Sunday, April 19, 2015

The “Fama Nyame” Fetish and the Dearth of Strategic Thinking: A Pyrrhic Drought in Ghana’s Democracy.

In the aftermath of the defeat of the Romans in battle at the beginning of the Roman ascendency on the Italian Peninsula, the ancient ruler of Hellenistic Kingdom of Epirus, King Pyrrhus is recorded by the Roman writer Plutarch to have exclaimed, “If we win another such battle against the Romans, we will be completely lost.” This candid admission by King Pyrrhus after witnessing the shattering carnage that ensued from the battle has ever since become a key staple of strategic management over the years. For those in need of biblical evidence, Luke 14: 28–32 encapsulates the need for strategic thinking in the broadest sense.

However, unlike King Pyrrhus, who probably never had the benefit of hindsight, there is no excuse whatsoever for a national leader today to pursue national policies without a well-mapped out strategy. As it stands right now, The President of Ghana, Mr JD Mahama, is in danger of becoming a contemporary example of Pyrrhus in the Ghanaian context. Even before the end of his current term, it is predictable and probably even obvious that his presidency may end up being described by future historians as a pyrrhic moment in Ghana’s democracy - the kind of democratic dispensation where the cost of efforts employed overly outweighed the benefits accrued.

Let’s be frank, Ghana is a mess; and has been for a long time. The matriarch elephant in the room is, firstly, the ignorance of strategic management at all levels in our society. I have often wondered why a culture imbibed with the treatise of the proverbial strategist, Kweku Ananse, is so prone to haphazard decision making and catastrophic short-sightedness. Strategic thinking is partly cultural and partly a learned behaviour. In Ghana, there appears to be a huge distance between the strategic sensibilities that lie within our culture-speak and the actual day-to-day practices and behaviour. The former is strategy rich, the latter less so.  I suspect that the reason could be primarily an absence of literacy in strategic management. Strategic management is barely taught in our institutions of higher learning.

We can safely assume that for a country like Ghana, bedeviled with minimal formal practice of strategy in our day-to-day activities, the incorporation of even a little dose of strategic planning will go a long way towards economic success and hopefully a culture of strategic thinking. The reality is that an overwhelming number of the work being done by the government is barely driven by a coherent economic strategy. Often, the goal is purely political. For example, constructing an impressive interchange in one place or an international airport or a new bridge in another may send a politically conspicuous signal to voters that something is being done; however, most of these ‘political’ projects make little economic sense, are devoid of any synergies whatsoever and are strategically hollow.

To reap a higher economic dividend, we need to engage the development of our country on a much more systematic and strategic traction. At its core, the debate about economic motivations and sensibilities versus politics considerations and exigencies is not a benign academic debate far removed from the realities of third world economics. Invariably, strategic nations put the economic horse ahead of the political cart and never the other way round.

Today, the pursuit of economic development by nations great and small is an incredibly refined version of the art of war espoused by Sun Tzu, the Chinese General and strategist; and only those with formidable strategic formulations have a chance of success.

Secondly, the Ghanaian mindset of “Fama Nyame” (i.e. the ubiquitous, naïve conflict-avoidance ‘kumbaya’ nonchalance) has dented our collective ability to critically analyse national issues and rendered us impotent in the face of diverse threats and opportunities upon which our very existence as a nation depends. As a nation we have given up on all manners of robust intellectual justification and cognitive persuasions in favour of trivialities and ‘midgety’ pseudo-spiritual alternatives that render neither physiological sustenance nor assuasive moral fulfillment.

As the current administration continues to defend the indefensible in the face of widespread nation-wreaking corruption, pathetic incompetence and gigantic mismanagement, while shamelessly resorting to emotional blackmail to create false impressions of wrongdoing in the minds of law-abiding Ghanaians who crave a hopeful alternative to the wanton economic and social carnage being unleashed mercilessly upon Ghana, I have often wondered why the tipping point hypothesis does not seem to hold in Ghana. Then, boom… an epiphany. It became clear to me that the perfectly elastic tolerance exhibited by Ghanaians is a function of our Fama Nyame culture. As a people, we have psychologically programmed ourselves to avoid dealing with problematic issues by passing them unto God. We do not do confrontation, instead we dish it all upon God to do the 'dirty work,' hence Fama Nyame.

In any case, Fama Nyame is not really about a belief in divine justice; rather, it is an attempt to rid oneself from our responsibilities by making God the scapegoat. This form of ‘bouc émissaire’ is not only the highest form of irresponsibility, it is totally ungodly but also morally, economically and politically detrimental. It justifies our reasons to do nothing because somehow God will do it; thus we keep on kicking the can down the road until it snowballs into a crisis, then we pass the buck. It explains why we are just not getting on with the cloak-and-dagger realities of life. Instead of rousing our battle instincts, Fama Nyame serves an override switch that keeps Ghanaians in a perpetual state of disengagement from dealing with our realities. As the stronghold of our internalised impotence, it has resulted in a psychological capitulation from doing whatever it takes to fix our problems. In a recent article, my friend and Man of God, Pastor Sunday Adelaja, addressed a similar issue titled “Only God can help Nigeria – What a myth” (Read his paradigm shifting article here). The deadpan small-mindedness, cowardice, slothfulness, irresponsibility, mediocrity, corruption, docility and ‘grit-less’ness so prevalent in Ghana are mere symptoms of a much bigger problem, Fama Nyame. In short, Fama Nyame has deadened Ghana.

And so I imagine that in the long run, an analysis of the cost of the strategic illiteracy at the highest echelons of political governance to the economic fortunes of Ghana will tell a sad story of how our own collective Fama Nyame fetish is the other side of the same coin of strategic-less existence, and how these have significantly perpetuated our proximity to poverty.

Alas, the pyrrhic decisions of our national leaders, coupled with the apparent national tolerance for mismanagement and corruption not only portray the incredible depth of ambivalence among many Ghanaians who do not regard corruption as a serious crime that warrant one to protest against but also how pathologically inured we are, and will continue to be for years, to woefully bad leadership.

To decisively tackle Ghana’s severely weakened economy, there is the urgent need to implement several structural reforms, the success of which will depend on how we successfully confront the twin evils discussed earlier. Firstly, economic policies should be based on sound and implementable strategies. That is the rational and logical pillar of any policy making paradigm. The second pillar should be deliberately motivational and premised on a behavioural imperative - zero tolerance of Fama Nyame in our political and economic posture. Ghana needs a merit-based system which rewards responsibility, competence, grit and performance, and punishes corruption, fraud, incompetence and the passing the buck in all it forms and shape. 

Ultimately, this will require the emergence of a concerted, strategic and paradigm-shifting leadership in our beloved land. As the lesson of King Pyrrhus shows, strategy and empowered mindsets are what it takes to avoid pyrrhic outcomes. Again as the examples of Singapore and other successful emerging countries suggest, incredible progress can be achieved through bold, concerted, strategic leadership. Ghanaians must therefore decisively do away with the nonstrategic mindsets and traditions that hold us back and with Christ's grace "mount up with wings as eagles" run unwearied and walk confidently towards our blessed lot (Isaiah 40:31). Only what is considered globally to be the best should be acceptable to Ghanaians. If Singapore and others could do it, so can we. 

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