Tuesday, June 29, 2010

in which one man single-handedly dissects the Church in Ghana...

Well my cyber buddy Ian has been at it again - this time he's written a highly charged, controversial (and long but well worth the read), take on the whole church-culture in Ghana. I've quoted many sections of the article, originally posted on Modern Ghana, below. Comments, thoughts? I'm sure there will be many!

"I clearly remember my very first church experience in Ghana. I had only been in the country for two weeks, still chewed my fufu, hadn't perfected the foot-shuffling, buttock-protruding, handkerchief-waving church dance, and couldn't yet understand Twi (which the whole service was held in). Nobody was translating for me, so there I sat for four hours in a bewildering new environment, lost in a sea of vernacular. The telling moment came when the collection pot came around. Only then did the announcer see fit to switch to English. They were happy to let God's words slip by untranslated, but made sure I knew when it was time to put my hand in my pocket. I left there with the question I still ask myself: do these churches exist for religious purposes, or financial purposes?

One of my white brothers recently told me a similar, yet far more shocking story. A certain pastor fooled his flock by telling them to bring out their cash so that he could sanctify it for them and make it magically multiply in the future. His killer business strategy was revealed when he convinced the people to leave all their money in his blessing plate. After all, it had now been blessed and would return to them a hundredfold, so they shouldn't worry. Open any newspaper and you'll be reminded of how close to Lucifer some of our Christian pastors are. Last time I read the Bible, it didn't say anything about impregnating your own daughter, defiling the choirgirls and buying BMWs with church funds. From what I see, our Christian churches here are little more than dens of depravity and delusion. At least the churches I see in Europe and America offer some succour to the afflicted, by opening free 'soup kitchens' and offering a place for the homeless to lay their heads. These massive Ghanaian churches, meanwhile, stay empty and padlocked while the vulnerable kayayo girls and mental patients sleep on the pavements with the mosquitoes, rainstorms and rapists.

Anyway, how can a Ghanaian ask an Englishman if he goes to church? It's like an Englishman asking a Ghanaian if he knows how to eat fufu. Isn't it my people who brought the Bible and Africa's first Christian churches to your people while they were still worshipping rocks and rivers, performing human sacrifices, wearing magical amulets and praying to gods with a small g? It's only through the perspiration and malaria-fuelled deaths of generations of dedicated European missionaries that Christianity has been able to penetrate the Dark Continent. These were the first foreigners who, after over 400 years of European pillage and plunder, wanted to provide something for you, not take something from you.

Before the “White Fathers” came along, your country had no churches, schools, clinics, written language, or bicycles. Or do you think that the Methodist, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches, with their attached schools, are African inventions? Anyone who has graduated from Akropong, Amedzopfe or Aburi Training Colleges owes a debt of gratitude to the missionaries for building these mountaintop establishments. Any Ghanaian who has sworn on the Bible, celebrated Christmas, or hung a cross in their homes couldn't have been able to do so if these 19th century missionaries had stayed in Europe. We brought the churches and Bible; you added the noise pollution and the falling on the floor.

But when we brought the Bible, were we doing you a service or a disservice?

Study their history, and you will find that these Christian missionaries were definitely not the angels they made themselves out to be, and that their supposed philanthropic intentions deserve to be questioned.

It's currently being revealed that the Catholic Church is little more than a worldwide paedophile club- I bet their Fathers have loved coming here over the centuries and seeing all the naked, obliging African children running about. Like most Europeans, these people came here for colonisation, exploitation and fornication. They must have been rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect being able to exchange a few Bibles, crosses and candles for so many diamonds, gold nuggets, slaves, sex slaves and shiploads of prime timber.

They seem to have forgotten what the Bible says as soon as they brought it here. But, despite all this wickedness and deceit, their churches have proliferated in Ghana, with very little of the old beliefs surviving. Was the Bible accepted here because, just like mirrors, beads and metal pots, it was something new and shiny from 'aborokyire' (abroad), and because your people have been brainwashed to believe that everything from overseas is always more desirable than anything available locally?

