Tell It As It Is

I returned to a favorite theme this week on the Big Issue, CiTiFm, Saturday mornings at 9am.

I am totally convinced that the type of democracy we are running is a result of our lazy attitude towards progress in Ghana.  Confused and wayward in our thoughts and problems we conflict as we try and grapple with our traditions and modern borrowing from a British Parliamentary style, spliced on an American presidency, now more confused than other.

The great thinking days are now lost, substituted with twittering and instagramming meant to keep us more informed but which has developed into a trove trail of confusion and insta-pleasure.

Ghana must sit back and examine how we have inherited our Parliament and Presidency and just think, think about what we want and how we must govern the new day “citizen, not spectator” youth we are courting.

Just as I was thinking and talking this through on Saturday morning, I received a piece from Prince Mashela in Soweto, together with pieces from some very close friends, and I share it liberally with readers.

Prince Mashela.

“In the midst of the political confusion that has gripped our country, many people are wondering if we have come to the end of South Africa.

The answer is simple: the thing called an “end” does not exist, not in relation to a country. SA will be there long after Jacob Zuma is gone.

What Zuma has done is to make us come to the realisation that ours is just another African country, not some exceptional country on the southern tip of the African continent.

During the presidency of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, some among us used to believe that the black people of SA are better than those of other African countries.

We must all thank Zuma for revealing our true African character; that the idea of rule of law is not part of who we are, and that constitutionalism is a concept far ahead of us as a people.

How else are we to explain the thousands of people who flock to stadiums to clap hands for a president who has violated their country’s constitution? Such people have no idea of constitutionalism.

Now that we have reclaimed our place as another African country, we must reflect on and come to terms with our real character, and imagine what our future portends.

In a typical African country, ordinary people don’t expect much of politicians, because people get tired of repeated empty promises.

In a typical African country, people have no illusions about the unity of morality and governance. People know that those who have power have it for themselves and their friends and families.

The idea that the state is an instrument for people’s development is a Western concept, and has been copied by pockets of Asian countries.

Africans and their leaders don’t like to copy from the West. They are happy to remain African, and do things “the African way”.

The African way is rule by kings, chiefs and indunas in a setting of unwritten rules. Is there anyone who has seen a book of African customary laws?

The idea that a commoner can raise questions about public money spent on the residence of a king is not African. The ANC MPs who have been defending Zuma are true Africans.

Asking a ruler to be accountable is a foreign – Western – idea. In a situation where there is conflict between a ruler and laws, Africans simply change the laws to protect the ruler. This is why no single white person has called for King Dalindyebo to be released from jail.

The problem with clever blacks is that they think they live in Europe, where ideas of democracy have been refined over centuries.

What we need to do is to come back to reality, and accept that ours is a typical African country. Such a return to reality will give us a fairly good idea of what SA’s future might look like.

This country will not look like Denmark. It might look like Nigeria, where anti-corruption crusaders are an oddity.

Being an African country, ours will not look like Germany. SA might look like Kenya, where tribalism drives politics.

People must not entertain the illusion that a day is coming when SA will look like the US. Our future is more on the side of Zimbabwe, where one ruler is more powerful than the rest of the population. Even if Julius Malema were to become president, it would still be the same.

African leaders don’t like the idea of an educated populace, for clever people are difficult to govern. Mandela and Mbeki were themselves corrupted by Western education. (Admission: this columnist is also corrupted by such education.)

Zuma remains African. His mentality is in line with Boko Haram. He is suspicious of educated people; what he calls “clever blacks”. Remember that Boko Haram means “Against Western Education”.

The people who think we have come to the end of SA don’t realise that we have actually come to the beginning of a real African country, away from the Western illusions of exceptionalism. Those who are unsettled by this true African character need help. The best we can do for them is to ask them to look north of the Limpopo River, to learn more about governance in Africa.

What makes most people restless about the future of SA is that they have Western models in mind, forgetting that ours is an African country.

The idea that a president can resign simply because a court of law has delivered an adverse judgment is Western. Only the Prime Minister of Iceland does that; African rulers will never do that.

Analysed carefully, the notion of SA coming to an “end” is an expression of a Western value system – of accountability, political, morality, reason, and so on.

All these are lofty ideas of Socrates, Kant, Hegel, and so on. They are not African.

All of us must thank Jacob Zuma for introducing us to the real African Republic of South Africa, not some outpost of European values.”

And to recover from a dialogue I had with friends on social media, I would like to splice these thoughts into his thinking.

We had our deities before the missionaries came. Were we better before they came? Is there a proof that our traditional religion has improved the living standards of our people?

Is there any fact or proof of exclusivity or absolutism of any culture? Who originated or invented our culture or religion?

We call on doctors when we are sick. Has it solved all sicknesses or prevented every death?

Christianity doesn’t take away reasoning and logic. It doesn’t take away your sense of responsibility. Science doesn’t solve all problems. It is those who practice or preach Christianity who sometimes give a dark reflection of it.

And the second argument and its basis.

We should not blame Christianity for our shortcomings. Our current state of development is a human problem. What is happening in the USA and around the world are human problems as well. Developed countries have developed-problems. We also have ours irrespective of religion.

But then the other thing is culture evolves with life.  The Norse had Odin and his crew, the Greeks, Zeus and Co, the Romans, Apollo and his cabal and the list goes on and on. Culture evolves and is meant to transform and what deforms must be cut off! After all, the culture of our forefathers 400 years ago is not what those who lived 150 years thereafter professed and ’tis definitely not what we claim it to be today.

The great tragedy of the plague and the inability of the dominant Christian culture then to answer all questions forced a reawakening after that tragedy.

Ghana and most of Africa has been through tragedies worse than the plague, our cultures and belief systems have not helped.  In the interim, we have been exposed and are being exposed to all the learning under the sun and yet, we cannot have a renaissance.

We still have cops asking for divine protection, stock traders praying for a better market, political actors “bɔing pai”, and the sick going to prayer camps with medical and surgical emergencies.

We need to figure out the Ghanaian and African psyche, consciously define and shape it. Who will bell the cat? Perhaps you?

Just leave each and everyone with a few foibles to keep us unquestionably unique.

Ghana has changed.

Sydney Casely-Hayford, and Prince Mashela from the Sowetan Times