Thursday, February 24, 2011

Linking our educational system to our culture

“EDUCATION is the medium by which a people are prepared for the creation of their own particular civilization, and the advancement and glory of their own race.” Marcus Garvey

First, a working definition.

According to the Webster Dictionary, “culture is the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought typical of a population or community at a given time.”

“Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.”
- Albert Camus

As one expert puts it: “Culture is an integral part of every society. It is a learned pattern of behavior and ways in which a person lives his or her life. Culture is essential for the existence of a society, because it binds people together. In the explicit sense of the term, culture constitutes the music, food, arts and literature of a society. However, these are only the products of culture followed by the society and cannot be defined as culture.”

And according to English Anthropologist Edward B Taylor, culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.

According to Deepa Kharta, “Culture is something that a person learns from his family and surroundings, and is not ingrained in him from birth. It does not have any biological connection because even if a person is brought up in a culture different from that in which he was born, he imbibes the culture of the society where he grows up. It is also not a hidden fact that some people feel the need to follow the beliefs and traditions of their own culture, even though they might be not subscribing to certain ideologies within.”

The role that culture plays in society is as vast as they are complex. For example, it can be argued that the health of a society depends on its culture, as this determines what people eat, how they prepare their food and how they treat themselves. Culture also determines how a people relate to their environment and shape how they commune with their ancestors and their gods. Culture is not only a means of communication between people, but it helps, through shared identities, to create a feeling of belonging and togetherness among people in the society. It is also through culture that the entire knowledge-base of a people is transmitted from generation to generation.

It is often forgotten that traditional African societies were among the few in the world that created harmonious environments that had no standing armies, police or prisons yet where the security of lives and properties were to large extent guaranteed.

Let us take a look at five areas where we can benefit directly by linking our culture to our educational system.

FOOD: Many professionals in the health sector have had occasions to bemoan the dreadful increase in hitherto relatively unknown crippling diseases that is now overwhelming our health service. They often cite diabetes, heart problems, obesity and stroke which are assuming epidemic proportions.

These professionals also pointed out that the increases are directly linked to our changing eating habits.

According to these experts, our people are committing what they term ‘Nutricide,’ (Suicide through nutrition). Sadly no one is taking them serious; there are no policies in place to stem the tide.

It is said that we are what we eat. And it ought to be a great concern to us that we spend our scarce resources to import foreign eating habits, which tend to give us crippling diseases, we then look for more scarce money to import foreign pharmaceutical products to treat these diseases.

Our president has also had occasion to complain about the huge amount we spend on rice import.

The ‘chop bars’ that used to serve our traditional foods are fast disappearing, and they are being replaced by ‘Fast Food’ joints, which continue to serve fatty dishes with little or no nutritional value whatever.

It is often argued that we live in globalized world and we have to follow WTO and other International treaties, but this is an erroneous and disingenuous argument.

We are practically the only one that is obeying WTO rules when it comes to opening our ports to every form of imports, especially food items. It is impossible to import food items into Japan, the EU and the USA without following very stringent rules and regulations. These regulations are often too daunting to prospective exporters that they simply give up.

We can also add that the WTO is not helping us with subsidy when it comes of treating our sick patients.

We shouldn’t also forget that people in the technically advanced countries are moving towards producing organic food, simply because they have realized that the food they have been eating is what is making them sick. It also should be remembered that most of the chemicals we use as fertilizers in our farms are BANNED in their countries of manufacture!

We have abundant labour pool in the form of our children, we have a good climate, and our land is also, for the most part, very fertile. And also luckily for us we have elders who still have traditional knowledge to transmit on how to go produce our traditional staple foods.

It should be noted that almost every country that we called developed today strives first for food sufficiency and security before everything else.

What is needed is the policy to directly link us back to producing and consuming the traditional food our bodies are evolved to process. It does not mean that we say goodbye to eating imported foods, but that these should only serve to complement our indigenous foods.

We should remember that in years back, every school from primary to secondary, maintained farms and gardens. The first hours of every morning was devoted to tending the farms and students got grades for their efforts. It is not too late to revive this.

We have universities and other tertiary institutions which unfortunately are not being mobilized in a coherent ways to contribute tangibly to our national development?

Rather than our universities students sitting down in classrooms gobbling down theory upon theory, our syllabus and curriculum should be re-structured to make practical work form the biggest percentage of their grades. Every human beings has to eat, it makes eminent sense therefore for everyone to have basic knowledge of agriculture.

We should be concerned that our educational system is geared towards producing graduates who are totally alienated from their society. It is time we develop policies to make graduates contribute to our development in very practical ways. It makes absolutely no sense to have agric graduates who have never owned a garden.

There should a policy formulated to make agriculture, once again, become the bedrock of our economy and not only in the production of cash crops, but in the foodstuffs that we need for our survival.

FASHION: It is sad that our dear country is never mentioned wherever\whenever fashion of haute courtier is discussed, yet our fashion-designers are among the most creative in the world.

We just have to look at the gorgeous designs our women folks wear, and the types of head-gear they tie on their heads to recognize the incredible amount of untapped creative energies abounding around us. Their creativity is also well evidenced in the incredible array of weaving\plaiting styles our womenfolk sprout on their heads.

Most of the creators of this tasteful fashion designs are self-taught or are those taught by seamstress who are, in turn, mostly self-taught. They function outside all our formal institutions and so are unrecognized.

The country can benefit immensely by formulating cultural policy that firmly put Ghana’s fashion at the center of official policy. We need to make the conscious efforts to actively promote our own and all that is needed is to formulate the proper policy framework. In the very shortest time, we shall start to reap bountiful fruits.

The rest of the world is bound to recognize and respect us when they see that we take pride in whom we are and that we take pride in our own products. The policy whereby civil servants wear Ghana-made material on Fridays should be extended to cover the whole week. We got our independence more than half a century ago, so it makes little sense for our officials to continue to dress like colonial overlords.

We could, for example, have a policy whereby only Ghanaian-designed dresses are to be worn by all state officials at every state function. Food and drinks served at official occasions must also be Ghana-made. So must the furniture and other paraphernalia that decorate our official functions.

Again, the sight of Ghanaian children going to school in uniforms designed during the colonial times is something that should irritate our senses. We have been independent for more than half a century and there is absolutely no reason why our fashion-designers should not be tasked, through official policy, to design appropriately-suited uniforms for our children.

The same policy could be extended to our Military, para-military and police force.
Also our judicial service and the legislature should also be covered by this policy that promotes the wearing of Ghana-designed and Ghana-made uniforms and attires. It is patently ludicrous to see our magistrates and judges dressed up like they do in England; the weather alone makes it totally incongruous.

The benefits from such a policy are just too numerous to enumerate here. But suffice it to say that it will boost agriculture and employment.

LITERATURE OR ORATURE: For those of us lucky enough to have been born more than three decades ago, one of the best things to happen to us was the sheer corpus of stories we learned from our grand-parents and elders in our villages.

Some of our writers have tried their best to chronicle some of these stories in their books, but the largest bodies of these stories remain unknown, especially to our children who, sadly, continue to be fed on foreign culture disseminated by televisions and the Internet.

Like most things, we have simply abandoned this old practice in the name of modernity. It is not too late to formulate policies to bring this noble tradition of story-telling back to our lives.

We can still call upon our parents to come to our schools to teach stories once or twice a week. Most of our parents and elders are just sitting down at home the whole day with little or nothing to occupy their time. They will also be glad to see that we stop neglecting them and see them as useful and relevant part of our new society.

Once again, the services of the media should be brought into play. Telling indigenous stories should become part of the staple of our media organisations.

Again, we can learn from other societies that have successfully brought their tradition into the computer age by using ICT tools to create indigenous games based on local stories. Our children could be stimulated to improve their ICT skills by transforming our Ananse’s stories into computer games which they can play instead of the violent Hollywood stuffs that impart to them zero moral values. Our traditional sports could also be transformed into computer games.

