challenging his children to work hard to build the nation on the foundation that has been laid by the ancestors, while God bless our homeland Ghana is a somewhat easy plea to God to shower his blessings on us.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Why Africa is the dark continent

[caption id="attachment_477" align="alignright" width="214" caption="Aerial view of Africa's night sky. Europe is shown for contrast. Credit:"][/caption]

They have called Africa the dark continent not because of the complexion of its inhabitants---in many regards, it is unknown, unheard, unlit, and backward. Cartographers of antiquity coined the term 'dark continent' because they did not know enough about the continent's geography to pen it on a map.

The situation remains unchanged. In today's socio-economic landscape, even though Africa forms a fifth of the world's land mass, and a sixth of its population, and holds a lot of its natural resources, it is unheard at the trade negotiations that matter.

That Africa is unlit is obvious, both in the literal as well as the figurative senses. An aerial view of Africa at night shows that it is hopelessly dark. There is little electricity, triggering all the negative consequences that follow from it---stymied industrial and economic growth, stifled Internet access, and the squandering of potentially productive man-hours.

The leaders are full of themselves, and are unresponsive, if cognizant, of the plight of their subjects. Africa's leadership deficit is just a testament to the poverty of its people's minds. The political systems have pampered mediocre leadership and have encouraged do-littles to take the fort.

Who will stem this tide of backwardness and unproductivity?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mrs. Rawlings promises her fans hope in 2011

This post is a follow-up to this one.

Mrs. Rawlings is fueling speculation that she will run for the presidency in 2012. Her recent post on Facebook promises "hope and expectation" for her fans in the coming year. Here's a transcript of her message:
Hello, this Christmas message is to all those who have been coming on the Facebook to wish you a merry Christmas and a reflective new year. Reflective because we've got to have hope in life and I hope that this Christmas into the new year we'll be able to I will be able to give some level of hope and expectation to all those who believe in me and want the best for themselves. Happy new year and a reflective new year as well. Thank you.

And the video:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On postponing Christmas

Gone are the days, if there were ever, of the solemn remembrance of the holy little child born of the lowly virgin in an abandoned fold. Today, Christmas is a holiday season of giving, receiving, and making merry--all activities that involve spending large sums of money.

Lovers feel the pressure to prove their love to their loved ones by any means possible, children expect gifts from Santa (their parents), and heads of state must wish citizens a merry season. I have heard the joke that because the economy is so bad people would like to postpone Christmas if possible. They do not find a reason to celebrate the season since they do not have the money to engage in all the motions associated with it.

I think of Christmas as a time to think about the holy little child--his birth, his ministry, his death. If so, then there is no need to postpone it in so far as our heads and bodies remain intact because we have all the ingredients needed to celebrate it. We should keep the focus on Him and embrace the season even if it coincides with hard economic times.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Yɛn ara asaase ni: Dr. Ephraim Amu and the push for self-determination in our classrooms

This post is a sequel to this one. It is also inspired by this article.

My previous contention that it is imperative to invite musicians into the classroom might have seemed frivolous due to the waning reputation of musicians in our society, but I hope nobody would deny Ephraim Amu that privilege. Being himself a teacher who practised what he preached, about making education relevant to the learner, he is in a position to shake off the stupor of our dead curricula. The atentenben (Twi: atɛntɛnbɛn) remains a staple at funerals and other important occasions because of his ingenuity and industry. Anis Haffar has already described Dr. Amu's philosophy and his contribution to our culture so I won't say more.

As a country that routinely fails to recognize its heroes, it is not surprising how little we remember of this great man. The only exposure I have had to him and his work from school is a short story in a Grade 5 reader entitled "Kente weaving at Bonwire." I was enthralled by the story because it so beautifully described the art of Kente-weaving with a song that still reverberates in my mind. I will reproduce its lyrics at the end of this piece.

To end, we should note that music is not created in a vacuum: it is created for an audience, it is deeply rooted in culture, it is inspired by  what was, what is, and what could be. Those who dismiss the participation of the performing arts in educating our children should re-examine why they think it is right for them to read Enid Blyton, Sweet Valley Twins, and Harry Potter instead.

Stay tuned for a piece on Yɛn ara asaase ni, a patriotic song that many regard, with good reason, as a national anthem. For now, here is the song I was talking about. It describes the adventures of a traveler who encounters Kente-weaving at Bonwire and is absolutely enthralled by it (read: his mind is blown).

