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Culture and the Politics of Age in Ghana

Regard for old age as the height of wisdom and experience runs deep in Ghanaian culture. But, sadly, Mr. Asiedu Nketia (General Secretary of the NDC) and the NDC have thrust upon us, a burden to defend our culture by making old age political campaign issue. It is imperative that we unite to resist the attempt to undermine our shared heritage because our culture endures long after the partisan bickering fades.

Let me emphasize early that, this article has little to do with Nana Akuffo-Addo’s candidacy. It is at heart, an attempt to register a common dissatisfaction with the partisan political incursion into sacred cultural territory. At any rate, this response is aimed at informing the NDC, and Mr. Nketia of the cultural implication of their politics.

During the 2012 electioneering campaign, Mr. Asiedu Nketia charges that Nana Akuffo-Addo is ripe for the council of state. What Mr. Nketia meant is–Nana Akuffo-Addo is too old to elected the president of Ghana though; the Constitutions does not set an upper age limit.

There are two fundamental cultural facts Mr. Nketia must appreciate in his old age charge. First, Mr. Nketia must note that it is not culturally true that Nana Akuffo-Addo or anyone for that matter, could not be president because he or she is old. Secondly, the claim that Nana Akuffo-Addo is ripe for the Council of State validates cultural norm as we associate age with experience and wisdom. It is, therefore, not an accident that members of the Council of State are experienced citizens.

As noted earlier, Ghanaian culture associates experience and wisdom with old age. Therefore, the reverse of Mr. Nketia’s statement is encouraged in our culture. Consider that, Otumfuo Opoku Ware II, led the people of Ashanti until he died at age 79. Also, Otumfuo Osei Tutu Agyeman Prempeh II ruled until he passed on at 78. Indeed, had these leaders lived longer than 78 or 79 years, they would have continued to lead their people to higher heights without qualms about their age. One cannot be certain, but I doubt that Mr. Nketia would have reasons to question the effectiveness of these distinguished traditional leaders were his opinion sought on the matter.

In attributing experience and wisdom to old age, Ewe traditional arbitration engages in a practice referred to as “consulting the grey-haired old man.” The practice demonstrates to the feuding parties that the decision in their case enjoys the sanction of the highest wisdom, the symbolic grey-haired old man. I must add that this practice is observable in Western judicial culture in the form of the whitish-grey legal wig.

The “grey-haired old man” decision-making culture among Ewes, makes Nana Akuffo-Addo or older candidates culturally superior to youthful inexperienced candidates. Culturally speaking, to charge that one is old is, in fact, a validation of that individual’s exceptional wisdom and experience. This fact cannot be lost on Mr. Nketia and the NDC. It is inconceivable. If so, the lesson for Mr. Nketia is simply this, a ripe fruit is more valuable to the “eater” than a non-ripe fruit.

It is difficult to think that Mr. Nketia believes that, a qualified adviser of the president is not himself or herself qualified to be president of the Republic. Assuming Mr. Nketia does believes this, then, it means his statement seeking to present old age as presidential dis-qualifier is to vain rhetoric. This is what we must resist, reckless political speech that distorts our shared culture regardless of where it emanates.

There is, however, a desperate logic available to Mr. Nketia to explain away this albatross around his neck. That is to argue that, the Council of State is a mere assembly of tired old citizens which requires the president’s advice and benevolence to make sense of their retirement. Perhaps this too is not a tenable explanation. As no avenue exist for Mr. Nketia to culturally and logically explain himself, It is wise that he ceasefire and, allow Ghanaians to choose our presidents or leaders on the strength of policy. 

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