Monday, February 28, 2011

Why they don't teach history (Part 5)

This is the final part of my expose on this all important issue--the systematic ignoring of our history by our educational system. The rest of the series is linked below.

After Nkrumah was overthrown, he lived in exile in Guinea and never returned to Ghana. He died of skin cancer in Bucharest, Romania in 1972. The period after Nkrumah’s overthrow saw the young nation plagued by a series of coup d'états and attempted coup d'états plunging it into sustained periods of instability interspersed with short-lived periods of uneasy calm.

In the 1979 uprising, there was the gruesome murder of three former heads of state—Acheampong, in secret, Afrifa, and Akuffo, in the public glare—all of these by firing squad and arguably with popular support. The pain and intrigue surrounding these bloody episodes is yet to be forgotten. The NPP government initiated a formal process of reconciliation in May 2002, but more time is needed to heal the deep wounds of the past.

It is against this backdrop that we have shied away from our history—it is too controversial, too bloody, and too many of the actors are still alive. This shunning of our bleak post-independence history has been totalising, leading to a complete forbiddance of all other histories, be they of the world, of Africa, or even of pre-colonial Ghana. We quickly brush over the major points of Ghana's never to return to them again. The history of the world (as relating to say, the slave trade) is completely shunned even though Ghana was a major transit point.

There may be those who will argue for the maintenance of the status quo since it does not appear to have any dire consequences. However, if we are to stop moving around in circles in our political debates, if we are to bring more depth to the discussion on current issues, if we are to move forward while avoiding past mistakes, we must confront our history head on. Every society with a history like ours will have kinks and disasters in it, but that should not deter us from studying it. If we discuss these issues candidly and avoid cheap and unwarranted rhetoric, a natural healing process will take place until we are at peace with ourselves as a nation. This is a crucial step we must take, for a nation that is going to pursue economic and social development, freedom, and justice cannot thrive in ignorance.

The constitution stipulates the formation of a National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) which should see to the education of the citizenry on their civic responsibilities as well as other matters of national interest such as these.12 However, the NCCE is consistently under-funded leaving it handicapped in the performance of its duties. If we are to better understand the trajectory of the nation with respect to the rest of the world, we cannot ignore the study of history—the history of the world, the history of Africa, and most importantly, that of Ghana. The study of history will help us understand our place in the world. It will also illuminate for us the reasons why the world is the way it is and patterns of thought that got us here. With this knowledge, we can better map out a way to a more productive and edifying social discourse. The earlier we woke up to this reality, the better.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why they don't teach history (Part 4)

This is the continuation of my expose on this all important topic. The earlier parts are linked below.

If my education had included a more comprehensive civic component, I would have been taught the importance of governing oneself. I would have learnt why it is demeaning to have somebody invade your country, condemn you to servitude and then have you not even recognise it—this is dangerous. I would have learnt that Kwame Nkrumah once said “We prefer self-government with danger to servitude in tranquility.” Unfortunately, many children are graduating from our junior secondary schools with this mindset. Until they take the initiative to re-educate themselves later in life, they will have no real appreciation of what independence meant—to wit, the struggles of the pioneers have been reduced to nought. The philosophy that necessitated the wresting of independence from the hands of the oppressor has been lost on us. Upon observing countries like South Korea and Singapore, countries with which we were on similar economic footing at independence, it is worth questioning whether it was worth the fight.

I have always wondered why we shy away from history in our schools. Could it be because too many of the players in the history are still alive? Could it be that our academics have been too lazy to document it? Could it be because our books were printed by our colonial masters? Could it be that we are so ashamed of our rush for self-government, realising we do not have much to show for it? What is the reason?

All the reasons listed above have a part to play, but I think the biggest impediment to teaching our history is the complicated legacy of Kwame Nkrumah.