We can also learn from Ethiopia, an African country that has successfully transformed one of its traditional stories into award-winning computer game.

Our ceremonies like marriages, births, naming ceremonies, deaths and funerals are also area where we can benefit from the knowledge of our parents\elders.

Whilst we bemoan the moral decadence in our society and the high child pregnancy rates, we could mobilise our elders to come to our rescue.

ART: Art is another very important area that remains largely disconnected from official state policy. Yet, all around us we see ordinary Ghanaian creating impressive works of art. Most of the artists are self-taught with absolutely no formal education and with absolutely no support or recognition from the state.

We can talk about the Coffin-makers at Teshie-Nungua and other places, the street boys that could perform incredible acrobatic feats, the wood carvers, sculptors and weavers on our roadsides are also actively participating in the creation of vivid and dynamic at works.

Again sadly, these men and women, boys and girls remain largely unnoticed by our policy-makers. Only the tourists pay them the scantiest attention.

Of course, our students continue to be thought all the theories of art with very little attention paid to the practical side of things.

What is needed is needed here is to directly link these informally-educated roadside education to the schools where they can impact their practical knowledge and experience to complement the theoretical side of things.

It is time to have policy that recognize art and try to directly help artists. In the Netherlands for example, a certain percentage of the budget of building a state’s office is devoted to purchasing artworks from Dutch artists.

The Ministry of Culture can start a small loan scheme to help upcoming artists who will be gainful employed, stopped being burdens on parents societies, pay taxes, help their families and create works that could sell to earn foreign exchange for the nation.

These efforts taken together will also redound very positively as the country will benefit immensely from the creative energies that would be released by this combination.

MUSIC: Sadly, Ghana music is dying. That’s the only conclusion one can draw despite all the glamorous razzmatazz awards that are being dole out yearly.

In years past, Ghanaian music dominated the West African music scene. People in Nigeria grew up with Kpalongo, Adgbaza and High Life tunes from Ghana. Ghanaian musicians were the toast of the West Coast. Today, there is hardly a band worth the name in the whole of Ghana. The older generations of musicians are passing away and the new ones refuse to learn skills that will perpetuate the rich musical heritage of the nation. Our youth are contended to call themselves musicians as long as they can use computers to generate beats.

It is easy to blame globalization but the failure to develop and consciously promote a coherent Cultural Policy is also partly to blame.

Why, for example, are there no regulations governing the percentage of indigenous contents in our media? Many of our radio stations play foreign music the whole day because they are not obliged to have local content. We cannot afford not to make a conscious effort to promote our own thing and expect to reap something in return.
We are happily promoting tourism, yet we are busily promoting foreign ways of life – eating, singing, dancing etc, etc.

Whilsts artistes from our neighboring countries (Mali, Senegal, La Cote d’Ivoire) are earning good money for themselves and their countries by show-casing their indigenous culture to the outside world, Ghanaian artistes are making mockeries of themselves by the crass imitation of American rap artists.

Jamaica is a small country that has firmly stamped its authority on the world’s musical scene by evolving and promoting the Reggae genre of music. In the month of February 2011, one of the biggest TV stations in the UK, BBC4, devoted whole weekends to playing Jamaica Reggae music. That’s the sort of advertisement from which any country can benefit. Because of Reggae, Jamaica cannot cope with the number of tourists who are ‘dying’ to see the Island country.

Ghana can also develop and promote a musical genre that will come to define the country. Our self-dignity alone demands that we proudly promote an indigenous music that the world will identify with our beloved country. We had solid HighLife tradition but we allow it to wither away.

Our neighbor to the North, Burkina Faso, holds the FESPACO festival that draws film and video makers from all over the world. Mali has a world-class Ballet group, we can also think of a big Art or Fashion event that will also bring the world to our shore?
We should put policies in place where we call upon our elders to become active participants in imparting their vast knowledge to us and also to our children. We can set two days in a week whereby old people will go to the schools in their area to teach traditional things like herbal medicine, singing, dancing, stories etc, etc.

There also should be policy in place whereby our media should also set aside percentage of their air-time to allow our elders to teach some of these things.

HEALTH: It is sad that we seem to have forgotten the old wise saying that “Health is wealth.”

In years of yore, our parents treat every manner of illness and sickness and injuries with herbal medicines they mixed from the leaves, roots and barks of the plants in their forest.

Not only were our parents sensible enough to eat wholesome food from their surroundings, they also pay particular attention to the type of medicines they take. That is the reason why we today have Octogenarians in our villages that are still sprightly but yet have never seen the inside of a hospital.

Sadly, the herbal knowledge of our parents remains untapped whilst the whole nation is going gaga over Chinese medicines. The Chinese and the Indians take great pride in their indigenous herbal knowledge; they formulated policies to link these into their school curriculum. The result is that they are leading the world in trado-medicinal products.

Our parents are dying away slowly and the experiences they have accumulated over the eons are perishing with them.

We should try and collect as much of this knowledge before it is too late. We should have a policy whereby our parents should be invited to impart their knowledge at our school of medicines. They could work in tandem with the Western trained medical specialists to formulate new methods of medical treatment that are uniquely Ghanaian.

The media should also be mobilized in this campaign.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Nigeria National Assembly: Jumbo Pay For Little Work

In their recent confrontation with the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, members of the Nigerian National Assembly (NASS) got more than they bargained for.

If they had thought that they could intimidate the Nigerian top banker, they were easily and sorely disappointed, as their supposed victim ended up badly mauling them.

It was really an unnecessary confrontation the NASS could have easily avoided. But those whom the gods want to humiliate, they first made them lose reason.

In an innocuous address at a local university, the central banker had said that if Nigeria must get it right, there must be cuts in its revenue expenditures and focus should be placed on policies that engender real development.

It was a sentiment that gladdens the heart of downtrodden Nigerians who have watched helplessly as their leaders continue to lavish the country's shrinking resources on themselves whilst social services crumble.

Speaking at the eighth convocation ceremony of privately-owned Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, on the topic: "GROWTH PROSPECTS FOR THE NIGERIAN ECONOMY," Sanusi had said: "If you look at the budget, the bulk of government's revenue expenditure is on overheads; that is a big problem; 25 per cent of overheads of the federal government goes to the National Assembly. We need power, we need infrastructure, so we need to start looking at the structure of expenditure and make it more consistent with the development initiative of the country."

Sanusi correctly opined that the current situation where 25 percent of the government's revenue spending yearly goes to the National Assembly is unhealthy for the country and its economy.

This got the goat of NASS; they bayed for the blood of the governor and received their just comeuppance.


Friday, February 11, 2011

President Mills Lamentations

A friend posted the link on my Facebook wall and asked that I watch and tell him what I think.

Mostly I give Facebook requests wide berth, on this occasion I obliged my friend and watch the video and was left almost devastated.

The video showed a visibly angry Executive President Mills (for want of better word) condemning corruption at Tema port by officials of the Customs, Excise and Preventive Services (CEPS). You can see the video here:

The video was the latest expose from the staple of famed investigative journalist, Anas Ameyaw Anas.

I have never seen President Mills in such a nasty funk. Actually, I cannot remember seeing any President in such an agitated state.

I felt both sadness and anger that the Chief Executive of our blessed republic was reduced to such a (let me use the word) pathetic state. It was as undignifying as it was unpresidential.

President Mills and Corporate Ghana were badly let down by those whom we pay to do a job and people we expect to do the correct things. The YouTube video revealed more than anything that we have serious systemic failure in every facet of our institutions.

We are talking about the Executive President with awesome powers granted by our constitution reduced to exhorting mere CEPS officers. Gosh!

President Mils was badly let down and he was badly misadvised to give such performance. And it shows how badly things are run in our blessed republic that a week after the president’s hectoring, no high officials in his entourage has been sacked!

It is difficult to imagine President JJ Rawlings given such badly-scripted performance. And no matter what we think of him, even President Kuffuor would have acted better.

The high office of the presidency certainly deserves much more dignity than what president Mills did in Tema.

