Business in Ghana

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How To Reclaim a Dream Deferred

Posted by Business in Ghana on August 18, 2014

Of course the title of this article borrows without shame from the famous poem by the great African-American poet, Langston Hughes. The poem is titled “Harlem” although it is known to most people by its opening line: What happens to a dream deferred? Here is the poem in full:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

 

In this short poem Langston Hughes asked a question about the dreams of Harlem, the famous Black neighbourhood in New York City borough of Manhattan often regarded as the African-American capital of the USA. In the 1920 and 30s there was a cultural and artistic reawakening of the Black people in American which had its epicenter in Harlem. It was known as the Harlem Renaissance. By the end of the Second World War, the promise of the Harlem Renaissance was beginning to wane, which led Langston Hughes to ask his famous question, “What happens to a dream differed?”

Ghana too had a dream once. Towards the end of British colonialism in Africa, the British described Ghana as a model colony, and in spite of their suspicion about Dr. Nkrumah’s subservience to Britain’s imperial cause, proceeded to grant us independence. As the first black sub-Saharan country to gain independence, Ghana’s dream radiated throughout the continent. Our dream was also rendered in poetic language if not in canto and verse

“And across the parapet I to see the vision of African Unity and independence her body besmeared with the blood of her sons and daughters in their struggle to set her free from the shackles of imperialism. And I can see and hear springing up cities of Ghana, becoming the metropolis of science, learning, scientific agriculture industry and philosophy..”

Ghana was the centre of a brief African renaissance in the late 1950 and early 1960s. Everyone who was somebody in the African world and its diaspora came calling. It was not only the heads of state and governments but sports and arts icons, religious leaders, and ordinary folk. A young man called John Wekesa walked from Kenya to Ghana just to be part of the African Renaissance being ignited from Ghana; another young man came from a country then known as Rhodesia to breathe in the air of anti-imperialist freedom. His name was, and still is, Robert Mugabe.

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it explode…? That dream has been as dead as a doornail, to quote Charles Dickens, for many decades now, but it appears that in refusing to give it a final burial, perhaps the time has come to seek its resurrection. Ghana still has what it takes to dream that dream and live it. We have far better and more educated people in Ghana today than we have ever done, but why are we marching backwards?

Does it dry up… like a raisin in the sun? A country as blessed as we are with everything we need still prays for what we have, to quote my church minister. Yes, we pray to God to provide what we already have. The final indignity is that we import onions, tomatoes and carrots, I mean carrots from Holland. You cannot beat that.

Why have things come to this pass? It has been a long time coming, but in its current incarnation our national distress has just one name. It is called politics. In my very humble view, the difficulties Ghana is going through are more political in origin than economic. The effects are felt in the pocket but they originate from what appears to be a paralysis in the collective decision making process.

In a democracy, despite the fact that the executive arm of government is controlled by one party or a coalition of parties, decision making is expected to be broader than that. This is why there is an elaborate system of committees in Parliament and why power has been devolved, albeit on paper mostly, to the lower levels of government. In this sense, opposition parties, civil society, the media and the state together have the responsibility to make and implement policy. This is the body politic, which is a metaphor for understanding the idea that “we are all part of the government”; when any part of it malfunctions for any reason the whole body suffers.

Ironically, in Ghana it is politics itself that is standing in the way of the healthy functioning of the body politic. Politics is a strange beast. Human society cannot live without it insofar as our lives involve options and choices. Politics comes in the form of the contestation for power to persuade or compel us to make those choices. In that sense politics is necessary for the survival of the human race. However, unless politics is informed or even directed by “higher” pursuits it becomes a mere agent of the establishment of the “state of nature” in which life, as described by the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

What happens to a dream deferred; does it stink like rotten meat? Our politics does not smell nice at the moment. It is all geared up for the grabbing of power and not much besides. Do not get me wrong; we have people of high intellect and integrity in politics but the political process and system is such that their personal attributes notwithstanding, they have to play the game according to its twisted rules and logic.

Let us explain it like this. Ghana’s political class, that is, politicians, their media allies and business cronies, are always in election mode. They start fighting the next election even before the ink dries on the pink sheets of the last elections. Thus, we have been in election mode since December 2012 fighting for power in 2016. Nothing else matters; it is power in 2016 or bust! One might ask the intelligent question, is that not what politicians do; is that not what they live for? True, eternal politicking is their calling, but there has to be purpose for which they do it. 

That purpose has to be to reclaim the deferred dream and dream some more for the coming generations. Today, unfortunately, caught between the money-grabbing imperatives at the individual level and the mundane struggles of the nation to sate its unfulfilled appetites, there is no dream. When was the last time you heard an optimistic speech by anybody in government and believed it? The rhetoric runs dry and sounds hollow because it is denuded of the reality of dreams – that elusive quality of things to come known as hope in the secular world but usually described as faith in the language of religion.

As the psalmist asks in Psalm 121, “I lift up my eyes unto the Hills; from whence comes my help? There may be different religious ideas of where that may come from but in our secular state of Ghana, we have to pull those ideas together into a dream of hope. We cannot do that as presently constituted and set up. We need to reclaim the dream deferred. I do not think that our present Constitution or politics can support that job of reclamation. In the coming weeks, we will explore and share some ideas on this reclamation job.

What happens to a dream deferred; maybe it just sags, like a heavy load and EXPLODE?

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