Ordinarily, the life and work of the founders of a nation are cemented into the common consciousness of the people. The founders are hailed as heroes of the nation and myths are created around them that are passed on to future generations. Even though there is a palpable nostalgia among Ghanaians of an older generation for Nkrumah, they have not been able to transfer this enthusiasm for Nkrumah and his work to the younger generations. Nkrumah, even though he worked hard to establish Ghana on a strong infrastructural framework, did not stick to the principles of good governance while doing so. His suppression of dissent, which led to the passage of the Preventive Detention Act (PDA) in 1958 under which any Ghanaian could be detained in prison for up to five years without trial or the right to appeal to the courts, resulted in the imprisonment of many politicians who were seen as his opponents. The detainees suffered severe human rights abuses and most of them died in prison.

Prominent among those who died in detention were J. B. Danquah and E. Obetsebi-Lamptey, both of whom died in jail due to ill-health. Both of these men were members of the Big Six and would otherwise have been celebrated as heroes of our struggle for independence. All public celebrations of Danquah’s life and work were proscribed, leading to the fading of his story from the general memory. Ebenezer Ako-Adjei, the man who introduced Nkrumah to the leadership of the UGCC and recommended him for the post of general secretary, forswore politics on the day he was released from jail, acquiescing into a private life that was quite uncharacteristic of him given his earlier involvement and vibrancy in national politics.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why they don't teach history (Part 3)

This is part 3 of my expose on why they shy away from teaching history in our schools. Parts 1 and 2 are linked below.

There was no reason to think that the British were bad, or that they were doing something bad, or that there was something amiss with the current system in place. If I should have known better, then I blame this ignorance on the educational system which had taken pains to ensure that we were just presented with facts—facts stripped of their philosophical, cultural, and historical context.

When we learnt about Governor Gordon Guggisberg, we learnt about his ten-year development plan and how he built the Korle-Bu teaching hospital, the Takoradi harbour, and the Achimota school. Up till today, Korle-Bu is the biggest and best equipped hospital in Ghana, and one of the best in Africa. Achimota School remains one of the most prestigious schools in the country having trained pioneers and luminaries like Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s second president, Edward Akufo-Addo, president of
Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, Gambia’s first president, Dawda Jawara, Ghana’s fourth president, Jeremiah John Rawlings, and Ghana’s sixth and current president John Evans Atta-Mills. The Takoradi harbour is one of two in the country and plays a major role in exporting our raw materials like timber, manganese, bauxite, and very soon, crude oil.

So, as a little boy, I reasoned that if we had, at least, continued at the pace of Guggisberg, the country would have been a very different place. Even though he could not complete his ten-year development plan due to ill-health, we made significant progress. So why would you want to get rid of such a person? Why would you want to get rid of the British?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why they don't teach history (Part 2)

This is a continuation of the series on why they don't teach history in Ghanaian schools. The rest of the exposition is linked below this article.

When I was in junior secondary school, I was told about a bit of our history.

I heard about how the Portuguese, the first Europeans to arrive on our shores, discovered what later became known as the Gold Coast. They first arrived at our shores to trade. They built Fort Sao Jorge da Mina, from which the modern-day township, Elmina, derives its name.

I heard of how missionaries came over to preach the gospel and to promote literacy by building schools and sending natives abroad to be educated as priests. I heard of educated natives like John Mensah Sarbah organising to demand more rights from the colonial masters.

I heard the stories of Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante and how they resisted the British, even though they were eventually conquered.

I heard of how the British ruled us as a colony with a representative appointed by the Queen, under a system of government known as indirect rule.

And then suddenly, I heard of a group of more vocal natives demanding independence from the British—a group led by Joseph Boakye Danquah and his United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC). Immediately, an inconsistency stood out to me: why were these men demanding independence? What was wrong with the current system? It is worth noting that prior to this point of my studies, I had not had much interpretation of the events that were going on.

Of course, I had heard of the riots of 1948 which were triggered by a failure of the British colonial government to keep its promise of adequate compensation for Gold Coasters who had fought as British allies in World War II. The riots were triggered by the killing of three of the war veterans who were among those who marched to the governor’s house to present their petitions. But that was a fluke, I thought. Any government would occasionally have protests if the people are dissatisfied with something, which is not uncommon. I had read of the 1995 Ku Me Preko demonstrations in which four people were killed, but that did not call for an overthrow of the government.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why they don't teach history (Part 1)

Anybody with a cursory knowledge of Ghana's educational system will attest to the fact that we are extremely ignorant of our history. Apart from the paltry exposure we get in primary and junior high school to our history, there is no other time in one's education where one gets exposed to the crucial aspects of our history that have consequences for life today in our body politic. This week, I begin a series on this sorry state of affairs. I will examine why our history has been pushed to the background and interrogate ways of rectifying the situation.