What happened to all the agencies that are charged with fighting corruption in our lands? From our very meager resources, we are paying people to ensure that there is minimal leakage from the collection of revenues that are due the state. I can think of the Ghana Police Force, The Bureau of National Investigation, The Serious Fraud Office, State Security and the newly-created Economic and Serious Crime Unit.

These agencies are supposed to be engaged in the fight against corruption. That our president had to leave all his ponderous duties to go to reprimand erring CEPS officials shows that these agencies have all failed. Yet no one has been fired. Not a single head of these agencies have deemed it fit to fall on the proverbial sword for letting us so badly down.

What about the Ministers whom the president appointed to assist him? If they are not sleeping on the job, the Executive President of our republic would not need to come and made such spectacle of himself at Tema.

The President’s lamentation also revealed another aspect of our flawed character – our ability to play the ostrich and pretend not to know what is going on.

Suddenly our airwaves are full of jabbering about the president’s anger. It was as though it was corruption is a new word to us. Visitors to our shore will think that we have a collective epiphany that suddenly reveals a hidden, dark secret.

We might one day still perish from our hypocrisy and our penchant to refuse to face reality and accept the realities that face us squarely in the face. Whom do we think that we are fooling by pretending that president Mills reveal to us something that we did not know about?

Don’t we all live in Ghana and don’t we all see the corruption that is firmly embedded in every fabric of our personal as well as national life? Where in our daily life are we not confronted by nauseating corruption in high and low places? On which of our highways do we not see uniformed police officers openly soliciting and accepting bribes? On which occasion do we not see journalists begging for ‘soli?’ Which office do we go without the official asking for ‘something?’ When was the last time a security guard open a gate for you without asking for ‘dash?’

Have we not all thrown up our hands in despair and accept corruption as just another necessary part of life? Yet, we pretend that our president is telling us something new!

And then we have the robed thieves, who masquerade as men of god, also coming out with their own frothing nonsense and hypocritical condemnation of corruption, and the general moral decadence in our society.

Pray, which institution is more corrupt than all these organized religions that only exist to separate ignorant people from their cash? How could a priest, in a good conscience, come out to say that he condemns corruption when he heads an institution that lives a parasitic life on extorting bribes from their congregation?

My Encarta defines bribe as “persuade somebody with enticement: to give somebody money or some other incentive to do something, especially something illegal or dishonest.

The so-called tithes that the churches collect are nothing but bribery pure and simple. It is even worse that the other forms of bribery. Whereas the CEPS official can deliver on his promise to facilitate something after collecting a bribe, the priest ask you to wait until hereafter before fulfilling his side of the bargain.

The churches have truly become nothing but the den of thieves, something that Jesus warned against. How many days pass in a week before there is story of one pastor is involved in one scandal or the other?

Again, we operate a comprehensively corrupt judicial system and we pretend to be surprised when corruption cases surface. Whosoever has had any dealing with any branch of our judicial system will know that it is but one terrible joke. Decent people ought to be affronted that we even deign to think that it can ever act as a corrective force.

We operate a court system that seeks not to establish the truth and is transparently not fair and impartial? How many cases are languishing in our courts because the lawyers and the bribed judges are in cahoots to postpone it indefinitely?

A child born yesterday knows that all that is required to get acquitted is to have enough cash to hire the glibbest of lawyers who can lie his way through and through. How many instances have we blind-sided by truly bizarre judgments?

Maybe the five cases cited hereunder will disabuse the minds of those that still believe that the judicial system we operate is not a huge joke.

“A 25-year old car thief was on Monday sentenced to 25 years imprisonment by a Kumasi Circuit Court presided over by Mr Justice Emmanuel Amoh-Yartey. Frimpong Boadu pleaded guilty to stealing a pick-up. Police Chief Inspector Archibald Kwesi Fandoh told the court that the complainant, Kojo Appiah, works with Adomkop Limited, a construction company located at Ash-Town in Kumasi while the convict also resides at Patasi, in the Metropolis.

At about 0900 hours on Thursday, January 27, Appiah parked the car in front of the company and spent 30 minutes in the premises. The prosecution said when he came out he saw Boadu driving the car away and shouted for help.

He said a motor rider gave Boadu a hot chase and caught up with him at Alar Bar, where he had crashed the stolen pick-up into another car. Some passers-by helped to arrest and hand Boadu over to the police. Police Chief Inspector Fandoh said during investigations it came out that the convict managed to start the engine with the ignition key of a KIA vehicle.” SOURCE: GNA

Ten CEPS officials who are standing trial for allegedly aiding the smuggling of cocoa beans from the Western Region to neighbouring Cote D’Ivoire, on Friday had their bail condition of reporting on every Friday to the CID headquarters in Accra, changed.

Each of them will on every Friday report to any Police station closer to them.

This was after counsel for the 10 CEPS officials, lawyers Appiah- Kubi and Raymond Bagnabu, among others pleaded with the presiding Judge, Patience Mills-Tetteh to relax the condition of their clients reporting to the CID head office in Accra since the main investigations had been completed. In addition, all the suspects live in the Western Region and therefore coming to Accra involves a lot of time and risk.

They also argued that the suspects would not jump bail should they be made to report to any nearest police station.

Mrs. Mills Tetteh in her admission to the request indicated that, she believes ‘every police station is a police station’ and they must therefore co-ordinate with the headquarters.

The bail sum of GH¢50,000 with one surety each to be justified, given to all the suspects at the previous sitting is however, still in force. Meanwhile Prosecutor Abraham Annor told the court that all the necessary investigations had been conducted and the docket was being forwarded to the Attorney-General’s Department for advice.

This did not go down well with the Judge who therefore urged the prosecutor to make sure that the docket reaches the A.G’s Department on time so that the case could be heard and subsequently dealt with as early as possible.

The case has been adjourned to June 14, 2010. Source: Yaa Asantewaa/Asempa News

The 14 security officials who were at the centre of the alleged cocoa smuggling from the Western Region of the country to Cote d'Ivoire, have for the second time, been discharged for 'want of prosecution'.

The 14 men who are from the Customs, Excise Preventive Service, the Ghana Police Service, and the Immigration Service were arrested for prosecution in April, last year, following undercover investigations by an ace investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, last year.

But on June 28, 2010, they were freed by an Accra Circuit Court presided over by Mrs. Patience Mills Tetteh for want of prosecution. This was after the prosecution failed to turn up in court, after three consecutive adjournments at their instance.

They were, however, re-arrested later by the police, and on July 13, 2010, arraigned on fresh charges of conspiracy to commit crime and attempted smuggling at another Circuit Court presided over by Mrs. Adjoa Coleman. However, five months into their arraignment, nothing has been done as the case had suffered several adjournments until the judge began her annual leave from August to October 2010.

When the case came up for hearing on Tuesday, the prosecution led by Principal State Attorney, Rexford Owiredu, failed to show up in court without any excuse or notice, neither was he represented. In November, the prosecution told the court that it intended to call its first witness in the person of Anas and, therefore, prayed the court to grant them an in-camera hearing for security reasons.

The court in view of the submission directed the prosecution to file a motion to that effect but as at Tuesday when the accused persons were discharged, the prosecution had not filed that motion. This prompted counsel for the accused led by Raymond Bagnabu, to pray the court to discharge his clients as a result of what he termed the inability and lack of desire by the prosecution to start the case.

The defence team also argued that adjourning the matter would only glorify the impunity and disrespect shown by the prosecution. The court then upheld the argument and accordingly discharged the accused persons but said the prosecution could bring them back whenever it was ready to prosecute case.

…Until their discharge on Tuesday, each of them was on GH¢20,000 with two sureties. SOURCE:

President John Evans Atta Mills has paid a surprise visit to the Tema Harbour, in apparent response to the latest investigative documentary by journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas.

The documentary details widespread corruption at the Tema Harbour, frustrating a lot of importers.

