In its editorial of last Tuesday, the Daily Graphic had this to say in its third paragraph: Ghanaians, by nature and orientation, are a God-fearing people who imbibe and live by the sacred commandments of the Almighty God to be peace-loving and cherish peaceful co-existence in their respective communities.
I read that editorial three times then looked at myself and wondered is this referring to us Ghanaians? My next thought was that there must be a typing error, but my fourth reading convinced me that this is what the writer wanted to write and this sentiment has been expressed in earnest. To be fair to the Graphic, perhaps the editorial is expressing an opinion about the private aspirations of Ghanaians rather than a reference to our public character, but then what is important is how people behave towards one another, and on that score, I do not believe that Ghanaians are God-fearing at all.
I may be wrong, of course, and I am sure that many people, including you, my dear reader, may have a different opinion, so to test it I have devised a little game for us to play. I am going to provide a list of different professions and occupations and you can award marks for how God-fearing each group is perceived to be. Give ten for the most God-fearing and one for the least. Here is the first list: politicians, nurses, journalists, lawyers, doctors, carpenters, traders, footballers, pastors (including bishops, archbishops, prophets, overseers and church owners), drivers (including tro-tro mates).
Did you spot any massively obvious God-fearers in that list? Here is a second list: teachers, nurses, policemen/women, Members of Parliament, tailors and dressmakers, barbers, traditional rulers, soldiers, judges, university lecturers, house builders, contractors, farmers, plumbers, secondhand clothes dealers, football referees, herbalists, juju-men, civil servants (PLEASE SUPPLY OTHERS). Perhaps, you had better luck with this lot?
The above lists includes almost the entire gamut of occupations in which Ghanaians are engaged and I wonder if there is any one profession or occupation on that list that you rate high on the God-fearing index. Perhaps, you have a more sanguine disposition towards us as Ghanaians but my experience has led me to conclude that there is not a single one of the above group of people that you can confidently deal with on the grounds of a positive rating. This is not to say that there is not a single honest trader or plumber in this country, but your gut reaction on engaging a plumber or buying from a market trader is to be wary because they will take advantage of you if they can.
If you feel that judging by professions and occupations is an unfair method let us use scenarios. I will provide ten common scenes or scenarios and work out whether we are God-fearing or not in that particular context. For example, at the market: would you say that Ghanaians exhibit a high sense of God-fearing at the market? You can award marks out of ten to reflect the degree of such God-fearing we show at the market. So, here we go: at the restaurant or chop bar, driving, fetching water, observing public sanitation, relations with spouses or sexual partners, in church or place of worship, watching sports, taking exams, at work.
I do not believe that any one of us can say with any degree of honesty that as a people we exhibit serious God-fearing qualities in any of the above scenarios. Let us select a few of these scenarios randomly to test my point. Take how we drive and behave in traffic, which I see as a metaphor for our entire Ghanaian existence and how we behave towards one another. The other day I saw a taxi with many pious inscriptions plastered all over it, which showed that at the very least the driver believed that the Lord was his Shepherd, but this driver did not behave at all like God’s sheep in any shape or form. He was more like the devil’s wolf cutting in front of people and changing lanes without any indication and so on. I couldn’t help but tell him after I drew level that he was taking the name of the Lord in vain.
Most of us are like that driver; we may spew the pieties we learnt at school which have been reinforced at church, mosque or other places of worship over the years but these have no effect on how we live our public lives. In traffic we forget all the manners our grandparents taught us, (I am assuming grandparents still teach manners) and behave with maniacal abandon towards one another. Indeed, I see the road/traffic as the imagery of our nation: going nowhere fast, unkempt, and without a compass. The worst part of it is that unlike God-fearing people, we have become fatalistic in our acceptance of shabbiness as our lot, but perhaps it is this civic docility which is mistaken as peace-loving, of which more soon.
Let us take another scenario, say the market. About four years ago, I wrote an article about my experience at Makola Market, which I titled a Nation of Cheats. Makola heaves only to one motivation: cheat and cheat and cheat again. In Makola the cheating has become the raison d’etre and any peripheral motive such as getting rich evaporated long ago. The cheating just gives people kicks and they no longer regard it as cheating. It is a way of life. For example, if you are buying a small basket of tomatoes and take your eyes off the business for a micro-second the seller will stuff your bag with all the rotten ones she can find (tomato sellers are almost always women), but I don’t think this is done because she wants to be rich. Simply that she has got the better of you. She has “shown” you! Meanwhile, the majority of these cheats are church-going, tithe paying people who are singing hymns and inspirational songs in the market.
Another positive attribute mentioned in the Daily Graphic editorial is that we are peace-loving. It is true that there has been no shooting war on a national scale since independence but peace is not just the absence of war, but a certain predisposition towards preventing war by not provoking others. This is not the situation in Ghana today. There is relentless provocation of people, especially people in different political parties and despite the words we say, our actions can trigger violence at any time. Furthermore, throughout our history, we have done unspeakable things to one another in this country which is a measure of the cruelty we are capable of when the “need” arises.
There is no doubt that many, perhaps most of us believe that we are God-fearing and we may be so in our private hearts. I am also not saying that there are no good Ghanaians because that would be false. There are Ghanaians who are kind and truthful and honest, etc. but I am talking about public conduct because the kindly and generous person you know becomes a monster once he or she sits behind a driving wheel, and it is that monster and not the nice kind person that will knock down and kill a child with a speeding 4 X 4 breaking every driving rule. The civil service clerk who hides files in order to extort money from clients may sing a nice tenor in church but it is his public persona that is causing harm to the national economy.
Are we really God-fearing. Please send your experiences and opinions to the addresses below. I shall return.