Marcus Garvey, a prominent pan-Africanist and Jamaican intellectual, once said “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” I, and I believe many other Ghanaians, agree with this profound sentiment. The vintage African tradition of gathering children by the fireside to hear stories from elders is a reflection of the depth to which this sentiment is ingrained in our consciousness. During these story-telling sessions, we learn of the heroic acts of our ancestors—some of the stories are true, while others are at best, half-true—so we can know what we are capable of, and what is expected of us.

It is upsetting that this culture of oral tradition is fading away; but even more troubling is the fact that we are actively desisting from teaching our history in school. It is embarrassing that a student could graduate from our universities without any appreciable knowledge of our history. Unless the student is reading a course that requires government or civics, there is no way, as per our rigid system, for one to delve into unrelated territory, even if one is interested. The cumulative effect of this ignorance is our profound lack of appreciation of current events, both at home and abroad. It is crucial for us to know our past so we can understand how we got here and perhaps, if we want to move forward, how to do so in a sensible manner, without repeating the mistakes of the past.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Atta-Mills brings his foot soldiers home

In his latest ministerial reshuffles, President Atta-Mills has moved two of NDC's most capable propagandists (in the non-pejorative sense of the word)---Samuel Ofosu Ampofo, and Mohammed Ahmed Baba Jamal---from obscurity to the capital.

In the run up to the 2008 elections, whenever the NDC needed men to make its case to the public, these two men were always on hand to do the job---clean, or dirty. So I was surprised when Atta-Mills 'banished' them to obscurity (Ofosu Ampofo as minister for the Eastern Region with Baba Jamal as his deputy) when he annexed power. They are the kind of politicians you want at the forefront because they are able to make an almost personal connection with the people even when they are miles away, both literally and metaphorically (ie. socially, economically). How they do this is not obvious, but I will make a guess.

First of all, both men are men of faith. That is, they are religious, and Ofosu Ampofo is a prominent figure in his church. Belief in God is a non-negotiable prerequisite to being an effective politician in Ghana.

Secondly, they are both good communicators in Twi, the language which is best known by the masses in the southern part of Ghana. This is crucial as the majority of opinion-influencing discussions on politics and the economy are carried out in Twi on the radio stations.

Thirdly, having previously served as national executives of the ruling party, these men know the so-called foot soldiers of the party quite well. After persistent agitations from these notorious party foot soldiers, Atta-Mills has seen it fit to bring in one of their own.

Ofosu Ampofo has been moved to the ministry of local government and rural development where he will be in constant contact with party foot soldiers. In a country where the president appoints all mayors and district chief executives, he can meet the demands of party foot soldiers by appointing their faithful party men to these executive positions. Having been the national organiser of the party in the last election Ofosu Ampofo must know these people well, and be able to do what is expected of him---honour the faithful boys and keep the foot soldiers in check.

Baba Jamal is also not new to the portfolio he has been given. As deputy information minister, I can already speculate that we are going to hear more of his aggressive banter on radio as his amiable personality shines through. I think this move by Atta-Mills this is in response to Akufo-Addo's move of appointing an official communications team of young opinion leaders even though they NPP is not short of vocal advocates. With the noise-making (also known as campaigns) for the 2012 elections already in full force, only time will test the true mettle of these gentlemen.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Zombie of the week: Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo

I would like to thank a friend, Kwabena, who has also been observing the current developments emanating from Akufo-Addo's initial indiscretion with disquiet. Kwabena encouraged me to write this piece.

This week's Zombie is a big fish who should have known better, but has decided to sacrifice prudence and decency for political expediency.