I often wonder how Christianity has taken such a massive hold in Africa, at the expense of deep-rooted and widely followed traditional religions. I'm also very interested in the practices and beliefs of traditional West African religion before the white missionaries came. Were your ancestors living like savage heathens lost in a void of Godlessness? Did they have no sense of spiritualism and awe for the natural world? Had they never considered questions like “Where am I from?”, “Who made me?” and “What is my purpose?” The answer, of course, is that the idea of a Supreme Creator God is native to Africa, and not a foreign import, and that religion was in Africans' blood for millennia before the arrival of the Bible on these shores. The early seafarers sent home stories of primitive cannibals who needed to have their souls saved through regime change, religious instruction and 'Westernisation'. They made sure that they invented a new derogatory language to describe the poor Negro “pagans” and “animists” who were practising “fetishism” and “ancestor worship”. All these were terms coined by racist and blinkered Europeans who failed to mention that religious beliefs had been extensively honed and practised in Africa prior to the Testaments even being written. Before West Africans were force-fed the Bible, local names showing a belief in and the uniqueness and supremacy of God were widespread.

I'm one of the few white men who actually takes these ancient beliefs seriously, whilst doubting the continental acceptance of a new, revealed religion which actually promotes racism, slavery and murder. I strongly believe that the ancient powers are still with us, even if most of you have forsaken them and joined the God Squad. I've been to churches in Ghana and felt no inspiration or spiritual uplifting, only a lightening of my wallet and a severe earache. I've also been sitting meditating by myself in the forests, on the mountaintops and by the riversides, and felt closer to The Creator than ever before.

Do you think I'm talking a load of bollocks? If so, then you must also claim that all the beliefs, traditions and rituals of your ancestors are a load of bollocks too, and few Ghanaians are prepared to say that. It is the ancient traditional religion, with its guiding tenets of protection of the environment, taboo practices, adherence to the law, respect for personal relationships, and peace, which seems much more attractive and conscious to me than a modern Christian religion which allows warmongering, human bondage, materialism and littering.

For the happy-clappers and Bible-bashers who refuse to admit that these ancient traditions constitute a religion, I quote the 60-year old words of Mbonu Ojike:

“If religion consists in deifying one character and crusading around the world to make him acceptable to all mankind, then the African has no religion. But if religion means doing, rather than talking, then the African has a religion.”

The ancient religions taught Africans how to live; Christianity seems to have only taught them how to make noise and pray for financial blessings. Why are you still begging for riches when He's already answered all of your prayers thousands of years ago? What more do you want Him to do for you? He's created for you a land full of foods, teeming rivers and ocean, fertile soil, 80 percent of the world's natural resources and precious minerals, a “Tree of God” with a hundred different uses, and abundant sunshine and rainfall. You lucky buggers- what more do you need? Why do you need money on top of all these blessings? And have you ever read the Bible? You don't even have to get past the first chapter before learning that He charged you to have dominion over all His creations, not sit down pleading for more while the white man comes and takes it all.

In fact, God has blessed Africa so richly that some people are blaming the slow pace of the continent's development on these very blessings. They argue that anybody who has an accessible abundance of natural resources, foods, water, building materials, medicines and alcohol in their environment will never strive to invent or develop anything more advanced, because they don't have to. Why should the African care about building concrete edifices, developing communications infrastructure, or using satellite technology, when he has everything he needs already?

If your wine comes straight from a tree, your meat is running around the compound for free, and your soil is so fertile that you just need to spit watermelon seeds onto your garden to make a watermelon farm, then why would you bother breaking into a sweat and inventing distilleries, supermarket chains and tractors?

