Four lessons we learned from Achimota School-Rastafarian students ruling
The debate over how to proceed with the intended appeal is undoubtedly ongoing among the authorities of Achimota School, the ever-reliable association of old students and the legal counsel that represented the school.
In an Accra High Court in Accra on Monday, May 31, the historic institution was dealt a legal blow. The court, headed by Gifty Adjei Addo, sided with the two Rastafarian students authorities had refused to enrol as a result of the dreadlocks worn by the boys.
The two students, Oheneba Nkrabea and Tyrone Marghuy. as well as their parents, chose a legal tussle rather than walking away when Achimota School said their appearances do not conform to the school’s standards. This decision did not only divide the Ghanaian populace along legal and moral lines but also on generational lines. A careful observation of the discourse on social media revealed that the Rastafarian pair were more likely to be supported by younger Ghanaians than their older compatriots.
For those in charge at Achimota School, there is pride to defend. This is a school that has continued to put in a lot of work to live up to the glory of the names it has been associated with. The likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Jerry John Rawlings, John Evans Atta Mills and even Robert Mugabe were with the school at some point in their lives.
This is no suggestion of support for Achimota School. The purpose of bringing up the school’s famous history is to buttress the point pertaining to pride. The school has been allowed to run its course for nearly a century and it has not done badly. Right now, its traditions have been challenged.
Indeed, Judge Addo literally asked in her ruling, “What has the wearing of dreadlocks which is a manifestation of one’s religious rights, got to do with upholding the discipline in the school?”. That is the challenge to Achimota.
For all others, lessons have been served. For The Ghana Report, we take stock of four of these lessons that the whole brouhaha has generated.
- Court chose to defend individual freedoms
It should not be lost on anyone that the question that was asked of the court was simply this: How far can individual freedoms go?
Achimota School believed it held the right to curtail certain individual freedoms insofar as a student was under its tutelage. Although Judge Addo agreed that individual freedoms were not absolute, she made it a point to rule that Achimota is not permitted to curtail the religious freedoms of students.
The judge was worried about giving institutions the power to determine what individual religious freedoms they can control. To give Achimota such power, the school’s lawyers needed to show how the observation of one person’s religious freedom has an adverse effect on others in that area.
2. Rastafarianism is still frowned upon
One of the uncomfortable truths about Ghanaian society that was revealed by the episode was that contrary to the popular assumption, we have still not accepted the Rastafarian aesthetic or way of life as much we would like to believe.
Ordinarily, we do appreciate Rastas, if for nothing at all, for the reggae music and the Pan-Africanism expressed by a great many of them. But it was shown during this period that this is where the positive appreciation ended.
All one has to do is to listen to the portrait of fear that was painted by those who were against the admission of the two young Rastafarians into Achimota. Angel Cabornu, the president of the influential National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), went as far as suggesting that Rastafarians are better off establishing their own private schools.
3. NAGRAT has no sympathies
From the onset, one of the two major teachers’ unions, NAGRAT, had made it clear it supported Achimota School. The charismatic Cabornu holds a public record of defending what one could understand as his own elements of disciplinarian values.
Were NAGRAT’s biases problematic? Probably not. They are stakeholders in the process of raising Ghanaian children through the formal education system and as such, NAGRAT would love to believe its views on this issue mattered.
The fear however comes when we realise that NAGRAT could possibly use the ruling to entertain a slippery, if not absurd slope.
“I will advise all our members to not waste their time in attempting to ask why the child is wearing that kind of hair. My understanding is that it is an open situation, so let us abide by it and enjoy the ramification,” Cabornu said after the ruling.
On a local radio station in Accra the morning after the ruling was delivered, the NAGRAT president also touched on other possible aspects of the moral upbringing of students that NAGRAT could refrain from. All because of the ruling.
One can only ask if this slope is what the court sought to anoint.
4. This is a bigger moral fight
As hinted in the opening paragraphs, this fight is also over what sort of appearance one could maintain in the public square or even in a private space in Ghana. We are witnessing a clash of two different ideals over what could be considered good or bad.
Certain arguments have been put forward by supporters of the Rastafarians that Achimota’s rules are guided by colonial thought that sought to alienate Black hairstyles and customs. This group of people perceive the defenders of Achimota as people defending an old, colonial and conservative way of life that does not embrace change and difference.
If you listen to those who defend Achimota, the feeling is vice versa. They tend to see a defence of Achimota as defence of Ghanaian public morality, propriety and professionalism. In this case, if we allowed the Rastafatians to emerge victors, we may be on the path to destroying our national conscience.