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06.07.2021 Feature Article

Voltarians On My Mind

Voltarians On My Mind
06.07.2021 LISTEN

So much water has gone under the proverbial bridge since I last wrote on the fraught elections, despite a long chain of troubling issues. It is like I had said it all but some points need to be reiterated. Then, hardly a month passes without a major official provocation which further demeaned the status of Ewes in particular. An MP, TKA Hammond, even ignorantly pronounced that Voltarians were Togolese, a perennial ignorant perception by some; strangely enough, even some from the VR. Regrettably, they never learned that the Anlo Awoamefia Torgbui Sri II was the first chief from the Eastern Province to be co-opted into Clifford’s Legislative Council of 1916 after rallying forces from the Ewe enclave within the Gold Coast colony to take Togo from the Germans at the start of WWI. Attention is thus placed in this piece on Ewes, as the main ethnic group from the Volta Region that is often the target of ethnocentric attacks. But this is an eclectic write-up covering a number of issues mostly related to the VR before the Oti Region was carved from it.

PERVERTED STATUS QUO

We can no longer accept the perverse status quo which is driving more and more people from the VR into the camp of those who feel secession from Ghana is the only solution. Some of us think otherwise. I am therefore putting in the public domain some matters for an open discourse and the attention of the powers-that-be for redress.

A BOTCHED CENSUS: This may appear as belated but needs focusing on all the same. Public attention was drawn to the ethnic classificatory schema released by the Ghana Statistical Service for the current national Population and Housing census. Whereas all the major ethnic groups have had their various constitute dialectic units outlined, same was not done for the Gbe ethnic group to which Ewes belong. We do not know whether this was due to the ignorance of the enumerators or just another oversight similar to the deplorable VR roads being forgotten in the budget allocation some years back. This failure has put us back to the ‘70s, a period before the Beninese linguist Prof. Hounkpati Capo completed his PhD in the University of Ghana’s Linguistic Department which renamed and classified the previous cluster of linguistically related people known as Ewes into the Gbe people with four major groupings, of which Ewe is only one; the others being Fon, Genyi and Phla Phera. Yes, just as the Bontuku Conference also classified the related Twi speakers under Akan in the early 1970s. The demographic imperatives of such an oversight deprives us from knowing, for instance, the number of people who identify themselves as say Anlo, Tongu, Ge-nyi (Ga-Anyi), Akpini, Gbi, Anfoega-Have, Ho-Matse, Ave-Agotime, etc., and its implications which linguists and planners can best speak on. The explanation of following previous precedence is thus backward and untenable. The data won’t be of much use for linguists interested in the Gbe ethnic languages and dialects, for instance. A rather fumbled attempt to make corrections exposed the unpreparedness and ignorance of those handling this serious national exercise.

We in the VR are tired of the monolithic stereotyping of all of us as Ewes with the associated prejudices, something which featured very much in the decision of those now in the Oti Region choosing to separate from the rest of the VR. The chiefs and some people expressed their concerns and threatened to boycott the exercise if the anomaly was not corrected as appropriate. Some, on the other hand, argue that leaving it as it is would boost the size of Ewes as one ethnic group and unite them. I could not fathom out a more pedestrian argument than that. Just as splitting the other ethnic groups would not reduce their total population size as say Akan or Mole Dagbani nor create any new schism, so it would not reduce the size of Ewes when split too; nor remove the dialectic, historical, mixed ethnic origins and other differences if grouped under one heading. As someone aware of the attempts made so far to demarcate Ewes in the three volumes of “A Handbook of Eweland” published by Ewe scholars under the auspices of The Organisation for Research in Eweland (ORE), I am sorely disappointed by the turn of events.

We also observed that the Ghana-Togo Mountains linguistic group have been wrongly classified under the Guans, whereas only the Nkonya people are the only true Guans in the VR, but they came as refugees fleeing the rise of the Akwamus. The full list is Adele, Ahlo, Animere, Akpafu-Lolobi, Akposo, Avatime, Basila, Bowiri, Kebu, Lelemi, Likpe, Logba, Santrokofi and Tafi-Nyangbo. It is my considered opinion that these ancient dialects deserve to be listed and properly in order to attract the attention of UNESCO and linguists working on disappearing minority dialects. For the avoidance of doubt, these are by no means all the languages native to the VR.

I find it strange that in the alphabetical order of numbering, Ga-Adangme should come before Ewe. It is not only sloppy filing order but lack of professionalism in listing names induced by a conscious desire to de-signify the status of Ewe as truly the second most widely spoken language in Ghana. Can one write 3 before 2 in a numbering order?

