We started off last week’s piece, attempting to write French history in the present tense, hoping perhaps to draw, on all fronts, similarities between their past and our present. Yet quite clearly, we failed—for the most part.
One may find similarities between 18th-century France and this 21st-century Ghana of ours. Some may point to (and I am going to cite just one example here) the high cost of bread as being reported in today’s Ghana, and also (okay, I am going to cite yet another example) the crippling taxation the masses are suffering, as reasons why. Yet these parallels found between 18th-century France and 21st-century Ghana are in the end just that—parallel lines; similar in trajectory, yet never really converging—converging in a coup or the necessity thereof.
National journeys, histories spread across borders, when dissected reveal a common trend, a common skeletal structure. Nations, no matter the race contained within it, in the end chart similar journeys—they tend to fight the same demons, encounter similar challenges in their bid to reach a point of optimal nationhood.
Even with these similarities, we cannot ignore the differences in experiences that nations go through; or dissimilarities that may lie between a nation’s ‘now’ and another’s ‘then’ no matter how similar overall these ‘nows’ and ‘thens’ may seem to us now. For one thing, the nation of Ghana’s success does not depend on the bedding of a fifteen-year-old boy and a fourteen-year-old girl—as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were for the people of France in 1770. The 21st-century nation of Ghana does not lie perpetually in the hands of one man—with a dedicated few men at the top, enjoying in perpetuity, the fruit of the citizen’s labour, as pre-Revolution France was.
Nationhood has proven itself one of the toughest journeys yet undertaken by humankind—true. Histories spread across borders, across races, point to this fact. To successfully undertake statehood, a people require skill and care—and the occasional learning from one another.
Being very similar as we are humans, our histories and national journeys are woefully similar. They reveal these trends…
Typically, nations are forged from dissimilarities. A group of people of differing tribes, cultures, identities reach a point—whether it be willingly, semi-willingly, or forcefully—where they come together under one flag, a name; and they become with this flag and name, a nation. In the article ‘Mischief in Law’ we saw in Britain, this same trend of nationhood—and we will take a much deeper look at this topic of Britain’s founding in a later article. But in a gist it goes: this tiny island of Britain lying in the pseudo continent of Europe had roped within it, during the era of the Roman Conquest (AD 43 – AD 500)—if that is where we choose to begin—existing collectively yet independently numerous tribes. Tribes such as the Trinovantes, Novantae, Demetae, Brigantes, Caledones, Atrebates, Iceni, Catuvellauni, etc.
Before the Roman conquest, during the Iron Age, you had tribes such as Corieltauvi for instance, settled on the British land. After the fall of the Roman Empire, and their consequent exit from Britain, came yet another conquest—from the Anglo Saxons. With the Anglo Saxons came the infiltration and the formation of new tribes within this land. Tribes such as the Vandals, Saxons, Goths, Franks, Angles, etc. In their ethnic subsets, these tribes coexisted on this one land, until William of Normandy arrived on the island, laying claim to it, conquering it, and began forcefully forging these tribes of people into one unit—into one nation. These differing tribes of people, speaking differing languages—these Belgic tribes, Celtic, Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, Roman, Normans were soon to merge as one people. Cultures merged into a singular identity; languages merged into a singular tongue—one known today as English. Just like that, the land of Britain had become a nation.
Centuries later, these same people, having spent centuries on this journey of nationhood, and having mastered it, were to set about on a journey of ‘conquerings’ of their own. And it was on these journeys of conquests, so called ‘discovering’ that a certain Christopher Columbus, in the mid-15th century, inspired by the era in which he was born, this era itself inspired by eras preceding it, set sail for the Americas—on a murderous journey that opened up a route for the rest of conquistador Europe. And just like that the conquistador-trained Europe had become aware of the Americas. Not only were they aware of it; they knew how to get there.
After a series of countless explorations, conquests, agreements, the area north of North America was carved out—the history of modern United States had begun. So onwards from their homes in Europe they moved, in the early 17th century, on to this ‘new world’—a land already inhabited. A land already inhabited by tribes, as Britain had themselves been centuries prior. The native Americans comprising Cherokees, the Mahicans, Creeks, Navajos, Hopis, Delawares, Shawnees, Abenakis, Choctaws, etc. were to find themselves a statistic of history—a statistic of ‘history repeats itself’. Because from Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, France, these Europeans, seeking to escape, among others, the economic hardships and the impositions of monarchical and hierarchical rule of their home nations, came into this supposed new world to, in turn, impose themselves on these natives.
