Opinion

Etiology of Ghana’s Underdevelopment

9 August 2005 at 05:47 | 1031 views

Ghana, like other African countries, has gone through many political and economic convulsions. In this piece, Y.Fredua-Kwarteng, a Ghanaian scholar at the university of Toronto grapples with the familiar internalist/externalist debate.

Etiology of Ghana’s Underdevelopment

Are you an internalist or externalist?

By Y.Fredua-Kwarteng

In Kofi Akosah-Sarpong’s recent article on the Ghanaweb, published July 16, 2005, he reiterated George Ayitttey’s theory of division of African development experts into internalists and externalists. According to Akosah-Sarpong, externalists blame the causes of African underdevelopment on external factors such as Western colonialism and imperialism, the transatlantic slave trade, unfair international trade system and practices, and the policies of the World Bank and IMF. Akosah-Sarpong also stated that externalists seek external solutions to African underdevelopment problems through Western aid, debt cancellation, infusion of Western technology, and foreign investment. Akosah-Sarpong, on the other hand, defined the internalists as those who search for internal solutions to African problems. He goes on to list some of the problems that the internalists focus on-bad leadership, ineffective governance, rampant corruption, capital flight, military vandalism, political repression, economic mismanagement and destructive civil wars.

I find the internalist and externalist dichotomy very unrealistic in the critical sense. In the field of development, like any other fields in the social world, things are so interconnected that it is misleading to separate variables neatly into external and internal causalities for the purpose of analysis or solution. In other words, the causes of underdevelopment problems are so complex that that we need a multiple perspectives, approaches, orientations, or lenses in order to find solutions to these problems. In solving underdevelopment problems, we have to understand that human beings are multifaceted beings: they are cognitive, emotional, religious, social and behavioral beings. Nevertheless, positivist social scientists in the development field are fond of engaging in dichotomization/bifurcation in the belief that when the causes of a phenomenon are divided into precise factors, each factor isolated and differentiated from one another, problems causing the phenomenon can be solved. The positivist social scientists use the methods of natural science to solve social problems, and for that reason, they look at the social world as stable and ordered. How myopic is this orientation toward the social world.

In Ayittey’s book titled African Indigenous Institutions he proudly stated that in his PHD dissertation in economics, he concentrated on internal factors that caused African underdevelopment. Perhaps his dissertation White panel members were immensely impressed to hear an African intellectual asserting vehemently that African underdevelopment was ahistorical and Africans were solely responsible for African underdevelopment. And that took Euro-American imperial powers off the hook for any wrong doing to Africa. Oh yea, Ayittey erroneously thought that Ghana was a little box sealed off from the rest of the world! Anyway, let’s take two of the so-called internal factors-corruption and political repression. How can we critically say that corruption and political oppression in Ghana have no colonial connections? First, all African leaders (including all those in administrative, military, managerial, political, bureaucratic leadership positions) were educated in the educational institutions that the colonialists established in Ghana. The models of governance they have adopted, including their philosophical assumptions also have colonial origins. The logical inference then is that if African elite are exhibiting bad leadership and governance we have to blame the colonial institutions where they received their education and training. Indeed, blaming the individuals for bad leadership or governance without equally blaming the institutions that shaped or molded their consciousness amounts to looking at the problem from a single prism without an adequate understanding of social dynamics. While I acknowledge the potency of individual agency, I know from empirical evidence that the norms, structure, culture, and values of institutions where an individual received his/her education or training has a great influence on an individual’s behaviour.

The colonial administration was an absolute political and economic dictatorship. For example, when Kwame Nkrumah and his group of nationalists challenged the legitimacy of the political power of the colonial masters they were swiftly arrested and thrown into jail. The colonial masters did not negotiate with them or recognize that those nationalists had any political right to criticize the colonial administration. Consequently, emerging African leaders also learned the political and administrative behaviour of their colonial predecessors, because that was the only model they knew and had experienced at that time. The traditional political structure was not an option for adoption by the emerging Ghanaian educated elite, though it was more democratic than that of the colonial model. The reason is that the traditional political model was not part of the education or training of the emerging elite. Contrary to popular belief, the traditional political model allowed competitive democracy and political opposition. It was based on consensus, consultation, and free discussion. This is why Yaa Asantewaa despite her gender and status was able to organize both political and military resources to oppose the colonialists’ decision to annex Asanteman to the British Empire. This was the time when Euro-American women had absolutely no political rights and were restricted to the domestic sphere.