TWI IN MY EARS: A while ago, the brazen imposition of Twi on Ghanaians by even officialdom in a chauvinistic and misconceived nativist manner (the-Ghana-belongs-to-we-Akans syndrome) was on open display at the Sogakope District Hospital. An Akan female nurse insisted on speaking Ewe to an elderly Ewe female patient who does not speak Twi, with no effort to get an interpreter. This is not an isolated case but rather what has become woefully the norm in Ghana. Public officials speak Twi on matters concerning the whole nation without any translation into English so that non-Twi speakers who understand the official language, English, can also understand whatever is being said. This is no longer acceptable. We must insist that the official language, English, should be used in official communications so that all Ghanaians who spent several years in school to learn English can also understand what is being said. The concern to reach Akans who did not go to go school or went but cannot speak English properly (but I bet even Wontumi can understand properly) should not override the interests of other Ghanaians who serve as opinion makers and leaders of their communities, not to mention the international audience. Even the EU is still using English as its medium of communication despite the fact that the UK has left it.

We are not against the speaking of Twi or any Ghanaian language by public officials. All we are insisting upon is that an interpretation into at least English is made as is done in some Pentecostal churches. If an interpreter is not available, the message must be repeated in English by the speaker if the speaker feels the need to speak the vernacular. Meanwhile, urgent attempts must be made in our schools to improve the teaching of English so that all pupils can at least understand English at an early age. International competition and market demands make this imperative. Twitter and other foreign investors in Ghana in this age of ICT will only recruit those who speak English, French, Arabic, Portuguese, possibly Swahili and Hausa in Africa. The very people like Kennedy Agyepong who are promoting the speaking of Twi on their radio and TV stations are sending their children to expensive private schools in Ghana, the UK and the US to study, acquiring impeccable English and American accents, while the children of the Akan masses in the public schools find it difficult to string a sentence together without making mistakes. Most of them won’t get the chance to become galamsey kingpins like Wontumi and become rich and powerful but remain unemployable, hustling for a living. The bitter lessons learned in Malaysia when Mahathir Mohammed imposed Malay as the national language, only to restore English when he was about to leave office for the first time must guide us. His own Malay kindred suffered, as they never gained the advantages he had hoped for. In the same way, Akans shall be the losers if this nativist mania with Twi is not reversed.

BORDER WOES AND HIGHWAY MEN: The incessant closure of the Ghana-Togo border, the harassment, the extortions on roads, the borders and impoverishment of Voltarians beg for speedy redress.

The VR is a place under constant siege as long as we can remember. During the pre-colonial period, the besiegers were mainly Akan slave raiders and traders and their well known accomplices, sadly some of our own ancestors and Ga-Adangbes. During the colonial period, it was by the British under the name of stopping smuggling. But even then, due to the harmonisation of customs duties, Anlo copra farmers, for instance, were allowed to sell their goods in Lome, (a town founded by Anlos, by the way), whenever prices were higher there. Trade in local produce was allowed unhindered between kith and kin across the artificial border which divided families and farms in an arbitrary manner. Then comes independence and security issues became an additional burden placed on the heads of Voltarians with an increased focus on stopping “smuggling”; something which just serves as an extortion racket foisted on our homeland. Things took the turn for the worse under the early years of the PNDC when the borders were closed for several years, and our roads were full of Police cum Customs barriers, forcing some traders to quit trading within even the VR. This ruined the livelihoods of many traders and farmers, as it negatively impacted vegetable farming with ready market in Lome and impoverished many in the VR. The same scenario is being re-enacted under the current NPP regime compared to the cordial relations with Togo under the Kufuor regime.

The borders were first closed due to the voter registration exercise, amidst ignorant ethnocentric utterances of Voltarians being Togolese by MP Hammond. People along the border on both sides have been cut off from their farms and markets since then. Crossing “illegally” as usual has just become another money making venture for touts and the security forces operating as protection racketeers, modern day highway robbers.

We must decry in no uncertain terms “Togolese” becoming a bogey word in Ghana. We must also denounce the reported recent arrests of some people in Ghana as Togolese. Covid-19 provided the convenient excuse for the government to justify these actions and closing the borders up till now, with no effort being made to secure a rational resolution just as done for those entering and leaving the country by air. We sincerely believe that this can be done and urge government to take immediate steps to open the borders at some key points, with all Covid-19 protocols put in place. The socio-economic lives of too many Voltarians are being negatively impacted in a severe manner, leading to increase in the radicalisation of some youth and people, something which shall surely lead to instability and violence in an increasingly volatile W. Africa. It is therefore my contention that steps be taken as quickly as possible to release ALL the youthful malcontents who have been incarcerated for months now on grounds of agitating for secession into the hands of their local chiefs and families who shall ensure that they are weaned off any alleged subversive activities.

These concerns are not exhaustive but the urgent ones I want to draw attention to for immediate resolution now.

Andy C.Y. Kwawukume

[email protected]

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