So then, America, already consisting of differing tribes of people, was to find itself further infiltrated by different tribes (different nationals, once themselves, tribes). And together, they were expected to, both willingly and unwillingly, merge in a melting pot, into one nation, one people. And they sure did; not until after making yet another murderous trip to Africa and the Caribbean—to steal a bunch of people from these regions. And there they had it, a nation comprising a hodgepodge of differing people, all made one people by the urgency of statehood.
Within each national and continental border we have this same history of forging ensuing. In Ghana, we have our own history of differing tribes—a history which we will dissect later in more detail—coming together to form a nation. In each African state, there is again this same history of subsets merging to become a whole—again, this is a history we will look at closely subsequently. But what we intend to bring to the fore, with this highlighting of this global trend of historical ‘forging’, is yet another global trend… A trend that globally tends to ensue after the forging—the fighting.
Forging a thing from dissimilarities is not an easy and staying task. Because after the forging comes the necessity of a ‘staying’—staying perpetually merged. And wouldn’t humankind worldwide be saints, and their lives, a utopia, if they were so easily merged, and remain so without any initial hitches? This is where we find countries like those in the continent of Africa and the Middle East, having been made to experience their own versions of modern nationhood later (in the 20th century, even as the developed world did so in the 18th) bearing incorrectly the mark of ‘dystopia’. Why? Because they are showing now or have shown fairly recently, signs that developed countries did in the distant past, the aftermath of the forging—the fighting.
The United States of America, for one, before it was in fact this united, had its states spending four good years warring. The nation had its South in active war with its North for four whole years. Why? Because half of the nation wanted a secession. They couldn’t stay together; they had had enough and decided they wanted themselves broken free. Four mighty years, a people fought to break free. But thankfully—for them—the Union won. So together it was. But even now as they stand, a nation 244 years old, you have internal squabbles here and there—internal squabbles painfully still represented in their politics. The Republicans, the Democrats, this polar-end nature of US politics is woefully still reminiscent of its Civil War past. It’s a shame. But overall it is one of the inescapable hurdles of nationhood—a hurdle requiring consistent successful crossings. A nation is only as good as how safely it consistently crosses these hurdles characteristic of nationhood, no matter what form these hurdles may take.
There is nowhere this fighting comes to a head in a nation than in the determination of its governance. When it comes to the issue of how the people are to be led, how their affairs are to be managed, how long leadership is to last, how change of leadership is to occur…there is arguably no place where the frictions of nationhood come to a head than right here, on these matters. We have seen how 18th-century France was faced with these challenges—challenges which, in their case, found resolution in a toppling. Because for the people of 18th-century France, the only solution, it seemed, to get over this period of perpetuity of bad leadership, and a perpetuity of fatalistic destinies was a toppling over. Because the system did not make provision in law nor custom as to how the hands of leadership were to change. Leadership was and remained trapped in one bloodline. To do away with such a regime, the people of 18th century France had no other recourse than a toppling over—so then, a coup d’état, a revolution.
It needed not have been bloody, but we saw how a series of events necessitated, sometimes caused a change of hearts in peaceful revolutionaries to adopt bloody means so as to ensure the success of the revolution.
In countries like the United States of America, we saw how their own version of unrests during their early years of statehood was not for the right to rule, but the right to secede—the right to form a separate, distinct nation and government. So coups were not the ultimate aim, but the breaking into two. But going further back in the nation’s history, should this gentleman, George Washington, upon taking power as the nation’s first President in 1789… should he have immediately overthrown the democratic Constitution and formed for himself a one-party, totalitarian state, American history would undoubtedly have been different. Who knows, maybe the word ‘coup’ would have been smeared there too.
Coup d’états are characteristically destructive. In their very nature, to ensure so-called promised progress, they cause a setback. To move forward, the people are brought back a few steps—most times, many steps back. And most often than not, in this setting back, the people tend to find themselves stuck there—backwards, worse off than they were even before. Coup d’états are never a rational people’s first recourse. Rational citizenries living under a political system allowing for the smooth, periodic changeover of governments, such a people, being rational as they are, do not up one day and decide to coup. In nationhood terms, coups are like the metaphoric drowning man. The drowning man or woman, having in their reach a large plank—sometimes even a whole lifeboat, do not go in search of and reach for a straw. Such a man or woman, making a grab for a straw when a boat is right there within their grasp would scientifically be categorised as foolish, no? And we can safely say that a nation like Ghana, is undoubtedly no nation of fools, no?
