Following in the family business
Now that the season of political primaries is upon us, I have been wondering if I can find some evidence to support the theory of “hereditary politics” on our country.
Is our politics going Indian? I will explain that in a bit.
A few years back, I commented on the number of second and sometimes, even third generation names I was hearing and seeing on the BBC radio and television.
Every time I hear such names, I invariably compare the young person to the older version of the name and I wonder if he/she is as good as, or better than the parent I used to know.
I have never thought it was unfair that the child of a celebrated BBC correspondent should go into a broadcasting job.
It is natural for children to follow in the footsteps of their parents in choosing the profession they enter.
Take fishing for example, it remains, by and large, passed on through parents to children, and has something definitely to do with the environment you are born and raised in and this is not peculiar to Ghana.
It is most unlikely that you would find a child in Abutia that will express a desire to go into fishing when he grows up. Chances are he has never seen the sea and might lead his whole life without ever putting his toe in the ocean.
Kente weaving in Ghana remains very much an art form that is passed on in the family.
It is very rare that somebody comes from an entirely new environment to start learning how to weave Kente.
Nobody thinks it is even noteworthy when the child of a musician takes to a musical career; it is most likely such a child would often have had a head start; there would be a piano around the home as the child begins to crawl and can move his fingers.
But when it comes to creative fields like music and art, it is probably more a matter of nature rather than nurture or atmosphere.
I have to believe that those who turn out to become great musicians and painters invariably have parents with such creative talents.
At the moment, my interest is more in children who follow their parents into professions that have nothing to do with inheriting creative talents.
It is interesting how many children of policemen make it into the police service and how many children of soldiers end up as soldiers.
I suppose if you grow up in a police or military barracks, it is not very surprising that you would end up as a police officer or as a soldier.
And nobody bats an eyelid if daddy makes a phone call or two on behalf of Junior so he is able to enter the police or the army.
This must be the reason why there is such resistance from the establishment that the recruitment base for the services is widened.
Indeed, we all take it as natural that a child would want to follow in the footsteps of one of his parents.
Lawyers and medical doctors in particular manage to get their children to follow in their professions without raising any eyebrows. Often, it is the parent that wants a child to take over the family business. It works if the family business is tailoring or running restaurants, or import-export.
In much the same way that it was considered unproblematic for a senior uniformed officer to put in a word to have a son recruited in the services, University lecturers in Ghana argue that their children should have some privileges when it comes to admissions; if the cut-off point for everybody else was aggregate 12 for example, their children would be taken with aggregate 14, 15 or even 16.
I do not know how the computer placement regimen manages it, but teachers in secondary schools make the same arguments as the university teachers and expect to often receive similar treatment. Nobody begrudges them. As the saying goes in Ghana, “it is where you work that you get advantages”.
There are some professions that no longer seem to have the inherent advantage that make them attractive to passing on to the next generation.
Top of the list would be cocoa farming and teaching.
In times past, a cocoa farmer was a synonym for a rich man.
I knew we were in trouble when cocoa farmers started telling their children and everybody else that under no circumstance would they allow their children to become farmers.
We were in even bigger trouble when teachers tried everything to ensure their children avoided becoming teachers.
Nobody needed any telling our teachers and farmers no longer believe that there are any advantages to be had in their professions and therefore do not want their children to follow them.
Which leads me to the one profession that everybody seems to think is most attractive and which set me on this train of thought, politics. And I go to the question I asked at the beginning, is our politics going Indian?
Rahul Gandhi, that scion of the legendary Gandhi family, who, until his recent problems in the courts, was a Member of Parliament and is leader of the Congress Party, captured the situation in reported remarks to a group of students.
He told the students: “My father was in politics. (And his mother). My grandmother and great-grandfather were in politics. So, it was easy for me to enter politics. This is a problem. I am a symptom of this problem.”
The British writer, Patrick French, who died recently, had spelt out the problem most vividly in his book “India: A Portrait,” with some startling statistics. According to him, one hundred per cent of the elected members in the lower house of the Indian Parliament, who are under the age of 30, are from families with a political background.
Mr French calls them “hereditary MPs.” Sixty-five per cent of members in the 31- 40 age group are hereditary MPs.
We have had a father and son as presidents, 45 years apart; a daughter of the first president has been in Parliament, some 38 years apart; a daughter of another president entered Parliament 17 years after her father left office; we had three brothers in government, we had two brothers, one as president and the other as a Minister in the government for eight years; there are about six to maybe a dozen people in Parliament with well-known political names and probably another dozen in positions outside Parliament.
I can’t see the next generation of the known names.
It looks like we have some ways to go.