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October 25, 2006 | Feature Article

When tribalism graduates

If there is one thing that will destroy this nation, then it is the Ghanaian meaning of “TRIBALISM”. You'll be surprised to know that the Wikipedia defines tribalism differently from what we know. The word "tribalism" can refer to two related but distinct concepts.
The first is a social system where human society is divided into small, roughly independent subgroups, called tribes. Tribal societies lacked any organizational level beyond that of the local tribe, with each tribe consisting only of a very small, local population.
The second definition says that tribalism is the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates oneself as a member of one group from the members of another.
For the purposes of this article, let's stick with the second definition which is much closer to how Ghanaians understand the topic. In the Ghanaian context, tribalism is a little deeper than mere ethnicity; the words 'inferior' and 'superior' play a major role here and thus the word 'tribalism' has connotative meanings that caused hearts to beat and race several times.
The Ghanaian will tell you that when people decide to elevate their tribes above other tribes, then it is tribalism. Someone said that when you are alienated intentionally by another person because of your ethnic background, then you are victim of tribalism.
One way or the other, every Ghanaian has either been a victim or perpetrator of tribalism whether you are an Akan, Ewe, Ga, Frafra etc.

'Why is it so hard for Frafra (mix-mix) people to understand things?'
'Foolish Ayigbe-man '
'Uneducated Asante-man' etc.
So often, we all find ourselves dealing with people based on their ethnicity and here I would like us to discuss stereotyping.

It is believed that every tribe has certain characteristics peculiar to them. For this reason alone, some families forbid marriages between their children and those of other tribes. For instance, intermarriage involving an Ashanti and an Ewe was and is still impossible in some families despite the fact that social change should have broken this trend long ago.

There are still families that vehemently stand against such marriages. The same situation exist between an Akuapem/Ewe or Ashanti/Akuapem, Northern/Ewe etc. it is believed that Ashanti people are aggressive, greedy, money-conscious, do not like formal education.

Ewes are believed to be selfish, mean, dealers in black magic and educationally inclined. Northerners on the other hand are known to be quarrelsome whiles Krobos are seen are promiscuous people.
As much as 'tribalism' hasn't created any serious social problems for Ghana, it is advisable to see the implication of it should it continue at its current rate.

For instance, politics in this country has for so many years been a platform for negative ethnic sentiments. The NDC is seen as a party for non-Akan people, whereas the NPP is seen as Ashanti-inclined. As such, people vote along tribal lines irrespective of whether the candidate being voted for is capable or not.

I can certainly say that I cannot apply for a government contract and hope to win with the present surname that I carry; my colleague teased terribly about this and typical of me, it got me writing and then researching on the topic. Maybe I have to substitute Dumenu for 'Mensah' or 'Agyemang' to be able to win a contract from government, I joked. Sounds funny but to some people its realism.

Of course people said that during the NDC era you would probably have to be called a 'Nii' or maybe a 'Mawunya' or something like that to win a government bid or appointment. Which ever way in both cases, there is always that element of truth present.

I specifically went to talk to a couple of people between the ages of eight and 30 years to find out about their experiences.
Ofosua is an eight year old girl and when I talked to her, she told me that her mother told her “my mother said that Ayigbe people are not good”
“But why did she say that?” I asked
Ofosua says “I don't know but Linda says they like juju”

Dzifa complained that “sometimes Ofosua and Linda make me cry because they always call me Ayigbetonlo…I told my mother that I want to change my name to Amanda”

Iddrisu who is fifteen year old says, “my classmates make fun of the tribal mark on my cheek and they are scared that I will pull out a knife from my pocket even in any argument I happen to be involved in…I get so frustrated at times.”

Love is a secondary student and this is what she says “it's not that I'm shy to say where I come from but I rather not say it because my friends will make fun of me all the time and they will judge your actions by your ethnicity every time and since my tribe is a marginalized tribe in Ghana, I prefer not to advertise it.”

Michael is a banker… “Anytime I speak my dialect with my colleague who happens to belong to my tribe, my other colleagues will try to shut us down. Some will pass such offensive comments like: don't speak that language here…it is as if you were the most unfortunate person in the world to belong to a certain tribe!”

“I simply cannot allow my daughter to marry an Ashanti-man cos we Ewes are proud people and we do not associate…” that was Mr. Kwashie.

As a student in a girls' school, I once overheard one of my dormitory mates passing a comment that hurt me deeply and more so because the very girl making those accusations was a strong Scripture Union leader. 'as for this…tribe, they are thieves from the young right through to the older ones…' she said.

It wasn't the fact that I found my self in the group she was castigating but my hurt and astonishment was in the fact that she was dressing up to go church for it was Sunday afternoon and SU meeting was just ten minutes away.

More that 60% of Ghanaians profess to be Christians, right? Jesus Christ preached brotherhood, peace and love so I really do not understand why tribalism is still prevalent among Christians or is it a matter of “let's put the bible aside” situation when it comes to this topic?

I know a friend's father who had to resign as committee head because the Akan community in the church strongly opposed the interpretation of preaching messages into Ga and Ewe. They maintained only English and Twi should be used.

Likewise, I do not believe that Islam approves of tribalism. Good interpretation of Ghanaian traditions will tell you that co-existence is a fundamental in our society.

For how do we want to wait for tribal discrimination to graduate into something else? A person's self-esteemed can be deeply affected by his or her experiences as a growing child. For this reason, many of us find ourselves being discriminatory or discriminated against, a practice passed on from our parents and society to us and eventually we will pass them on to our children if not checked.

I believe that a father of the nation will have to set a standard and an example for the citizens to follow. This means that in the political realm, governments should be able to develop a policy framework that will make it a criminal offense for people to intentionally discriminate against other people on tribal basis. Maybe the president of the Republic of Ghana can take his all inclusive government a step further by integrating qualified people from all ten regions of the country.

On a more personal level, you and I should desist from the practice of indoctrinating our children into practicing tribalism. It is good to train children to be proud of their origin but it is better to teach them to respect other people as much as they learn to respect themselves.
Perhaps it is about time that Christians took another look at the meaning of love in the bible whiles Moslems and traditional religious practitioners learned more about co-existence.

Esenam Dumenu
Esenam Dumenu

Esenam Dumenu has authored 18 publications on Modern Ghana.
Read more from the author's publications column : EsenamDumenu

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Esenam Dumenu and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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