There comes a time in a nation’s life when they reach the point dubbed ‘the flow’. These are the periods where a nation can be said to have grown into its body—those territories within it, it truly owns and effectively manages; periods where nations have for themselves working, robust systems in all aspects; periods when nations are in the zone, if you know what I mean. These periods are not without their challenges, however. But nations, during these periods, are so mature economically, socioeconomically, socio-politically, geopolitically, that they are able to each time, do certain skilful kpa kpa kpa manoeuvring that removes itself and its nationals from the pickle—whatever it might be. Nations need not be developed to be said to have reached this point. Developing nations can show certain signs, certain trajectories that point to them reaching this point any time soon. Such nations too may be said to be in the flow.
Immediately, that’s not how nations are built. These similarities in journeys highlighted among nations worldwide, is not to serve as a thumbs-up to nations presently finding themselves in the state of squabbles and unrests—as though to say, ‘all nations go through it, so you must necessarily and fatalistically bask in it, and extend it if need be’. No, that is not the intention of this piece. The intention is to help do away with any perception of peculiarities imposed or willingly borne by such nations—developing nations particularly. Because when a people are made to feel as though coups, unrests, etc. are peculiar to them, such a people begin to truly believe that such things are in fact in their nature. And when this happens—when this notion of peculiarities is borne and ingrained in such a people, what ensues is perpetuity. And something that is supposed to be a mere hitch in national journey, becomes to the people an essence of self and of nationality. So much so that when the people, having gone through and successfully crossed this period of unrests, as Ghana did in the 20th century with the violent overthrows of governments, such a people if care is not taken, might still hone in themselves the false impression of such a past being ingrained in their DNA. And with this misconception of self, an unfortunate return to the past is easily made. Coups are not African; stop laying claims to it—with actions, thoughts, and words. This blatant degradations of self and statehood, we must stop laying claim to it.
As a young man, a classmate of mine, seeking for himself purpose, recklessly and selfishly throws about the word ‘coup’; as the people, in their pocket sizes spew the word ‘coup’, this nation on an incipient journey of growth easily faces an unfortunate return—a shameful retracing of steps. And this retracing of ill-fortuned steps, that is how bad nations are born.
Immediately, that is not how great nations are built; yet a nation’s journey is in itself telling—it may show promising signs or spell impending doom. Nations may perform brilliantly, averagely, or sometimes downright badly economically in this journey. We would be lying to ourselves if we said that Ghana, blessed as she is with all these natural and human resources, has performed brilliantly in her economic and socioeconomic journey. Heaven knows we have many counterpart nations, some having not a percentage of our natural nor human resources, yet having begun their national journeys the same time as us, who are doing more marvellously than we are now. I like to think of Ghana as being like the promising young child, that child prodigy, who is now barely doing averagely. There is nothing to really write home about, economically—if we be frank.
Yet, a nation is never able to perform economically and socioeconomically if politically it is in ruins. And that is why no sensible group of people, being citizens of a nation that has attained for itself, a political flow—a sense of stability in its running and changing of government, will, in seeking economic and socioeconomic advancement, opt for itself a do-over in the form of a coup—the drowning person’s straw, coup d’états. Even with my ever-dwindling bank account, and heavily taxed Ghanaian head and hungry stomach, I say that that is the stupidest thing I have heard yet—coup d’état, in today’s Ghana.
Should one find from their parents that their birth was a mistake, they do not slay themselves with a knife, and insist upon their parents a re-do. That is the scenario coup d’états, proffered in a democratic system, paint. It is a solution proffered by the uninformed, or persons indifferent to the immediate bloody devastations it inevitably causes. It is a solution proffered by persons suffering moments of sheer weakness of mind that it makes them incognisant of the world around them, the world in which we are now, this very highly globalised world.
Nations incognisant of the fact that this globalised world is a race—the world’s longest and most important marathon—are the losing races. This highly globalised world—offering limitless possibilities for collaborations between nations, collaborations coming in the form as though they are purely for brotherhood sake—is in reality, a marathon. A nation is only as good as its performance on the global front. Developing nations like ours—having begun our statehood only some few decades ago, even as many did theirs, two to three centuries ago—are in very disadvantaged positions. We were thrown unfairly into a race having some of its participants on their final lap—participants both advantaged in time and starting capital. We are on the same race with developed superpowers like much of the developed West; nations which started off their journeys earlier and wealthier than us—with starting capital much of which was stolen from us. And yet, we Africans, we Ghanaians have to partake in this same global race. It is mighty silly for some to think that we have time to take a short vacation of coup d’état-ing. So silly.