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Kwame Appiah: Honour ended slavery but produced killings in its name

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Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah says, honour differs from morality in not being essentially good or bad but can create a sense of shame which lead to positive outcomes like an end to slavery and colonialism, but also to negative phenomenon such as “honour” killings.

Appiah, a professor of law and philosophy at the New York University, said in an interview, “Honour is different from morality. Morality is what holds you responsible and honour is something other people have a stake in. It has its bad side which we cannot get rid of, but it can be a force, or a tool, for good too,”.

“Concern over national honour can lead to changing a country or society for the better,” said the author of “The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen” which deals majorly with three changes — the ends of foot-binding in China, the slavery trade in the Western world and duelling in England — that came through moral shifts.

Appiah, who was here for the Jaipur Literature Festival, argues that it was a “sense of shame” at sullying of national honour that brought an end to these practices like foot-binding, or extremely tight binding of young girls’ feet to prevent further growth as a sign of “beauty” and “high status”, when the Chinese found what other people thought about it.

“Then it was the British who ran the slave trade but attitudes towards it were changing. During the American Revolution, when the colonists said they were asking for freedom, the British retorted by asking them about the slaves they had and the question of their freedom,” he said, noting both sides sought to “shame each other”.

Appiah, who is a grandson of leading British statesman Sir Stafford Cripps of the Labour Party, contends it was a “sense of honour” that made Britain stop the slave trade. “The honour of the British was at stake after people like (abolitionist William) Wilberforce called it a national shame and disgrace, they stopped the slave trade (in the early 1800s) and then abolished slavery altogether (in the 1830s).”

It took a much longer time for America to realise that slavery and racial discrimination were wrong, he said. “Slave-owners had sought to cover up by claiming how happy their slaves were.”

Appiah also says it was this “shame” that helped end colonialism, which entailed a “psychology of dishonour” for the colonial subject.

“It was a psychology of dishonour for the inhabitants of the colonised countries who lost respect in their own countries. There was a social order of respect which changed to another order in which they were looked with contempt,” he said.

In the case of British India, this was true for Mahatma Gandhi, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru despite all their achievements, and in the case of his Ghana, it was the question of primitive rights.

Appiah, whose focus is on moral revolutions, notes that revolutions, in the classic sense require a big change in a small time, related to political revolutions like the French Revolution but moral and lifestyle revolutions were different, especially in their time frames.

The difference is that lifestyle revolutions runs with new ideas or a big leap in morality while moral ones, like gender equality and the abolition of slavery, have arguments already in place, and the problem is not about changing minds but changing habits, he said.

On the flip side, Appiah says that honour can be against morality and can lead to acts like “honour killings” despite the perpetrators knowing their actions are morally wrong.

“Honour killings”, a feature of patriarchal societies, are resorted to by those who are morally weak and the motivation for it is the shame, which stems from honour, rather than guilt, which is moral, he said.

Appiah however, said that despite being seen most in the Middle East and South Asia, it was important not to dismiss it as a “Muslim, or Arab thing”. He added that it was also seen in modern Europe, including a “weird” case in Italy in the 1960s though it had not involved killing.

He said laws were needed against this phenomenon, but the real deterrent was only moral change

Next Story

Drones in Ghana Makes On-Demand Medical Emergency Deliveries

The drones fly autonomously, can carry 1.8 kilos of cargo, can cruise at 110 kilometers an hour and have an all-weather round-trip range of 160 kilometers

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Flight operator Josephine Fianu checks over a Zipline drone before sending it out for a delivery from the Omenako drone center, in Ghana. (S. Knott/VOA)

At New Tafo Hospital, health care workers watch the sky, listening for a distinct buzzing noise they have grown used to in the past month. In seconds, a small drone comes into view and quickly drops a package before it returns to its base.

Ghana’s drone service, launched in April, makes on-demand emergency deliveries of 148 different vaccines, blood products and lifesaving medications to health facilities in the country, 24 hours a day.

New Tafo, a government hospital about two hours north of the Ghanaian capital, Accra, was the first hospital to use the service, brought to Ghana by Silicon Valley company Zipline. Medical superintendent Kobena Wriedu said the hospital had received at least 25 drone deliveries in the past month, with a handful coming in emergency situations. The service is much faster than deliveries made by road, especially in Ghana, were road networks are poor.

Critical supply source

“There was this child who was on my ward who was virtually O Rh negative,” a blood type that’s difficult to get, Wriedu said. “We had to fall on Zipline. They were able to deliver it. … Sometimes, we need fresh frozen plasma for bleeding cases that we encounter, and the delivery is done in a very short time to save lives. So, many lives have been saved within the period of the one month that the medical drone service was launched in Ghana.”

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Ghana’s first drone delivery center is in the country’s Eastern Region. Drones can deliver within 80 km of the center. (S. Knott/VOA)

The products come from the country’s first Zipline drone center at Omenako, which is about 40 minutes by pothole-riddled road to the hospital — or 12 minutes by drone. By the end of the year, an additional three centers are set to be opened across Ghana. Combined, they will provide deliveries to 2,000 health facilities serving 12 million people, making up to 600 delivery flights a day on behalf of the Ghanaian government, under a contract worth $12.5 million over four years.

Taking orders, preparing flights

The center in Omenako where the drones come from has a cold storage facility for the blood and medicines to be stored. Workers watch the screens as orders come through and quickly fill the orders and assemble and launch the drones. They get the orders from health care workers like George Appiah Boadu at the New Tafo Hospital, who places them by text message. For him, access to blood products has been particularly useful.

“We have pregnant women who also come in,” Boadu said. “For instance, if we have an ectopic case and for this patient the only option for us is to get to the [operating] theater … if you don’t have blood available, you risk losing her life.” So the drone technology has been a lifesaver, he said.

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Zipline flight operator Josephine Fianu gets a drone ready for takeoff from the Omenako drone center. So far, four health centers are using the service in Ghana. (S. Knott/VOA)

The drones fly autonomously, can carry 1.8 kilos of cargo, can cruise at 110 kilometers an hour and have an all-weather round-trip range of 160 kilometers. They look like small propeller planes. A drone will zoom above the hospital, release its package attached to a red parachute, then zip back to the base without landing at the hospital.

The launch in Ghana marked Zipline’s expansion in Africa. It started operating in Rwanda in October 2016 and now delivers more than 65 percent of Rwanda’s blood supply outside the capital, Kigali. The service helped transform the country’s medical supply chain.

Rainy season ahead

Ghana’s services are still in the early stages, with only four health facilities using it so far. The Omenako center’s fulfillment operations coordinator, Samuel Akuffo, said the service would prove its worth as Ghana starts to see heavy rain for the rainy season. The drones can fly in all weather conditions, and over roads that vehicles might not be able to pass in heavy rain.

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“During this rainy season some of the roads to some of the health centers are very bad,” Akuffo said. “When some of the roads get very muddy and very difficult to ply, most of the facilities find it difficult having to go and look for a particular medication or blood. … It also makes it difficult for their supplies to reach them, so most of the supplies are either postponed or they don’t even go and get the product at all.” (VOA)