African News

Parliament, Reasoning, and Development

19 June 2007 at 22:02 | 637 views

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong reflects on Ghanaian law-makers’ criminalization of Female Genital Mutilation, a very sensitive issue in many parts of Africa and the Middle East.


The criminalization of Female Genital Mutilation, part of some of the cultural inhibitions stifling Ghana’s progress, by the Parliament of Ghana, indicates attempts to rediscover the state from its roots. It raises the fact that, unlike years ago, the elected representatives are expanding their thinking in relation to Ghanaian norms, values and traditions in Ghana’s progress. The act simultaneously touts the good aspects of Ghanaian culture and also attempts to refine the ancient cultural inhibitions that have been stifling Ghana’s development process. At a deeper level, there is clear demonstration that the law-makers, as the key face of Ghanaian elites and prominent directors of progress, are increasingly having a fuller grasp of Ghana’s development process.

Still, by this act, including the heated debate it generated, as the Ghana News Agency (June16, 2007) reported, the elites are “rediscovering the state,” from the roots of its original Ghanaian indigenous values, and “starting to consider the challenges ahead,” as the inhibitions within the values of the 56 ethnic groups that make-up the Ghana nation-state pop up now and again in the drive for progress.

The Ghana nation-state cannot work harmoniously if there are huge in-built unrefined inhibiting values that stifle it. The attempts are not only to refine the inhibitions within the culture but intellectualize it, enlighten it, as Prof. Kojo Yankah, of the University of Ghana, would say, for progress. For years, such inhibiting cultural practices such as the destructive Pull Him Down syndrome (Prof. Kwesi Andam, of University of Science and Technology, thinks is partly responsible for the decline of the once prosperous Fanteland); immense dabbling in the irrational juju-marabout mediums that twists reasoning(coup-makers used this and nearly blew Ghana to pieces); human sacrifice (there are campaigns Africa-wide to stop this practice); and the excessive interpretation of events as caused by witchcraft and not human agency, have impacted negatively on Ghana’s progress.

As the main centre for national reasoning and reflection, as the fountain of human rights, effectively human refinement, as the key forum of national struggles, and the main juggler of the contending issues of a nation-state slightly founded on the wrong footing, the Parliament of Ghana refracts both the inhibitions and the positive parts of Ghanaian values and traditions, its ex-colonial legacies and the deftness to appropriate as much as practicable global development values for Ghana’s progress. In this sense, the Parliament has huge tasks, unlike years past, to deal with not only the emerging challenges but the good parts of Ghanaian values and the inhibiting parts such as a shrine near Kumasi ritually sacrificing deformed babies for a host of material demands from juju-marabout-minded Ghanaians. How do you change such thinking in the larger development process?

Such long-running counter-productive cultural practices have led some critical observers to question African elites and their inability to boldly attempt to refine them and led to all sort of views about Africa’s values, especially as science grows globally and certain human events are thought not to be caused by demons, divine feat, evil spirits, or unforeseen forces. From afar and inside Africa, some observers have argued that Ghanaian/African elites cannot think and have no confidence in their own values as critical domains for progress.

The German thinker, Friedrich Hegel, thought that Africans cannot think or are philosophically weak. The late Senegalese President, Leopold Senghor, perhaps influenced by Hegel, thought Africans cannot think and brought in Europeans when he had developmental challenges. The Ghanaian law-makers are saying today that both Hegel and Senghor were wrong, that Africans can think from within their values in the global perspective and in the context of their norms, values and traditions. Hence, the criminalization of FGM.

Either from the twisted views of Hegel or Senghor, which pretty much reflected the jaundiced European views of Africa’s values and traditions, as the French would tell you with their warped view that Africans needed to be “civilized” because they cannot think and are “primitive,” there has been a long-running perception that African elites, after freedom from colonial rule, have not been able to intellectually come out with the thinking that allows them to model their progress from within their norms, values and traditions, and deal with the emerging development challenges effectively.

When Ghana’s Dr. Y.K. Amoako, ex-chair of the Addis Ababa-based UN’s Economic Commission for Africa, observed that Africa is the only region in the world where its development paradigms are foreign dominated, Dr. Amoako was effectively saying that Africa’s elites have not being able to overturn the European views that they are so weak that they cannot think from within their values and need foreign values and traditions to develop. Pretty much disturbing! The contention is how Ghanaian/African elites can think through their values and traditions to come out with development paradigms that reflect their environment as the Southeast Asians and other prosperous nation-states throughout the world have done and are still doing with reference to globalization.

One mistake Ghana’s Founding Fathers did was failing to structure and direct the nation-state from within Ghanaian values and traditions. If the Founding Fathers had examined the contradictions and atrocities within the values and traditions and laid them out for rigorous refinement in Ghana’s progress, as the current law-makers are attempting to do, the Founding Fathers would have set the pace, long ago, for enlightened processes for progress.

The criminalization of FGM, in the broader context of nation-building, represents a rebirth - indeed, a reconnection between the “state” (as the political authority) and “nation” (as the root, values and traditions) - since there are conscious attempts to awaken the long-suppressed values, appropriate the good parts and refine the inhibiting aspects for national development.

Photo: Ebenezer Begyina-Sekyhi, Speaker of Ghana’s parliament.