Contending Moralities: Which Way for Ghana?

Published on 29th January 2008

Ghana is gripped with morality issues. Morality is declining to such an extent that a few months ago a drunk driver nearly killed President John Kufour. This situation has opened the floodgate of all sorts of moral merchants who want to correct the crisis. The heated moral debate is also broadened by a new education curriculum that effectively removed religious and moral education and in its place inserted a broader secular one.


But all moral posturing considered, despite their good intensions, they rotate around what the Ghanaian media calls Religion and Moral Education (R&ME). The acrimony isn’t necessarily whether morality shouldn’t be taught in schools but whether religious-funded schools should teach morality from their religious perspectives.


That’s why the two main religions in Ghana – Christianity and Islam – are complaining bitterly and envisioning chaos if religious education isn’t restored in schools as if the core foundational traditional cultural values that formed the Ghana nation-state have no moral basis. If all the other religions in Ghana were to demand that their religion and morality be taught from their perspectives, Ghana would be more divided.


The dropping of R&ME from the curriculum since September 2007 and the institution of more holistic religious and moral teachings is to deepen the secular character of Ghana legally and socially, and de-emphasis one religion as the dominant mode of morality. Of particular note here is traditional African religion and morality, which since colonial times till now, weren’t openly taught in schools but which most Ghanaians access.


For most part of 50 years of Ghana’s existence, Christianity has had its way (directly or indirectly), in teaching its mode of religion and morality in schools against traditional African religion. The new curriculum gives equal weight to traditional African religion and morality. While there are Islamic schools, Christianity has been dominant, and traditional African religion virtually not mentioned at all in the morality chants for decades.


Ghanaians have to grapple with two contending moralities – more or less Christianity and covertly traditional Africa. The new religion and morality education not only attempts to give respect and confidence to traditional African religion and morality but will help open up traditional spiritual and moral practices that have been suppressed for years.


It is not surprising that the Afrikania Mission (AM), a traditional religious movement, supports the educational reforms and counter-argues that R&ME shouldn’t be restored. The AM position reveals the old moral battle between traditional African religion/morality and Christianity, which AM sees as the imposition of colonial morality and values on Ghana.

The AM argues that “Ghana does not need the teaching of religion and morals in schools to develop, but the development of the peoples' culture, which is built on hard work and dedication… There is no economic or political research to suggest that stronger religious beliefs and practices within a country are statistically associated with higher rates of revenue or economic growth in this world than developing the peoples' culture.”


The AM view is a reflection of what is occurring in some parts of the Western world where religious education in schools is seen by some as counter-productive. In “God Delusion,” biologist Richard Dawkins says there is “…the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.” Revealing his hostility to religious education, philosopher Daniel Dennett warns in “Breaking the Spell” that parents harm their children by teaching them reprehensible lies “under the protective umbrella of personal privacy and religious freedom.” Sam Harris in “The End of Faith,” says that “the very idea of religious tolerance…is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.”


These views by some Western thinkers give the AM some ammunition to campaign for a new form of moral movement based on Ghanaian/African traditional images and values as some Southeast Asians countries did when they dusted their traditional Confucian moral teachings to restore decline in national morality. What is surprising and newsworthy is the dramatic projection of African Traditional Religion as equal to Christianity and Islam in the new education curriculum that has given AM, which has been sleeping for long time on serious national issues, the vigor to get involved in national development issues.


Part of the reason for China’s economic dynamism is that its leaders depend on both their traditional ancient wisdom and communist doctrine as guides to their development process. No doubt, traditional virtue exhortations such as “hexie shehui,” “a harmonious society,” or “datong,” the “great harmony,” which come in the form of quotes from traditional Confucianism and their ancient “Book of Rites,” from President Hu Jintao to rally the development process are a common feature.


The morality debate that has gripped Ghana impinges on development since morality drives discipline and trust, two key elements for progress. Whether the Afrikania Mission wants Ghanaian/African traditional moral values given equal weight in the education system and how they will do it is a different matter. What matters is whether Ghanaian elites, can rebrand the morality issues as a core development issue in such way that Ghanaian/African traditional moral teachings will have an important a place as Christianity and Islamic moral values in the larger progress of Ghana.

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