I watched the match between the Black Stars and the Cape Verde national team at a popular hotel in Kumasi where about 50 of us watching a medium-size television screen. This quarter-final match was important for two reasons: obviously Ghana needed to win to go to the next level but more importantly, from the fans point of view the Black Stars needed to play a convincing match for us to regain our sense of self-belief that our team was one of the best in the tournament. Our draw against DR Congo and two feeble wins against Niger and xxx had dented the supporters’ confidence in the team. There was a David versus Goliath quality in the match between our nation of 24 million souls and the island of just 500,000 people, but who cared.
A few minutes after the beginning of the match Cape Verde made an early run at the Ghana 18-yard box but their striker spoilt the opportunity. While most of us sighed with relief a loud groan of disappointment came from another side of the room; for a moment we thought we had Cape Verdean guests in our midst. We all stared in disbelief as a number of Ghanaians openly expressed their disgust at the Cape Verdeans’ lost opportunity. We could not believe that any Ghanaian could support the opposing team at such a critical point in the Nations Cup.
We looked at the “against” people in disbelief and raw shock but instead of that group looking repentant as one would hope they were rather very loud and assertive in their anti-Black Stars stance. Indeed, given the intolerably better football the Cape Verdeans offered on the park, our opponents at the hotel kept on their jeer even after Ghana won the match by two goals to nil. Puzzled by this phenomenon of some Ghanaians refusing to support their national football team, I decided to interview the loudest “against” person. I wanted to know whether the young man was against the Black Stars purely for football reasons or whether his antipathy spread to Ghana as a nation. It was more of the latter in some indefinite way. Take your Ghana or words to that effect.
That set me thinking. That young man and his group may have been the most vocal expression of anti-patriotism on display that day, but they probably represent something going on in society. For example, among the 50-odd people watching that same match against Cape Verde I was the only person wearing a Black Stars shirt. Indeed, even on the first Ghana match day when the Black Stars played against DR Congo, I was one of only three people wearing Black Stars kit at the Accra Shopping Mall, apart from some shop workers who had to wear it because of endorsement contracts by their companies. Overall, the number of Ghana flags flying on vehicles during this past AFCON compared to say, the 2006 World Cup dropped by a huge margin.
Is this shift merely a football phenomenon or does it represent something deeper and more sinister. There are no statistics to suggest that people are less patriotic now that before but the evidence of our own senses should be sufficient to persuade us to believe this to be the case. Perhaps some of our academic and social research institutions have done some work on this subject and could enlighten us with the harder evidence but simply talk to people, especially young people to find out what they think about Ghana, their place in it and what they can do for the country. This antipathy has been a long time coming.
I have tried to gauge this situation for years and I am alarmed not only at the growing cynicism in the country but at the official apathy to this development. It is not that the government may not be aware of the situation. In 2005, President Kufuor spoke about political “cynicism” in his State of the Nation address to Parliament and attributed it to doomsayers in our midst. In an article on the issue, I suggested that he could have gone a bit further in his analysis instead of merely blaming it on other people. I wrote about my interaction with a group of young men at a market in Accra, and what I found is even more telling today than it was eight years ago:
“A few weeks before the elections, I went to the Kantamanto area in Accra Central to talk to some of the many young men and women who are engaged in a hardscrabble struggle for existence selling anything that is not bolted down around the streets there. When I asked them which party they thought would satisfy their aspirations their answers always ran on the lines of “they are all the same, they are all in it for their pockets…” The irony was that they had previously said they would vote for one party or another. Therefore, I asked them why they were going to vote for their party if they felt so hopeless about its ability to deliver what they needed. The burden of their answers was that they supported their party without holding out any hope for themselves. I came away with the feeling that these young people saw the elections as a Hearts-Kotoko kind of situation – they were in it for the momentary thrill of the win; they will return to their hard struggle the following day…”
In the years since I published that interview I have encountered thousands of young people with even more despondent views about their place in the future of our country, and there is no doubt that they feel, in the now famous cliché, Ghana is not worth dying for. I am not sure if any of them feels Ghana is worth living for since I also know they would gladly emigrate if a slave ship docked at Tema to collect them to Somalia. Among other reasons, hopelessness is the number one cause of loss of patriotism among a population whose ranks are sharply divided into two camps of “enjoyers” and “strugglers”. Should we be worried that so many Ghanaians appear not to care deeply about this country? The answer is yes; in the same way you cannot build a religious congregation without true believers, you cannot build Ghana without people who have hope in its future.
In the latter years of the Kufuor administration, the Ministry of Information started a Programme of National Orientation which was launched when Mrs. Oboshie Sai-Cofie was in charge. It kind of fizzled out when she was reshuffled out of that ministry and disappeared altogether when the NPP left office. It did not last long enough for us to gauge its effectiveness, and of course, it was pooh-poohed by its opponents. However, it was a good idea. In the countries that we admire for their material development, social cohesion and patriotism are not left to chance but engineered through education and other forms of socialization.
Do not be surprised that you see more taxis with stickers of flags from the USA, Jamaica, and Israel… Do you know where you can buy a Ghana flag or sticker? I don’t.
I am reading for the third time THE RIVER IN THE SEA, the autobiography of Akenten Appiah-Menkah, who describes himself as a “village boy, lawyer, politician and entrepreneur”. These descriptions are all ably borne out and described in the book. It is the life of a very fascinating character which reads in part like fiction. The River describes Ghana of the 1940s and beyond in a detail that is now disappearing. One would wish that more people of Mr. Appiah-Menkah’s generation would leave such a literary legacy. THE RIVER IN THE SEA is published by Digibooks and available in all leading bookstores in the country.