Ghana: Fifty Years of Culture Neglect

Published on 6th March 2007

The German Ambassador to Ghana, Peter Linder’s statement that West African states should copy the traditional chieftaincy institution, or more appropriately cultural values, raises the increasing understanding that development is as a mechanism emanating from the interaction between one’s indigenous values in relation to global ones.


Notable here is not only a non-Ghanaian observing the gradual attempts by Ghanaians to integrate their culture into their development process, but the fact that as Ghanaians think about their future progress, they are becoming aware that they will develop better and sustainably, if they integrate their norms, values and traditions into the existing ex-colonial and global structures.


The need for Ghanaian elites to mount a new development paradigm, as Cristina Losito, of the London, UK-based Centre for Creative Communities, argues, comes not only from the fact that Africa’s development paradigms are heavily foreign dominated to the detriment and growth of African values but in the wake of the Western world increasingly balancing out to integrate the values of non-Western peoples in their development programs. Losito, America’s Francis Fukuyama and India’s Nobel Prize winning laureate Amartya Kumar Sen, argued recently that the European Union, in its policies with non-Europeans, is developing the fact that culture and development are tightly interlinked but “bringing cultural policies into the center of social policies is a major challenge.”


While Ghanaian bureaucrats are finding it difficult to mix Ghanaian/African values with the global, the Chinese and Indians have skillfully been able to surmount this challenge.


The central issue here is not cultural arts, which “provide a bedrock for education of the human mind, social skills, cohesion and long-term economic entrepreneurship,” as Losito explains, but bringing African norms, values and traditions into the heart of national policy planning so as to harmonize the prevailing global structures with indigenous ones.


For the past 50 years, Ghanaian elites have found it very difficult to balance their national development with the enabling aspects of their norms, values and traditions. Ghanaian bureaucrats and elites can learn from Canada, where the Federal Government has mandated that all policy development should integrate Canada’s Aboriginal people’s perspectives and other world indigenous norms, values and traditions.


As the African darling of international development agencies such as the World Bank, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the International Monetary Fund, Ghana, should seriously note that such international development agencies are refining themselves from years of seeing the international development scene sorely from their neo-liberal ethos and attempting to integrate their programs with non-Western values. The prominent Indian economist Amartya Kumar Sen, of Harvard University, in a recent discussion on culture and development in relation to the World Bank, asks, “Why should culture interest the World Bank at all? Isn't it plausible to presume that the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development is busy reconstructing and developing? These are not, in fact, hard questions to answer, for cultural issues can be critically important for development. Cultural matters are integral parts of the lives we lead. If development can be seen as enhance our living standards, then efforts geared to development can hardly ignore the world of culture.”


The answer to Amartya’s questions is simple: earlier, the World Bank and its associates ignored the values of non-Western peoples when dealing with their development processes, imposed foreign values on them, partly causing huge development crises in Africa, where foreign development paradigms heavily dominate its development processes.


In an era where progress means opening up to others for ideas, wisdom and reconciling values, Ghanaian elites and bureaucrats could look at the success stories of some of the Asian nations, some of which, like Malaysia, Ghana was far ahead 50 years ago but fell because its elites could not balance their indigenous values with their ex-colonial legacies.


“Are cultural values responsible for Asia's remarkable postwar economic success?,” asks American international development thinker, Francis Fukuyama, in Revisiting the Role of Cultural Values in Asians Economic Success during the recent crisis that struck the Asia region. Reflecting the complex nature of mixing culture and progress, Fukuyama argues that while Asian thinkers such as Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew would have said “Yes” to his question earlier on, “many observers today claim that Asian values, far from explaining economic success, are themselves the prime cause of the cronyism that afflicts the Asian countries.”


At a deeper realm, Fukuyama is saying that despite Asians being praised globally for successfully appropriating their values for their progress, there are still some cultural inhibitions, such as cronyism, that are stifling their progress and have to be refined. It is in this context that Ghanaian elites, especially the bureaucrats, should think of the unthinkable about the progress of Ghana as the nation-state enters another 50 years.

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