Akyinkyin akyinkyin ama mahu nneɛma,
Akyinkyin akyinkyin ama mate nsɛm a.
Asante Bonwre Kentenwene menhuu bi da o.
Asante Bonwre Kentenwene mentee bi da o.
Kwame Onimadeɛyo,
ne kentewene na abo me gye.
Ne nsa ne nan ne nsedua sɛ wogyigye ni:

Kro kro, kro, kro,
Hi, hi, hi, hi,
Kroehi, kroehi, krokrokro
Hi, hi, kroehi kro, kroehi kro
Na ayɛ me dɛ o, ayɛ me dɛ o
Bonwre kentenwene ne!
Aye me dɛ o, abɔ me gye!

English translation:

Walking about has enabled me see things.
Walking about has enabled me hear stories.
But I have never seen how kente is woven at Asante Bonwre.
neither have I heard how kente is woven at Asante Bonwre.
Kwame Who-knows-how-to-do-things,
has frenzied me with the way he weaves his kente.
His hands, his feet, and the weaver's shuttle create music which goes like this:

The refrain is the same as in the Twi. (Credit: Philip Tetteh Laryea's PhD thesis.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ghana, don't let the oil become the new cocoa

As the second largest producer of cocoa in the world one would expect that the many products derived from cocoa should be pervasive and accessible on the Ghanaian market. Sadly, that is not the case. There are cocoa farmers who have no clue what their beans are used for. In short, they have never seen chocolate!

This narrative is familiar to most of the third world (more appropriately called the two-thirds world as they occupy about 2/3 of the world's terrain and make up more than 2/3 of its population) who have resources that are raw material for more refined end products. Our benefactors are cunning: they like our cocoa, but not our chocolate. They like our gold and diamond, but not our jewelry. They like our timber, but not our furniture. For a long time the extractive processes that were set in motion in the colonial days have continued much to the detriment of our economic growth.

Having started drilling for oil in commercial quantities, most Ghanaians are optimistic that it will result in a magical boost in the economy. But how exactly is this going to materialize? Lest I douse the hopes of many, I will not discuss the objective benefits to be derived from this oil find. Suffice it to say, it is not as much as most of us hope it is. Further, Ghana will not process any of it at home--all of it will be shipped abroad as we do not have the capacity to refine it (or so we are told). If any benefits are to inure to our credit, it is going to be through derivative businesses that are based on the primary resource--oil. But that is what we have consistently failed to do with our other natural resources, making me skeptical if any meaningful advantages will be gained from this oil find. We should not get too excited unless we are willing to do things differently.

To end, I will paraphrase the speech President Obama gave to Ghana's parliament on July 11, 2009. He said "Old habits must also be broken. Dependence on commodities, or a single export, has the tendency to concentrate wealth in the hands of the few, and leaves people too vulnerable to downturns. So, Ghana, for instance, oil brings great opportunities. You have been very responsible in preparing for new revenue, but as so many Ghanaians know oil cannot simply become the new cocoa. From South Korea to Singapore history shows that countries thrive when they invest in people and in their infrastructure, when they promote multiple exports services, develop a skilled workforce, and make space for medium scale businesses that create jobs."

This advice is still relevant and should be followed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wikileaks exposes Ghana's hypocrisy on drug trade

The NDC campaigned on a platform of stemming the purported tide in the narcotics trade in Ghana. To our shame, President Atta-Mills even opted to subject himself and his entourage to a humiliating search just to show the world that he, himself, was not a drug peddler. But to what end?

According to leaked US embassy cables from Wikileaks, President Atta-Mills was suspicious of members of his own entourage but wanted private scans for them to avoid embarrassment in case they were caught. This is a revelation that nullifies the charade that most of us had suspected of his earlier action. To me that charade was just another of the sort of antics that politicians peddle just to deceive the public for sympathy and votes. In the 2008 elections cycle, it was hip for the NDC to blithely (and falsely) accuse the NPP's candidate of being a drug addict, or worse, a baron. It is unconscionable that they would do this knowing there were drug peddlers in their own ranks.

The leaked documents also implicate former president Kufuor's administration. Apparently in 2007, his administration granted diplomatic passports to people who did not deserve them. We don't know why they did this, but the leaked cables suggest that some of these people were suspected to be drug traffickers, and the special treatment given them helped them evade checks at the airport.