Interacting with officials, President Mills condemned the corruption and urged them to work professionally to generate revenue for the state.

The president was outraged that the revelations were not reported to him by the security agencies operating in the port. “You have security agencies which are operating here, I wish that the revelations from Anas had come to me through the security agencies which are here. No. that has not been the case,” he regretted.

Speaking to findings of the journalist that millions of Ghana Cedis have been lost to the nation owing to the evasion of import duties, as a result of the abuse of tax exemption regulations.

President Mills said, “If anybody comes with the president’s name, the first thing you should do is to arrest that person.”

He also spoke of his disappointment that a High Court in Accra has discharged a group of customs officials who were implicated in a similar documentary by Anas Aremeyaw Anas.

“I want to use this occasion also – with the greatest of respect – to appeal to our judiciary… please, help each one of us to account for our stewardship. What happened with the Elubo video causes me so much distress, what happened? What happened? Is it a good example?” he asked.

President Mills suggested that all CEPS officials should be required to fill asset declaration forms once they are recruited into the service. He said from time to time, new forms should be filled so that property acquisition of CEPS officials can be tracked.

Joy News’ Seth Kwame Boateng who was with the president during the visit to the port, said he had never seen the president so angry. SOURCE: Joy News/Ghana

By dint of great irony, just a few days before our president went to Tema to lament, a court in this land set free 14 CEPS officials who were cut on camera taking bribes. It was also a case well-documented by the same journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas. Yet, the accused were set free, not because they were innocent but because those that are being paid to prosecute the case refused to show up in court.

And since will live in a republic governed by law, the accused cannot be kept in detention indefinitely. They were set free. No single official has been call to account for this huge bungling.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Interview with Samia Yaaba Nkrumah

Samia Yaba Nkrumah was just six years when her father’s government was overthrown in a military coup. After a long sojourn abroad and a career in journalism and media consultancy, Samia returned to Ghana in 1987 and quickly joined her father’s party, the (CPP). Today she sits in Ghana’s parliament as an independent voice who refused to align with either the ruling National Democratic Congress, NDC, or the opposition New Patriotic Party, NPP.

In this interview, she bares her heart out on a wide range of issues.

Q1. Shall we begin by asking what it means to be the daughter of Africa’s favorite son, the legendary Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah?

Being the daughter of Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah is a great privilege and a great honour. I’ve come to understand that it also means having a responsibility towards our people. That responsibility includes going back to seriously revisit his work, his legacy and what he tried to do, what he began doing and pick up from where he left. He left us a blueprint to restructure our economies and make us self-reliant with a strong agricultural and industrial base, to unify our continent to become economically viable, and to achieve total socio-economic and cultural emancipation. His works need to be revisited and his ideology needs to be demonstrated.

Q2. This year, the whole of Africa is celebrating your father’s centenary anniversary, can you tell us about your recollection of him as a father and also as a larger-than-life politician?

I have flashbacks of our father at home, sitting nearby reading a book, eating with his hand, carrying us, spooning honey into our mouths, taking our hands as we accompany him to the garden, down the steps. But we didn’t see that much of him but when he was around it felt like a normal family with him sitting with a book while we played around. I also remember some remarkable days like the day he was attacked in Flagstaff house by an imposter posing as a guard. I saw our father come up the stairs with a bloodied face, surrounded by many people. It was harrowing.

As a politician, I got to know him better after he was not with us when I started reading his books and listening to people who worked with him, who knew him and also our mother’s recollections. Discovering him really made me appreciate him better both as a father and also as a politician who had a vision and was capable of seeing the whole picture. He was a man who knew what he wanted to do and had it all planned. Not even his worst critic would ever describe him as selfish or petty-minded. And of course it didn’t take much to realize that his political thought was the answer to many of our problems

Q3. You were very young when the CIA-instigated coup toppled your father’s government, what do you remember from those harrowing days?

I remember 24th February 1966 very well because we were so indescribably terrified and so utterly confused. I remember waking up to the sound of gunshots, praying for safety upon our mother’s instructions, being wrapped in blankets and getting in and out of the car, ordered around by scared young soldiers, and all those soldiers pointing guns, shouting, confused. I remember particularly the gun held against Mother’s nape. It was utterly terrifying; the stuffs that nightmares are made of. And I know we were very lucky to leave on the same day, thanks to Gamal Abdel Nasser, the late President of Egypt who sent an Egyptair flight to take us to Cairo that very day.

Q4. What emotions do you still carry when you remember those very dark days, is it anger or sadness or both?

Today, I can put it in perspective. I think of it as a day in the life of a developing nation caught up in the Cold War dynamics. We dealt with the fear, the nightmares, the confusion and the loss of identity. To be able to engage in the politics of today, I had to wipe the slate clean. I cannot do what I’m doing today by harbouring resentment. What has happened has happened and we cannot undo it. As our elders say, ‘if you don’t forget yesterday’s quarrel, you will not have someone to play with.’ Revenge and vindictiveness are inadmissible in politics, I believe. At least politics as we’ve known it in the Nkrumah family; that is the politics of giving, of serving, of loving our people. And really these are not superficial sentiments. You know Nkrumah never approved the execution of any Ghanaian, not even those who were proven to have attempted to assassinate him. In Guinea, after the coup he refused to sanction an attempt to attack Ghanaian forces to wrestle power from the NLC. He would never approve of the shedding of a single Ghanaian or African or any Human blood.

Q5. A lot of associates disowned your father after the coup, are there people you’d like to acknowledge as standing by him and helping your family out in those turbulent days?

Many people helped us over the years. In fact, there wasn’t a period in my life when people didn’t help. Governments helped, individuals helped, family members helped. The list is long and I wouldn’t want to miss any one. Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sekou Toure, Amical Cabral, and many other leaders stood by Nkrumah. But one person comes to mind more than others today as I’m speaking and that is June Milne, our father’s literary executrix, who is now over 90. She went to Guinea from England 16 times, stood loyally by Nkrumah, rescued precious papers after his death, and helped publish his books some posthumously. And she introduced me seriously to Nkrumah’s thoughts and told me so much about him and gave me all his books. When I understood what Nkrumah stood for and tried to do, the vision he left us, everything else fell into sharp focus as if someone was telling me: "this is the way, walk in it."

Q6. Have you met any of the people who conspired against your father, if not why not?

I met some who betrayed him, some who’ve insulted him, others who’ve pretended to be his followers, but not those directly implicated in assassination attempts, the 1966 coup, etc. But as I’ve said, I’m not taking any of this personally. One day in parliament, I sat silently listening to the two parties (the ruling National Democratic Congress, NDC, and the opposition New Patriotic Party, NPP) trading accusations as to which party treated our Mother worse. I even had to listen to an MP saying I was a toddler and couldn’t remember what happened. I could have told them the whole story, who did what, but I thought that’s not why I’m here. We know what happened, how and why, and what we know only serves to make us stronger, more real and more in tune with our people’s needs and aspirations. It also helps to make us more focused on the job that we are doing.

On our part, we have forgiven those that trespassed against us and conspired against our father. We have buried the hatchet.

Q7. The Rawlings, Kufuor and the Mills governments have all tried (still trying) to rehabilitate your father’s legacy, what are your feelings about their efforts?

We need more action than pronouncements or symbolic gestures even though the latter could rekindle interest. Nkrumah was vilified and demonized for so long that it will take some time before he is fully vindicated but we are getting there. Former President Rawlings oversaw the construction of the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum in Accra. Former President Kufuor presided over our Mother’s state funeral in 2007 and footed her hospital bill before her death. He also welcomed us back to Ghana and myself into political life. Now Pres. Mills, who was a Young Pioneer, I’m told, declared 21 September Founder’s Day pending, of course, parliament’s approval. This is, of course, the greatest honour done Nkrumah yet. But how close we’re getting to restructuring the economy, to taking practical steps to promote African unity, I’m not so sure. Those are the things that were very dear to my father’s heart and it’d be nice to start implementing them. We’ve lost a lot of ground but it’s never too late to start. I also believe that his books should form part of curriculum of our educational institutions. Now of course President Mills did his stint as a Young Pioneer, so let’s wait and see.

