Opinion Can we still blame colonialism for Ghana's underdevelopment

How long had it been, she asked, since the colonialists packed their wares and hightailed it out of Ghana? And for how long were Ghanaians going to blame their failures on the colonialism?

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Accra Independence Square play

Accra Independence Square

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Last week, a friend and I were engaged in a conversation about Ghana’s underdevelopment. We spoke about the nation’s particularly poor institutions- her educational system, health care systems and rising levels of unemployment.

It is no news that most of the public institutions in Ghana do not work as they ought. A good example of such an institution is Ghana’s Passport office. Unless you are ready to pay a bribe, your passport application will not yield result any sooner than 7months.

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The menace of ineffectual institutions is not only with the Passport office; talk about the NHIS, ECG, the Police Service etc.

The causes of Ghana’s tottering economic growth are numerous. My finger was pointed, first of all, at colonialism. My friend however, disagreed. She said that the ‘rhetoric’ (that’s the exact word she used) of colonialism and its impact on Ghana’s current development holds no power in contemporary times.

How long had it been, she asked, since the colonialists packed their wares and hightailed it out of Ghana? And for how long were Ghanaians going to blame their failures on the colonialism?

I had a simple answer for her. It has been almost six decades, yes. But that did not negate the impacts colonialism continues to have on Ghana’s development.  When some Ghanaians say that colonialism still has impacts on the nation’s development, they are not ignoring the part that corruption, greed, bad economic choices, poor leadership and apathy play in retarding development.

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What such people are saying however is that, colonialism is an undeniable and significant starting point for understanding Ghana’s development crisis. The conversation of the present day effects of colonialism on Ghanaian development is still important because several decades after colonialism, the seeds that were sown during colonialism still live on. 

The first of such seeds is Ghana’s position in current global political structure. This structure is dominated by countries that benefited immensely from moulding the productive capacity of other nations, such as Ghana, to suit their development.

Another example of such a seed is how education is viewed in Ghana. During the colonial era, education served as a tool for civilizing the native, so that he/she would become a perfect gentleman/lady.  The educated Gold Coaster was neatly dressed, had a good command over the English language, and showcased a wholesale acceptance of English niceties. 

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Fast forward to 2016, and the one of the measures of an educated Ghanaian is how well he/she speaks the English language.

Little is expected of how useful his/her education is to uplifting his/her fellow countrymen from poverty. What is important is that he speaks English almost as well as English people, and travels every now and then to America or the United Kingdom.  How can we not talk about colonialism when He can’t even speak English is an insult in 2016.

One other reason why we cannot sweep the effects of colonialism on national development under the rug is because its psychological effects still linger on. In our minds, we believe that everything European or American is noble; it is the reason we adopt ideologies that are unsuited to the Ghanaian context.

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It is also the reason something called ‘the black man mentality’ exists in the first place. The ‘black mentality’ is the explanation most of us Ghanaians give for why we are underdeveloped.   For example when a politician embezzles funds, we blame it on the “black mentality”. Someone shoots down his neighbour, it is black mentality.

“These things don’t happen in Europe” we say. We believe that Americans prosper because they are smarter than we are, more sympathetic and generally better in every way. What we do not realise is that thus thing we call “black mentality” is in fact the vision Europeans had about the African; that the African was greedy, and selfish and lazy. 

If we do not have a conversation about colonialism, we will not be able to come to the root of this self-hatred. We will accept the narrative that something is inherently wrong with Ghanaians.  We will excuse the corruption of our leaders, by blaming it on the “the Blackman’s mentality”.

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So we will have the conversation about how the effects of colonialism still hang around our neck today. It does not mean we are just going to moan about how the British did us wrong. Neither is it from reality; it does not mean we plan to absolve ourselves of the consequences of our collective apathy and selfishness.

 It is, however, realizing that we need to be aware of our disadvantaged position in the global political structure. Consider this analogy: Ghana as a former colonized state is like a limping athlete amongst able-bodied athletes at the Olympics. Recognising that she limps, like recognising that colonialism robbed her of her productivity and self-worth, determines her game plan.

By Dede Williams

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