Why Ghanaians Are Smart People Trapped In Dumb Systems – Seth Tandoh

(The 5 Soft Issue Challenges Of Ghanaian Society.)

There are MANY positive aspects of our culture to treasure and promote. However some aspects of the social systems we have in Ghana, principally our upbringing and education, seem designed to dumb down the individual’s intelligence – intelligence we know exists because when the same Ghanaian is taken to another society/culture, he or she often excels.

Here, I isolate 5 key soft issues (beliefs, attitudes and behaviours) we value that suppress the potential of Ghanaians who often travel to other societies and thrive!

1. We Value People Pleasing And Dependency
People-pleasing is our national ‘disease’ in Ghana. The desire to ‘worship’ others is at the root of most of our problems. Too many of us want to be seen as ‘yes’ men. It is what made us such ‘good’ slaves! People-pleasing is defined as constantly putting the needs of others before our own needs to conform or be seen as a ‘good’ Ghanaian.

This often involves putting aside our own moral code and tolerating detrimental behaviour on the part of others especially those BIG men and women who are seen to have wealth or influence in society. In return, big men and women in society then feel obliged to ‘help’ others to maintain an image of ‘the provider’.

The extent of people pleasing among Ghanaians is quite disturbing. I once did a radio show on this topic and among the callers was a man in his fifties who actually had TO MOVE HOUSE because, by his own admission, he could not say ‘no’ to the numerous requests that his neighbours were making of him!

People pleasing leads to another great Ghanaian problem – over-dependency on others. If I am pleasing my father, I will naturally build a dependency on him. From now on, his wishes will become paramount in my life. What he thinks of my behaviour will have a large bearing on how I make my decisions even into adulthood.

One of Africa’s greatest tragedies is our lack of accountability. For a continent that supposedly has so little of everything, we waste a great deal. Corruption is widespread. People-pleasing makes us fearful of holding others accountable even when it is clear to all that they are corrupt. We are afraid to be labelled as ‘difficult’ and ‘too known’.

2. We Value The Superficial

In Ghana, great emphasis is regularly put on the outer appearance of people, places and events. ‘Show’ establishes who we are – big men and women of significance. How we acquired the funds to attain this status does not often stand up to scrutiny.

A Ghanaian student traveled to London to work. He was able to spend GBP 250 on the latest mobile phone to bring back to ‘fit in’. Back in Ghana, on the university campus, he begs his friends for food. This is a true story! His thinking was this: one must have the accoutrements of the higher class and the significance one aspires to in the hope that someone from that class will relate to you as one of them and lift you to a higher plane.

3. We Value A ‘Seen And Not Heard Upbringing’ Based On Threats And Fear

There is a lot of fear in Ghana. Much of it is instilled in us in the home. It is very good to desire disciplined, respectful and submissive children but when this means that in order to have such children we often beat them, insult them and put fear into them and, as a result, (unwittingly) tend to strip them of creativity, initiative and dignity then we have a BIG problem.

We need to understand that HUMILITY IS NOT THE SAME AS TIMIDITY. Humility is thinking of yourself less (not being proud) it is not thinking less of yourself (looking down on yourself in low confidence.) When you shame a child thinking you are correcting her all she really ends up with is shame which in turn lowers further the little self-confidence she has. She becomes timid. Take her to a quiet place and reason with her gently.

The use of fear to ‘train’ children (if it is training at all!), may work in the short run but it achieves little positive impact in the long run. Clear examples are the use of superstition to replace reason. “Don’t whistle in the bathroom or a ghost will come!” Why not tell her that singing in the shower could result in swallowed soap? This is practical information that can be used.

4. We value conformity over innovation as evidenced in our educational system

Almost every level of public education in Ghana practices what has become known as the ‘chew and pour’ system. This is where information is memorized (the ‘chewing’) and recited or retrieved word for word (the ‘pouring’) in examinations. What explains this love for ‘chew and pour’? Commonly cited reasons are lack of facilities (science schools without well equipped science labs can only teach theoretical science) and a large number of students (when an examiner has 2,000 papers to mark he often encourages and rewards predictable, streamline answers).

This method of ‘learning’ explains why even the most educated in our society form themselves into committees and write beautiful reports that are never acted on. We learn in school that the most important thing is to get it down on paper not to practicalise it.

Ghanaians are often taught to be obedient to look good and fit in without any inner understanding of WHY we are doing what we are being asked to do. Too often, as Ghanaians, we give out instructions/rules and regulations without imparting or often even knowing the wider vision behind them. The teacher/parent/leader himself may not know the vision behind what he is delivering having received the same superficial ‘training’ himself. Others feel that by withholding information they are keeping the ward or pupil ‘submissive’ or humble.

The result is that we often can’t adapt information to multiple new scenarios because we don’t really understand the problems that the rules and regulations being drilled into us were designed to solve in the first place.

5. We Value Shortcuts
When people have not been trained in reason and have to depend on others, when their creativity has not been awakened and their initiative not encouraged, they become desperate. They want to ‘make it’ but they have no idea how to do so and few tools to help them get there. As a result, they look for the easiest shortcut. From here it is a small step to immorality and corruption. Bribery, prostitution, embezzling, witchcraft – these are all ‘short’ cuts that turn out, in the end, to be long cuts.

At best, ‘we leave it God’ who has made it clear that a walk with Him is a partnership. If He had wanted to do it all alone He would never have desired to fellowship with us in the first place.

With this passiveness comes another problem in Ghana – envy of those that are moving forward. We start getting jealous when those who have sown start to reap. Why do you think some of us spend so much time and energy in coveting others’ things instead of going out and getting our own? Why is PHD, pull-him-down, widespread? Why are we always comparing ourselves unfavourably with others? Because, despite all the Church going, we still don’t know and appreciate how fearfully and wonderfully made each of us is.


Fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, the points here may be hard to swallow and they may be over simplifications but the basic points made are correct. You can never really know yourself in this environment. As a leader, firstly of yourself, you need to come out from under these systems and stand out by discovering who God designed you to be. We cannot lead anyone until we have first led ourselves.

Ghana has MANY positives – our peace loving nature, willingness to work hard, our concept of respect – it’s time to look at the negatives that are holding us back.

by Seth Tandoh