The European, on the other hand, wasn't so blessed by God, and found himself stuck on some meagre, freezing piece of rock with no mangoes to pluck, no guinea-fowl to slaughter, and no gold to sell. He was forced to invent clothes factories, indoor heating and nitrogenous fertiliser. If not, he would still be dressing in animal skins, living in caves and eating turnip soup every day. So, the African, happy with his lot and able to obtain all life's necessities without straying too far from his hammock, had no need for material development. The obroni (white man), on the other hand, if he didn't want to die in childhood, had to force to develop his environment and invent new technologies. So ingrained are these different mentalities and attitudes towards development, that it has been suggested that if all the Americans came to live in Ghana, and all the Ghanaians went to live in America, then both countries would change irrevocably. Within twenty years, the Americans would have developed Ghana so much that they would want to make it their permanent home, and the Ghanaians would have made America so dirty and badly-maintained that the Americans would never want to go back there.

It wasn't until I arrived in Africa that I came across the term “God-fearing”, heard everywhere, from the pastors' sermons and church notices to the tro-tro inscriptions and internet dating sites. Is God meant to be some frightening, fiery, fearsome fiend, ready at the drop of a hat to devour me or strike me down with furious vengeance? I thought that was the Devil. I prefer the term “God-loving”. I love God, I don't fear Him. And I know He loves me: He wouldn't have made me, given me a working brain, and sent me to live in beautiful Ghana if He didn't. If Ghanaians really do fear God, don't you also fear invoking His wrath by your misuse of His blessings? Don't you think that He might appreciate from you a little less praying and a little more doing? On top of that, I'm sure Jesus would appreciate it if you stopped painting him as a white man in all your pictures.

And there are obviously very few people left who have faith in, or fear of, the abosom. Otherwise we wouldn't be destroying their enchanted natural environments by chopping down all the trees, encouraging soil erosion, and filling the rivers with mercury. Just don't say I didn't warn you when the sea deity punishes you with an oil slick larger than the Gulf of Mexico, in return for all the shit and plastic bags you've been dumping in there. And the drilling companies only spend billions of dollars to clean it up when it affects the Americans; they won't give a fuck when Ghana's beaches become the same colour as its people.

Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps all these people taking time off work to go and speak in tongues and drop their pure water sachets in Achimota forest will have their souls saved when 'Atemuda” arrives, and I'll go straight to hell for writing such a blasphemous article. (I just hope it's Ghana hell, where there's no electricity for the electric chair, the nails for the bed of nails have been stolen, the gas for the eternal fires is finished, and the Ghanaian devil never turns up for work because he used to be a civil servant.)

Perhaps I should go and join the foot-stampers and fist-clenchers in the church next door to help them repeatedly shout “IN THE NAME OF JESUS!” a little bit louder, instead of reading my history books. Or maybe I just want to live a good life now and do what I can in this world, instead of waiting in the mud and dirty, potholed streets for my turn to enter paradise.

Should we spend our whole lives praying to God for salvation in Heaven, or should we look to our own amazing brains and able bodies to help us in our pursuit of happiness on Earth? Every human being needs faith and a moral code of conduct, but do we really need all-night church services and fourteen days of prayer and fasting to achieve it? Like the rest of the good people of Ghana, I follow nine of the Ten Commandments, but I don't feel the need to dress up and go and advertise it at full volume every Sunday morning. I recognise the value of life, and the duty I have in this world, rather than waiting and praying for the riches and paradise of the next world.

Let's end with someone you do take seriously, and think about what Bob meant when he sang:

“Preacher man don't tell me, heaven is under the earth. I know you don't know what life is really worth. Most people think, Great God will come from the sky, take away everything and make everybody feel high. But if you know what life is worth, you would look for yours on Earth.”

So now you see the light, are you gonna stand up for your rights?

Ian Utley is the author of
“Culture Smart! Ghana, the essential Guide to Customs and Culture”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

5 Years since you've been gone: on visiting the cemetery

It was so difficult those first couple years, arriving at Osu cemetery, full of dread and love sick for the want of you. Incredulous that this place, wedged between the football stadium and the conference centre, scene of so many funerals, where swarms of black and red clad mourners and hangers on gathered, and the traffic piled up – could house you, my baby, my son.

