21.04.2010 Feature Article

Ethnicity and National Development

Ethnicity and National Development
21.04.2010 LISTEN

Tribal issues are quite sensitive things we mostly like to avoid talking about. They are not waters we want to swim in. But, I guess, when it becomes imperative to discuss them, we have to.

I remember quite clearly what happened to me in December, 2004 when we went to the polls. Macroeconomic indicators don't mean anything to many Ghanaian voters. But I was quite enthused with these indicators when I decided on whom to give my vote. Inflation was under control and nearly single-digit at that time; GDP growth was impressive; the Cedi had gained some weight against the major currencies (less depreciation). Budget deficit was not too awful. The list can go on and on. Of course, then Finance Minister, the “engineer-turned-economist” Yaw Osafo Marfo had won my heart, and still remains one of my most favourite politicians.

I queued in Sarbah Hall, my residential hall at the time, spent some 150 minutes of my study time (since this was actually end of semester exams period) trying to be patriotic. Upon casting my vote and returning to my room, my friends approached me on the second floor of the B-block. “As for Iddi, we know he either voted NDC or PNC”, they yelled at me. Was I surprised? Nope! Of course, a “Northerner" must be either NDC or PNC. That was what my friends technically intimated.

Now, to the issue. We are allowing some trend on our political terrain to grow that if it is not checked, we could be jeopardizing our democracy. We are giving/accepting the impression that an Asante must be NPP whereas an Ewe or any ethnic group in Northern Ghana must be NDC. Our voting patterns lend credence to this. We are consciously or unwittingly encouraging “tribal democracy” to fester. That has a potential of destroying our democracy.

Last Wednesday, Minority Leader, Hon. Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu cautioned NPP supporters to guard against tribalism because it has devastating consequences for the party (Ghana Web 14-04-2010). He was hitting on the fact that people are creating the impression that NPP is an Ashanti-Akyem party, when in fact only these two tribes cannot win elections for the party. Dr. Arthur K. Kennedy had cautioned party supporters against the exact same thing when he said that the “Ashanti-Akyem rivalry” might make other ethnic groups in the party to feel less appreciated, and so on (Myjoyonline 01-04-2010).

I am pretty sure that there are some areas in the Volta Region, and supposedly in Northern Ghana, where being a non-NDC member makes you uncomfortable to declare your political affiliation.

If we don't do something about this trend that is getting deeply rooted in our body politic, I am afraid someday an “NDC-NPP clash” would be “tribe X-tribe Y clash”. Ghana is all we have, and we cannot afford to let politicians mess us up.

What can we do about it? Here is what I think. Politicians should stop building their political capital along tribal, religious, and regional lines. They should know that if they plunge the country into chaos by so doing, they are also at risk. We as individuals also need to reorient the way we perceive ethnicity and political affiliation in Ghana. There is absolutely nothing wrong with an Ewe running for president on the ticket of the NPP, or an Asante running for President on the ticket of the NDC, for instance.

It amazes and disgusts me how some well-educated people feel about other tribes other than their own. We should teach our kids, and sensitize our folks that Ghana is superior to any given tribe or ethnic group. That we should place the interest of Ghana first and above our sectarian/parochial interests at all times. This way, we can build a better united Ghana. This way, there would be little or no tendency for inter-tribal hate. This way we would be safer as a country. If we allow tribalism to deepen, and get aligned so impossibly inseparably with politics, we would be doing ourselves a big disservice. We might not know the value of the relative peace we have been enjoying. But we definitely do not want to know or get to experience what its absence can do!

I am not a huge fan of soccer, unless Ghana is playing some country. But the one thing I like about it is when Ghana plays Brazil, Egypt, etc, we collectively support our team as Ghanaians. If we can develop that spirit of togetherness that we share when we support our team, we will lead Africa.

When we leave school and are unable to find jobs, we realize that unemployment is no respecter of tribe. When prices increase rapidly and we go to the market to purchase stuff, the prices don't treat us differently from other tribes. Inflation is “tribe-blind”. We all feel the heat.

We should all be looking forward to a time in the near future when we shall judge each Ghanaian on his qualifications and competence, as opposed to his tribe, religion, region, inter alia; a time when we shall vote our political leaders based on whether we honestly believe they can grow our economy, create jobs for us, make life better, and make Ghana truly a better country than we have ever had; not because “I am tribe XYZ, hence I must vote Party ABC or candidate PQR”.

God Bless Ghana, and God Bless Us All
Credit: Iddisah Sulemana
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