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Obia nye obia - the class debate

Posted by abocco on Sat, 12/03/2005 - 06:32 GhanaThink Managing Executive

...Sounds on da ground and seens on the see-ins

As if "Yefri Tuabodom" wasn't enough controversy for one summer, Sidney (Rap ninja) reminded everyone who the most controversial hiplife artiste was. His latest album gives us "Obia nye Obia", a song which preaches equality across the breadth of Ghana, in terms of respect, education, money and class. He argues that we all came from the earth and shall return to it, and so no one is above any one. In essence, everybody is nobody because a somebody is anybody/nobody after all. This statement doesn't sound too harmful until you hear a shoeshine boy telling his customer who works in an airconditioned office, "obia nyÉ› obia, wonyÉ› obia, me nso menyÉ› obia".

I hadn't paid too much attention to the subject of classes in Ghana and Africa and the importance of such a statement like "obia nyÉ› obia" till the recent Thanksgiving weekend. I found myself at a Ghanaian party in a Bronx (New York) club on 11/25, which had a lot of my peers; unlike the one I had attended the night before which had 90% of its party people over 30-40. When the DJ (@ this Bronx party) played "obia nyÉ› obia", the partygoers danced and boogied to it and I found myself singing it. No, "obi yÉ› obi", the popular song released to counteract "obia nyÉ› obia" was not played at the party. It sounded and felt a little strange to dance to this particular song, due to its lyrics.

"Obia nyÉ› obia" is the lead single off Sidney of Nananom fame's 6th album, Wukuno Kotibea. "Wukuno Kotibea" sounds controversial just by hearing/seeing the words, but since I am not familiar with the song, let's leave that for another time. "Obia nyÉ› obia" basically carries the message that no one is more important than another and therefore there is no need for anybody to feel superior than his neighbour. Yes, I know you can't imagine being a coequal to the hawker on the street, when you have climbed the academic ladder and gotten your MBA from Harvard and run a big business in Accra. It's the same way you would feel superior to someone riding in a VW beetle car (affectionately called 'ApotrÉ” car) while you cruise in your Benz, but Sidney categorically states that you are on the same level with that someone.

Since we are in a Western democracy where freedom of speech reigns, it was only appropriate that a few other hiplife artistes made use of "obia nyɛ obia's" popularity to make money and set the records straight. ObeyiefoO and Joe Frazier/Roro released separate tracks debunking Sidney's point of view and proposing that "obi ye obi"; people are indeed superior to others and no one is equal to the other. Ɔbeyifoɔ recounts how Ghana's health service has a 'cash and carry' system, hence, if you have the money, you have the upper hand when it comes to service. Somebody is indeed somebody, and that's why people wake up and form "logologo" lines at 6am just to vote for an (important) Member of Parliament on election day. He also takes a swipe at Sidney making him aware that if everyone was equal, he would have to make his own beat to finish his "obia nyɛ obia" track.

Both schools of thought offer good arguments about the class levels in society and the respect (or lack of it) that comes with it. I think both statements work hand in hand though. For instance, people get ahead in society, due to their economic or academic standings, but the urge and responsibility of society to provide a level playing field for everyone to go to school or earn a living, just shows how everyone is equal in that regard. The idea of us all returning to the earth (with nothing) faces opposition when you meet people who believe that some people would have eternal life (heaven) and others, eternal death (hell). Hence, we can't also look to the equality of us all to stay mediocre hoping that a great statement would level us off, we have to become excellent at what we do. But, there is a but, as we climb the ladders, we should not fail to bring our neighbours up it with us.

Being a student in a five-star prestiguous university, I probably should feel superior to a Joe who's trying to finish his Diploma at a Ghanaian polytechnic. After all, at some point in my life, we were of equal standing, but I excelled in my classes and had better grades, and ended up here. Then again, I probably lived in a 5 bedroom house and could buy all the textbooks and didn't have to spend my out-of-school time selling chewing gum on the streets and walking for kilometres fetching 'sanitized' water. Hence, we were in an "obia nyÉ› obia" situation and the different opportunities and facilities available to us created an "obi yÉ› obi" situation.

