Ghana’s Evolution for the past 60 years of independence: A critical look at the role of Churches By Bro. Damian Avevor(Council 10)
Ghana’s Evolution for the past 60 years of independence: A critical look at the role of Churches
By Bro. Damian Avevor(Council 10)
On the eve of Ghana’s 50th Independence Anniversary on March 6, 2007, Christian Churches in Ghana, in the spirit of the Golden Jubilee Celebration, gathered together to pray fervently to thank God for the development of the nation.
As the nation on March 6 2017, celebrate the 60th Independence Anniversary, Ghanaians are once again fervently waiting to further see the efforts of Churches.
As it is known in Ghana, it is common on Sundays and for that matter, any other day to see Christians going to Church to give thanks to God for the numerous good things He has done for them either over the week, month or years, more especially seeing Ghanaians through a successful elections over the years and also for the forthcoming one on November 7, 2016.
Efforts of Churches in Ghana’s history
In the past sixty years, Churches have played pivotal roles in the evolution of the Gold Coast, now Ghana. The advent of Christianity or Christian Orthodox Churches in Ghana – Roman Catholic, Evangelical Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican and Presbyterian brought a great deal to the nation through their fight against injustices, oppressions, social evils, poverty.
The Orthodox Christian Churches led the evangelization crusade in Ghana in the 19th century onwards. These religious denominations were led by Europeans and the impact of these Christian institutions cannot be over emphasized. The late 1970s witnessed a second wave of religious crusade led by Ghanaians. These Charismatic Churches for the past three decades have been making headlines with their healing and deliverance services.
The Catholic Church especially is one of the premier Christian Religious Missions established in Ghana by the Europeans in the 15th Century (1482) by some Catholic Priests who accompanied the Portuguese to Elmina who arrived in the Gold Coast in January 1482 to build the Elmina Castle.
In 1642, the Dutch forbade the Catholic Church which led to the arrest of the Portuguese between 1637 and 1642.Catholicism came to a halt due to the presence of the Dutch from 1637- 1872. This situation became a bother to Sir James Marshall, a Scottish layman, who arrived in the Gold Coast as a Chief Justice in 1879.
With the zeal to bring back Catholicism, Sir James Marshall championed the refounding of the Catholic Church in the year 1880 after 250 years of the breakdown (1637) of the first Catholic Church established by the Portuguese in 1482. His efforts led to the arrival of two Catholic Priests – Rev. Frs. Augustine Moreau and Eugene Murat, both SMA and French nationals to commence Catholic evangelisation after Propaganda Fide, on the approval of Pope Leo XIII, officially assigned them to take charge of the Gold Coast as a Prefecture at Elmina.
After establishing a mission station at Elmina by March, 31, 1882, the S.M.A Missionaries decided to extend the Catholic faith to Kumasi, the capital of the Asante State. They would, in due course spread the Catholic faith to other communities. However, this intention was not possible and it took the Catholic Missionaries twenty eighty years to found a formal Church in Asante. The Catholic Church opened the way for other religious denominations when it was on recess during the time of the Dutch.
Many Ghanaians became formally educated through the work of the Christian Missions. Many acquired skills through which they had decent means of livelihood as they contributed to local, regional and national development at various levels. Again, by embracing Christianity, many Ghanaian societies abandoned several obnoxious traditional customs. Further, the Christian missions led the way in health-care provision on which they provided western health facilities for the people of Ghana especially to the rural folk.
The Methodist Mission was established in Cape Coast by Rev. Joseph Rhodes Dunwell in 1835. Both the Catholic Church and Methodist expanded their missions beyond the coastal towns of Ghana after establishment at Elmina and Cape Coast respectively.
Over the years or precisely over the last two decades saw the proliferation of Pentecostalism along the Coastal and southern parts of Ghana, which emphasises on healing and deliverance; preach prosperity and acquisition of wealth.
In Ghana today, there are over 2,000 Churches, some of which have turned uncompleted buildings, rooms, streets and lorry parks into places of worship or organised crusades and all- night sessions.
Christian Missions in the past sixty years without any reservation have played prominent roles in seeing the country into independence and bringing socio-economic development to the nation. All over Ghana, the Missions, especially the Orthodox ones have provided education as part of their evangelisation.
Catholic education in focus
The Catholic Church, for instance, provides about 30 percent of educational institutions in the country and can boast of providing education in some of the most deprived areas of Ghana.
It is estimated that between 15 to 20 percent of all Public Schools at the Basic level in Ghana were established by the Catholic Church. Over ten out of the Public Senior High Girls’ School are Catholic, while 40 percent of the Public Boys’ Schools are also Catholic. The Church also runs over 58 Vocational and/or Technical Institutes in the country. The top ten Senior High Schools in the Country at least include at least six Catholic Schools.
