By Mawutodzi Kodzo Abissath
The wisdom of our ancestors is reflected in this simple Ghanaian proverb that says: “One tree does not make a forest.”
One could imagine at the time our ancestors coined this particular proverb, a forest was forest indeed. But today, due to some human activities such as illegal mining “galamsey”, bush fires and illegal chainsaw operations, even our forest reserves are devastated. And the day the last tree will be gone, the last man on Earth will also be gone.
The objective to this article is not about the value of forests. It is an attempt to underscore the significance of the Republic Day Celebration. The fact that this year’s celebration is taking place in an election year makes it even more crucial. Why? We are God’s chosen people, destined to serve as torchbearers for others to follow. So, we should never allow politics to divide us for any earthly reasons.
Perhaps, some of our compatriots, especially the youth, may want to know what brought about the celebration of the Republic Day in the first place. Well, on March 6, 1957, Ghana became the first tropical African country to secure her political independence from colonial Britain. Despite that historic gesture, the British monarch still remained the ceremonial Head of State of the country for another three years.
It was on July 1, 1960 that Ghana’s colonial umbilical cord was completely cut off from the United Kingdom. On that day, the Queen of England who was the Governor General over Ghana for 100 years finally said farewell to us and went home to rest peacefully. And it was on that day that Ghana attained a republican status. It meant that Ghana was fully in charge of her own destiny. Ghana had the right to manage or mismanage her own affairs as our first President Osagyfo Dr Kwame Nkrumah was noted to have stated.
So, this year’s event is the 56th anniversary. This memorable day in the political history of our country has been designated as Senior Citizen’s Day. It is a day when our revered grandfather and grandmother pensioners are exclusively invited to dine and wine at the State House in Accra and to fraternise with the first gentleman of the land, the President.
A Chinese proverb says, “If you want to honour a man or woman, honour him or her while he or she is alive.” Ghanaian senior citizens must not necessarily die before funeral rites are held for them at the forecourt of the State House. This is why those whose fertile imagination gave birth to the concept of Senior Citizen’s Day to coincide with the Republic Day ought to be commended.
The significance of the Republic Day Celebration is still being debated among some Ghanaians. Some are of the view that the day has lost its significance because of ravaging poverty, corruption, skyrocketing electricity bills and what have you?
Others think that despite everything, Ghana is an icon of political stability in Africa and has been enjoying peaceful co-existence with all manner of persons regardless of their socio-economic, cultural, political and religious differences. This phenomenon is rare in some neigbouring nations on the continent, they argue.
Ghana’s 1992 Republican Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression. So, every Ghanaian has the right to express his or her opinion on issues of national importance. Thus, everybody is entitled to his or her opinion. If for nothing at all, the fact that Ghanaians have the right to designate the Republic Day as Senior Citizen’s Day, is an indication that they are in charge of their own destiny, at least politically if not economically, though.
The significance of making such a decision must not be taken for granted. If one considers the fact that for over 400 years (15th – 19th centuries) the transatlantic slave trade thrived on the African continent, of which Ghana was part. Then Ghana had to endure another 100 years of colonial domination. Now Ghanaians can decide who should rule over them through democratic principles. And this year, come November, Ghanaians will use their “kokromoti” power through the ballot box and not the bullet to choose their leaders in general elections. This is no mean achievement at all of the Republican status of the country. For this alone some observers think strongly the Day must be celebrated.
While the debate on the significance of the Republic Day Celebration continues, for the purpose of this article, I would like to dwell a bit on the value of Senior Citizens’ Day and why priority attention must be given to our senior citizens. In fact, senior citizens can be characterised as the rock upon which sustainable development ought to be constructed for the benefit of present and future generations of the country.
First of all, it is my considered view that a nation that does not have viable youth cannot have noble senior citizens. In other words, if the youth of today are not well educated to become productive employees both in the public and private sectors of the economy then the nation is doomed forever. If the youth cannot contribute to the development of the nation, they cannot metamorphose into pensionable senior citizens in the future. Can you imagine the legacy a criminal or an armed robber senior citizen can bequeath society?
Ghanaian noble pensioners who contributed to the development of the nation must not only be invited to dine and wine at the State House on Senior Citizens’ Day. This celebration must take various forms for them on every blessed day all year round. As a nation we must recognise the fact that senior citizens are made up of various professionals and experts in their respective fields of specialty.
Thus, Ghana abounds in retiree senior citizens who are medical officers, lawyers, engineers, communicators/journalists, soldiers, police officers, farmers, scientists, civil servants, religious leaders, traditional authorities with wisdom, market women, educationists, health professionals, drivers, kitchen caterers, University professors and so on.
In some countries, retirees or pensioners are not abandoned to their fate at all. Their knowledge and expertise are tapped in various ways for the benefit of their countries as long as their physical strength will permit them until they cross the Great Sea. For illustration, I will cite only the case of Singapore and make some suggestions for the consideration of the authorities concerned.
In 2004, while on a short training course in Singapore at the then Nanyang Polytechnic, now Technical University in that country, participants were taken to one department of the University known as Knowledge Management Department. In that department only retired civil servants or engineers, or communication specialists and other experts are invited to share their knowledge, skills, experiences and expertise with students.
We were told that whenever the current lecturers were confronted with some technical challenges in invention or manufacturing of some machines, they would invite inventor, the original manufacturers or any retired professionals in that field of expertise to come and tell the students how they solved similar problems during their time.
What was more interesting about the Knowledge Management Department in Singapore was that people who were invited to interact with students did not necessarily have to be retired professors or educationists in the true sense of the word. They were interested in tapping the practical experiences of our senior citizens. Interestingly it was not only retiree professors who were invited for this knowledge management and experience sharing exercises.
So, for example, the Department could even invite an “illiterate” cocoa farmer who had been very successful in his field to share his or her experiences with students. An old catering officer in a village somewhere could be invited to show students how to cook “apapransa” or any rare traditional cuisine that modern catering officers do not know etc.
By so doing, the senior citizens are kept active and they live longer while at same time adding to the stock of knowledge of their country. Can’t this strategy be adopted by Ghana? I hope some institutions might have been doing so already. But it must be institutionalised as a national policy. Sometimes we wait till doctors embark on strike action before we remember that we have some retired medical officers to fall on. Why?
It is suggested that besides the dining and wining sessions at the State House by senior citizens on the Republic Day, some avenue should be created to give opportunities to capable and willing senior citizens to exhibit and demonstrate their expertise to the public especially the youth, on the occasion or even periodically.
For instance, a special exhibition or demonstration centre could be mounted at the forecourt of the State House on Republic Day to be dubbed as Knowledge and Experience Sharing Segment of the Day. This exhibition can be one of the pre-event activities leading to the D Day itself. This is where some senior citizens can put into practical application some of their expertise for the benefit of the youth.
It is suggested that apart from what the state can and must do for our noble senior citizens, corporate Ghana, various professional bodies or associations can also come together and sponsor such events. It would boost the senior citizens’ morale. For all we know some of them who are well to do may even volunteer to offer their services gratis to the less fortunate among themselves for the prosperity of the nation. All they may need is recognition and appreciation.
As we celebrate the 56th Republic Day Anniversary and Senior Citizens’ Day in an election year of 2016, lets ensure that our nation continues to enjoy peace and unity for development.
The author works with Information Services Department (ISD) in Accra