Each time we emerged from the car, we were swarmed by the gangs of cemetery boys who spend their days sleeping on the grave stones and smoking marijuana.

I was floored as we battled our way through the crowd of them, jostling, each fighting for the tip they’d get to show us ‘our grave’.

I stumbled along the muddy path, blurry eyed, deep into the forest, serenaded by swooping moths and with the street-fight banter of the boys behind us, urging us onward.

John’s hand, a warm reassurance, tugged at me ever so slightly to the left, off the main path, toward your grave.

I was dizzy with grief and the pungent smell of weed, as the smoke wafted up in tufts, swirling through the green green forest roof, captive like us, under the oppressive heat. The rot of leaves and bodies left a stain inside me. Even now I can conjure up the smell, the sound…

A few boys would run ahead of the others, shouting your tribal name, “Kpakpo!”, and the others, “Kpakpo Mingle!”. “Madam, this way-o, follow me, I will show you.”

We clambered over other people’s graves, some smooth polished, others caved in completely, the name barely visible.

The boys would jump, triumphant when they found you. They tore rabidly at the wild vines that had smothered the site, ripping them from their roots in a frenzy to please me, to ensure a good ‘dash’.

I was too weak to argue, to shout, “GET AWAY FROM ME, FROM US! HOW DARE YOU INVADE MY SPACE AT A TIME LIKE THIS?!” Instead, I blinked away tears and nodded. Docile, non-present.

And then I would be faced with a terrazzo block, rectangular, with a raised panel, it had your name, misspelled though it was, written across the front in bold black letters. And below it, “6 YEARS OLD”. And each time I see it, even in my mind’s eye, I weep.

6 years old, yet gone. And I could not find you there at all. I sat at the edge of the cool stone, above the earth that houses your body below. And I felt nothing. And I knew you were not there. Not dumped into the hungry ground, part of a chain of decay and growth.

You, being the soul that dazzled my days, and the light that screamed out from your eyes – this earth cannot hold you.

And I looked up, through the maze of branches and saw a glimpse of sky. Through the tears I saw you in not seeing you at all. My baby, you shine down now.

And after John mechanically took out his camera and recorded the event, I stood and walked numbly back, staring at the red mud under my feet, even as he negotiated with the boys who hovered close by, how much each would get, who helped most, who was most aggressive.

I needed to protect the fragility of my mind and my bleeding heart. I flew up above and left my walking shell, the robot below to make its way back to the waiting car.

And since then I visit rarely. No reason to feed the boys; to tear at the eager vines. Leave them rather, to their lives, to that cycle of decay and growth.

You and I, we are out of that circle. We are free now. You above, and me here for now – meeting in dreams and in the laugh of children. Meeting as we do in the aisles of the supermarket through memories. You remind me of the times we chose which face on the hair dye boxes we would be, and of course which one was John, and we’d laugh – and there I stand with a knowing smile on my mouth, in my eyes, you shine.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ghana - Gateway to the World's Worst Economies

I hate to be a party-pooper, what with all the hoopla around the World Cup, and the great cohesive vibe it creates, but it has come to my attention that outside the football stadium, all the recent great press about Ghana, and it's potential is just that - words. Empty, disappointing and ultimately false.

Ghana has been called 'the Gateway to Africa' and Wikipedia's Ghana article even states that:

"The economy of Ghana has a diverse and rich resource base, and as such, has one of the highest GDP per capita in Africa"

Apparently, Wiki along with alot of others have their facts wrong.

Why is the average Ghanaian poorer now that they were a few years ago? Why is there no manufacturing here? Why is the country still heavily dependent on remittances from Ghanaians abroad, and on the macro level from various Governments and NGOs?

The sad news today is that Forbes have published this year's list of the WORLD'S WORST ECONOMIES. And our beloved Ghana, the star of Africa is on that list.