Q8. The government of Ghana set up a committee to celebrate Nkrumah’s birthday, did they ask for any input from you or any of your siblings?

Sekou Nkrumah, our youngest brother, who joined the NDC a year and a half before the elections is a member of the committee. I was not asked to join but the Chairman of the committee asked me to become directly involved in their activities and I assured him of my cooperation. I’m not in this business out of personal interest or short term gains and I think we will be judged by our actions.

Q9. Can you describe for us the current state of affairs in the House of Nkrumah? What is your relationship with your siblings?

I love my three brothers, of course, and no political differences will ever change that. Gamal Nkrumah is very supportive of my every move, politically speaking, and we remain very close. Sekou criticized me openly during the campaign, but I’ve taken it in my stride and he’ll always be my brother and his children are mine. As to be expected, many people tried to read too much into our political differences, but they are just that – political differences. Our eldest brother, Professor Francis Nkrumah, has always been a friend.

Q10. Let’s talk about yourself, who is Samia Nkrumah. Are we just seeing the pretty daughter of a legend, or is Samia a woman of substance in her own rights? What have been your accomplishments?

I think our work in the years to come will answer that question better than anything I can say today. I’m an ordinary woman who is trying to make a meaningful difference in her people’s lives. I’m armed with a remarkable vision and strong spirituality. Till a few years ago, I lead a fairly quiet private life, until a resurgence of interest in Kwame Nkrumah, a gradual vindication of his work and vision forced us into action slowly but steadily. The more I had to explain about our lives and the life of Nkrumah as we knew it, the more it dawned on me that we have to answer a serious calling and demonstrate what he stood for, lived and died for, for the good of our people. I think I was finally left with no choice but to “go about our father’s business” practically and on the ground.

Q11. Your opponents during the last elections lambasted you as a career woman who’s just cresting in on her father’s famous name. The NDC candidate said he was contesting against your father and urged you to go back to Italy. What was your reaction then?

Our people will judge us by our actions. I’ve made and am still making some sacrifices to do what we’re doing. I haven’t chosen the easy way that’s for sure. But I’m guided by our father’s vision and spirit of doing things. Political opponents feel they have to say these negative things in campaigns. I never once retaliated or made personal attacks. I am not in politics to engage in petty, personal mudsling. The task before us is too big and too onerous to be focus on personal attacks. I’m really trying to do a different kind of politics in every sense. We’re not just being ego-less, sincere and committed but we also more interested in what we want to do and are doing for our people than in looking sideways at what others are doing or not doing.

Q12. What was your contribution to the community before you became MP?

I returned to Ghana literally to contest the elections. During the campaign, I made sure that we did not only talk ideology, but that we engaged in small projects. Most of the people who voted for us lack basic social needs, modest education, no clean drinking water, poor sanitation, unreliable or no electricity supply, very inadequate infrastructure and it hits you, especially if your political orientation puts your people’s welfare as a priority. Today, you cannot be an effective politician if you are not dynamic, if you cannot be engaged in social programmes. This is not the era of talking but of walking your talk. We cannot persuade by argument but by action. The pace of our work, my outfit and myself, has not changed during or after the campaign. We’ll remain close to our people.

Q13. It’d be grossly unfair to compare you to your illustrious father, but what is Samia bringing into Ghana’s politics and also to the concept of African unity which was your father’s great passion?

I am bringing fresh ideas to realize the objectives on Nkrumahism. Look, Femi, Nkrumah devoted his life analyzing and proffering solutions to make Africa self-reliant. His was a holistic approach to totally emancipate Africa, politically, economically and culturally. He created the blueprint that would catapult our continent to the rank of developed world. Sadly, he was killed before he could realize his dreams. But fortunately for us, he left behind the blueprints that will guide.

Q14. It goes without saying that there has been a total failure of leadership in Africa since your father’s death. It is like the last four decades have been totally wasted. What we have had over the years are self-seeking, insanely corrupt leaders totally bereft of ideas or visions, how do you think that this can be rectified?
All that is true but we need not be too distressed. The greatest tragedy we could inflict on ourselves as Africans is to succumb to Afro-pessimism. My father believed that Africa does not have a problem that Africans cannot solve; it’s a belief that I passionately share. We have the resources, both human and material, to lift our continent up. The only thing lacking is a core of patriotic and utterly selfless leaders in many parts of Africa. Ghana cannot go it alone; neither can Nigeria or even South Africa. But we need a few courageous, committed, dedicated and utterly selfless leaders who are prepared to make the huge sacrifices that are necessary to enable us overcome our challenges. Africa need long-sighted and strategic thinkers like my father and I believe that we are in the process of getting there.

Look, we are making stride. Until few years ago, my father’s name was vilified; today the African Union has recognized his contribution so much so that his birthdate is to be recognized continent-wide. That is a quantum leap from the very recent past when his name was associated with evil and tyranny.

Our people have realized that we cannot rely on others to lift u sup. We needed help from wherever we can get it, but we have to start by doing things for ourselves first. As another African proverb puts it: ‘it’s the child which raises his hands that the mother will carry.’

Q15. A follow-up to the last question is what is your own agenda for your constituency? What should the people of Jomoro expect from their new MP?

Look, Femi, Jomoro is a very poor constituency even by Ghana’s low standards. There are a lot of challenges like poor sanitation, access to clean water, schools, hospitals and a host of other things. I just came back from there and sadly the whole place has been devastated by unremitting flood. I have donated some emergency relief materials. But that’s on the humanitarian side of things. We have plans afoot to build concrete structures that would enable people to live decent lives.

Our people are not infirmed who need to be spoon-fed, what they need are the basic structures to enable them live the lives they wish to live. That was what my father recognized early. He was not planning some Utopian state where people will rely on government charities or welfare. We shall try to build on that. The Jomoro I met is certainly not going to be the Jomoro you are going to be seeing in the next few years.

Q16. Ghana is effectively a two-party state, what informed your joining your father’s party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP) whose fortunes have dwindling over the years. How do you intend to realize your political ambitions and objectives if you remain in a party that is clearly in limbo?

I joined my father’s party because I believe very passionately in his philosophy. I am a die-hard Nkrumahist. You see, my father worked very hard and his work was very important to him. And as a faithful disciple, I would like to carry on the torch that he lit. We have plans to totally restructure the CPP. What people failed to realized is that until a few years ago, the CP name was banned in Ghana and its offices and assets were confisticated. We shall try and build the party from ground up, just the way Nkrumah did. I can assure you that a new CPP will emerge after our Congress later this year.

Q17. What are your visions for Ghana and also for Africa? What are you and the new generation leaders in Africa bringing to the table?

I believe that we are bringing honesty, passion, commitment and dedication. We are appalled by the thirty or so years we lost since my father’s death. But thankfully, our work has been cut out for us by the monumental work and blueprints he left behind. We only have to revisit his works, re-read his books and blueprints and everything shall fall into place.

Q18. Would like to be the president of Ghana?

It is too early to even begin to entertain that notion. I am a relatively novice in politics. My father didn’t seek the mantle of leadership until he felt he was totally ready – emotionally as well as intellectually. I have got a long way to go. My immediate objective is to bring unity to the party that he left behind for us. We shall seek to rebuild the Nkrumah’s political structures that were decimated by his opponents after they overthrew him. We also will seek to rehabilitate him as we believe that he was unjustifiably vilified.

Q. Can you tell u something about your mother, Madam Fathia?

My mother was a very courageous woman and she was indefatigable. You know that she never had an easy life. You have to remember Africa of the 1957s. Not many Egyptians knew where Ghana was then, so it came as a shock when mother said that she was going to marry a Ghanaian. Her family was not enthused when she announced her decision, but she stood firm. She genuinely loved my father. My father’s friendship with President Gamal Abdel Nasser must have helped to smooth things over by his decision to open a full embassy in Accra.

