Monday, 21 November 2011

Making Men-Only Peace in Ghana

President John Mills on November 10 inaugurated the new National Peace Council, which is made up of 13 people. They are the following: Most Rev. Prof. Emmanuel Asante, chairman of the Christian Council of Ghana, Maulvi Dr. Wahab Adam, Ameer and Missionary in charge of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission, Apostle Dr. Opoku Onyinah, President of the Ghana Pentecostal Council, The Most Rev. Dr Joseph Osei-Bonsu, president of the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference, Rev. Gideon Titi-Ofei, General Secretary of the National Association of Charismatic and Christian Churches, Nana Susubribi Krobea Asante, representative of the National House of Chiefs.

Others are: Sheikh Mahmoud Gedel and Alhaji Adam Abubakar, representing the Office of the National Chief Imam, Nii Otokunor Sampah, elder of the Afrikania Mission, Shaibu Abubakar, chairman f the Ghana Network for Peace Building, Mumuni Abudu Seidu, an educationist, Mrs. Florence Mangwe,  a human resource consultant, Rev. Dr. Nii Amoo Darko, Counselor and member of the Council of State.

Please take a critical look at the list against, and the first thing that strikes you is that a council charged by the President to “bring to order” all people who might be “obstacles to peace” has only one woman out of thirteen. It is ridiculously unbalanced. That the state of Ghana cannot follow the principle of gender parity in the area of peacemaking is difficult to fathom because the participation of women and other stakeholders is now standard fare in the template for conflict resolution and peace-building. Gender parity is not a gimmick for beautifying meetings or making politically correct statements. There are excellent political, social and cultural reasons why as much as possible men and women should be equally represented on public bodies.

So far, this principle has not been followed in appointing public bodies in Ghana. A significant example of unbalanced public body is the Forestry Commission which was inaugurated by Alhaji Collins Dauda on Sept 8 2009. It has ten members of whom only one is a woman. Curiously, women’s rights groups have not been as vocal as they ought to be on these subjects. It would be a good idea if civil society generally, but women’s groups more specifically would monitor such appointments because the lack of balance means that such bodies are not going to effective.

Let us return to the Peace Council which makes Ghana look like a patriarchal theocracy rather than a secular republic, of which more anon! It is ridiculous to suppose that the Peace Council will achieve either its short or long-term ambitions by excluding women in a significant way from its deliberations. The irony is that in composing the Council the President did not want to leave out any “major” religion in Ghana because presumably their input would be good for the Council’s decisions. That argument ought to be made even more strongly for gender parity than for religious diversity and participation.

The truth is that most of these men, especially the eight representatives of religious organisations, including the representative of the Council of State who is a reverend minister, are likely to share the same worldview, especially on conflicts and their causes. The one woman in the group is described as a human resource Consultant, make of that what you will, and gauge her likely effectiveness against the assembled mass of godly men on the Council, if they decide to stick together on issues before the Council.

Excluding women from peacemaking at the highest levels is not a good political move. Women are more than half the population and it makes sense to figure out that on most issues, especially in looking for peace and stability, carrying the sisterhood with you is more than half the job done. No matter how we pretend otherwise, men and women bring different but equal experiences and visions to the table at all times. In peacemaking success often turns not on the broad rhetorical sweep of moral and ethical precepts but on the nuanced and specific experiences and understandings. This is why a Peace Council is necessary in the first place.

Unfortunately, this group simply may not be able to provide that nuanced understanding because apart from the specifics of their religious differences, eight of them share a very similar outlook on most issues. For example, we can all guess what their response would be to a distress call by say, atheistic homosexual citizens (they are citizens even if we don’t approve of their sleeping arrangements and lack of faith). We can even guess how they would interpret a prolonged public sector strike or activities of say, “unruly” young men. The point is that their predictable viewpoint is valid but not the only valid one.

Ghana is a secular republic, even if it doesn’t feel that way from events in the public sphere. However, if we believe that peacemaking is a predominantly religious activity then why are some faiths such as Judaism, Hinduism, Krishna, but significantly African religious beliefs not represented on the council? What about commercial juju men from whom regular and irregular forces are said to go to seek supernatural powers such as the ability to withstand bullets before going to war. They probably would be a useful source of information in and to the Peace Council.
Historically, women have been better at procuring peace than men. In the comic drama Lysistrata written by Aristophanes in 411 BC, a group of Greek women are persuaded by Lysistrata to withhold sexual privileges from their men until the latter ended the Peloponnesian War, which had been dragging for years. They succeeded. An African version of the same drama called Aikin Mata by Tony Harrison has been well received as a good exponent of sexual politics. In recent times, the Liberian peace campaigner Leymah Gbowee has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for mobilizing women to end the Liberian civil war.

In most traditional cultures in Ghana, women are regarded as the arbiters of peace. In Akan custom, when negotiators have to break for consultations, they are said to go and “ask the old woman”. This is almost always literally true because invariably, the old woman has the final say. It would be difficult to argue that President Mills is unaware of these precepts and home truths. Instead it appears that we have as a nation succumbed to a religion-centred worldview that profits churchmen and church owners but has nothing to with our spirituality or moral standing.

I would argue that as important as religious leaders may be within civil society they are not the only ones whose influence can restore peace in a dire situation. If the Peace Council is to contribute to peace, especially in the lead up to the 2012 elections and beyond, it has to have greater and better diversity. That means it has to include representatives of the Electoral Commission, Parliament, the Trades Union Congress, the youth and students but above all women.
Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote:

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfills himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”

And from Mother Teresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”.

A Peace Council without one-half of the civic body has no “other” to belong to and will end up speaking only to itself.

1 comment:

  1. It's quite strange how certain truths like what you have revealed can under such critical situations elude our judgements...and it's mostly sad because,people who are entrusted to engineer such developments keep making these fundamental's a pity.
    We need to wake up and start viewing issues from a broad and circular perspectives, by so doing we can appreciate the varied consent of the people that we are entrusted to serve.
    Once again, thank you Mr. Appenteng