The Church also has a Catholic University College at Fiapre in the Sunyani Diocese of the Brong-Ahafo Region, the Spiritan University College at Ejisu-Ashanti, the Catholic Institute of Business Technology in Accra and the Pastoral Social Institute at Wa.
Holistic education by the Church is an imperative from Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ life and mission on earth, He educated the people of His time and advanced their development,” says Most Rev. Charles Palmer-Buckle, Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra, Ghana, during one of the Catholic Education Week Celebrations in Accra.
Some of the most prominent Second Cycle Schools established by the Catholic Church are St. Augustine’s and Holy Child (Central Region); Bishop Herman, OLA Girls, St. Paul’s, St. Mary’s (Volta); St. Francis Xavier Minor Seminary, St. Francis of Assisi (Upper West); St. Charles (Tamale); Notre Dame, St. Bernadette Vocational (Upper East); Opoku Ware, St. Louis, (Kumasi), Pope John, St. Peter’s, St. Rose’s, St. Martin’s, St. Paul’s Technical (Eastern Region); Archbishop Porters, St. Mary’s and St. John’s(Western Region), St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Margaret Mary (Accra) and others.
In the area of health, Christian Churches have led the way in the provision of health care facilities, thus providing jobs for the youth. The promotion of good health over the years has been the desire of the Mission Churches. Today, most of the hospitals in the country are owned by the missions. Currently, according to reports; there are 137 Catholic Health Delivery Facilities of which over 37 are Hospitals.
Among them are Apam St. Luke Catholic Hospital, St. Francis Xavier, Our lady of Grace (Cape Coast); Battor Catholic Hospital; St. Andrew Catholic Clinic (Accra); Anfoega Catholic Hospital, Margaret Marquart (Ho Diocese); St Anthony, Sacred Heart, Comboni Hospital (Keta-Akatsi); Holy Family, St. Dominic, St. Joseph, St. Martin de Porres (Koforidua Diocese); St. John of God, St. Elizabeth, (Goaso); St. Martin’s, St. Michael’s and St. Peter’s (Obuasi); St. Martin de Porres (Takoradi); Holy Family, St. Mary’s (Sunyani); Holy Family , St. Theresa and St. Matthias (Techiman)
Long before the idea of the Health Insurance dawned on the then New Patriotic Party (NPP) government of President John Agyekum Kufuor, the Catholic Church had already advanced in the industry through the establishment of the Nkoranza Health Insurance Scheme in the Techiman Diocese which has had an impact on the people.
Voice of the Voiceless
Churches in Ghana over the years also took a stand against social evils in the political process of Ghana, in order to bring peace and justice. All the political regimes in Ghana from 1957 to date in one way or the other have had confrontations with Churches as they (Churches) openly condemn some acts of governments.
The political struggles that immediately followed Independence saw one of the most horrendous era that may be ranked second to the slave trade in terms of its destruction of human dignity and resources, states Sir Fosuaba Mensah Banahene, a staunch Catholic and the former Administrator of the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFUND) in a speech he delivered on the theme: 50 Years of Independence: The Impact of the Diocesan Priest in Nation Building at the 21ST Biennial Congress of the National Union of Ghana Diocesan Priests’ Associations (NUGDPA) in 2007.
During the time of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the First President of Ghana who was a Catholic, the Christian Council of Ghana had some misunderstandings with Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party (CPP) over the pouring of libation to welcome the Duchess of Kent and over a statue of Nkrumah. (George Bob Millar and Gloria K. Bob Millar, 28th February, 2007).
In 1958, Nkrumah’s statue which stood twenty feet high was erected in front of the old Parliament House. On its pedestal was inscribed ‘Seek ye first the political kingdom and all other things shall be added to you.”
The Christian Council of Ghana (CCG) campaigned for the removal of the words but to no avail as Nkrumah stood his grounds.
This inscription might have been borrowed from scriptures (Matthew 6:33) “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all things shall be added unto you.”
The Christian Council of Ghana (CCG) never deterred about the inability of the government to remove the inscription on Nkrumah’s statue again condemned the introduction of the Preventive Detention Act.
Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who was the Special Guest of Honour at Ghana’s 50th Independence celebration on 6th March, 2007 at the Independence Square, asked Ghanaians to take critical look at the words of Matthew 6:33 and live by it to move the nation forward to the next 50 years.
Another Ghanaian leader who came in for criticism by Christian denominations was General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong (1972-78) who was also born into the Catholic Church. The supposed mismanagement of the Ghanaian economy by the Supreme Military Council Members (SMC) resulted in organised labour embarking on strikes.
