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…We Cannot Be Poor While Sitting On Gold, Can We?
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I will like to congratulate Nana Otuo Siriboe II, Omanhene of Asante Juaben, for being elected as the Chairman of the current Council of State. It is appearing as though we are attempting to invoke the original wisdom of our chiefs, we are trying to assume that our chiefs have the same wisdom as they used to have when chieftaincy was an honored institution.

To be installed as a chief, our forefathers chose wisdom and leadership over everything else. Among the royals, our elders chose the person who had the traits of becoming a good leader in the community, to be installed a chief.

With time education and resources took the center stage. That is where we began to go wrong. We began to choose the wrong persons to be installed as chiefs, people who did not know the customs, people who could buy their ways into the stools, people whose turpitude were highly questionable, people who were out of touch with realities, people who were remotely cut off from the very people they were meant to lead, were now being installed as chiefs.

The results was the beginning of pains in our traditional system. We have known conflicts as a result, we have known fruitless wanton sale of lands as a result, we have known chiefs who sell every available inheritance, including the forbidden forest, and including water bodies, we are now seeing partisan chiefs, chiefs who don’t care when they are dividing their people, we have now known all of them.

The hardest hit in this bizarre chieftaincy situation have been the destruction of our festivals, and the annihilation of our customs. In the early 1990s, as a young boy, I was on fire for Jesus Christ. I saw everything traditional as evil. Winneba had then seen the invasion of Christian Evangelists, Evangelists who saw every aspect of our culture as evil. Some openly led the people to burn family gods, others forbade their members from having any association with their customs. Christianity all of a sudden became the enemy of our tradition, we saw our customs and traditions as evil and an easy route to hell.

As a result we lost our roots. Many of us, and our children, have been deprived the knowledge of our cultural tenets, how our fathers prayed to God, the needed terminologies in our appellations, the words of incantations, all the aspects of our culture that promoted morality, all the aspects that promoted good environmental practices, all the aspects of the culture that promoted good health, are all gone.

While all these were disappearing, our chiefs were busily fighting. The honorable chieftaincy institution has been turned into a mockery of its own. Our chiefs began to take crumbs from politicians. I am still struggling to understand how a chief, worth his title, went into a bet with his stool for a political party? How can a decent chief, see the winning of one political party as an avenue for the assertion of his authority, instead of deriving his authority from the people themselves?

And this is where we are; several festivals which our fathers created for us, as periods of reflection, celebration, and fruitfulness, has been at the receiving end of indecent traditional leadership, and nearly every single traditional area in this country has suffered from this retrogression.

Our fathers who created these festivals did not create them for themselves, they created these festivals for us, they created these festivals for our children, they created history, they created these spaces so that we can inherit them for our children.

So the festivals belong to us, the people. It is our birth right. We should not allow our elders to destroy it. If they are destroying themselves, they can do so, but we should not allow them to include the festivals in their self-destruction tendencies.

Most of the towns and cities where such festivals are celebrated have nothing. The youth are exodusing the villages in search of jobs. As a progressive people, knowing that we have lost most of our people to better served towns and cities, it is our duty to help to unleash the energies and the creative prowess of our people, for development.

Those of us who grew up along the coastal regions of Ghana would be disappointed that we no longer have the coconut plantations on our beaches. We no longer have the communal mangoes, we no longer have the Ataaba fruits, the Ewusimbi fruits are no longer available. These were sources of food and income for several of us who lacked care. Those were communal plantations, and as children we were allowed to freely plug them, sell some while eating the rest.

Today none of these are available. While we were busily disputing ourselves, some were cutting our coconut trees, we have cut all the mongo trees, we have cut all the ataaba’s, and we can no longer have Ewusimbi fruits. That is what has increased child poverty in our villages and towns. Our children no longer have the opportunity for the natural supplementary foods that our grandfathers handed over to our fathers, we are unable to hand same over to our children.

I feel so ashamed that my son will not be able to know what is Ataaba, and what is Akotompo, it is an indictment on my conscience, that because of the failing of my fathers, my children will not have the pride of knowing the fruits that my grandfathers handed over to them.  

That is why festivals have become more important now, than ever. We need to be upfront, to say that, there is the urgent need to commercialize all of our festivals. While the chiefs and the elders continue to perform the customs and the rights that are associated with the festivals, we as a people should take ownership, and modernize it, and to create the spaces and jobs for our people, to, at least, replace the incomes our children would have derived from Akotompo and the associated fruits.

Cape Coast has shown the way. Orange Friday is now the biggest part of the Fetu Afahye festival. But the Orange Friday is not owned by the chiefs, neither is it owned by the elders. Orange Friday is owned and run by individual citizens of Cape Coast. There are several thousands of people who now go to Cape Coast for the Fetu Afahye, not because of the Afahye itself, they go there because of the Orange Friday.

In South Africa there are a lot of shops named Mandela. We have Mandela this, Mandela that, everyone is taking a piece of Mandela and making it their own, and the South African government is openly and freely encouraging the popularization of the Mandela brand.

Papa Kwesi Nduom has established Elmina Sharks. He might have named his team Elmina Sharks because he wishes to popularize Elmina. Wa All stars belongs to Kwesi Nyantakyi. Kwesi Nyantakyi tells his story of his mother coming from Wa, hence his quest to identity and popularize the Wa township. Addae Cutlass was created by an individual indigene to popularize Addae festival.  

British Airways, American Airlines, US Airways are all private companies owned by proud individuals and groups who wishes to popularize their countries. And I always admire Charterhouse for creating Ghana Music Awards, TV3 for creating Ghana’s Most Beautiful, the creators of Miss Ghana are all private individuals who sought to promote the brand Ghana.

Last year when I decided to help in the rebranding of the Aboakyer festival, I used Aboakyer Cup as a key strategy to gain entry into the heart of the general public. I did not want to touch any aspect of the traditional customs of the festival, because that is where the issues arise from. I spent over GHC40,000 just on the Aboakyer Cup, promoting it, involving football teams from outside of Winneba, and making sure that the Aboakyer Cup becomes a brand of its own.

Here I will like to pay tribute to the Despite and Multimedia groups of companies, for their immense support during the 2016 Aboakyer campaign. Once the Aboakyer Board saw the success of my publicity, they invited me to take over the publicity for the entire festival, and they adopted the Aboakyer Cup into the mainstream festival.

We did not attract any sponsorship for last year, but the investment into the Aboakyer Cup and the rebranding of the entire festival was worth it. I have no doubt that this May 2017, the Winneba Aboakyer festival will see the fruit of last year’s investment.

That is the way to go. The time for festival revolution is now. I am looking forward to seeing the youth all over Ghana defying all odds, and taking bold ownership of their festivals, and creating innovations out of the festivals, and celebrating them in their own ways. Therein lies our pride, therein lies tourism, and therein lies job creation; we cannot be poor when we are sitting on gold, can we?
Source: James Kofi Annan/ [email protected]

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