Second, during colonial times the colonialists lived a lavish lifestyle, which included lucrative salaries and benefits, servants at their convenience, private car with chauffeur, and bungalows with distinctive architectural design. Africans who were educated in the colonial educational institutions were allowed access to some of the privileges of the colonial masters. In the colonial educational institutions Africans were made to belief that the colonial education they were getting made them very close to the White Euro-colonial master in terms of manners, intellectual culture, and worldview. This is because in the colonial educational institutions African values, beliefs, ontology, and worldview were strategically maligned as primitive and kept out of the education system. Thus over the years, educated Ghanaians accepted all the colonial negative characterizations of the “uneducated Ghanaians” and the belief that colonial education was the escape route from drudgery of farm work using primitive implements. Today, we have a huge majority of both secondary students and graduates and tertiary students and graduates who do not want anything to do with agriculture, because of its historically constructed negative characterizations. Consequently, educated Ghanaians who obtain positions of power usually use corrupt means to live the lifestyle of their former colonial masters. Some of these educated Ghanaians also believe that after completion of a field of study, regardless of its nature, the government must provide them with private car, well-furnished bungalows with all the paraphernalia of modern living, and servants just as the colonial government provided these things to the colonial white administrators. I am not asserting that every behaviour trait of the Ghanaian elite is a colonial bequeath. On the contrary, I am asserting that once a particular foreign belief or value is internalized it could be modified in different ways over a period of time to the extent that the present form of the belief may look different from its protégé. In fact, corruption and political oppression in Ghana and any part of Africa cannot be totally cut off from colonialism. Colonial rule set the precedence for political oppression and sowed the seed of corruption in Africa. And I can say the same thing for military take over of governments in Africa. Initially, Western imperial powers used military coup in Africa to change government to suit their ideological whims and caprices. A culture of military take over was nurtured in Africa and the result was a widespread military coup on the continent, to the extent that in due course it became not only an accepted a means of regime change, but also a means of amassing wealth and obtaining political power.

George Ayittey was also quoted by Akosah-Sarpong as saying that African elite denigrates African indigenous institutions. But either Ayittey or Akosah-Sarpong explains why this is the case in Ghana or Africa in general. However, how should one expect the graduates of our educational institutions to behave toward our traditional institutions, when the education these graduates received did not include their own culture? The Ghanaian students throughout their entire education, from elementary to university, are bombarded with Euro-American cultural superiority. When we examine critically the disciplines of economics, management, sociology, anthropology, politics, psychology and sciences taught in our educational institutions and we would discover that they embody the ideology of Western imperialism, white supremacy and cultural domination. Professors and teachers in Africa teach concepts, theories, theorems and practices in these fields in such a way that one begins to wonder where the voices of the African intellectuals are. One is also led to believe that what one learns in these fields are the normative standards in the world against which the appropriateness of other cultural constructs can be measured. As well, one is deceived to believe that Africans have made absolutely no contributions to world civilization and the only way Africa can develop to become Euro-America is to adopt the epistemology and world view of Euro-America. The central point I am making is that the colonial educational system shapes the African consciousness to reject his/her own culture and genuflect that of Euro-America.

The Western world is strategically happy that Africa is underdeveloped and will do anything it can to keep Africa where it is now. In fact, the West will do anything it can to restrict the proliferation of the industrial centres to only Europe, America and Asia. One principal reason for this ideological stance is that if Africa were to develop, it would use its vast resources for its own benefit rather than making them available for exploitation by Euro-America. Similarly, some Africans are satisfied with the sorry economic and political state of Africa because a change in the status-quo would adversely affect their class interests. For example, there is an entrenched class interest in Ghana against any attempts to transform our educational system to make it relevant to our culture and development needs. Those opposed to such transformation want our education credentials to be transportable to the Western world. As well, educational institutions in the Western world are most likely to withdraw their recognition of Ghanaian education credentials if such transformation were to take place. Should such a change take place, those educational organizations are most likely to say that Ghana’s educational standards are below international standards; international standard being a hidden code for Western standards. So internal and external forces work together to maintain our educational system as it is- culturally and developmentally irrelevant to our needs. Similar reasoning applies to our health care, politics, economy, and agriculture.

