Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Poverty of Education in Ghana

There is a close affinity in Ghana between post-independence politics and the pre-independence era when the political and intellectual African elite were mobilising support from the African masses to overthrow the colonial establishment. Both have been full of promises and rosy dreams of what the future ought to be like.

Elections in Ghana these days, for example, remind one of the politics of agitation by the Nkrumahs, J. B. Danquahs and the Houphuet-Boignys in the colonial days. Equality, freedom and freedom from poverty and oppression are sonorously proclaimed these days too; and every available propaganda tool is used by parties to discredit other political parties in the bid to win the support of the voting public. But the results of these bitter campaigns have always ended the same way. As soon as any political party assumes the mantle of office, the ideas that it used to politicise the masses to propel it to power becomes a fetter on the purpose of the leadership of the party. The demands for equality and freedom from poverty, and the vitriolic criticisms launched against the oppressive economic policies of previous governments, are inevitably forgotten and equally inevitably people come to direct them at the party that has taken over the reins of power. The difficulty of the political leadership is that it wants to inherit the privileged positions of previous governments that it has unseated either in an election or a coup d'état, without implementing the progressive and radical sounding ideas which had helped it to come into power. It knows too well that its interest as the representative of the ruling class and international capital are diametrically opposed to the interest of the majority. And it cannot fundamentally transform the existing relations of production in the interest of the masses, without limiting its own access to economic surplus. The interests of the Ghanaian ruling class since independence is just the same as those of the old colonial regime; and it works with the forces of neo-colonialism and international capital to negate the consciousness of the masses, using its unlimited access to the economic surplus to attain this objective.

Ruling Class and Ruling Ideas

The national bourgeoisie and international capital have succeeded in foisting their ideas on the majority of the people largely because of their control over material production. Marx and Engels' claim that "the class which has the material means of production at its disposal has control at the same time over the mental means of production, so that generally speaking those who lack the mental means of production are subject to it" seems to describe the Ghanaian situation aptly. In no other field have the techniques of mental control been employed with such efficiency as in the educational system. Apart from being inaccessible to a majority of Ghanaians it seeks to create the myth that the current neo-colonial and capitalist direction of development are sacrosanct and inviolable. The school curriculum, especially in the social sciences, is replete with all kinds of bogus assertions seeking to justify the unjustifiable. The educational system has thus evolved essentially into a positive instrument serving neo-colonialism and the ruling class in Ghana; whilst at the same time making it difficult for the propertyless classes to understand the true nature and causes of their wretched conditions.

This is evident in the economics syllabus in educational institutions and the thinking of prominent intellectuals on the subject. They all reflect the ideas of bourgeois academicians in America and Britain. Consequently, the ideas they propagate manifest the interest of capital. Books written by Harvey, Adam Smith, Caincross and Hansen are not only important textbooks for students but reference books for teachers. The ability to regurgitate the ideas in these books in examinations qualifies one to be a graduate of economics and enhances the chances of an individual to aspire to lucrative jobs. These books are devoid of class analysis in their presentation of current economic problems, ignore imperialistic influences as factors in the underdevelopment of a country, and propagate the myth that without foreign investment economic growth and development would be hampered. The exploitative aspects of foreign and Ghanaian enterprises are either completely ignored or little discussed. The worship and devotion to free enterprise is therefore total. The impression that private investment of capital is essential for economic growth relegates labour to a secondary position in industry and prepares the minds of the people to accept the dominance of capital over labour in the process both of production and distribution. It also seeks to imprint in the minds of the recipients of education the idea that the profit motive is both essential and intrinsic to increased productivity; and the belief that free-for-all competition at the market place is the only way to realise the overall interest of society.

The alternative to the free market policy is normally presented as the state ownership of the means of production. What is not discussed or is not known is that the state ownership of the means of production, prescribed and fixed in law, does not preclude the exploitation of labour by capital. Capitalism is not only characterised by the legal form that class possession of the means of production takes. That is the superficial aspect of it. The essential aspect is the social fact that those who "possess" the means of production exploit wage labour and accumulate surplus value thus obtained as capital. The immediate post-independent West African economic situation would suffice to illustrate this point. Workers sold their labour power to various state enterprises; and the products of their labour were sold in the market place with a view to profit. The difference between the wages of the producers and the value of what they produced was used for capital accumulation and the consumption of the privileged classes. Under the guise of socialism, the state was employed by the ruling classes to appropriate economic surpluses from the masses. State ownership sought to hide the monstrosity of capitalist exploitation by confusing socialism with state property and presenting it to the producers of wealth as the best.

