Promoting the extended family system in Ghana

Feature Article of Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Columnist: Boakye, Dominic Osei

to enhance development

Modernization due to globalization, in Ghana today, is causing an evolution in the country’s culture hence giving foreign cultures the urge to dominate the country’s socio-cultural advancement, as well as, its economic development. And if this issue is not seriously given a consideration, this act of modernization will be a very significant agent which might cause the nation’s hope of attaining a higher development status, to be a mirage. This article is neither against globalization nor the modernization that comes along with it, but rather to stress on the fact that it should not nullify the positive cultural practices especially the extended family system in the country. This article again seeks to portray, how the emergence of merging the outcomes of both our cultural practices (emphasis on the Extended family system) and that of globalization could be of relevance to the country’s economic development.

Before considering the synchronization of globalization and culture, let us take a nippy look at the picture and contribution of the extended family system to the society, some decades and beyond ago. Decades ago and beyond the working class men in the extended family through their regular and various meetings at, where the Akans referred to as “piemu” (porch), which were mostly chaired by the “Abusua Panin” or the family head or the oldest male among the gathering, ensured that all members of the family were in good standing in society. These meeting of theirs were mostly on daily basis after the day’s activity, which aided them to monitor the progress of the family. It was at these meetings that, how to cater for the needs of the dependents (children, widows, orphans, disabled, sick etc.) in the family, were discussed and solved.

During the era of higher practice of the extended family system, since the welfare of each member was of equal importance, there was the practice of the working class men eating together (which signifies their aim of ensuring individual welfare of everyone in the family is not only by speech but by act). Thus their various wives after preparing their husbands’ food will have to send it to the “Piemu” or porch. This act did not only ensure balance diet for them but also this practice ensured nourishment for those who were facing harsh times in the trade they were in. This act was also an example to inculcate the habit of sharing among the children in the family as well as provide a balanced nutrition for orphans and children whose parents were having hard times with their Job or work. This avenue was also use to commend and rebuke wives for their efforts in the dispensation of their house chores which called an improved and standard way of keeping their various home (these act kept the married women in prepared mind for upgrade or top up for their home management skills; a deed which was not done only to please their husbands but rather to ensure good health and happiness in marriage, as well as, the home at large).

The strong bond created between members in the extended family, attributed to the fact that particular, or similar types of trade runs through the family, from generation to generation, hence the promotion of the sharing of work experience as well as passing on of that trade to the youth in that family (this ensured employment for the family members).

Ghana today, the nation like most less developed countries are faced with issues such child trafficking, cases of street children hawking in our streets, high unemployment among the youth and other similar issues of its kind. In as much as, we might find it difficult to accept as a country, over adaptation of modern trends of lifestyle has a very large share in the above listed issues in the country.

The main point this article seeks to make is that it is not necessary as a country to imitate others in order to attain a high development status but rather by preserving some of our orthodox lifestyle (with much emphasis on our extended family system) it can aid push the country ahead of its own self, in terms of relieving the nation’s government of some socio-economic burden. Also, what we need take note of as countries that strives for economic development is the consciousness of the fact that all countries which have attained economic development have a similar attitude of submitting to systems that will enable economic policies in their various countries work (a sort of submission which do not come natural but powered by a motivation factor, although varies from country to country, yields economic development). However, in the case of our dear country, the promotion of the extended family system in the country will indirectly serve as substitute for some economic policies as well as free the government off some of its burden as made mention of earlier. Thus revamping our extended family system will aid ensure an informal way of redistribution of income in various households (especially through cash transfer to relations etc.), insurance for people in the informal sector (thus people without white collar Jobs) of support either emotional or financial during old age, getting children of the streets, settlement of marital issues as well as its related problems (since in developing countries such as ours the practice of extended family system allows experienced personalities such as the Family Head, “Abusua panin”, the eldest woman in the family, “Obaa panin”, as well as the senior Uncles etc. to play the role as social workers play in Advanced countries.) and even giving wheels to rural development to speed it up plus other similar benefits.

On an ending note, is true reinstate this system would be at a cost (a few wealthy people in the family would lose an amount of money or substance for the progress of this course) but it is worth it; this investment is compensating (a deprived kinsman will not have perish out of his or her deprivation or have to mobilize a gang of thieves to rob a worthier kinsman of his/her wealth or to a large extent be a threat or burden on the nation but rather would contribute to the family and nation at large). On a brighter side, the extended family system could be a significant means to bail the country out of most of its socio-economic issues that it faces. To harness these potentials of the extended family system demands mainly sensitization on the system and its benefits in schools, churches, through the media and through all other agents of information dissemination as well; thus by so doing we can, as a country, use the extended family system as a temporal means to informally solve some of our socio-economic problems as we work on effective ways of attaining an economically advanced development status.

This article was written by Dominic Osei Boakye in the Department of Economics in Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Email – [email protected]