I remember Mother as a very optimistic person who, although totally apolitical, stood steadfast by our father. She was totally committed to what he was trying to do. She believed in him and helped him by nurturing the family and bringing up the children. Of course, the coup both shocked and devastated her. You remember that father was abroad when the army struck. She was alone with us when the soldiers started shooting up the place and they put a gun to her neck. It was a frightening experience for all of us.

I remember that she wanted us to live and experience part of our Ghanaian heritage, and that was what informed her decision to bring us down in 1975 to live in Ghana. I remain thankful to President Kufuor who later took good care of her when she was sick. It was also gratifying that his government gave her a state funeral.

(Published in the NEW AFRICAN magazine, October 2009)

Is Honesty still the best policy?

Among the first phrases of the English language we learned was 'Honesty is the best policy.'

In those days and times, it was not just a rhetorical saying.

Those were days when words, like our currencies of old, have their true values. Honesty was then not only said to be the best policy, it was also seen as the only good policy. They were days when honest toil gets rewarded with just pay. They were days when people literally reap what they sow, and here on earth too. The sanctions are heavy upon those who tried to break, even bend, societal rules and regulations for personal satisfactions. They were days of probity and accountability. Honesty, Decency and Integrity were the norms in those days. They were days when no one could appear to live beyond his/her legitimate means. They were days when men/women were called to account for their deeds here on earth without waiting for some Day of Judgment. Those were days when layabouts, without a visible means of legitimate income, cannot drive around towns in the latest hi-tech cars and dotted the land with mansions.

They were days when the family, the street, the whole town and even the whole Community suffer from the indignity visited upon one member. They were times when men would rather starve, than steal. They were times when it was looked upon with great disfavour when you take what does not RIGHTLY belong to you. Great shame, it was considered then for a family to allow one member to go hungry, to be homeless, and to BEG(!).

Those were days and times when the true spirit of BROTHERHOOD and SISTERHOOD was manifested in every single member of the society. All is for one, and one is for all. They were times when the words UNCLES, COUSINS, NIECES and NEPHEWS, simply did not exist in our languages. We knew only of BROTHERS and SISTERS. You are the son of your father and mother, and of every older member of your family who are old enough to be your parent. You are the brother not only of your immediate NUCLEAR family, but of every one else in the EXTENDED family. They were times you eat not only from your mother's pot, but from the pot of any member of the family where the pang of hunger strikes you. Food was not terribly plentiful, but everyone shares. Walled, palatial mansions were not abundant then, but no one sleeps rough, uncomfortably and (heaven forbid) on the street. There was love, true love in those days.

They were love that emanate deeply from the heart. They were not abstract love to be chanted like some religious slogans. Everyone was his brother's keeper in the truest sense of the word. The joy of one is shared by all, the sadness is equally spread around. There were then no policemen on our streets, since everyone looks after everyone else, and everything BELONGS to everyone. When no one is in want, the very idea of stealing is entertained by no one. Crime against property, there seldom was, since you hardly steal what virtually belongs to you. I can clearly recollect how women will leave their wares in front of their houses and go to their farms. The prices are indicated and whosoever wanted a purchase will simply leave the money and take the article.

No traditional society of Africa that I know of built a prison to incarcerate its members. None of them had a high-prized legislature and a high-brow judiciary. Since everyone knows the rules and mores of the society, there was no place for high-profile, big-ego legal luminaries to argue the arcane laws modern society evolved to keep its members in check. No society of Africa that I know of possessed instruments of violence to keep its members in their place. Police Forces, organized Military Forces, Intelligent Agencies are appurtenances alien to our African tradition. Every member of our traditional society of age were simply called upon to perform military duties when the needs arise.

There are minds who may argue that there were wars in those days. Yes, I readily concur that there were wars. Wars there were, indeed. But they were wars against invaders or EXTERNAL threats. To those minds, I say we are talking here about the violence a society launches against its own members.

Modern Societies have become a frightening ogre - terrorizing its own citizens. The more policemen on the beat, the larger the prison space, the more advanced a society is deemed to be. It is as though we have come to measure civilization by the amount of naked force a society can muster against its own citizens.

Let us get behind such masks as DEMOCRACY, JUSTICE, FREEDOM (DJF) and other abstractions that are used to mask naked barbarity. Civilization is not to be measured by how it treats its mighty, strong and rich, but how it treats its poor, low and impoverished. The strong do not need protection, the weak do. The mighty do not need freedom, only the poor needs to be un-enshackled. The ideals of DJF are meaningful to only those who have the have the means to pursue them or would anyone please stand up and name the place where in our modern world there is equal justice for all, or where democracy carry no price tag.

It appears as though some cruel law of modern civilization has ordained that the more cruel a society treats its defenseless (invariably poor) members, the more civilized it is considered. We can sweep our glance across what is called the civilized world, we shall come to the same conclusion. Since space and time constrains us from undertaken such as enterprise, let us look at one specific society. Which candidate is more appropriate that what is generally believed to be the richest and most powerful country in the world, the one that shouted the loudest about DJF: The United States of America.

Here is a nation conquered by starving immigrants from Europe which launched a genocide against the beaten Indians. Casting her greedy eyes on the outer shores, whole societies of Africa were emptied to build her plantations and industries - the source of her wealth and vainglory. Not contended with littering her hills and mountains with Indian bones, and bloodying her waters and rivers with African blood, America turned on her neighbours. Mexico lost half her territory. The Central American nations have all felt the violent jackboot of their avaricious neighbour.

Did America treat her weak citizens any better? If we are to be honest, we can only answer in the negative. There is no doubt that Africans in America are the weakest members of the American family. The slaves who built the wealth that today smoother Americans were promised 40 acre of land and a bull. Until today, that pledge remains unfulfilled. Emancipation proclamation by slave-owning Lincoln didn't entirely emancipate the ex-slaves. The Freedom Bureau set up to help the ex- slaves was killed by violent opposition from the slave states. From slavery, the lots of the ex-slaves became marginally better by share cropping, JIM-CROW and a very special breed of virulent racism. Every token action for their benefit continue to be termed reverse discrimination and struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Today, there are said to be more African-Americans under America's judicial supervision (in prison or under parole) than are at college - even though it cost a lot more to keep them in jail than in college!

I do not condemn America. It is America's crimes that condemn her. I strive only to make a case as to why a society such as America and most modern societies cannot tell the weakest member of their families that 'Honesty is the Best Policy'

By what moral right can America tell its African-American citizens to be honest? Since when in her entire violent history, has America being honest? Some there may be in the African-American Community, whose constitutional make-up are not favourably disposed to stealing; they have my praise.

Many minds will undoubtedly be moved to ask of what happened to 'Personal Responsibility' and what would occur in the event of diminishing or entirely removing that inhibition that should be natural to every human. At the peril of distressing those minds, I say a society does not have a right to ask me of personal responsibility which has neglected its own societal Responsibility. Responsibility is to me not a one-way affair. I am bound by the limits of the morality of my society. No society that was built on crime and maintained on iniquity has any right to ask anyone to be upright. How can we install a culture of indolence cum opulence cum decadence on our society and then hypocritically condemn those who tried to get their "SHARE' by any means necessary.

Am I not being too lenient towards criminal? Far from it, the main problem I see is that there is too much condemnation, and far too little understanding. How many of us have tried to look at things from the point of view of those we branded criminals? What are crimes except infringements against laws of societies. What are laws except rules enacted by those in power to govern societies? Laws are not independent agents. If the truth be told, we will all agree (as someone as aptly pointed out) that laws are enacted to protect the INTEREST of those who have power to enact them. No more no less. Everything else is mere cosmetics. Those who shout LAW and ORDER the loudest are, invariably, those who stand to gain the most from it.