With the failure of the economic recovery programme staring them in the face, the ruling class has become louder in their call for "indigenisation" in recent times. Suddenly, the ghost of economic nationalism is being resurrected after it had been banished from economic planning. Conspicuously absent are those aspects and activities of enterprises that have made their operations inimical to the interest of a majority of Ghanaians, irrespective of their origin.
The ethos, symbols, values, lifestyles, relations of production and modes of operations are not of primary concern to the new converts of indigenisation. What matters is the encouragement of Ghanaian manufacturers to produce more to capture the local market from "foreigners". But such factors as mentioned constitute strong inbuilt pressures on local entrepreneurs to cave in to the wishes of foreign capital. Instead of enterprises becoming more and more national in the use of local resources and in satisfying the needs of the vast majority of Ghanaians, it is in fact the Ghanaian entrepreneurs who are going to become less and less national. The ultimate beneficiaries will be the privileged class whose share of the surplus in the exploitation of Ghanaian labour would increase. Indigenisation would, therefore, essentially become a weapon of the haves in the country to realise their dreams of increasing their wealth which was somewhat crushed during the heydays of liberalisation.

Ethnic chauvinism

In sociology and anthropology one encounters the bogus assertion that Ghana has ethnic and not class relations. This argument is nurtured by bourgeois politicians and their mentors in sociology departments who want power based on communal hegemony. Normally the place occupied by individuals in a historically determined system of social production is not made the basis of analysis. While it is not denied that ethnic consciousness exists in Ghana, the phenomenon has to be recognised as part of the ideological rationalisation that reinforces and in turn reflects the existing relations of production. Classes in Ghana may be embryonic but they exist. Thus while ambitious petty bourgeois politicians preach and fan the deadly parochialism of ethnic chauvinism, they actively form alliances with petty bourgeois elements in the various other ethnic groups to consolidate their repressive domination of the masses. Ethnocentrism, as presented by bourgeois sociology, is essentially a weapon of the dominating classes to dissipate the energies of the working class, divide them, and strangle potentially progressive organisations.

Another fraudulent intellectual claim obviously calculated to instil false consciousness in the recipients of education is that Ghana's present underdevelopment is a direct inheritance from the pre-colonial times. The history departments and historians of repute in universities have made no attempt to prove or disprove this assertion. They just reproduce it for students to swallow and regurgitate during examinations. The impression this propaganda pap seeks to create is implicit: that pre-colonial conditions continue to be reproduced. But three questions immediately come to mind when issues of this nature are discussed. Is this claim correct? If it is correct why is it that these conditions have persisted in spite of years of colonialism and neo-colonialism? What forces are reproducing them and why?

It should be understood that societies are not static and Ghanaian societies were not an exception to this law of development. They also went through the processes of change that characterised societies elsewhere. These changes were to be found in the revolutionary transformation of the social structures, relations of production and techniques of production of social groups. What impacted negatively on these processes of change were two things—the slave trade and the subsequent integration of Ghanaian societies into the world capitalist system in a subordinate position. One cannot deny the infrastructural changes that contact with Europe brought in its wake; but the subsequent material benefits benefited the metropolitan bourgeoisie and the sham bourgeoisie in the colonial country. It condemned the majority to perpetual poverty.

Some contemporary African writings used as literature books in universities and secondary schools in Ghana also do not adequately address the phenomenon of exploitation. Mongo Betis's Poor Christ of Bomba; Rene Maran's Batouala; Oyono's The House Boy; Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God; and Camera Laye's African Child tend to emphasise the superstructural aspects of colonialism. The imposition of colonialism through brute military force and the subsequent destruction of African socio-cultural and political institutions are given prominence in these writings. What is not normally clearly established, or is often ignored, is the link between the superstructural aspects of colonial rule and its economic base—production relations. The colonial production relations were the foundation upon which the political, juridical, ethical and religious aspects of colonialism were founded. But in these works the cultural and political aspects of colonialism are artificially severed from the production relations which provided it with its life-force and dynamism.

However, available evidence proves that the real reason for colonialism was to ensure the haemorrhage of capital from the fringes of the capitalist system to its core. The cultural and political domination which were made very much part of the colonial system were therefore a means to an end.

From the pamphlet Africa-A Marxist Analysis


Renegade Eye said...

Good post. Most African blogs are at best nationalist, and rarely hint at the root causes of misery.

ajohnstone said...

Thanks for your couple of comments of encouragement . Looking at the location of the few who visit the blog on the site meter , sad to say not too many appear to be from African countries . I hope there may be exiles viewing . I feel the debate within the peoples of Africa about socialism and class and their relevance to their struggles is one of the main purposes of the blog .