‘Fetish Law’ in Ghana

It took a while but Noble Law Group has finally put out online the audiovisual material from the symposium they organised a while back on the interrelationships of law and policy, on one hand, and development and culture, on the other hand. Here is a video of a panel discussion held at the symposium:

On reflection, there is a point that could have been more colorfully made, which is that in Ghana we practice and exhibit ‘Fetish Law’.

The best way to explain myself is to use as an example a rule that was widely enforced across many of the so-called ‘top’ secondary schools in Ghana sometime back. Form One juniors were required to have on their person at all times, and to show on demand, a neatly, folded, white handkerchief.

The rule evidently was about hygiene and proper self-presentation (‘Christian dressing’). The curious thing though is that juniors were always punished for showing a used handkerchief (called a ‘dirty hanky’). Obviously, the rule was self-contradictory. Yet, prefects and seniors would insist on it. Apart from the ridiculous fact of this ‘good rule’ being reserved for juniors, it also demonstrated the ‘mimicry’ and ‘ritual display’ qualities of Ghanaian rule-making.

The law is to induce awe. It is to intimidate. It is to establish moral hierarchy. But it rarely aims to influence the *social operating system* on which the routine affairs of communal life are to be managed. Since *politics* excels where *exceptionalism* prevails (cue Carl Schmitt), it is not surprising that in Ghana we have two contentions at play: those who will judicialise all politics and those who will politicise all norms. They deserve each other.

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