We can see in societies we today consider modern the heavy frown upon crimes against properties - the propertied class are enacting the laws to protect, (what else?), their properties. In these societies, the weak are left with no protection. They are poor, weak and defenseless. No account of them is taken when laws are made. The power that-be are aware that there is nothing they can do. And if THEY DARE do something, enough instruments of violence are in place to keep them in place. What else are the functions of the police, the courts and the prisons?

Violence does not come only in physical form: Economic and Social deprivations are also forms of violence, even if they are not so considered by our law-makers. In all these societies we called civilized, large proportion of the weak and the poor are so violated and societies have ceased to care. Begging, hunger, deprivations are no longer consider a shame, they are not even looked upon as source of embarrassment - just unfortunate. The poor must suffer so that the rich could live a life of indolent and opulence.

What right has a society which has sent me packing from my job to ask me that I be honest? Why should I listen to the preachment of a society which cared not whether or not I wear tatters as raiment? Has the society which does not feed me not forfeited its rights to my moral responsibilities. By what rights do a society that cares little for its citizens justify its claims to their upholding its moral laws?

Should honesty be my [best] policy in a society where the propertied class are visibly living beyond their honest means? I know that there are hard-working men and women who deserve the good lives. I begrudged them not. The measure of high civilization, I repeat, is how it treats its weak. No hard working man or woman should be entitled to what a million people cannot command. Honesty cannot be the best policy in a society where a man counts his worth in billions of cedis while millions cannot boast of a single pesewa! A society that makes it possible for some members to dwell in mansions, while millions wallow in hovels has no claim to moral responsibilities.

There certainly should be minds tempted to argue that there are not enough to go around: To them I say that, I see no problem of resources, I see only problem of resource-allocation. There has never been enough to go around and perhaps and there probably will never be. In the ancient society which I sketched above, there was sharing and caring, commodities that are lacking in our modern world. I see not the lack of resources, but the greed and avarice of man.

If only because of the circumstances of my birth, I am denied the instruments to develop my full potential. I am turned into a brute instead of a full Man, should I pile insult upon my injury by blaming myself? I think not. Any society that expected me to respect its laws and morality, should treat me like a decent member. That is the civic bargain. A society that break the accord, should not wince when I fail to respect my part of the damaged bargain. After all we so not expect swines to obey our laws on Morality? Why should we expect those we cast away to do so?

A lot of minds will undoubtedly, be distressed by all these. I only urge that we pause to consider the lots of our UNFORTUNATE members of our society. Those of us on whom society have showered with more than our fair share of the bounty, should try and consider what life looks (even if we cannot imagine how it feels) like on the other side. As we step outside our walled-mansions, into our air-conditioned Pajeros to the comfy environs of our offices, we might close our eyes to the sufferings around us, but we should not close our CONSCIENCE. A dead conscience it is that is not moved by the sufferings around it. Every cast-away member of our society is a potential success. Every Man is a potential success. Circumstances alone, determines the course. Nature endows everyman with the potentials to succeed, how the potentials are nurtured makes all the difference.

Am I not too lenient towards the thieves and the Armed Robbers? Would I hold the same opinion if I had been a victim of armed robbery? These are potent questions that I do not hasten to dismiss glibly.

Shall we not ask: Does a Man steal what he does not need? - Here I am recognizing the difference between a NEED and a WANT. I am tempted to answer in the negative, for the sole reason that a man who goes to the length of stealing what he does not need suffers from a mental disorder. To those who say that some men are pathological kleptomaniac, I say pathology is a disease that deserves our understanding/cure, and not our condemnation/denunciation. As a society, we should look after our afflicted. If a member of our family/society is so moved by pathology in the direction of stealing, violence, pyromania, they should be cured. I valued my property and will be moved to protect it, but I am not blind to the fact that failure to look after those in distress MAY get me in a difficult position. An unmoved conscience is a dead conscience.

That the propertied-class look after itself can be seen from the way it ensures the crimes committed against it. Crimes committed by this class are termed `white- collar,' and lightly penalized. Thus we have men embezzling millions of dollars and going to jail for two years, if at all. A man who steals yam and a chicken to feed his starving family will draw ten years in hard labour.

Violence begot violence. A society that continually violates the weak is asking for trouble. A society that allows its children go hungry, without proper raiment, without education, without the means to grow into men is begging for trouble. Since we do not ask brutes to become Good citizens, we cannot ask those whom we neglected to be part of our good family.

PS: This article was partly inspired by the execution in Nigeria of 43 armed robbers on July 20 1995. Their bodies were disposed of in a waste Disposal van. Society considered them a waste and treated them as such. Sad that lives could be so wantonly wasted by a tyrannical government that stole its way into power and maintain its illegitimate rule by sheer violence. Among, those in the corridor of power in Nigeria today is the treasury-looter - Umaru Dikko!

Friday, February 4, 2011

On Slavery

Very often, the embalmers of Western history have tried to gloss over the sordid trade in African slaves by Europeans, for over four century, by putting up the argument that lot of Africans also made a fortune in the dealings. From these 'mythorians' we often hear the stories that slavery was rampant in Africa long before the Europeans came along. Not only is slavery been argued away, the colonial oppression of Africa is also been massaged to make it appear less cruel. We are told that the colonies also enjoyed the fruits of colonization. Christianity and Western-styled education are often cited as the 'benefits' Africans derived from colonialism. These apologists then asked why must it be that all the opprobriums are directed against Europeans alone?

Even more unfortunate is the fact that some Africans, especially those in the diaspora, have bought into these pseudo-arguments.

In this essay I shall try to put slavery in proper historical perspectives, and show how the chattel slavery introduced by capitalism differs from all other forms of slavery.

To those who said Africans benefitted from slavery and colonialism, one can argue, with the same [twisted] logic, that the countries conquered by Nazis also enjoyed the fruits of Nazism. We can say that Holland, which was conquered and oppressed by German Nazis, also benefitted from their forced oppression. We can argue that the French, the Belgian, and the Dutch people who were forced into labor camps also benefitted! This manner of thinking is, of course, simply outrageous.

As any student of history knows, it was not only in Africa that slavery was rampant in ancient times. The Hebrew, Greek, Roman history tells of slavery. Watching slaves butchered each other was a sport enjoyed by the decadent rulers of the Roman Empire. The institution of slavery got mentioned several times in the Christian Bible: 'Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession.' (Leviticus, 25, 44-46). 'If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh year he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.' (Exodus XXI, 2-6). These are just two of the examples of the Hebrew god's opinion of slavery. The quotations are from the Christian bible.

The Jews, like many other people, have been enslaved several times. But does the fact that they have been oppressed several times in the past lessen the enormity of the Nazi Holocaust? We should be careful.

In middle-age Europe almost everyone was a serf. And it is often conveniently forgotten, by Western mythorians, that two out of every three Europeans that migrated to the New World was a serf - until Africans were introduced as slaves.

The Atlantic slave-trade was different from all these earlier slavery in several respects. Most enormously important is that it was the first form of slavery that was solely motivated by commercial incentives. In earlier times slaves were used as domestic workers and soldiers, since there were no plantations or industrial factories where millions of slave-labor was needed. The African slave-trade was a capitalist invention. Readers are directed to 'Slavery and Capitalism' by Eric Williams.

It was the large-scale capitalist mode of production which required cheap labors that induced the slave trade. It was the Industrial Revolution in Europe that made it necessary to traffic in human lives on a colossal scale.

Slaves in earlier times enjoyed social and individual rights - like marriage, freedom to raise a family, speak their language and worship their gods, rights which were denied the African slaves exported to the Americas. Africans captured and taken into the new world were stripped of all their personality and humanity. They could neither bear their own names nor speak their native languages.

It was capitalism that introduced chattel-slavery. In the welter of philosophical arguments for and against the slave trade, the one cogent and inescapable argument in favor of it is easily hidden: in spite of its risks, illegality, and blighted social status, slave trading was enormously profitable. Despite the popular assertion that free labor was cheaper, the price of slaves continued to go up and to compensate for the risks of the trade. - The Slaver's Log Book', original manuscript by Captain Theophilus Conneau, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1976, p. iv.