On Tuesday, while addressing party faithful in Koforidua, Nana Akufo-Addo made some uncharacteristic remarks on how his party should react to violence in the 2012 elections. The presidential hopeful, drunken with the enthusiasm of an exuberant, youthful crowd, contended there was nothing wrong with meeting violence from the NDC with violence. On the surface, this seems reasonable as one should defend herself if necessary, but this statement should not have come from him.

In a country where the police cannot be trusted in tense confrontations between NDC and NPP, it is quite disconcerting that Akufo-Addo would give such an admonition, propping up the hooliganic elements in his party to take matters into their own hands.

It is sad I have to pick Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo for this dishonourable title. As the leader of the largest opposition party and somebody with a real chance of becoming president, it is unfortunate that he has refused to recant his words, but instead, is reiterating them despite calls for moderation. He has joined the class of crass rabble-rousers from whom he has previously been distinguished, and has to be called to order.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

All die be die: Akufo-Addo's unguarded rhetoric

In the run-up to the 2012 elections, the NPP is exploring all possible avenues for wresting power from the NDC, and it seems they may not be ruling out violence.

While addressing party faithful in the Eastern Region, Akufo-Addo, the leader of the largest opposition party in Ghana, gave a rather uncharacteristic speech pandering to the hooliganic fringe in his party. It is well-known that he himself would not support violence openly, and, from his tone, the speech is probably not as serious as it might sound; but a politician of his calibre should have been more tactful.

The NPP and NDC are fond of issuing threats to each other about who can marshal more violence against his opponent if need be, so it is not uncommon to hear such rhetoric from otherwise responsible party stalwarts, especially when addressing the youth. Yet, this does not excuse him as it will spur on some miscreants to take up arms on election day. It is unfortunate that the harm has already been done and that he most likely won't retract.

I have transcribed the speech below from its original version in Twi to English:

They have made up their minds to intimidate us in 2012. They have said that as for we the Akans, we love our lives so we retreat after slight agitation when one or two of us are injured. Well, we shall see. I think we showed a little something at Atiwa. At the Atiwa bye-election, we displayed a little something. We have to understand that this group was founded by courageous people. The elders who founded this party for it to become the biggest political movement in Ghana were not hiding under beds. So, the courage that is required for the 2012 elections... we are saying all die be die. All die be die. Nobody is more manly than the other. Nobody can say that he is more manly than the other. No matter how tall you are, no matter how small you are, God created all of us the same. You cannot say yours is three, we all have two. So, we are going to persevere. Ghanaians need us in government again, so it is that courage that we need to stand firm for the 2012 elections, and we are going to have to do it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The influence of the Rawlingses is waning

When Ghana wrested independence from the British in 1957, we were hoping to enjoy the ensuing freedom and democratic dispensation perpetually. Unfortunately, the smooth line of progress that followed immediately after independence was truncated with the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. Military junta replaced military junta after Nkrumah was overthrown, plunging the nation into despair and, sometimes, fear. Up until the beginning of the fourth republic in 1992, our 53-year history had been dominated by bleak military dictatorships interspersed with short-lived democratic dispensations.

The last of the military juntas was led by Flight Lieutenant Jeremiah John Rawlings, who ruled the country for 19 years---11 as a military dictator, 8 as a democratically elected president. Having reluctantly morphed into a democratic leader, Mr. Rawlings exercised a lot of authority over the coalition he formed to compete in the first democratic elections of the fourth republic. As founder and leader of the NDC, his word held sway, regardless of the opposition that other members of the party might have had. It is not unnatural for the charisma of the founder of a political movement to trump dissenting, minority opinions, especially in the nascent stages, but Mr. and Mrs. Rawlings commanded popular control as well. The masses loved them, probably because of Mr. Rawlings's forthrightness and his uncanny ability to woo them.

As recently as five years ago, only a handful of NDC stalwarts could dare disagree publicly with the founder. Even though it was widely known that many of them disagreed with his unpalatable effusions, they were uncharacteristically mute---presumably for fear of being considered opponents of the founder. It is therefore amusing that a new crop of them have found their voices, openly criticising the perceived presidential ambitions of founder's wife. Apart from arguing that it does not make political sense, some have used harsh language to rebuke the former first lady, making one wonder to where the Rawlings magic that once silenced all those voices has disappeared.

