A Professor of Political Science at the University of Ghana, Prof Kwame Ninsin, has accused politicians of exploiting tribalism for their political interests.
He said what was more dangerous was the tendency to put ethnic considerations to public policies where huge resources were shifted to tribal hometowns of politicians in government.
“If we don't take care tribalism will become the most salient basis of association and that would make the loyalty of people less to the state and more to their tribes,” he noted, adding that such a situation had the tendency of turning political competition into tribal competition.
Prof Ninsin gave the caution in Accra when he delivered the maiden quarterly “Ghana Speaks Lectures” under the joint auspices of the Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG) and Joy FM, an Accra-based private radio station.
The lecture series sought to provide the platform for political debate and dialogue on issues pertinent to the country's democratic development.
The maiden lecture was on the topic, “[email protected]: Tribe or nation?”, was attended by politicians, political and social scientists, as well as a cross-section of the general public.
Prof Ninsin observed that at independence, Ghana was a nation of people who shared traditional norms and at the same time laid claim to their national citizenship.
He, however, indicated that tribalism reared its ugly head soon after, which subsequently culminated into what he described as “tribalisation of politics” in 1992 with the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) as the principal architects.
Prof Ninsin said such tribal claims within a nation state posed a challenge to the unity of the state and, thus, could subvert it.
According to the Political Science Professor, the way out of that problem was to strengthen the nation state to lead the country's development pursuits, adding that the weakness of the nation state had been the bane of the country's development.
He traced the process towards the weakness of the state to the era after the 1966 coup, which was characterised by the plundering of state property and resources.
Prof Ninsin said some people were taking refuge in tribalism for purposes of security because the state had failed to equitably distribute material resources and address their needs.
He said when the resources were distributed equitably, all tribes would feel a sense of belonging.
The lecture generated intensive debate from the audience during question time. While some contributors agreed with the views of Prof Ninsin, others differed in opinion and criticised him for what they perceived to be inadequacies of his presentation.
A leading member of the NDC, Dr Tony Aidoo, disagreed with the impression that tribal and national interest could not co-exist, arguing that it was possible for the two to function side by side.
The Head of Governance Issues at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), Mr Kwesi Jonah, did not buy the idea of strengthening the nation state , contending that there was the need for civil society to share in the control of political and economic power invested in the state.
The leader of the Great Consolidated Popular Party (GCPP), Mr Dan Lartey, said the problem now had to do with the government doubling as government and state, and until the functions of the two were clearly defined, the problem would persist.
According to him, the solution lay in the creation of a Second Chamber, which will be the embodiment of the state, to enable the government to perform its statutory functions.
Other contributors were Prof Akilagpa Sawyerr, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Mr K. B. Asante, a diplomat, Mr Akoto Ampaw, a legal practitioner and Mr Kofi Wayo, leader of the United Renaissance Party.
Reacting to some of the concerns, Prof Ninsin stood by his suggestion to strengthen the nation state and cited a World Bank report which claimed that minimising power in the state rather weakened its effect.
Although he agreed that tribal and national interests could co-exist, he argued that the thrust of the lecture was to examine whether tribalism in politics was healthy.
“Yes, it is good to have tribes but where they become politicised, then there will be chaos,” he submitted.
A former Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Prof Abena Dolphyne, who chaired the function, stressed the need for equitable distribution of state resources in order to avoid tribal sentiments.
The Executive Director of IDEG, Dr Emmanuel Akwetey, said the lectures were aimed at complementing similar initiatives by other democratic institutions such as the IEA, the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) and the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) of the University of Ghana.
The Programmes Director of Joy FM, Mr Kofi Owusu, said the lectures were part of the station's effort at shaping the future of the nation.
Story by Kofi Yeboah