On 4, July 1776, the thirteen American colonies stood up to the British Empire and declared independence, rejecting British tyranny and imperialism. They founded a great new country based on freedom, equality and democracy. This is the story every American is raised with. Of course, we all know these idealistic claims were half-truths at best. The British Empire had been enforcing onerous tax laws which the American colonies used as an excuse for rebelling. The American colonies had seen little of British tyranny if any.
The so called founding fathers of the United States had slaves! The same men who claimed ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ owned other people and denied them all of the above mentioned rights.
During the two world wars, this great protector of freedom and liberty allied with imperialistic Britain and France and later with Russia, a country ruled by a dictator who was arguably matched in malevolence by Adolf Hitler. However, two hundred and thirty nine years later, the United States of America is a global superpower.
The point is that a narrative doesn’t need to be true to be powerful, it just needs to be able to galvanize people to work towards a common goal. The success of the United States of America is proof of this.
Ghana lacks such a narrative. We were all told about how Yaa Asantewaa resisted the British but ultimately fell and about how Kwame Nkrumah and the Big Six regained our independence but it seemed more about pointing accusing fingers at the British than stirring national pride. All we heard in our social studies classes was that ‘the British are evil and they conquered us and that’s why Ghana is poor.’ It certainly doesn’t inspire anyone to action.
Our narrative is nothing more than a fragmented, mess of stories. The manner in which a narrative is presented is as equally important as the narrative itself. While Americans fiercely propagate theirs in every aspect of their lives and especially their art forms, we are indifferent to ours at best.
As such, the average Ghanaian feels no connection to a glorious past. He or she has no motivation to help build a golden future based on ‘freedom and justice.’ Those are only empty words on the faces of our coins. Without a powerful narrative generating a sense of unity and pride in the citizens, what motivation is there to reject a bribe or use public funds wisely?
Of course, there are numerous reasons for the disparity in the fortunes between the two countries but without a narrative to inspire a new generation, that gap would only continue to grow.