We should be very concerned as Ghanaians, about the proliferation of notebooks and exercise books that bear photographs of certain foreign personalities on their covers, in our schools today. We should be concerned also, because of the seeming official endorsement of such materials as it correlates very much to Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony. Despite our fifty six years of independence from colonial rule, these signs point to a people under a form of cultural domination.
To begin with, we have to understand that images are very powerful communication devices. They can engage our minds in ways that by-pass our analytical reasoning and have great influence over us. They can influence our perceptions in profound ways and leave us, including educated people, vulnerable to control.
Also, they reach a wider audience including literates and illiterates, and they present clearer and more explicit message than words alone can. That explains their popularity in propaganda and advertising. For that reason, the massive display of the foreign personalities only, excluding Ghanaian heroes and celebrities on these books is a matter which must attract serious public interest.
Unlike the former notebooks, today’s notebooks look a lot like magazines: they are very colourful and bear striking photographs of personalities from Western pop culture and sports. They include celebrities like Chris Brown, Luis Nani and Robin Van Persie. Others bear images from movies and computer games such as High School Musicals and Angry Birds, just to mention a few.
It is quite intriguing that among all those pictures, it is hard to find Ghanaians who have excelled equally as their non-Ghanaian. Not even pictures of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the Big Six or “Professor” Azumah Nelson’s are among the lot. Photos of Ghana’s own youthful icons such as Sarkodie, Afya, Soni Badu, etc are missing as well.
Indeed, this situation exemplifies Antonio Gramsci’s hegemony theory very much. Gramsci’s theory explains hegemony as the way ordinary people of society accept the ideologies and values of the ruling class as common sense and normal, and make them their own. By accepting them, they shape the ordinary people’s worldview, even when such ideologies and values work against the subordinates’ own interests. That way the dominant class maintains the status quo and preserves the supremacy of their interests over those of subordinates.
Similarly, the branding of the books with “Ghana Schools” connotes official acceptance and blessing of the materials, even when they bear no relevance to our history, our current struggles or our aspirations as a nation. Additionally, the books are openly on sale everywhere: in “container” shops on the street corner in our communities and in our markets. Ghana has accepted them.
Our behaviour in view of the development suggests we do not see anything out of place. Already in our position on the periphery of the geopolitical system, we are very much open to the influence of Western media systems. Our educational institutions and media therefore, are our means to assert our own Ghanaian identity and values. The silence from the Education and Information ministries on this issue is quite interesting.
Even if the use of photographs of celebrities is marketing tactics, is there any good reason for the producers not to use photographs of Ghanaians as well? But, whether the use of foreign personalities’ photos only on the Ghana Schools Note 1 and Note 3 books is deliberate or not, their implication for propaganda still suggests a form of cultural hegemony.
This article is only expressing an observation on a seemingly insignificant but very important development. The writer’s intention is not include ascribing motives to the producers of these notebooks whose names or identities are on the books. It is only raising issues on the phenomenon which should be subject of public attention.
For instance, imagine you walk into a large family house and you find their walls decorated with beautifully framed photographs of their neighbours while there is not even one of their own in those photographs. What impression would you make of such a family? Many might question the propriety of such action and also ask if there were any elders in the family at all. So, we really have to ask ourselves what good purpose those pictures are serving in our schools.
We must not forget we have honour and pride to uphold. For sure, our nation has a special place in history as the first in Africa to regain independence from colonial domination, and inspired others to attain independence too. As such the phenomenon of foreign photos only does not make good impression about us, after 56 years of independence. What’s more, we have pledged as a people “to hold in high esteem, our heritage won for us, through the blood and toil of our fathers”; “in all things, to uphold and defend the good name of Ghana”.
We can learn from the nations at the heart of the Cold War era. For instance while America and Britain employed pictures and posters as propaganda devices to promote their values of liberty, personal freedom and democracy at home and abroad, they were also alert to identify propaganda in their homelands, that run contrary to those values. Likewise, Ghana must promote positive aspects of our culture and its own heroes to inspire the nation while staying vigilant to contrary propaganda.
As a final point, we have reason to be worried about the reality of what the notebooks symbolise. Must we behave in the manner we are doing now after more than half a century of independence celebrations? I think Ghanaians ought to live the independence attitude, even in the smallest things. Long live Ghana.