How about this scenario? You probably have heard about the Ghanaian MP who was caught in the US for drug dealing (innocent until proven guilty, but the harm's pretty much done). This MP was probably superior to some of his accomplices (a car mechanic doing drugs to get rich, for instance) but if the former gets imprisoned, he'll share a jail with the car mechanic and the everyday thief who lives in his constituency. "obia nyÉ› obia" eh!

The subject gets pretty serious when you have kids disrespecting their parents because they believe "obia nyÉ› obia". This is where subtle messages in songs become serious and important. We have to discuss such issues, and if we are too busy to notice, our musicians are. Come to think of it, the shoeshine boy actually becomes a somebody when a rich man needs him to shine or repair his shoe. Hence, everyone does a role to play in society. Leaders have their bands of followers behind them, and even though the leader carries the torch, he still needs people to do the legwork and give him support.

In conclusion, I think the various arguments work in different scenarios and occasions and none is a more superior concept. I am not trying to be politically correct, but I think for the good of Ghana and beyond, we have to incorporate some of the "obia nyÉ› obia" principles to make life better for our people and provide opportunities for people to better themselves (become an "obi").

PS: The picture just shows the Okyenhene taking an AIDS test. Permit me, there are many pictures I could have chosen, but with World AIDS day just the other day, I chose that. Even the Okyenhene is not exempt from AIDS (testing), how much you?

OkyenheneTest.jpg40.82 KB


Equality should be preached

Equality should be preached across the length and breadth of Ghana. The concept of equality should be ingrained in us. Right from kindergarten, Ghanaian children should know that no one, regardless of age, education, tribe, race, profession, political status or national origin is superior. Equality should be preached from birth to eternity. I believe some people are better or smarter but that doesn't make them superior. I just think about some of the things that go on in SSS and it aggravates me. Some 'seniors' treat 'juniors' so bad just because they are a year or two ahead of them. This is NONSENSE! This has to end! There's so much BS in SSS. We have to challenge the status quo. We have to fight back. One thing I have observed is that, if you treat people as superior, they will treat you like trash and take advantage of you. Pastors and chiefs are treated like Gods but they are just human beings. They are not superior to anyone. We have some power drunk teachers who feel they know it all and they put down students. The false idea of superiority is what brought about slavery, oppression, colonization, aparthied, segregation and discrimination. Equality should definitely be preached in a black African country like Ghana. OBIA NYE OBIA!


For a split sec,I thought

For a split sec,I thought you were spreading communist propaganda by calling for equality--until i read your comment,that is.I think the African conception of the individual is fundamentally different from the Western conception.In Africa,the emphasis is on the individual as an integral element of the society.As opposed to the west where a person is the be all and end all,the essence of his own existence.Hence,in Africa, people define themselves in social terms that are inadvertently based on stratifications and hierarchy. To defer to an adult is deemed a virtue in Africa but to do same in the West is considered diffidence and timidity.
The Western individualistic conception of the self is not all good though.Sometimes, it helps to have recognized authority whom you can trust for guidance. We can respect chiefs and elders,defer to older persons,in short maintain our African values, without necessarily compromising our dignity or self-confidence. If equality serves justice and fairness,then we must concur.But if it erodes our African values and converts us into selfish creatures with no respect for authority,then we must think twice. It sounds good "obiaa nye obiaa" but it's not as cheap!
~**Until the lions begin to tell their own history,tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter***~