In older times, slaves were not regarded as properties of their masters; manumission was possible and occurred frequently. Since slaves in those days were generally captured soldiers, they're treated humanely, because the possibility always existed that a military or spiritual giant could arise from their tribe and turn the tide in their favor. Moses was such a figure. We read about the account of his leading the Hebrews out of Egypt in the Christian Bible. These are some of the qualitative differences, between the Atlantic slavery and earlier forms of slavery. They are important differences which the European ideologists, masquerading as scientists and historians, want to gloss over.

Slaves became profitable after the discovery of the New World had established a seemingly insatiable demand for workers on the plantations. Slavery was not new to Africa, but it had existed primarily in its domestic form-involving rights as well as duties. In Bornu the kings sent slaves to govern their provinces and Hausa kings also often ruled through slaves. In Yorubaland, slaves of the ALAFIN often attain great power. It was the Europeans who turned slavery into an industry and introduced such well- documented barbarities as the rigors of the 'middle passage' (across the Atlantic). Walter Schwarz, 'Nigeria', Pall Mall Press. p.69).

People have asked why Africans themselves engaged in the slave trade. Given the function of slavery in African societies, the origin of their participation is not too difficult to understand.

First and foremost, slavery was not confused with the notion of superiority and inferiority, a notion later invoked as justification for black slavery in America. On the contrary, it was not at all uncommon for African owners to adopt slave children or to marry slave women, who then became full members of the family. Slaves of talent accumulated property and in some instances reached the status of kings; Jaja of Opobo (in Nigeria) is a case in point. Lacking contact with American slavery, African traders could be expected to assume that the lives of slaves overseas would be just as they were in Africa; they had no way of knowing that whites in America associated dark colors with sub-human qualities and status, or that they would treat slaves as chattels generation after generation. When Nigeria's Madame Tinubu, herself a slave-trader, discovered the difference between domestic and non-African slavery, she became an abolitionist, actively rejecting what she saw as the corruption of African slavery by the unjust and inhumane habits of its foreign practitioners and by the motivation to make war for profit on the sale of captives.

What these imperialist mythorians are striving to achieve is a situation whereby Black people will continue to blame themselves for all the enormous crimes visited on them by the white people. While African chiefs who got corrupted and sold their folks are bandied about with glee, no mention is made of many great African Kings and Queens who died fighting the slave-raids. Mani-Congo, the ruler of a Congo state wrote king John III of Portugal entreating that, “... we need from your kingdom no other than priests and people to teach in schools, and no other goods but wine and flour for the holy sacrament: that is why we beg of Your Highness to help and assist us in this matter, commanding the factors that they should send here neither mercenaries nor wares, because it is our will that in these kingdoms, there should not be any trade in slaves or markets for slaves.”

Slavery in Africa was punishment; as even a barbarian like Conneau recognized, “... it was meted out to violators of serious tabus, to criminals, and especially to enemies captured in war. Muslims in particular used slavery in lieu of death sentence. Bondage instead of death was the punishment for truly heinous offenses, as well as a solution to the problem of getting rid of one's captured enemies...” Conneau, op. cit. p.viii.

Language, they say, defines those that use it. The fact that slavery in Africa does not have all the negative connotations and brutalities associated with the chattel slavery could be seen from the Yorubas who have the same word 'ERU' for both slaves and prisoners of war. To them both are unfortunate victims of wars.

They are kept to serve terms and there are strict rules on how they should be treated. They are never engaged in plantations (there were none) with their mouths padlocked, they are not chained like cattle in pens. We should not even talked about the amoral breeding of human beings like cattle or the incestuous rape the slavers carried on their own children – an abomination in its own right!

And whereas Africans who participated in slavery had been well- documented, those who fought tenaciously against it remain unsung. Let's contrast this with the interpretation given to Europeans slave-drivers. Every West African student know the name of William Wilberforce - the 'Great Abolitionist,' the role of Queen Victoria and other European Royalties and 'Noblemen' who built their wealth on African slaves remain relatively unknown. How many Americans, not to mention Africans, know that the 'Great Libertarian,' Thomas Jefferson, was a slave-owner, or that the 'great Emancipator,' Abe Lincoln himself once sold a slave for a bottle of molasses?

It is natural for the guilty to look for parallels, so as to diminish the enormity of his crime, so it is with the Europeans. They are busy collecting bogus historical and anthropological findings and presenting same as historical fact to lessen their culpability in the greatest crime ever committed against a people, in the history of the world. Their assault on history should not be allowed to go unanswered.

I do not write this to exonerate the African chiefs who sold slaves to the Europeans. The fact we all have to bear in mind is that the Europeans never launched a direct, frontal attack on Africa. In all the places they conquered, they first divided the people by looking for a Judas among them. With the promise of material benefits, such Judas' are always the instrument used to destroy their own societies. For those who would like to know more about this, I strongly recommend 'THE DESTRUCTION OF BLACK CIVILIZATION', by Chancellor Williams - published by Third World Press. We can still see this trend continuing today in Africa. In Angola they used Savimbi to destroy his fatherland until he outlived his usefulness.

We should excuse our fathers if they appeared to have been swindled by the Europeans. Many of us, especially the immigrants from Africa, are also victims of Euro-American propaganda. We were swayed by the images of a paradisiacal Europe where streets are paved with gold and every white man is a god. We believed the smiling missionaries who told us tales about European hearts being filled with brotherly love and compassion. How many of us would have believed that we are going to a society where human beings are only as important as their bank accounts? How many of us would have believed that in the European paradise, there are jobless, homeless, copeless and hopeless people? How many of us would have believed that Cecil Rhodes was not a philantropist but a pirate? How many of us would have believed that in Euro-America exist homophobes, parading the streets with lynching intentions? How many of us would have believed that Europeans, after all, are capable of lying?

I shall end this piece with the following quotation: “When someone removes the cataracts of whiteness from our eyes, and when we look with unclouded vision on the bloody shadows of the American past, we will recognize for the first time that the Afro-American, who was so often second in freedom, was also second in slavery.

Indeed, it will be revealed that the Afro-American was third in slavery. For he inherited his chains, in a manner of speaking, from the pioneer bondsmen, who were red and white.

The story of this succession, of how the red bondsmen and of how white men created a system of white servitude which lasted in America for more than two hundred years, the story of how this system was created and why, of how white men and white women and white children were brought and sold like cattle and transported across the seas in foul 'slave' ships, the story of how all this happened, of how the white planter reduced white people to temporary and lifetime servitude before stretching out his hands to Ethiopia, has never been told before in all its dimensions. As a matter of fact, the traditional embalmers of American experience seem to find servitude enormously embarrassing, and prefer to dwell at length on black bondage in America. But this maneuver distorts both black bondage and the American experience. ...In the first place, white bondage lasted for more than two centuries and involved a majority of the white immigrants to the American colonies. It has been estimated that at least two out of every three white colonists worked for a term of years in the fields or kitchens as semi-slaves. A second point of immense importance in this whole equation is the fact that white servitude was the historical foundation upon which the system of black slavery was conducted.

In other words, white servitude was the historic proving ground for the mechanisms of control and subordination used in Afro-American slavery. The plantation pass, the fugitive slave law, the use of the overseer and the house servant and the Uncle Tom, the forced separation of parents and children on the auction block and the sexual exploitation of servant women, the whipping post, the slave chains, the branding iron; all these mechanism were tried out and perfected first on white men and white women. Masters also developed a theory of internal white racism and used the traditional Sambo and minstrel stereotypes to characterize white servants who were said to be good natured and faithful but biologically inferior and subject to laziness, immorality, and crime. And all of this would seem to suggest that nothing substantial can be said about the mechanisms of black bondage in America except against the background and within the perspective of the system of white bondage in America.” - Lerone Bennet, quoted by John Henrik Clarke in Introduction to 'World's Great Men of Color', Collier Books.

Wise saying:

" Never use both feet to test the depth of the sea." - African proverb