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01.05.2000 Feature Article

Do the Ga Face 'Extinction'?

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Nation People: Anyone who's been on Okyeame for at least three years will recall that this is not the first time this issue has surfaced here, and like so many others it probably wouldn't be the last. And whether or not GRI claimed that the Ga are an endangered species, the fact remains that the fear of *extinction* has of late been a topic of sometimes heated debate among the Ga, ranging from Accra to North America to Europe.

Generally speaking, the cry of "gboi ngbe wo" (foreigners are killing us) by the Ga is nothing new. It was in fact the motive force behind the Ga Shifomo Kpee, which at one point threatened to *deport* the Prime Minister, Kwame Nkrumah, back to Nkroful!

But the dynamics of the situation that prompted this in-your-face kind of criticism have changed somewhat since the 50s-60s. Back then the principal concern was jobs--or lack of them. The Tokyo Joe Rebellion, for instance, which eventually led to the c reation of the Workers' Brigade, was staged by unemployed Ga youth who believed that migrants from other parts of the country had taken up all the available jobs in Accra.

The reasons underlying today's cries of *gboi ngbe wo* are somewhat varied and complex; they range from the near obscure/intangible to the mundane; jobs are seldom if ever mentioned.

A few years ago, Ga traditionalists were up in arms when the Asantehene was seated first (and up front) at a public function in Accra and the Ga Mantse was placed in the back, after having stood around for some time. To many Ga, this was demeaning and reminiscent of the feud over the inauguration of Trade Fair Site, located at L a, a suburb of Accra.

For whatever reason, the government at the time had decided to invite the Asantehene to commission the site. The La Mantse considered that an insult and reportedly declared upon hearing of the government's plans, "Over my dead body!" Eventually, he was designated to open the site in the presence of the Asantehene and others. Royal peace prevailed.

But the most prominent source of angst among many Ga these days is what they view as the (relative) decline of the Ga language in Accra; Twi is now the dominant language in the city. To many Ga, if left unchecked this situation would eventually lead to the extinction of the Ga language. And since language, to paraphrase a Busia-era parliamentarian during a debate over the adoption of a national language, is the temple that embodies the soul and the customs of a people, the decline and possible extinction of the Ga language becomes a matter of grave concern to the Ga people. The Ga--for obvious reasons--does not see why he should, in his own land, set aside his language to speak someone else*s.

Hence, it's not uncommon these days to see a Ga in places like Kaneshie Market insisting on speaking Ga to traders whose only medium of communication is Twi. I have personally witnessed an incident on a trotro in Accra, where the woman passenger would only speak Ga to an aplanke who didn't have the foggiest idea what she was talking about. In the end, the whole thing degenerated int o a shouting match over *Nkranfuor* and *Asantefuor*.

For various reasons, most Ghanaians, including the Ga, assume that anyone who speaks Twi in Accra is an "Ashantenyo" (Asante person), leading to widespread resentment by many Ga towards the Asante. In point of fact, not everyone who speaks Twi--in Accra or elsewhere-- is an Asante; the "immigrant" population of Accra has a fairly wide geographic repres entation stretching the length and breadth of the country. But with the Akan, of whom the Asante are only a part, making up nearly 50 percent of the population, it is not suprising that Twi would have some dominance not just in Accra but across the count ry--a development which is obviously more the product of demographic circumstance than by design. By one estimate, more than 75 percent of Ghanaians speak or understand the Twi language.

But let's look at some other numbers, too. Statistically, the population of the Ga-Adangbe (of whom the Ga are only a part) has remained more or less the same relative to the rest of the population over the years: Just under 9 percent. The Ga populatio n *in Accra*, however, is a different matter. The last figure I saw put them at 44 percent of the total population in the capital, down from the 65-70 percent in the 1960s (when cries of "gboi ngbe wo" were just as loud).

By way of analogy, imagine a Kumasi where Ewe has more or less supplanted Twi as the lingua franca and the Asante, the indisputable natives of the land, make up less than 50% of the population; or a Keta, where the Ewe natives are about 40 percent and Frafra is the most widely spoken language. Or--God forbid--a Ghana where the Malaysians (our latest benefactors) outnumber Ghanaians.

