Rights and responsibilities, which one comes first? This question could be arguable as an age old adage and unanswered question of a chicken and an egg, which is older?
Edison Haines once wrote “With every civil right there has to be a corresponding civil obligation”. In my candid opinion, even though these two axioms are highly intricate and intrinsic, and must go hand in hand, I hold a view that rights are as a result of someone somewhere being responsible. When people are prepared to be responsible in our families, society, institutions and the nation as a whole, then there can be real and actual rights for the citizenry to enjoy. However, a situation where many tussle for their rights with only few living responsibly can only create a country of ‘virtual rights’ which can only be acclaimed at best but cannot be enjoyed in reality.
Ghanaians have come to understand and advocate for so many rights without caring to know or let alone take up responsibilities. Some may argue, many also do not know their rights. That is true anyway. Others may also say, individuals and groups demanding their rights could awaken people to their responsibilities. However, I am tempted to prefer a country where we are more concerned with our responsibilities than our rights. This in my view is a better evil than the earlier. Prioritizing our responsibilities is crucial as we seem to live in a country of neglected responsibilities. Irresponsibility is clearly seen all over. Many give birth indiscriminately without preparing to look after their offsprings. My question is ‘where lays these children’s rights to education among other rights?’ We dispose our refuse anywhere anyhow. Who is then responsible for cleanliness of our environment? We have rights to life. However, poor sanitation, refuse chocked gutters and disposal of human waste into water bodies can obviously cut short the life of many through diseases.
Ironically, though, we live in a country where human right advocates appear to be doing their work at best. When the police service respond to aggressiveness of armed robbers and kill a robber in gun exchange, we hear the voice of human right activists demanding the right of life of the armed robber. On the other hand, when the police are shot to death in the discharge of their lawful duty, we don’t hear from these human right activists.
In another instance, I found it intriguing when I heard a call from a section of human right activists advocating for condoms to be distributed to prisoners in the cells. This call is a mere a promotion of homosexualism since we all know that male and females are not mix up in prisons. Closely related to this is a call by individuals and groups including our former colonial masters pushing for gay rights and threatening aid cuts across African countries that fail to do so.
The greatest threat of rights, however, is what we commonly refer to as freedom of speech. When are we going to learn to speak responsibly especially as politicians? How long are we going to tolerate reckless speeches, character assassinations and incitement for violence under the disguise of freedom and right to speech? As a country, do we want to wake up in flames before we come to terms with what irresponsible and unguided speeches can do? It must be noted that anytime one outlives one’s right, another’s right is taken away. That is irresponsibility. As we approach another election, I hope if not for nothing at all, the death of President Mills will soften and fine tune our tone of language in order to see a peaceful Ghana beyond 2012.
Obviously, the issue of rights and freedom are virtues deepened by foreign culture. Even though they are good principles, it is important to take into consideration our cultural settings, values and norms in order to adopt these virtues appropriately. Aside this, the western culture teaches not just about rights but responsibilities.
Rights remain essential to human dignity and must be held in high esteem; however, as people and society, we forfeit our rights when we fail to take responsibilities. Probably, it is time we pay some little more attention to our responsibilities because “people tend to forget their duties but remember their rights”- Indira Gandhi.
As a country, we can improve our lots by highlighting our responsibilities without losing site of our rights. For “we have the Bill of Rights. What we need is a Bill of Responsibilities”-Bill Maher. Long live Human Responsibilities. Long live Human Rights. Long live Ghana.
Emmanuel Kwasi Mawuena