Next best teacher after experience is a POWERFUL story. One that evokes the full range of emotions, from euphoria to anger and pain and other sentiments that galvanize people to act. Through these actions, kingdoms, empires and nations rise and wane. The human condition is intrinsically linked to the stories we tell, and in Ghana, it used to be a common sight to see people sit together in groups most evenings, sharing stories.
Now picture Nana Yaa Asantewa rising to address a despondent and broken nation. The Chiefs and elders of Asante were demoralized, but she knew which story to tell, in order to trigger the right emotions and psychological buttons, to arouse the nation and inspire the people to fight. She went back to the foundation myths of Asante, reminding the people about where they came from and told the story of past bravery and glory. Her words in that evocative speech inspired and galvanized the people to take up arms and defend their kingdom, ensuring the dignity of Asante stayed intact, even if the battle was lost.
There is a reason why colonizers aggressively reshape narratives of the colonized. They attack religion, impose their culture, and wipe records of history because it is in these structures that stories which form the basis for the identity of a people are stored. When we forget our stories as people, we lose ourselves.
The National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), as part of its mandate to educate citizens on their civic responsibilities, is about to launch a novel, wholesome good quality family entertainment television series, which will also model and nurture appropriate behaviour among citizens. The television drama series called “Omambapa: The Citizen” will be launched in the coming weeks. Set in Ghana today, the story follows the life and times of the upright Mr Kwame Brimpong an assemblyman and teaching volunteer, his wife Isabella a successful entrepreneur, Their young daughter Yaa who is passionate about the environment, ‘Mike Tyson’ a ‘connection man’ and a host of other interesting characters. The storyline touches the big issues of our time such as corruption, environmental degradation, patriotism and good neighbourliness. Through the stories of these characters, we hope to ignite a sober national conversation about ourselves, our country, the kind of society we want to live in and the future we envisage for ourselves.
The leading economic powers in the world today have always propagated stories through the media, with the aim of modelling appropriate behaviour and creating a sense of patriotism and community. During the Second World War, Americans, who were hitherto indifferent, were galvanized to support the war through the most popular medium of the era, comic books. Superman was unveiled in June 1938, with an ethos that came to represent the American dream ie, a struggling immigrant who is hardworking and compassionate but who is also brave and fights for a just society. Americans identified with this narrative and his stories gave people hope and a sense of pride in being American so Superman came to represent the American ideal that people aspired to. Subsequently, when America jumped into the war in 1941 after the attack on Pearl Habour, comic books became an important medium for promoting the war and encouraging people to invest in it by purchasing war bonds. The superheroes represent ‘the good’ in the existential struggle between good and evil and most people want to align with and identify with ‘the good’. There is no reason why we cannot create superheroes in Ghana to serve the same purpose.
During the cold war, both Americans and Russians used stories through cinema and books, to create mistrust, suspicion and hatred for one another by constantly portraying each other as aggressors, thieves, degenerates, immoral and cultureless. These tools were highly effective in shaping the behaviour of people in one country towards people in another country. This is not to promote telling negative stories but to reiterate the point that stories are powerful tools that can be harnessed for good or ill. Of course, we in Ghana should make use of stories for good.
In the past two decades, China has adopted a strategy of leveraging its economic might in acquiring portions of the global digital infrastructure that supports media channels. From around 2003 there was a strategic shift towards openness and engagement, but more importantly, the covert influence of content. Through these deliberate actions, China will tell its stories and share its perspectives, so that what the world will know of China will be what China wants the world to know.
In Ghana, free media is one of the strongest pillars of our democracy. Article 162 of the 1992 constitution states, “Freedom and independence of the media are hereby guaranteed”. Yet we have not been proactive and intentional in utilizing this liberal media dispensation for shaping narratives to build the mindset for accelerated development. Our television content is dominated by telenovelas and movies that serve no strategic purpose beyond entertainment. Whilst there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, there is also nothing wrong with developing purposeful content. In fact, it is my dream that those who acquire media licenses are required to donate one hour of airtime a week to civic education, with twenty-five per cent of that hour in the prime time slot.
If countries like the United States of America, and The People’s Republic of China understands the need to actively manage their narratives in order to influence behavior and shape global perceptions, how much more Ghana? We must tell our stories and we must tell them intentionally with the aim of moulding the patriotic citizens who will work to build the country we desire. Watch out for ‘Omanbapa : The Citizen’, coming to a television screen near you, shortly!