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Ghanaian culture and corruption

BY: Dr Enyonam Canice Kudonoo
A cartoon character refusing financial inducement from four different sources, a value Ghanaians should uphold
A cartoon character refusing financial inducement from four different sources, a value Ghanaians should uphold

Culture refers to a learned way of life that has served a group of people such that it has been considered valid to be passed on to generations.

It emanates from tried-and-tested solutions to past problems, which have been adopted as the best ways to see, think, and feel in similar situations. It consists of approved values, beliefs, and norms that inform specific socially acceptable behaviours. Moreso, culture bestows identity on individuals.

Ghanaians have a culture based on indigenous knowledge from the wisdom of ancestors who have over time proven and tested its efficacy for ethical living and have transferred it from generation to generation. Ghanaian indigenous moral values promote human well-being and social harmony. They are expositions of Ghanaian maxims that caution against engaging in corrupt acts. They are generally known often mentioned in conversations but seldom acted upon.

This article discusses the ignored moral values of the Ghanaian culture practised in the past and some of the corrupt ones observed in modern Ghana while drawing attention to behaviours that require alteration to minimise corruption.

Corrupt acts in current culture

Generally, corruption is mainly attributed to politicians and public service officials; yet it cuts across all spheres of life and the citizenry in Ghana.

Examples abound, and include illegal mining and its destructive effects on the environment including pollution of water bodies, illegal felling of trees, allowing illegal operation of Fulani herdsmen in the country, Ghanaian criminals joining forces with those from other countries to engage in criminal acts, promiscuity becoming a way of life, blackmailing for all manner of selfish gains, building haphazardly in waterways or grabbing portions of land demarcated for roads; choking drainage facilities with waste thereby leading to flooding during the rainy season; landlords failing to provide toilet facilities for tenants yet demand several months/years of advance payment for rents; as well as building, cooking and selling very close to high tension poles regardless of the danger they pose.

Slums are created in cities with authorities looking on till there is overcrowding and then start crying foul. When authorities decide to respond by demolishing the structures, the citizenry cries out for mercy with the assertion that such actions ought to have a “human face” to it. Hawkers sell in the middle of the road of speeding vehicles with passengers in these vehicles patronising their wares. Newly built roads develop potholes within a short time due to shoddy work.

This list of corrupt acts is not exhaustive. Most importantly, the lack of enforcement of existing laws has created room for people to break them with impunity and go free. What provisions were made in the Ghanaian culture to address moral issues in the past? How can those provisions be revisited to curb corruption in Ghana?

The Ghanaian culture

In the past, people were educated on eschewing corruption using maxims and it worked very well. Kwame Gyekye gave an exposition on some moral values and their essence with emphasis on “harmonious and cooperative living – consideration for the interests of others and hence, a sense of duty to others.” Selfishness, stealing, cheating, and greed are vices that trample on others’ rights; as such, people who practised them were either punished, banished from the community, avoided, or encouraged to change.

He expressed this in the maxim: “If you trample on another’s right to seek your own, you will be disappointed in the end.” Meaning corrupt acts were never unnoticed or unpunished. On the other hand, overemphasis on rights, such as the right to liberty and freedom, the right to the pursuit of happiness among others to the neglect of responsibilities leads to corruption.

The Ghanaian culture of old was influenced by maxims that addressed issues in phenomena pertaining to human well-being and social harmony. Examples include - “if you do not allow your neighbour to have nine, you will not have ten”; “when it sticks into your neighbour’s flesh, it is as if it sticks into a piece of wood”; “one is not born with a bad “head”, rather one takes it on, on earth”; “when virtue founds a town, the town thrives and abides”; “the decline and the fall of a nation begin in its homes”; “owning only a few things is better than being a thief”, “the snail says, ‘let me be where I am, I am content with it’”; and “if one bad person is in a community, he makes slaves of all the others”.

A critical analysis of the above maxims shows how the Ghanaian culture inhibits corruption and rather pays attention to sensitivity to the needs of others. The culture depicts that no one is born corrupt but the environment (the home, and the external environment) nurtures that individual into becoming corrupt. Hence, the need to create conducive atmospheres for people with ethical behaviours to thrive. Ethical behaviour is encouraged to promote sustainable development as Ghana’s progress is dependent on the ability of families to play their roles in the good moral upbringing of their children.

When children learn to be content and maximise the resources available to them, there is great gain. They often develop into ethical leaders who transform the nation. Finally, it is important to be bold enough to expose bad people in our communities to avoid being enslaved by them.

The writer is a lecturer at Ashesi University