I’ve been digging in the 37 corners of my mind for a nicer, more diplomatic way to make this confession. So far, I’ve come up terribly short so I’d just say it as it is. Are you ready? Here goes: I am terribly ashamed to call myself a Ghanaian. At airport terminals, I cringe when I have to take out my passport. It is a terrible feeling and I wish there was just one great thing I could take pride in my Ghanaian-ness, and, thereby, wash away the shame of my nationality. But, frankly, there is none.
I know majority of Ghanaians don’t feel the way I do. The average Ghanaian would scream to the high heavens that he’s proud of his nation. How do I know?
I conducted a highly unscientific poll a few years ago after President John Kufuor named a minister of Information and National Orientation, with a mandate to make Ghanaians feel proud of themselves, their nation and its (thieving) leaders. The whole project seemed to me like an idea that was too blatantly socialist that even Fidel Castro would need more than a heavy dose of encouragement to pick it up. So, on radio and on the streets, I asked people, first, whether they were proud to be Ghanaians, and, if so, what made them so proud. I got a lot of people thumping their chests to the point that I sometimes felt they risked fracturing their ribs and sternums all in an effort to proclaim pride in their nation.
On the second question (what made them so proud), however, I saw people scratching their heads, slapping their foreheads and tugging on their beards as they tried to build a basis for their nationalistic pride. At least one man reached down ‘there’ to adjust his crotch. In all cases, I waited patiently. When the people I spoke to eventually came up with answers to the second question, they mentioned monumental characteristics like “peace”, “our hospitality”, “football”, “Kofi Annan”, “Ghana is the first country south of the Sahara to gain independence”, “we are one of the world’s leading producers of cocoa” and “God has blessed us so much”.
Clearly, none of those responses convinced me. Thus I am still desperately searching for a reason to be a proud Ghanaian. I will bet my last pesewa that I am not alone in this search and if push comes to shove, I can point to one person who may not necessarily share in my shame, but is very much aware that Ghana is retrogressing. Nana Awere Damoah is more diplomatic, and thinks deeper than I do so he expresses his ‘shame’ by saying that Ghanaians live under a “delusion that we are doing well”. In other words, Ghana has not lived up to its potential, yet most of its citizens seem content with the sorry state of the nation.
Damoah is a chemical engineer and writer who is fast establishing himself as one of Ghana’s preeminent thought leaders. In previous publications, Damoah has eloquently expressed his thoughts on issues ranging from politics to Christian living. His latest instalment, however, is more focussed on a subject that is as dear to his heart as it is to mine – the land of our birth.
In I Speak of Ghana, Damoah offers an insightful diagnosis of the ills that make Ghanaians scratch their heads when asked about the things that make them proud of their nation – corruption, apathy, short-sighted leadership, poor planning, petty mindedness, unidirectional thinking (that is on the few occasions that thinking does occur), lack of toilet facilities and even hope. Yes, in Ghana, hope is a big problem that hinders the resolution of larger, everyday problems. “No development is going on in this country”, Damoah writes. Yet, instead of working hard and planning for development, Ghanaians and their leaders seem to be heavily sedated on hope – the hope that things would somehow get better on their own. But as Damoah points out, “hope is not a strategy”.
I Speak of Ghana is largely a collection of essays, some of which detail Damoah’s patriotism and his desire to see Ghana (and Africa at large) move to a place where every citizen of the land can justifiably thump his chest in pride. Getting there would entail most Ghanaians committing themselves to an activity a large segment of the citizenry currently shy away from. “Many of us don’t spend quality time thinking,” Damoah asserts. “But if we are to be rich and prosperous…the quality and quantity of [our] thoughts matter.”
In I Speak of Ghana, Nana Awere Damoah is offering Ghanaians a portrait of their nation, a portrait, which, unfortunately, is not the least flattering. Yet, even the most proud Ghanaian who wouldn’t like to see the nation’s dirty linen displayed so openly in a book would also realize that Damoah’s aim is not to shame the nation, but to encourage its citizens to start thinking critically about building a better nation, if not for ourselves today, for future generations. At the very least, we must start thinking of laying the foundations for them to build on. Otherwise, not only would they also struggle for reasons to be proud of their forebears, but they would look back on us with utter shame and contempt, wondering what the heck we spent our lives doing.
Ato Kwamena Dadzie is a journalist and author of Pretending to be President.