Forbes clarifies the criteria for their selection as follows:

"All the countries on this list have at least one trait in common: Their governments discourage private investment--and economic growth--through policies of crony capitalism, expropriation or arbitrary enforcement of the laws. That makes it difficult to generate hard currency to pay off government debt and discourages citizens from investing in education to improve their own economic lot."

This does not sound like the Ghana that is promoted by the development community and the politicians alike. This does not sound like the Ghana my fellow bloggers embrace and adore. This sounds like the harsh reality of numbers. The fact that corruption, at the end of the day, cannot be hidden completely. This sounds like the day of reckoning, when all the political dogma and happy clappy optimism flies out the window and is replaced by cold hard facts.

Here is the description of Ghana from Forbes article:

"GDP per capita: $671
Inflation rate: 16%

Bauxite, the world's largest manmade lake, a 1-gigawatt hydroelectric plant and now offshore oil. Ghana's got it all, except a functioning economy. Persistent electricity shortages have sidelined the massive Valco aluminum smelter and the government of Ghana must privatize several money-losing state-owned enterprises to reduce its budget deficits, which run close to 10% of GDP. Oil revenues are expected to flow next year from offshore fields, being developed by Anadarko Petroleum and others. Perhaps the government will use the money to stabilize its finances instead of launching another spending binge."

Ghana is accompanied by countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, ravaged by decades long civil wars, and Zimbabwe - a country crippled under the world's most evil dictator. 9 out of the 10 countries are African.

I was surprised to see Ghana on such a list. Afterall, we've had decades of peaceful leadership, numerous democratic elections, natural resources in abundance - from bauxite to gold and now oil... What is Ghana's excuse?

The overwhelming message from this report to Ghana is simple mismanagement. The problems, it states, are mostly homegrown. We can't blame the world for our troubles Ghana - this embarassing state of affairs must be dealt with and faced. Otherwise, next year's oil payload will most definitely lead to more greed and mismanagement, and Ghana may slip further instead of shining as it should - as the star of this floundering continent...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ghana Celebrates: Photographer captures Ghana's spirit

There's a Ghanaian photographer whom I've admired from afar for ages - I've had a link to his blog as well, and I check it regularly. His name is Nana Kofi Acquah. He can truly capture the essence of a scene - enter the hearts and minds of the people he shoots. The colours, the motion, all there, as if you'd been there yourself, but might have missed the beauty he finds. A truly great photographer.

He did this brilliantly on Sunday, while Ghanaians were jubillating, rallying around the beloved Black Stars, for the World Cup match against Serbia. He caught some great glimpses of the spirit that gripped us all. A couple of these borrowed below:

Nana Kofi's site: here

Monday, June 14, 2010

Wavin' flags - Soccer rallies the world!

Just returned from the 'rainbow nation' - South Africa. The hype leading up to the FIFA World Cup was tangible. People from all walks of life - from the vast squatter camps outside each major city to the highly secured Sandton gated communities, people were excited, happy, proud. Elaborate handmade fan head gear, made from construction hats took over the streets and stadiums.

I care next to nothing about soccer normally but the enthusiasm and energy is addictive. Intoxicating. In South Africa they call it 'Gees' (pronounced with a gutteral G, then EE-us. It's Afrikaans but has been adopted by all, including advertising campaigns around the country. All the worries about whether the massive stadiums would be completed in time, the various corruption allegations over the years they were built, and the ever present threat of crime against all the visiting soccer fans (in a country with over 18,000 murders per year) just disintegrated in view of the impending first match of the historic tournament.

This song, one of the few 'official anthems' played over and over, and continues to play in my head. Thought I'd share...

We waved the South African flag for the opening match in Johannesburg, and the Ghana flag Sunday for the defeat against Serbia.

The vuvuzelas took over the country like herds of dying cows at 130 decibels. How could we resist joining in?

We've got invites from the Ambassadors to watch the Ghana vs. Germany and Ghana vs. Australia games in Accra, so the flag waving and World Cup hype has just begun!
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