The COVID-19 pandemic is tearing down most of the fundamental institutions that humanity lean on.
Sometimes, destruction of old institutions provides an opportunity to create new, and mostly better conditions for existence.
It’s not surprising then that many intellectuals, politicians and other leaders around the globe are vehemently calling on global leaders to use this pandemic to re-access, re-group or re-think the structures that have led to an upward widening of the social and economic spaces between the rich and the poor globally.
Take Noam Chomsky’s evaluation of the pandemic for instance. Particularly, intellectuals who are optimistic about the development of the African continent have called on African leaders to utilize this opportunity to move the continent on a positive path.
To drive this development, it is key to recognize the factors that have stifled growth on the continent.
The positivist, Sampson Boamah has argued that ethnic conflicts or ‘ethnicity’ has been the most spectacular element hindering development on the continent, and specifically in Ghana.
In this article, I will contend that the neglect of research and scholarship by leaders has been more influential to this developmental deadlock.
Ethnicity, that is, being a part of a social group with a particular cultural tradition, can undoubtedly choke economic and political development. Developmental projects that require the collaboration of individuals from different ethnicity could be dragged due to dissimilar individual traditions.
Ethnicity can lead to ethnocentrism, a more lethal concept whereby individuals harbor preconceptions of other ethnic groups based on their own cultural traditions.
Ethnicity and ethnocentrism have caused civil, regional and even global wars that have annihilated boundless lives and properties.
Boamah attributes the awful economic, and sometimes political underdevelopment of many nations in Africa to this explosion of ethnic wars. While this may be a valid proposition in some cases, in many instances, it doesn’t hold.
Globally, ethnocentrism have led to wars resulting in the massacre of innumerable lives. During the Third Reich in Nazi Germany, the authoritarian regime incited ethnic conflicts between the conceptual ‘Aryan race’ thought to be a pure race and other ethnic minorities, particularly Jews in Europe who were considered adulterated groups.
The Nazi regime, characterized by its antisemitism, and other ethnocentric injustices dominated most of Europe for several years. Elsewhere in the Soviet, the Bolshevik Revolution that swept the region early in the 20th century wasn’t devoid of ethnocentrism.
Perhaps the most conspicuous of these ethnic conflicts in contemporary history is the Palestinian uprisings at the West Bank and Gaza strips.
No doubt that these instances have ethnocentric underpinnings, however, they have not stifled development in these regions in a way that growth has been stalled in most African countries. It’s therefore faulty to reason or even ascribe the deficits in economic development in Africa to similar ethnic conflicts.
To be fair, Boamah mentioned in passing that other factors such as corruption among African leaders, and indiscipline from citizens have also restrained development. These factors are also prominent in many ‘developed’ economies.
Strikingly, Boamah failed to mention how the disregard for scientific research and scholarship have held economic growth in Africa, particularly Ghana back.
Scientific research involves the systematic investigation of materials, problems and systems to establish new facts or new methods of doing things. Indeed, scientific innovations or inventions have been the bedrock of socioeconomic growth in many regions of the world, even in places where ethnic conflicts have impacted the most, like Europe.
Through research and scholarship, many ‘developed’ regions can reassemble their governing body towards a path of progress.
Often, such ethnic conflicts are even advantageous because they provide the space for scientific innovations. Definitely, you cannot omit the influence political philosophies or ideologies that accompany or even drive such ethnic conflicts have on the economies after such wars.
Such ideologies can only be discerned when there’s an investment in research and scholarship in the social sciences and humanities in the first place.
Sadly, such investment in social science scholarship is lacking in Ghana and other African countries. In Ghana, pursuing a degree in social science, philosophy, history or many other humanities is not exciting or even advisable since you will only graduate to become another statistic of unemployed graduates.
Meanwhile, social scientists should conduct research into societal behaviors and patterns of life that will better guide policy making by the government.
In his inauguration speech as the Chancellor of University of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah affirmed how higher education should “assess the needs and aspirations of the societies for which they were instituted” in order to solve the problems the societies face.
Without an investment in social scientific research, such a higher education, which could generate theories and principles to better understand societal problems cannot be fully achieved.
To be sure, the lack of investment is not limited to the social sciences and humanities. All fields of study in Ghana do not receive the needed funds from the government to support their research. A large proportion of biological and biomedical science lecturers do not have the funds to operate research laboratories.
These are fields whose research generate data that help in understanding and addressing various diseases and disorders that devastate our society.
With no investment, research in these fields are crippled and unable to undertake the needed studies into diseases or disorders.
This leads to a reliance on data generated elsewhere, and such research are usually focused on the indigenous populations in those regions.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts from Ghanaian biomedical scientists who sequenced the genome of the virus were highly celebrated.
The successful sequencing of the genome was made possible because of the investment that the institutions they work for had received. Such investment should be made available to other researchers elsewhere.
For instance, there should be huge funding to research into the current meningitis outbreak in some parts of northern Ghana. This is the surest way to serve the local people afflicted with this infection.
Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many crevices in the global social and economic relations. Nations that usually mobilize aids to support areas hit by epidemics have themselves been impacted by the virus, as a result we see nationalism at its peak.
It is time for Ghana to readjust her operations to improve the lives of her citizens.
The problems we face as nation have less to do with ethnic conflicts or ethnocentrism as Boamah claimed. In fact, as identity politics is on the rise around the world, it’s more likely that ethnicity will often be rallied by politicians to win power.
Undoubtedly, ethnicity is not the major inhibitor of development. The deficiency in investment in research is more pervading element of socio-economic development.
It’s therefore necessary, or even imperative for the government to set up an apparatus that will lead to an increased funding for research and development.
Source: Yaw Kwakye