some 'culture' we have

This so called culture of submissiveness to adults/chiefs is one of Ghana's major problems. The mere fact that someone is older than you or is a chief, doesn't mean he/she is enlightened or smarter than you. Let's be honest, some of our Ghanaian values directly/indirectly encourage fear, timidity and diffidence. Our lack of confidence in our abilities is the main reason we sell our national assets to foreigners. We are more than willing to let foreigners run & manage our state-owned companies e.g GT and GIA. It's also one of the reasons we allow IMF/WORLD Bank to meddle in our affairs. We have a society that says you're not good/smart enough because you're a child, or you're not old enough or you don't have degrees. If Ghanaian children are not encouraged at a tender age to be confident and to speak their minds regardless of who (adults, chiefs, pastors, mps) they are talking to, how are they going to be confident and have high self-esteem? We have young Ghanaians who could be CEOs and run businesses, ministries, districts, regions,etc. efficiently & effectively but they would not be given the opportunity because they're young. We have to respect each other regardless of age or status. If our culture make us diffident, timid, and don't bring out the potential/best in Ghanaians, I say let's modify them or to hell with them. Why should we hold on to a culture that directly or indirectly encourage fear, timidity & diffidence? Self-Confidence is very important in nation building. OBIA NYE OBIA!


GhanaThink Managing Executive

Equality does not transcend order and respect

Yeah, we shouldn't let the need and preaching of equality get in the way of order, respect and discipline. That's why I mentioned we must tread on the part of caution so that kids won't do "obia nyÉ› obia" with their parents in rebellion to show disrespect or insubordination.
However, the fact that we are entitled to opportunities to better ourselves in various aspects of society make an "obia nyÉ› obia" situation arise.

The destiny of a nation at any given time depends on the opinions (and actions) of its young men and women.

Contribution to the

Contribution to the discipline/equality discussion.

There were similar news stories in Ghana announcing the militarization of National Service to enhance discipline.


Coming from a laid-back family environment to a disciplined organisation is bound to affect those who have not benefited from a structured domestic existence. The overall out-turn from the camp is favourable, and Rev Adinhair Jones is to be commended for managing the camp along martial lines that substitute for any lack of parental control at home.

"We have a culture where everyone at the camps moves briskly." Anyone having seen the way young pedestrians move on Zebra Crossings or just cross the road in a high traffic area, would understand the need for students to move at 220 paces per minute, that is normal for British Light Infantry regiments which move everywhere at that speed. Rev Jones emphasised that "the military takes care of our logistics and provides support in terms of order and control. We do not operate a boot camp".

A number of minor complaints were levelled at the NYS system at Cobbla, which could be expected from people entering a structured system for the first time. No cell phones or knives were allowed and "only parents with children were allowed one call later in the week". Recruits rose daily at 4:30 am for physical training. "Jogging was mandatory while moving around the compound and anyone found walking could be punished with push-ups, extra laps or anything the soldiers deemed appropriate."

How do we modify a 'culture' that seems wrong but is our heritag

Gina, I agree with you perfectly. Infact, that is the same thing that I said when I commented on the problem of lack of entrpreneurship in Africa. This same problem in the long term leads to our downfall.

But it is not enough for us to critique the system without offering solutions. Neither can we just say that the system should be changed and expect foreigners to change the situation for us. We have to be the agents of change ourselves. That is the challenge. That is the excitement. And that is the tricky part.

How are we going to modify our culture without losing our identity??? How do we maintain respect for adults when we tell the children that they can be better than the adults??? What happens to our sacred institutions like chieftaincy when the people are no more submissive??? How do we maintain discipline in our various schools and homes when "obia nye obia?"

These and many more questions are what we should ask ourselves as we deal with a topic like this. Almost everyone agrees that there is a problem with the system, but fails to see the bigger problem. How do we adjust to current trends and come to par with globalization without losing our unique identity as Ghanaians, as Africans.

Some 'culture' we have

Whether we like it or not, some children are better and more intelligent than some adults. Respect should be given to people who deserve it not to anyone because of age. To maintain discipline in our schools, all we need are legal rules. A student breaks the rules, he/she is penalized. Some chiefs deserve respect, others don't. If I have parents who are idiots, I should be free to treat them as they are. Respect is earned, not free for all.With all the respect we give to our chiefs, what significant changes have they made in our society? I personally think chieftaincy is one of the major problems of Ghana and a major hinderance to national unity. With all the respect we give to older folks, what legacy have they left for us to be proud of? Poverty?