Reviewing Ghana’s Development Process

Published on 1st January 2008

In “Rebellion, Revolution, and Tradition: Reinterpreting Coups in Ghana,” Maxwell Owusu, of the University of Michigan, describes how during the era of military coups and instabilities in Africa, particularly Ghana, that marked Africa’s era of political instabilities, the overriding analytical viewpoints have been Marxist and non-Marxist that grounded images and views of change that largely originated from Western historical experiences.


Owusu explains that this buried the “great historical and cultural differences between African and European local socio-political realities.” Still, in development terms, these masked not only the non-factoring in of cultural differences in development policy-making but also concern on the misinterpretation by ignoring the vital part of “traditional beliefs and practices, indigenous political ideology, attitudes and outlooks” in understanding the political instabilities that dogged Ghana and Africa.


In reinterpreting Ghana’s era of instabilities from its traditional values, Owusu elucidates a cruel reality in attempting to re-understand Ghana as a development project, as today people like the Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin, Okyenhene, and Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11 have become not only Ghana’s development conscience but the new re-development interpreters through Ghana’s traditional values. The British colonialism that created Ghana didn’t do that because they weren’t from any of the over 2,000 African ethnic groups.


The urgent need to re-understand Ghana, as a development project, is necessitated by the fact that the development paradigms running Ghana for the past 50 years have been viewed solely from Western development ideals.  It is as if before the Europeans came to Ghana the 56 ethnic groups forming the Ghana nation-state had no traditional development principles driving their existence.


Recently, Okyenhene, among other elites, have been arguing for the need to reinterpret Ghana’s development process from within its traditional values. The challenge however is how to re-cast this developmentally so as to balance the policies running Ghana and give the Ghana development project the same sense of “traditional beliefs and practices, indigenous political ideology, attitudes and outlooks.”


It is in the absence of such critical re-think that the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11, blamed Africa's troubled progress “on the neglect and abandonment of the continent's culture and traditional heritage.” And for a long time this has created psychological crises Africa-wide, leaving Africans with weak confidence not only in their traditional values, as development ideals, but think they are at the mercy of Western development paradigms. A situation that makes them less human capable of advanced progress.


In this sense, of considerable concern, is the idea of the Ghana nation-state and citizenship as civic and development issues simultaneously. At 50 years, the idea of the Ghanaian citizenship is yet to be interpreted from within Ghanaian traditional values and how this ultimately will flow into the emerging Ghanaian democracy. Traditionally, before President Kwame Nkrumah and his associates emerged as the new ruling elites of independent Ghana in 1957, Okomfo Anokye and his associates from the other 56 ethnic groups that form Ghana were driven by their traditional values and ideals that sustained them. Lack of this in the development process has affected the mind-set of Ghana as a development project that has made it difficult to understand where Ghana is heading in its development venture.


While we may blame this on mistakes committed by some ethnic groups, who didn’t understand Ghana as a coalition of 56 ethnic groups, a weak sense of nation-hood is further demonstrated by earlier elites in terms of creating policies and bureaucracy from a mixture of Ghanaian traditional values and the ex-colonial ones as Botswana and Southeast Asians countries have done.


As the German sociologist Max Weber has broadly explained, whether seen as “rules of offices” or “structure and regulations to control activity” or “interpretation and execution of policy,” a new interpretation of Ghanaian bureaucracy, as the key executor of policies, as the ears and eyes of Ghanaians’ development concerns, and as the innovative intellectual playground of Ghanaians’ progress, should be informed by Ghanaian traditional values in relation to the global prosperity architecture. Here, the bureaucrats become magicians, juggling Ghanaian traditional values with the ex-colonial, global development ideals. In the same context, in the reinterpretation of Ghana’s progress, the bureaucrats become alchemists, mixing Ghanaian traditional values with the global development principles. The idea is to balance the informal (traditional resources) and the formal (orthodox ideals) influences in the Ghanaian development process so as to give confidence to Ghanaian values.


The likelihood is, Ghana’s development process will have a genuine sense of life. The overriding analytical viewpoints will then be Western as well as Ghanaian/African historical experiences. And this will resolve the “great historical and cultural differences between African and European local socio-political realities,” as Owusu argues, and make the designing of Ghana’s progress aware of its “traditional beliefs and practices, indigenous political ideology, attitudes and outlooks.”


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