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Culture identifies and defines uspdf print preview print preview
20/11/2007Page 1 of 1
Our culture identifies and defines us


CULTURE is the glue that holds a people together as an identifiable group. In 200, Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington edited a book with the title Culture Matters – How Values Shape Human Progress. One of the articles in their book points out: “Attitudes, values, and beliefs that constitute culture play an unquestionable role in human behaviour and progress”.

They also quote former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself”. Before proceeding, let me make an assertion.

We have heard ad nauseum that in the 1960s Ghana’s economic indicators were the same as those of South Korea. Today South Korea has become the tenth largest economy in the world. Ghana’s per capita GNP is now about one-fifteenth that of Korea. South Korea valued thrift, investment, hard work, education, organization and discipline.

South Korea is an important donor to Ghana. Among the many projects that they have carried out in Ghana is the extension and improvement of the Tema Oil Refinery. They also provided funding for the project. An important element in the spectacular social and economic development of South Korea was a deliberate change of attitude “to play with the big boys”.

The other country to which we are compared is Malaysia. They came and set up our telephone system. As part of their 50th anniversary of independence, they sent one of their citizens in the company of a United States astronaut and a Russian Cosmonaut to the space Station for a Week’s stay.

My only comment at this point is that Ghana Telecom is unable to connect a land line to the town in which I live. GTV does not have the means to modernise their relay stations. I continue to get my information about my country courtesy of BBC, VOA, DW, Radio China and radio France Int.

I believe that to take a close look at our culture and see how we can repackage it to truly set us on the toad to development. Most times culture is used to refer to the intellectual, musical, artistic and literary products of a society.

Anthropologists, however, refer to culture in relation to a society’s values, practices, symbols, institutions, and human relationships. Like the authors referred to above, this article will concentrate on culture as the processes by which a society achieves progress in “economic development and political democratization”.

Attitude is critical in discussing cultural change. People generally fear change. With change goes a new set of attitudes to accommodate the changes that take place. Like a child fears the dark most people prefer to remain in their comfort zone and not to be bothered by having to make a “leap of faith” that will bring one to new experiences of goodness.

The other day I heard the chairman of the National Development Planning Commission. Mr. J.H. Mensah, say that the most serious obstacle to development were those who retort, when confronted with the need to change, “we have always done it this way” or “you are too known” among other remarks.

This remark reminded me of my father who, when he attempted some changes in the way the church was run, was told by the elders of the church at one of the stations at which he served that they did not need the change. Indeed, a cynic said the other day that “insanity is when you do the same thing over and over again expecting different results”.

We need to understand why we need change in the first place. Change for change sake is a recipe for disaster. One must be clear about one’s goals. I wish to suggest that a change of attitude needs to happen if we aim to get rid of poverty, ignorance and injustice, as well as of corruption. In those places that poverty is endemic, the feeling of hopelessness feeds on itself. People accept their situation as an act of some deity and so spend time praying and sacrificing to avert catastrophic. What they forget is that faith without works accounts for nothing.

Instead of throwing political missiles at each other over the revelations that have come out of the hearings of the Public Accounts Committee of our Parliament, we as a people should resolve to say that in a couple of years hence we intend to work together to make our country a home worth coming to.

So what are some of the obstacles standing in our way to achieve development? Another way of posing the question is to ask why we as a country continue to wallow in poverty? We seem to have reinvented the begging bowl and I know that we are aware of a lot of the obstacles but let us go over a few of them in order to clarify the discussion.

First, well over 50 per cent of our adult population is illiterate. The children coming out of our Junior High Schools can barely read or write English.

In recent weeks, I have heard some of our prominent citizens raise their voices on the need to have ethics in our education and also deploring the fact of mass failures in our JHS.

The command of the JHS pupils of Ghanaian languages is abysmal. In fact, in most cases it is non existent. For some reason we denigrate our mother tongues. I am not surprised to continue to hear our own people refer to the major Ghanaian languages as dialects.

Let me point out for example that Twi and Fante are dialects of the Akan language. Note also that the Ewe language has several dialects and so on.

We cannot progress if we are unable to manipulate the tools of development. We need to be serious with our education or we shall be chasing our tails. Let us remember that we can achieve it if we put our minds to it, for the same rains that fall on the bitter leaf to make if bitter is the same rain that fall on the sugar cane to make it sweet.

Second, half or more of our women and girls are illiterate. I ran into a girl the other day that had finished JHS and was at home. I asked the mother why she was not continuing. She told me that because of lack of money her husband and she had decided to let her younger brother continue to the SHS while she helped the mother in her bread baking enterprise.

We seem to continue to forget Dr. Aggrey’s dictum that if you educate a boy you educate an individual but if you educate a girl you are educating a nation.

Research by UNICEF and other agencies have determined that children brought up by educated women have a more than 70 per cent or more chance of surviving their first five years and being healthier than children whose mothers have never been to school.

Third, life expectancy in our country is around 55 years. One does not need a sophisticated study to begin to understand why the figure is so low. The hassle that one has to go through, the daily grind of life to survive, the carnage that we are constantly being visited upon on our roads and the state of our medical services would throw anyone off balance.

Add to this the increasing incidence of psychiatric illness because of stress and the abuse of drugs and you will see that we are in trouble.

The fourth problem is that in our country and in countries in similar circumstances infant mortality is in excess of 100 per 1,000 life births. Such a situation arises partly because mothers tend to be youth and illiterate.

Children under five years old tend not to be vaccinated against the six killer diseases, especially against measles. Nutrition is also a big problem. With little money, coupled with ignorance, children suffer from Kwashiorkor, since they are poorly fed.

The fifth variable is that population growth needs controlling. In another 25 years or so, we may double our population if care is not taken. We need to take care that we do not sit by complacently and hope that our population will take care of itself. Those who think that God is blessing them with many offspring need to think again.

We must be certain that on our march to change the circumstances of our lives, we do not forget our cultural bases. Cultures are, however, not static. A society that is unable to use the best things in a foreign culture to its own advantage is on the way to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

We need to follow closely and learn from what is going on in china today. Confucius and Communism have been brought to the service of today’s China to create a powerful world economic and political power. Are we willing to change?

                  Daily Graphic     -     Tuesday, November 20, 2007             Page: 9
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