PV Obeng and Ghana's Development Discourse

Published on 18th January 2010

The appointment of P.V. Obeng, touted as a de facto Prime Minister in the long-running Jerry Rawlings’ military and civilian regimes, as chair of the newly constituted National Development Planning Commission raises the nature of thinking that has planned Ghana for the past 51 years.

That Ghanaian cultural values have been touted as exotic rather than sober policy-making fertilizer is seen in Obeng, or PV as he is fondly called. A trained engineer, in his years in government PV was shielded from fuller scrutiny by the military and quasi-military regimes he was involved in, where freedoms, the rule of law and democracy were scrawny. Now recycled, PV comes face-to-face with fuller democratic scrutiny – with debate about the place of Ghanaian culture in Ghana’s progress.

The trouble with PV and the need for innovative development planning thinking driven by Ghanaian traditional values is made clear when he gave a post-appointment interview with the Accra-based Joy FM. PV said his commission will espouse a “participatory approach in planning and in development and ensuring that all political stakeholders participate in national development process.” We didn’t hear participation of Ghanaian cultural institutions and values such as the National House of Chiefs as part of PV’s “participatory approach.” This reveals that PV is not in line with Ghanaians’ current thinking about their development process but also the global prosperity architecture that factors in cultural values.

While PV and his associates may not journey to Botswana to learn from them, they can borrow a leaf from the Kumasi Workshop on Culture and Development Planning that took place a few months ago. The Kumasi workshop exposed Ghana’s superficiality and lack of intellectual detail as a development ideal.

K. Y Amoako, ex-chair of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, will tell PV and his group that Ghana/Africa is the only region in the world whose development paradigms are dominated by foreign tenets to the detriment of its rich cultural values and institutions. Once again, Botswana is an exception because it quickly balanced its progress tender after independence by complementing its cultural values and institutions with the ex-colonial, global development ideals. It is, therefore, not surprising that Botswana has the best development indicators in Africa.

Some Ghanaian/African intellectuals such as George Ayittey (of "African solution for African problems" fame) have strongly argued for equilibrium between African sensibilities with the global prosperity principles in Africa's progress. Drawing from the wisdom of the global prosperity experiences and African commentators such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and George Ayitteh, US President Barack Obama said in Accra, Ghana on July 12 that whether in democratic growth or any development venture, African traditional values and institutions should be considered in the overall schemes.

The Kumasi workshop, of which PV and his associates should draw from rode on the back of these growing thoughts. But at certain disconcerting altitudes, the Kumasi workshop also sounded like a Western anthropologist teaching Ghanaian policy-makers their own culture instead of authentic Ghanaian traditional values and institutions doing that.

Against this backdrop is the fact that colonialism demeaned the Ghanaian/African culture, making sense of Y.K. Amoako's observation that Africa is at the mercy of foreign development paradigms, as if it has nothing of its own - African elites, as directors of progress, as PV exposes, as weak, confused, shallow and autistic in the face of development challenges that yearn for development planning starting from African traditional values.

PV and his commission could seek the knowledge of those who deal with everyday cultural and development matters in planning the development for the real Ghana. These include the likes of Asantehene Osei Tutu 11, Agbogbomefia Torgbui Afede Asor XIV and Okyehene Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin. If PV and his commission go the Kumasi workshop way, by playing with its thematic premises, it will help right this long-running development planning glitch and free Ghanaians from the clutches of foreign development planning paradigms that have suppressed real progress and confidence in the past 51 years.

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