Such a situation will definitely cause some unease, a kind of siege mentality, among the natives--and fears of potential extinction will surely come with a legitimacy that cannot easily be dismissed with a wave of the hand. But whereas we *don't* have t o live with the Malaysians and as such we can kick them out if we please, we have no such option in the local case. Any Ghanaian has the right to live anywhere they choose to. That's the way it's been; that's how it is; and that's how it ought to be. T he Ga cannot *deport* any *foreigners* any more than the Asante of Kumasi or the Ewe of Keta can.

But in the larger scheme of migratory patterns, Accra occupies a patently different position. As the national capital, it remains the disproportionate beneficiary of many policies that are in fact meant to be *national*. This situation quite logically has made the city the destination of choice for those from elsewhere in the country in search of the economic and other opportunities that for the most part can be found in Accra only. You want a passport but you live in Tumu in the North? Go down to Accra. You want a scholarship for further studies? You stay in your village at your own peril, no matter how bright you may be. You want a job but you can't find any in your hometown, well check out Accra--that's where all the opportunities are.

Until two months ago when parliament voted to establish regional branches, the Business Assistance Fund, ostensibly geared toward helping *all* Ghanaian businesses, was located only in Accra. Clearly, businesses in Accra had an advantage that those in other parts of the country did not have. And when the government announced p lans to set up industrial estates, Accra, already choking with several incomplete industrial projects, was at the top of the list. Even the National Theater, which could well have been built in Sunyani or Hamle, was planted in the middle of Accra. It se ems that no matter how many pledges they make, national policy makers just cannot bring themselves to think of Ghana beyond Accra.

These leaders have yet to figure out exactly what to do with Accra: An administrative capital? A commercial capital? An industrial capital? A cultural capital? Some crude hybrid of the above? They simply don't have a clue.

The result is a demographic flux that has converted Accra into a *national* city to which every Ghanaian lays legitimate claim in one way or another. It has become, quite literally, everybody's city, not just the city of the Ga--the City to go to if you want do something as mundane sell dog chaings or acquire something as prestigious as a ministerial job. Not surprisingly, it has also become an overcrowded, unsanitary city and unseemly. (Had the capital been left in Cape Coast, the situation would har dly be any different, complete with fears of linguistic extinction). Sitting right underneath all the hustle and bustle, is a melding of disparate cultures and world views all of which are not always compatible.

As economic conditions deteriorate around the country and our leaders continue to equate Accra with Ghana, the city will become even more of everybody's city, and the cries of *extinction*, justified or not, will surely take on a harsher, more fractious t one than it does now.

Clearly, in the interest of national unity, something *must* be done. But what? Current government policy requires that the language native to a particular region/city (not just Accra) be taught in all schools across the country. Whether or not that would help relieve the linguistic anxieties of the Ga (and others with potentially s imilar problems) remains to be seen.

Chances are it wouldn't amount to much. In the past, non-Ga have willingly learned the language, either in Accra or elsewhere, without any government prodding. When I attended primary school in Kumasi, a significant number of the students in my school spoke Ga without even knowing where Accra was! In fact, many non-Ga speakers of Ga would tell you they learned the language before they ever set foot in Accra. Such is the amorphous calculous of language in Ghana.

The Ga issue is therefore not so much one of a deliberate cultural plot by *foreigners* to snuff out another's language, but rather the inevitable consequence a demographic phenomenon born of the rational pursuit of economic opportunity by Ghanaians from different parts of the country. The relative decline of Ga is only a symptom of this phenomenon, itself the result of decades of misguided and haphazard national policies.

Therefore, rather than blindly forcing language on people as a way out, policy makers should start ensuring that economic and other opportunities are evenly distributed across the country. Such a salutary change in policy direction will help foster a rel atively even pattern of internal migration such that no particular group, big or small, will feel threatened by *outsiders*.

The upshot of that would be good-neighborliness and equal opportunity for all. And hopefully *national* progress.

I rest I case.

Isaac Nii-Moi Thompson
Isaac Nii-Moi Thompson, © 2000

The author has 11 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: IsaacNiiMoiThompson

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