On November 27, 2013, the Prime Minister of Latvia, Valdis Dombrovskis, resigned because the roof of a supermarket collapsed killing 54 people. He said he took political and moral responsibility. That, to me, was “culture” in action: his action reflected the society’s norm.
Same way, in Germany, it was not unusual that Christian Wulff, the President, was investigated in 2012 because his friend was alleged to have paid for his hotel room and his food while on vacation. Accused of favouritism and unethical behaviour, he resigned.
Angela Merkel, the Chancellor and fellow conservative (party member) said :“it was a strength of the country that the law applied to all equally, no matter what their position”. That’s culture.
Will this happen in Ghana? Kweku Sakyi Addo, in his speech to students of Ashesi University, summed it up this way: “In our country, no one takes responsibility for anything. And so we plunder to the accompaniment of brass-bands, and pay the victims to dance.”
That is our culture. Kweku’s prognosis is that Ghanaians have “lost our sense of outrage.” His words are true. What he should have said or emphasised is that we have lost our culture – that which identified our humanity and African identity.
I don’t intend to be “book-long” but, I am addressing the issue of the changing cultures of the Ghanaian society and, to make sense, I need to make references to certain established thinkers on the concept of culture.
The concept of culture has acquired several definitions. Over and above the Social Class definition that sees culture as the refined habits and courtesies of the upper class; the Artefact definition that looks at ‘Material Culture’ - in reference to human creations such as tools, hypodermic syringe, the bomb etc; the Cognitive definition that restricts culture to ideas, beliefs, and knowledge, the most frequently quoted is the definition of Edward Tylor, founder of cultural anthropology, to whom culture is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”
For the purpose of my piece this week, I cannot go without reference to Franz Fanon, the Afro-Caribbean philosopher, known to many of us for his seminal work, ‘The Wretched of the Earth’. He says culture “is not a pre-determined model offered by the past: it is not a state of being, but a state of becoming”.
Among Africans, one of the most respected opinions on culture is espoused by Professor Kwame Gyekye who says that “no human culture is absolutely unchanging” and that cultures take advantage of possible benefits that often accompany encounters” with other people.
One of the most recent opinions on culture belongs to Nana Kobina Nketsia V, the University of Cape Coast History lecturer, better known to us as the Omanhen of Essikado. His book, ‘AFRICAN CULTURE IN GOVERNANCE AND DEVELOPMENT: THE GHANA PARADIGM’, is set to become seminal.
My thesis is that the Ghanaian is changing – for the worse. We have added on and are acquiring a new culture: The culture of excessive love of money. To maintain this culture, Ghanaians have utterly lost all sense of shame. We are no longer restrained by what William Shakespeare, in his play, MACBETH, described as “compunctious visitings of nature.”
How else do we describe our society when, for the love of money, nothing stops us from using formalin, the chemical used to stop dead bodies from rotting, to preserve “koobi” (dried tilapia), a cancer-causing agent when consumed?
For two weeks after the disclosure by Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, the sale of ‘koobi’ slumped, an indication that the product was facing a boycott. Typical of the Ghanaian culture, however, we are back to our koobi days. Nobody felt responsible to tell us what measures were in place to protect society from the greed of the few traders, or even how to recognise a formalin-preserved koobi.
It is this cynical pursuit of riches without shame or restraint that led Ghanaian vegetable growers to adopt those farming habits upon whose discovery vegetable imports from Ghana were banned from Europe.
Why are itinerant honey sellers now having to shout “Pure Honey”? It is because it is open secret that there is a lot of honey on the market that is nothing but fried sugar!
Civil/public servants reporting late to office; nay, (Vice) Presidents and Ministers of State being late to public functions has long become embedded in Ghanaian culture.
The latest habit that threatens to become culture is the pursuit of greed that leads Ghanaians to decide to go into full-time Christian ministry. It is not the first time they are requiring us to queue to see the prophet: they now charge a fee for consultation.
In pursuit of fame or money, people are now posing naked on the Internet; our artists now strip to their birthday suit on stage. In Ghana!
Surely that which we define as Ghanaian culture has changed. We are so dirty, dirt is nice. We are so greedy, we cannot tell which among us are the “bastards”.
I will not stop saying this: even an Senior High School(SHS) student can be President if all a President does is to build schools and clinics. We are losing our humanity.