Perhaps, the waning of the Rawlingses's power was inevitable: with time, having lost his grip of power, his achievements were bound to be forgotten, leading to the waning of his political clout. But that does not warrant the vituperative rhetoric that is emerging from these latter-day party loyalists. Just about five years ago, these loud-mouthed opinionistas were nowhere to be found. Could they be out there to woo President Mills for jobs, only to disappear afterwards?

Friday, February 4, 2011

How I know Ghana is not serious about revenue generation

Last year, I rebuked Kwabena Duffuor and the Atta-Mills administration for the feeble measures they put forward for generating revenue in the economy. Their proposal was to increase taxes on the minority of Ghanaians who already pay, instead of widening the net---adding to the set of people and businesses from whom they collect taxes.

It is obvious to any keen observer that a lot of government revenue goes down the drain because nobody keeps track. Even though it is easy to spot where the worst infringement of the tax code takes place nobody holds the law-breakers accountable.

Recently, Ghana's ace investigative journalist published another sleuthing he carried out with his team over a three-month period. This investigation focused on the Customs Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) that collects revenue at our ports. The 'shocking' revelations appear to have taken many Ghanaians by storm, and not least, the president, and his minister of finance, Dr. Duffuor.

By what are we surprised?

Didn't we know the gravity of the crimes that were being committed at the ports? Didn't we hear of the case of Carl Wilson and how he allegedly stole cars with institutional backing? For the finance minster to be so surprised, could it be that he and his outfit had not made any reliable projections on how much money they could be generating from the ports, so that they did notice when the target was not being met. Either that, or they noticed the target wasn't being met and yet did nothing about it. The latter scenario is more likely.

Even though government revenue has gone down the drain for years, I don't know of any attorney-general who has taken the culpable businesses and institutions on, neither have I heard of any finance minster working to eradicate the problem. We continue to receive money from donor agencies and countries to fund our deficit so this is not a priority.

On the issues of taxation, revenue generation and misapplication of public funds, we continue to stick with the easy route to our own detriment. We will continue moving at snail pace until we take responsibility for our problems and be proactive about fixing them.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Does Ghana have a stance on Egypt?

The crisis in Egypt has not generated as much attention as the Ivorian one did (or, is doing) in Ghana. The obvious reason is that we don't feel that strong of a connection to Egypt as we do to la Côte d'Ivoire. But is that an excuse?

We live on a continent where so many dictators thrive because their peers are unable and unwilling to call them to order. It is therefore no surprise that even though the crisis coincided with an AU summit, the continental body did not find reason to comment on either the Tunisian crisis or the Egyptian one. This is shameful, and Ghana should take a good chunk of the shame.

Contrary to what most people think, we have quite a lot to do with Egypt. Our first president, Kwame Nkrumah, because of the vision for African unity that he had, formed alliances with many blocs in the continent. In those days, Egypt was a key ally in the Arab bloc in his push for unity. He became so involved with the political elite in Egypt that he married Fathia Ritz, a relative to President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Egyptian first-lady had three children with Kwame Nkrumah, two of whom are now prominent in our politics.

Another reason Ghana should be more outspoken on this issue, and others like it, is that it is one of the most veritable examples of a functioning liberal democracy on the continent. Our silence on issues of this nature is a betrayal of all the lessons we learnt from years of dictatorship that led us to firmly reject it for our current democratic system.

Presumably, President Atta-Mills's stance on la Cote d'Ivoire (dzi wo fi asɛm) is a generic one that applies to all things non-Ghanaian. In his desire to be liked by all, he chooses not to take sides in matters critical to African stability even if his silence would violate principle---in this case, the right of a people to freedom and self-determination.

Can you blame him though?

Even "strong" countries have cowered in fear in the realization of what the implications might be for their national interest; and like I already said, the AU, which was holding its all-important annual summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, completely ignored the issue.