Last week, I got to go back to Ghana – one of the places that has formed the person I am today. Not only had it been 14 years since I was last there but it also was an opportunity to spend time with my family. Ghana has a long history of political revolution. The Ashanti tribe of Ghana fought wars against British colonialism led by a female revolutionary named Yaa Asanteewa and Ghana became the first African nation to gain Independence from colonial powers. Traveling through Ghana, the differences between their political climate and our political climate here in the United States was stark.
Just like us, Ghana also has upcoming Presidential elections happening on December 7th but unlike us, the lead up to their elections is absent of the racism and misogyny that is pervading our election cycle. For us, the lead up to election day on November 8th has been fraught with disenfranchising rhetoric and outright hatred against large groups of people. Sitting in taxis, riding through Accra and Kumasi, the radios were filled with the non-stop chatter of election fever. The support for the main political parties, NDC and NPP is pretty evenly split and discussions about what each party offers can be heard on every corner.
But that’s within the city of Accra. The villages have their own political structure consisting of Chiefs, Elders, Kings, and Queens. For two of the days during my weeklong trip, we drove up to the village of Obogu where my grandmother and grandfather were born. Obogu is a small village subsisting on farming and traditional kente cloth weaving as their main source of income. Issues within the village are mediated by the Chief with the help of his cabinet of elders and the Queen or Queen Mother. Village life is both matrilineal and patriarchal with the Chief having the final say on anything considered “men’s” issues and the Queen or Queen Mother in charge of anything considered “women’s” issues. Even though the decision making process is gendered, responsibilities are shared equally among the genders and women are encouraged to express their opinions. Some village activities are gendered though. For example, both men and women go out to work on the farms but cloth weaving is a job reserved for men and cooking is a job reserved for women.
Essentially, Ghana is a democracy that has held onto its traditional systems of governance. A sort of hybrid culture that has adopted the system of its colonizer but also held close its history of traditional values, blending the old with the new to create systems that are attune with the wants of a changing population. I think that the political system in the United States can learn from Ghana’s ability to be flexible and adjust systems as the need arises. As we enter this election cycle, I think about the ways in which we as a country, have an aversion to change. The ways in which we become scared of changing up the status quo and commit ourselves to the nostalgia of a past that has never worked for us. My wish for us this November is to see that living out the past in the present is not safe. It’s not comfortable. And it doesn’t serve the needs of the people. Progressive change is the only way forward.
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