01.10.2011 Feature Article

Tribalism: The Keys Work Better Together

Tribalism: The Keys Work Better Together
01.10.2011 LISTEN

I start this article by recounting a quote from an earlier piece of mine titled; Kufuor and Rawlings: Swords and Saints. It reads as follows: “Aside from political parties, some tribes in the country continue to cross swords. The animosity and hatred displayed by some tribes towards others is reprehensible and utterly execrable at worst. The question to ask is whether we are all not Ghanaians. Indeed, tribalism has adversely affected the progress of many a nation leaving the ashes of regret as its invisible remnant and backwardness as its palpable bequest.”

The seriousness of tribalism leads me to focus on this subject matter in an intricate manner. There are those that either deliberately or inadvertently decry the existence of such. This is an issue that exists in society whether we are willing to talk about it or not. I am very saddened to have to open a discourse on a matter of this nature at this point in our history as a nation. Some of the comments that are left by readers on popular websites lay claim to the existence of such a canker that needs to be addressed or ameliorated to any extent possible.

Aside from the politicking that goes on when discussions come up, some people cannot refrain from taking a swipe at other tribes. Such detract from giving any relevant contribution to subjects at the fore and rather blithely proceed on a tribal smear campaign with all importunity and impunity.

Without getting into arguments of whether or not there are tribes in Ghana, my focus here moves the discussion to consider pragmatic reasons for unity rather than dabbling in a verbose academic discourse with no corresponding advancement to our shared cause. My cardinal motive is to draw attention to a subtle canker and suggest ways of amelioration.

Sociologists view ethnocentrism as the belief in the inherent superiority of one's own ethnic group or culture or group to which one belongs, often accompanied by feelings of dislike for other groups. It may also refer to the tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one's own. Tribalism may be deemed as the state of existing as a separate tribe or tribes; the customs and beliefs of a tribal society or loyalty to a tribe or tribal values. Additionally, ethnic groups consist of individuals who are bound together, often closely, by a shared cultural structure and sense of ethnic identity. Consequently, the individual persistently uses membership in the ethnic group as a primary criterion in the formation of relationships with others, and in evaluating or making judgments concerning other individuals.

Writing in the “Gallery of Gold Coast Celebrities", Dr. I. S. Ephson notes Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir Aggrey (1875 - 1927) as an apostle of inter-racial co-operation who advocated and helped to cut the path of progress for the African race in many fields, particularly in the direction of Religion, Education, and Agriculture. He further records that co-operation was Aggrey's ideal which he expressed by his example of Piano Keys: "You can play a tune of sorts on the black keys, and you can play a tune of sorts on the white keys, but for harmony you must use both the black and the white." Dr. Ephson further writes that Dr Kwegyir Aggrey saw true co-operation as involving “a certain measure of equality - equality of opportunity, if not of actual political status. It means that each side has something to contribute - something more than brain on one side, brain on the other - to the well-being of both". This is what provides the thrust for this piece: The keys work better together.

A nation builder made such a profound observation many years ago. Today, we continue to fight amongst ourselves with some tribes having a sense of superiority to other tribes and forgetting that every tribe has something to offer. It is so sad that when we travel outside the country we complain of racism and yet return home only to pursue ethnocentrism. How we vacillate from crying victim to turning the victimizer depending on where we find ourselves!

Throughout history when nations could have advanced working together as a team, some tribes sought to treat others as a lower 'caste', oppressing and dominating them to the ruin of that very nation. This led Saint Augustine to conclude that: “By faithfulness [to our cause as a nation] we are collected and wound up into unity within ourselves, whereas we had been scattered abroad in multiplicity.”

The story of the Hutus and Tutsis is not a farfetched example. This resulted in what has been termed as Africa's largest genocide in modern times. The visible effects of tribal conflicts can also be seen in South Sudan as well as Yemen to name a few.

In fact, we need to grow up! Ethnocentrism and cultural parochialism is a pathetic state to find ourselves in. Can one region form a country? Are we not economically interdependent? Despite the tacit restraint to avoid marital alliances with other tribes, are Gas not married to Fantes, Ashantis to Ewes, Northerners to Southerners and Easterners to Westerners? As Mattie Stepanek discovered: “Unity is strength... [and that] when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” With seeming quiet, are we not making some progress as a nation?

I disagree with Bertrand Russell's notion that “Order, unity, and continuity are human inventions, just as truly as catalogues and encyclopaedias'”, rather, I find more support for national advancement in Hans Kung's view that: “We are convinced of the fundamental unity of the human family.”

Does it mean we should lose our ethnic values to the extent that we lose our identity? Probably not! However, yes, if it conflicts with our quest for advancement as a nation. Richard Baxter supports this view when he says: “Unity in things Necessary, Liberty in things Unnecessary, and Charity in all.” From his statement, love for one another is cardinal as we forge ahead as one people (Ghanaians).

We should heed to Bill McCartney when he says that we should: “ a highway for healing and unity.” After all, we all stand to lose should tribalism rear up its ugly head and gnaw away the fragile covering of peace we enjoy. To all those who continue to fan tensions either in an overt or covert manner, you would serve us all well to desist from such practices. Remember also that “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” That is Mark Twain's advice to all harbouring negative thoughts for other tribes that would only put a break on our progress as a nation.

As I bring this piece to an end, I cannot help but to repeat a line from Camille Pissarro's reflection: “At fifty, that is in, 1880 I formulated the idea of unity, without being able to render it. At sixty, I am beginning to see the possibility of rendering it.” I remain optimistic that with continuing advancement and education, we would gradually see ourselves more as Ghanaians (one people) with our cardinal allegiance to Ghana rather than the tribe we come from.

Dr. Frank Robert Silverson
Email: [email protected]