These past few days have been a torrid one for me emotionally as I battle to understand why we are prepared to kick out Ghanaian students, able and willing to access Senior High Education, onto the “streets” merely by virtue of their religious beliefs and associated identity.
I am writing to you because, apart from being Ghana’s Minister for Education, you have exhibited unique qualities as a leader and extraordinary insight into what should be the focal point of a progressive educational system as evidenced by the various educational reforms. I am also writing to you because of your extensive cross-cultural experiences in the field of education.
Please forgive me, as I attempt to provide the background to the issue and use sub-headings to make the letter less tedious to read.
Achimota refused to admit these students because the dreadlocks they wear goes against the schools “long hair” rules.
THE CONSTITUTION VRS ACHIMOTA’S RULES
Forgive me, Sir, I am not a lawyer but permit me to quote from Ghana’s Constitution and juxtapose it with Achimota’s rules.
According to article17 (1), All persons shall be equal before the law. (2) A person shall not be discriminated against on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status.
Article 28 (4) also states that “NO CHILD shall be deprived by any other person of medical treatment, EDUCATION or any other social or economic benefit by reason only of RELIGIOUS OR OTHER BELIEFS.”
Sir, by these explicit laws, what right does Achimota have to deny Ghanaian kids education by virtue of their religious beliefs?
There’s the general argument that Achimota’s rules are rules and students who desire to be part of the institution ought to abide by those rules. However, whatever rules Achimota has is inferior to that of the nation’s constitution as stated clearly in Article 1 (2) of the constitution:
“This Constitution shall be the supreme law of Ghana and any other law found to be inconsistent with any provision of this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.”
Sir, when I drive around Accra, the many street kids that bang on my car window, makes me sad. It’s worse around the East Legon area where kids who are supposed to be in school resort to all sort of harassment including kneeling in the middle of the road in their quest to extract money from drivers by any means necessary.
Why then will we want to deprive a child who is able and willing to further his education the opportunity just because of his deeply ingrained religious beliefs which does not harm him or his peers?
There’s also the general argument that allowing these Rastafarian kids in High School will breed indiscipline. I have thought hard and long about this argument. I have struggled for days to understand it but have not made any headway.
It’s interesting to note that these same kids went through basic education to Junior High and were accepted by their peers. One of them was even the Head Prefect in his school and was also the school’s best student. Their uniqueness even at that basic level was respected and appreciated. There’s also evidence that several students who subscribe to the Rastafari Religion have passed through some secondary Schools like Accra Academy and St. Peter’s without incident.
What will it take for secondary schools in Ghana to do the same? Something they ought to do even by what’s explicitly enshrined in the constitution.
Sir, one of my experiences of living in this country is our general lack of understanding and interest in the issues of mental health and issues that can affect our mental well-being.
These kids have been raised in the Rastafari Religion and they have been thrust into a different environment and suddenly they have been asked to shave their hair. Are we not considering the psychological impact on these kids? Unfortunately, many Ghanaians argue that it is just hair without cognizance of the discipline it takes to grow such hair, strong emotional attachment and strong religious beliefs.
I believe that as a country we should focus on embracing diversity, accepting the uniqueness of young people and helping them to maximize their potential. Respectfully, Sir, we shouldn’t focus on breaking them and turning them into “yes men”.
I believe Ghana can only progress and make strides through a culture that embraces innovation, critical thinking and diversity. From personal experiences, the people who drive change or are extraordinarily gifted are the people we will consider as outliers and history is awash with many examples of such people.
RELIGIOUS PLURALITY VERSUS RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE
Sir, Ghana professes to be a secular state that practices religious plurality. About 71.2 per cent of Ghanaians claim to be Christians and 17.6 per cent are Muslims. Therefore almost 90 per cent of Ghana’s population are either Christians or Muslims.
Only about 10 per cent belong to other faiths or profess an interest in religion at all. Even within the minority faiths, only a minute percentage belong to a faith that uses an explicit form of religious visual identity as part of their natural presentation. Therefore, why do we want to use visual identity to discriminate against a child? What do we lose with a culture of inclusiveness?
In a country like Canada, dreadlocks and headgear are accepted in schools if they are for religious purposes. At least, this can be a simple approach that can be adopted by a country like Ghana that claims to be a secular state.
In Ghana, we seem to have a very strong culture of religious intolerance where any religion other than the majority Christian religion is deemed inferior.
Sir, this ought not to be right as enshrined in the constitution.
DREADLOCKS, SCIENCE AND THE LAW – THE CROWN ACT
Sir, please permit me to borrow from other jurisdictions to shed light on the issue.
In 2019, California became the first US State to BAN NATURAL HAIR DISCRIMINATION by passing the CROWN ACT. Subsequently, several states have followed suit.
The ACT prohibits employers and public schools from banning natural black hairstyles, including braids, cornrows, and dreadlocks. “These hairstyles are considered “natural” because — unlike chemically straightened hair— they don’t alter natural hair texture, which is considered a RACIAL TRAIT.” This stance was grounded in nature and science.
The most instructive part of the text above is RACIAL TRAIT.
Therefore, why do we want to use the black person’s racial trait to discriminate against the black person?
GHANA AS THE “COUNTRY OF RETURN”
Sir, over the past two years, Ghana has launched an ambitious tourism initiative aimed at positioning the country as the ancestral home of the diaspora. Blacks in the diaspora suffer from all sort of discrimination and Ghana is supposed to be a home where their minds and souls can be at peace with themselves.
How does this discrimination of natives over what is classified as our own natural trait reconcile with our strategic brand positioning?
Sir, one of the things that excite me about this government is the President’s unbridled passion to ensure that no child is left behind with the Free SHS Programme.
I believe that it is not under your tenure or the tenure of His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo that such injustice ought to be perpetrated against innocent kids.
Over the years, His Excellency has made education the heart of his vision. Not only that, he has built his career over the years as a distinguished human rights lawyer and I believe that it is not under his tenure that the rights of these innocent kids be treated with impunity.
Therefore, I believe that it is high time an explicit pronouncement is made on such issues to curtail some of these harmful practices that are inimical to the well-being of young people.
Sir, I have confidence in you; first as a man because of your humanitarian deeds and vision, secondly, as a father, thirdly as a progressive-minded man by virtue of your life’s experiences and deep-seated knowledge of modern educational systems.
Therefore, I am confident that this letter will be given the needed consideration.
Nana Yaw Kesse
Self-acclaimed Minister for Happiness