The ugly noises in Ghana's media and politics will continue, but I would rather we took a more dispassionate approach to handling this menace since we have decided it is.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Old politics, new gender?

Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, former first lady of Ghana, is rumored to be preparing to unseat sitting president John Evans Atta-Mills in the NDC primaries for the 2012 elections. This will be the first time in our short, democratic history that a sitting president has not been allowed to run for a second term unchallenged in his own party.

Nana's bid is interesting for the above reason. But it is also interesting for another reason: She is a woman. As first lady for 19 years (11 under military rule, 8 under democratic rule), she saw, first hand, the way Ghana is run and will bring that experience to bear in running it (her?) herself.

Let's suppose she can win the primaries.

Her husband, former president Rawlings, has been accused of not being able to fully withdraw from the presidency to assume a more statesmanlike role, hence, Nana's run will make some uncomfortable. It is clear that Mr. Rawlings would have a say in how she runs affairs, but how much of an influence would he be?

Mr. Rawlings has openly criticized Prof. Mills time and again for not being effective in tackling corruption. He has also expressed misgivings about Prof. Mills' calm approach in dealing with issues. In short, he wants to see action! I have no doubt that if Mrs. Rawlings becomes president she will bring some new perspectives to the presidency and to politics in general, but I also have no doubt that Mr. Rawlings would be an overbearing figure who will not be ignored. In effect, Ghanaians will be subjected to 4 more years of the Rawlingses--or at least Mr. Rawlings--a thought most of us cannot bear.

Ordinarily, a female candidate might win sympathy for her courage and pioneering spirit, but Mrs. Rawlings is a different kind of woman. She has history. She has baggage. So, sadly the novelty of her gender may be overcast by her sullen history.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Amakye Dede and other musicians in the classroom


This will not go down well with many Ghanaians. We tend to prefer more traditional, orthodox, 'westernized' curricula that are often far-removed from any cultural significance. Hence, Professor Agyeman Badu Akosa's proposal is bound to ruffle feathers.

The golden age of highlife music, the genre that Ghana can lay claim to as its heritage, died with the death of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president. As one of the prominent proponents of Pan-Africanism, Nkrumah saw the promotion of the arts as cardinal to building a national identity, so he promoted music with our national resources. It was in those days that musicians like E T. Mensah, and bands like Ramblers we hailed as ambassadors of an authentic genre that entertained Ghanaians at home and advertised their culture abroad. Ghana was seen as a beacon of light in the push for freedom and self-determination by black peoples, and our music reinforced those themes.

Those days are gone, but not just those. The days when Ghanaians actively appreciated the 'homegrown' arts like concert parties, live bands, poetry (anwensɛm) recitals, and so on have died as well. This has led to the fading from the general memory of our history, and a profound lack of appreciation for the beauty and richness of our languages. (I wish I could write this piece in Twi, or Ga, or Dagbani, but I cannot with any respectable decency, and neither can the vast majority of Ghanaians).

Why not study our music and our arts if we study Shakespeare? or Achebe?

Our musicians are not appreciated for their creativity and innovation, much like our writers. Most of them are thought of as failures who try to make ends meet by bombarding us with hollow tunes. This feeling has roots in the early days of highlife when palm-wine bars were choked with these musicians, most of them recently immigrated city-dwellers whining about the vagaries of city life. We forget that even though they created an aura of listlessness and delinquency, they addressed real issues in the society, and helped define what has become modern-day highlife, and its new child--hiplife.

Music, especially the kind that Amakye Dede and others like him produce, keeps aspects of the culture in the general memory. If they are invoking proverbs, and rattling rhymes, and provoking with kasakoa, they are educating, comforting, and reminding. Hence, their effect is not that antithetical to the cause of education at all. Embracing them and teaching the intricacies of their art in classrooms will add some cultural significance to our education and make it meaningful to the many disillusioned children trudging along in our schools for formality's sake.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Africa's cheetah generation

The aid vs trade debate continues. Prof. George Ayittey presents a compelling argument for why the 'West' should stop spoon-feeding African countries to the detriment of Africa's development. Keen observers would acknowledge that Africa's leadership deficit is more to blame for its current state than to any other reason, so it stands to reason that that issue should also be dealt with vigorously in order for the continent to make progress. Enjoy!