Promoting indigenous culture in Ghana

Apart from restructuring our educational institutions to reflect our cultures and traditions, another way to promote Ghanaian cultures is to ensure that Ghanaians are literate in their traditional languages. Our kings and chiefs could play an important role in this project, since over the years the government has been ineffective in promoting Ghanaian languages. Our kings and chiefs are charged with custodianship of our culture, but they can discharge this function more effectively through proactive activities and projects. Such cultural promotion activities and projects could be financed through fund-raising and donations. For example, the Asanteman council could set up Asante-twi literacy institute that would be responsible for the following functions:

1. The publication of a newspaper in Asante-twi. The defunct “Nkwantabesa” newspaper could be revived for this purpose;

2. Establish twi-library;

3. Translate books, articles, and document into Asante-twi;

4. Institute a standardized orthography for Asante-twi;

5. Research into Akan customs, traditions, philosophy, etc.

Yet another effective way to promote Ghanaian traditional culture is to allow our knowledgeable elders and others to teach in our educational institutions. The fundamental objective of our educational system must be the provision of opportunities for students to acquire knowledge, regardless of whether the sources of the knowledge are certified or not. In this respect, an African had the following comment to make:

It is important that in Africa we should have our culture as the dominant factor in our national centres; and not the reverse...Take the situation at the university, for example. There you have professors and lectures who are virtually ignorant of African music and poetry, and who purport to teach these subjects. The great African dancers and singers, the carvers, the pot makers and storyteller are in the countryside. And they are kept out of our schools and colleges and universities... In the educational section, breakdown the walls that surround our schools and universities, and let the people who know our culture teach our people. Let us Africanize our curriculum in a meaningful manner. Let African culture form the core of our curriculum and foreign culture be at the periphery”

The above African nationalist is not necessarily against foreign culture, he is against the domination of foreign culture in our national centres, including our universities, colleges and schools, and political system. Despite all the political and economic faults of Kwame Nkrumah, he tried to incorporate some of our cultural elements into our political system. For example, Nkrumah introduced the state sword as the means to swear a new president/prime minister into office and designed a stool for the Ghanaian presidency. Arguably, Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown through Western conspiracy not because the West loved Ghanaians but because Kwame Nkrumah’s policies run counter to Western ideological posture. With the active connivance of local elements within Ghana Euro-America was able to throw Nkrumah’s regime and anything associated with Nkrumah. In fact, these days, the physical presence of Euro-America in Ghana or African is not needed as Euro-America can change anything it is not pleased with through a remote control - cells of local classes.

Integrationist perspective

The integrationist development experts do not entrench themselves in either the internalist or externalist ideological position and this allows them the flexibility to engage in critical development projects. On the contrary, they look within and without for causes of African underdevelopment. Indeed, they realize from both history and contemporary global events that enemies of African development abound everywhere. Take African corrupt leadership for an illustration. Integrationists believe that its sources include the institutions where the leaders received their education and training, the personal philosophy of the leaders, and the influence of people around these leaders. I have enough evidence to show that some African leaders made dictators by the people around them rather than the leaders themselves. As well, the integrationist seeks holistic solutions to African underdevelopment. For this reason, they reject the Marxist orthodoxy that posits that economy determines everything. Thus, integrationists seek the development of African fine and performance art, religion, philosophy, morality, and herbal medicine. Further, integrationists reject the capitalist ideology that measures the desirability of any human activity based on its pecuniary return. This does not mean that integrationists are anti-business. Instead, integrationists do not believe that African ethics and morality can be validated by the application of capitalist economic principles. They firmly believe that African ethics and morality have their own internal logic and that their justification lies in an African worldview.

Furthermore, integrationists do not simply import and implant foreign models in Africa, as some internalists may try to do, in an effort to solve in-African problems. Rather, they view foreign models with critical suspicion and skepticism. Chinweizu, an African development integrationist, couches it in the following words: The pervasive mentality in the twentieth-century Africa is one of Europhilia-an uncritical acceptance and high valuation of every bit of wonder out of the West (Euro-America). Our universities have not escaped this fatal fascination. It accounts, in part, for certain absence of nationalist skepticism among us, and leads us to accept, without doubt or dissenting comment, every doctrine -religious, social, political, economic, philosophical, name it ---handed down from on high by Western books and experts. One classic example is the concepts of international trade (theories of absolute and comparative advantage) and the price mechanism (demand and supply) which are taught with a religious devotion in our educational institutions without their political dimensions. The integrationist orientation, therefore, holds the best promise for solving Ghana’s underdevelopment problems in contradistinction to the narrow perspective of both the internalist and externalist.

Y Fredua-Kwarteng
OISE/University of Toronto.
Email: efredua_2000@yahoo.ca

Photo: Dr. Kwame Nkrumah

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