“When the crisis in May to August 1977 erupted, General Acheampong declared a Week of National repentance to run from 27th June to July 3, 1977. The official reasons given by the soldiers for subjecting all ills of the nation, political and economic, were due to the sinfulness of the nation (Pobee 1992: 6).
During that time, most of the Churches ignored the call for repentance and rather criticized him for his mismanagement of the country until he was overthrown in a palace coup by General F. W. Akuffo in 1978.
The other regime that came under heavy criticism was the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) led by Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings (“The People’s man”). This regime which run the country from 1981 to 1992 before going for a constitutional rule in 1993, really suffered a lot of criticisms through Communiqués from the Churches and publication in the Mission Media (The Catholic Standard and the Christian Messenger).
In the 1980s, The Catholic Standard became a credible, eloquent mouth piece not only for the Church but also for Ghanaians as a whole. During that period, the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference worked assiduously to uphold and defend the human rights of the people by together staging a national crusade with the Christian Council of Ghana in 1989 to prevent the then government from implementing the infamous Religious Bodies (Registration Law), which sought to take away from the people the right of freedom of worship (Sir Fosuaba Banahene, January 2007).
The Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (GCBC) over the years after its Plenary Assemblies, issues Communiqués on national issues, which have helped governments to work harder for the betterment of the ordinary Ghanaian. The Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church also issued various statements in the mid-eighties to condemn the alleged atrocities that were being meted out on Ghanaians.
For example, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Tamale and currently the President of the GCBC, Most Rev. Philip Naameh, in an interview with this Writer in 2009, called on the Government to join hands with Religious Bodies to fight the twin evils of bribery and corruption in the country.
He said the problem of corruption in the nation had come about because people have thrown away their religious values that instill good morals in them. He said that the corruption in the system was due to human weakness and debunked the perception that Churches only take care of the pastoral needs while the government provide the material needs of the people.
According to him, Africans were very religious but many have thrown away their religious values, saying that “they have become corrupt because Religion is no more in their offices”.
Archbishop Naameh queried: “Why do politicians fortify themselves. For all you know, some of them are Christians but visit shrines. What does the “juju” man have that God does not have? He said it was time efforts were made to bring Religion also to offices to instill moral values in the fabric of society. “If we do not see nation-building in terms of putting a good moral fabric among Ghanaians, we are going to be sorry”, he added
He said the relationship with God, morals and ethics were very integral to society, stating that “when we start talking about corruption to people who have no moral values, how can they know corrupt practices are evil?”
Archbishop Naameh, who was then the Episcopal Chairman for Education of the GCBC, noted that morality and values were the issues that our educational system should be stressing on and when it gets deep rooted in the people, they will understand the dos and don’ts of society. “You can recall that the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference acted aggressively on the removal of Religious and Moral Education from the School curricula”, he said. The Archbishop was of the view that for morality to widely have impact on society, more Schools should be turned into boarding Schools.
In 2006, the Christian Council of Ghana and the Catholic Church jointly also condemned the purported Gay Conference in Accra and described it as an evil act and abomination.
Conflict resolution is of no exception by the Christian Missions which are seen as institutions that can bring true reconciliation and heal wounds of the people.
The former Chairman of the Christian Council of Ghana, Rt. Rev. Dr. Paul Fynn in one of his Sermons at an Ecumenical Service between the CCG and the GCBC, asked Ghanaians to give thanks to God for not experiencing any civil war as in other countries.
This message brings to mind the need for Ghanaians, Christians and Muslims like to take a critical stock of their lives in the past fifty-nine years, work towards true peace and unity devoid of political tension, ethnic sentiment and bickering.
Leaders of Christian denominations, as peacemakers, have been made part of the National Peace Council with Cardinal Peter Appiah Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace as its first Chairman.
For the role Christian Missions especially the Orthodox are playing in the development of the nation deserves a lot of recognition beyond honour, as put by Archbishop Palmer-Buckle, “It stands to reason that the Catholic Church should be recognised as a principal provider and stake-holder in national development.”
“We should not only be accorded the due honour, but we expect also to be consulted in matters of the delivery of education in this country (Ghana). Unfortunately, most of what we get is lip service and rather weak commitment on the part of the governing institutions that are responsible for providing and supervising education in this country (Ghana)”.
Indeed, the role Churches have played on Ghana’s Evolution and Development leaves a lot to be desired and Ghanaians are looking forward to a better Ghana, while the Churches continue to be the voices of the voiceless, the hope of the hopeless and the helper of the helpless.