Thursday, February 1, 2007
Ghana at 50: Diversity as resource
By: Baiden Philip
HE beauty and uniqueness of life, it is said, lie in unity of diversity.
In less than two calendar months, Ghanaians will celebrate 50 years of breakaway from their British colonial masters. As we prepare to celebrate this golden jubilee, we hear a great deal of honouring diversity in society as a basic ingredient for peace, creativity, and flexibility in our ever – changing society. This is important and unprecedented. But if it is to be more than just talks, then we need to think about the foundations for honouring diversity.
What happens in Ghana today does not occur in a vacuum. It takes place in the larger context of all our relationships – in our families, schools, politics, economics, churches, workplaces and communities. It also reflects our beliefs, values, practices, including images and stories that shape how we view ourselves and others in the world.
What kind of social structure and belief system would make valuing diversity possible? What can we as a nation do to move from here to that place after 50 years of freedom? Are there hidden obstacles in our ways? To answer these questions, we need a clear understanding of how we are socialized to unconsciously equate difference with inferiority or superiority.
For instance, at 50, we have myths which present half of humanity as inferior to the other or one sex, ethnic group, culture, as better than another. We also need a clear understanding of our options for the future, of how honouring or not honouring fits into different future scenarios.
Equally important, we need to take an active part in creating a future, when we are no longer conditioned to automatically value one kind of humanity over another.
Diversity is known by many different names – pluralism, unity, harmony, tolerance, inclusion, conflict mediation, facilitation, equity, intercultural understanding, unbiased, multicultural education, equal employment opportunity, affirmative action, cultural competence, global competitiveness, social justice, racial understanding and being politically correct.
In whatever manner or form the term is defined, it appears in all cases that the concept serves to designate a need to relate, communicate, and work from a deeper place of respect, honour, integrity, heart and wisdom. How do we do this after 50 years of de-linking ourselves from the apron strings of our own metropolitan masters?
I vehemently believe that our mission at this time should be how to develop and preach a message on the psychology of unity in diversity. There, following Ghanaian maxims underscores the importance of mutual interdependence.
One hand does not clap, one finger cannot lift up a thing, a tree does not make a forest, the left arm washes the right arm and the right arm washes the left arm and the reason two deer walk together is that one has to take the mote from the other’s eye.
From a functional anthropological perspective, one can mention the likes of Senghour, who once said: “I am, because we are, and since we are, therefore, I am”. The underlying premise in all these is that humans are intricately embedded in a matrix of relationships that connect us with the larger processes of culture and nature.
To the extent that an individual is able to experience these connections directly, he/she is capable of acting in ways that ensure his/her own well-being and the health of natural and social systems he/she participates in.
The complementary role performed by husbands to support their wives was recognized as far back as the Stone Age. During the palaeanthropological period, men complemented the efforts of their wives who gathered wild fruits in meal preparation by hunting wild games. Hence, the stage hunting and gathering.
Ghanaians at 50 should be able to live as a group of persons
Linked by interpersonal bonds – which need not necessarily be physiological
- with common values, interests and goals.
To this end, I attempt to refine the definition of interdependence, which has traditionally been defined as “needing and depending on each other. “This definition has placed too much emphasis on dependence and is thus incomplete. An important new level of understanding emerges from examining the prefix “inter”, which refers to that which exists “between and among” discrete entities.
Beyond depending upon each other, we also depend upon what we create between and among us. Instead of stressing dependence – what we can get from our interactions, I emphasise focusing attention on what we contribute to our interactions that enhance the quality of what exists amongst us.
Inasmuch as I will agree, to some extent, with a section of Ghanaians who see Ghana as an oasis of multiculturalism, ethnic plurality and hospitality, with all its accompanying good attributes of a well-diversified society, we will pretend to be in an utopian world if we think Ghana is far from experiencing what happened between the Hutus and Tutsis some years back.
I would like to say without prejudice or malice, passion or hatred, and without any form of ambiguity, equivocation or fear of contradiction that grumbling about seeing one class of Ghanaians as ‘second class’ citizens has reached a crescendo. This, I believe, is so when there are walls of ignorance among Ghanaians, when we don’t know each other’s stories, yet we substitute our own myth about who that person is.
When we are operating with only a myth, none of the other person’s truth will ever be known to us, and we will certainly injure it – mostly without ever intending to do that. What assumptions did you make because she is a woman?
What assumptions did you make because he or she is an Akan, Ewe, Ga, Frafra, Nzema, Dagomba or an Oyibo? What assumptions did you make because he or she is a Christian, Moslem, Pagan, Buddhist, or Hindu? What stories did we tell ourselves in the absence of knowing this person’s real story?
I cannot end this article without sending my anniversary message of felicitation to our politicians and their followers. To them, I say posterity will never forgive them if after 50 years of political freedom they continue to view every developmental issue through their unclean partisan political lenses.
If they can imbibe the definition of democracy as provided by Voltaire, a French writer and philosopher, who was one of the leaders of enlightenment to mean, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it”, then I see Ghana bequeathing the yet-to-be-born generation a national development agenda by the year 2050.
Ghanaians at 50 should be able to live as a group of persons linked by interpersonal bonds – which need not be physiological – with common values, interests and goals. A terrorist spotted in California will be given a hot chase by both Democrats and Republicans without first noticing their differences in political ideology.
This certainly cannot be so in Ghana, as Ghanaians would like to find out which political party, ethnic or religious group the terrorist belongs to before putting their arsenal together to fight him. This is what distinguishes America as a “community” from Ghana.
The current wind of globalization blowing around where Ghanaians would like to copy everything from archaeology to zoology from the West, I believe, affords us a bright opportunity to learn something good from our ‘Yankee’ brothers when it comes to rallying around the national flag to resist our oppressors, although I believe Ghanaians, hitherto, have been more knitted as a group than their fellow overseas friends.
We should, therefore, endeavour to use this year’s jubilee celebration to bridge that gap where one would be treated, judged and assessed not based on his or her social status, but rather by the content of his or her character and a logical criterion of competence. The result of this, I confidently, believe, will help make Ghanaians live in peace and harmony with one another.
“The world does not stay attached to a particular invention. It seeks diversity. It wants to move on to more inventing, to more possibilities. The world’s desire for diversity compels us to change.” – Margaret J. Wheatley.
The Daily Graphic - Thursday, February 1, 2007 Page: 7