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11.09.2015 Feature Article


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Politics all over the world has certain levels of identity politics inherent in them whether they are democracies or authoritarian regimes or communist states. This fact about politics also holds true for Ghana and its politics. Politics of identity has been witnessed and recorded by scholars especially in the period immediately preceding independence and through to the last general election in 2012.

Identity defined by the Merriam Webster online dictionary refers to “the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different from others”. James D. Fearon in the article ‘What is Identity (As We Now Use The Word)’ defines identity as, “either (a) a social category, defined by membership rules and (alleged) characteristic attributes or expected behaviors, or (b) socially distinguishing features that a person takes a special pride in or views as unchangeable but socially consequential (or (a) and (b) at once)”. (1999:2). Identity thus refers to how individuals see themselves or their perceptions of themselves and groups in which they belong which they believe distinguish them from others and others believe distinguish them.

People see themselves especially at the groups in several ways. Among them are classifications of gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality, region, sexual orientation, race, age, political party affiliation etc. For the purpose of this essay however, I will like to focus on ethnicity, religion, region, gender and political party affiliations since they play a greater role in the politics of Ghana as far as I am concerned. This does not however mean that the others play no role, or are insignificant, but for space and time as well as relevance these will suffice for now, at least in the context of this essay.

The first and probably the major forms of identity which has affected the politics in Ghana and is being affected by politics are ethnicity and regionalism. Although the two are exclusive I put them together since they both have similar impacts and are affected in similar ways by national politics. People have made claims that ethnic politics in Ghana actually has the potential to threaten the peace of the country. I will first look at the impact of ethnicity and regionalism in Ghanaian politics, before I look at the reverse. In the formation of parties prior to independence, several of the parties were ethnic and regional based parties. There was also a religious based party but that is not our focus now. Frempong A.K.D. in the book Aryee J.R.A. edited titled ‘Deepening Democracy in Ghana’, argues that, “Discussion of ethnic identity and its interface with electoral politics in Ghana is an old one, dating to the emergence of the National Liberation Movement (NLM) in 1954 to challenge the dominance of Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party (CPP)” (2001:145). In the same book, he makes reference to other parties like the Anlo Youth Movement, and the Northern People’s party. (Ibid.). This fact shows us that ethnicity and regionalism did affect party formations especially in the 1954 elections and thus by extension the two affected the politics of Ghana at the time.

Ethnicity does not affect only party formations in Ghana; it also affects voting patterns in Ghana in almost all the elections as well as national discourse. Frempong’s account of the 1969 elections for example was that the National Alliance of Liberals with its leader an Ewe won all the seats in the Volta Region except the two Akan-speaking enclaves and in the same vein they didn’t “win any seat in the mainly Akan regions of Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Western and Central Regions…. In contrast the Progress Party led by K. A. Busia (a Brong) won all seats in Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Central Regions and a majority in the two other Akan,( Western and Eastern) regions.” (Ibid.). Elections from 1992 to 2012 has also showed a similar pattern where the (National Democratic Congress) NDC has won the Upper East, Upper West, the Northern region and the Volta region consistently and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) at least from 2000 has won the Ashanti region and the Eastern region consistently. (see for election results). Frempong further documents ethnically and to a less extent regionally divisive statements in the book edited by Aryee, Deepening Democracy in Ghana made by people like G. K. Agama, Victor Owusu, Kofi Awoonor and Dr. George Akosah. Among them is the “inward looking” diatribe by Victor Owusu foreign minister under the Progress Party, Ewes checking Ashanti hegemony in public institutions by the late Professor Awoonor a member of the NDC and Busia’s government being a ‘tribalist government’ by G.K. Agamah leader of opposition in 1969 under National Alliance of Liberals.

Ethnicity and politics in Ghana has not been one sided with ethnicity affecting national politics, but politics has also affected ethnicity to a large extent and regionalism. Several people have for example alleged that politics plays a major role in the ethnic conflicts in Ghana as politicians in trying to win votes turn ethnic groups against each other. For example, there have been accusations of complicity on the part of politicians in the Alavanyo and Nkonya Conflict, Kokomba and Nanumba Conflict as well as the rift between Abudu’s and Andani’s. Similarly, politicians have managed through propaganda to delineate people from the three regions found in the Northern part of Ghana (Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions) as Northerners, as if they are one homogenous group and thus blurring the distinction between them. The Volta region is also described as if it is made up of one ethnic group for political expediency as well as the five Akan regions are usually lumped up together as if all Akans are one homogenous group in political discourse. Tonah Steve for example in an article Politicization of a Chieftaincy Conflict: the Case of Dagbon, Northern Ghana published in the Nordic Journals of African studies cites Linde et al by stating that, “Besides being violent and protracted, a few chieftaincy conflicts in the north have also been politicized, with the ruling government and the main opposition party interfering directly and indirectly in the conflict and supporting the different factions in the conflict.” (2012). Tonah further cites Ahorsu and Gebe and argues that, “The NDC also tried to implicate the National Security Adviser as well as the Interior Minister both of whom were well known members of the Abudu clan in the death of the Ya Na. They drew attention to the fact that the Vice President and the District Chief Executive for the Yendi Municipality were all members of the Abudu clan.” (2012). This shows how national politics played out in the Dagbon conflict. There are several other examples but I believe these two will suffice now.

Another major form of identity which affects national politics in Ghana and is affected by national politics is religion. In the 1954 elections, Frempong in his book Electoral Politics in Ghana’s Fourth Republic mentions one of the contesting parties as being the Muslim Association Party (MAP). (2012). Ghana is a very religious country and thus religion plays a pivotal role in our national politics. Politicians in their campaign visit all kinds of churches and mosques to win votes. Some have also been captured on video and picture seeking spiritual help from ‘men of God’ and a case in point being former President Atta Mills and Hon. Nana Akufo Addo. President Mills visited the church of T.B. Joshua and Hon. Nana Akufo Addo also toured several churches in his 2012 campaign and used the caption ‘The Battle is The Lords’ as his slogan. Some of the men of God have also made political statements seeking to influence the choice of voters, such as Reverend Owusu Bempah and Pastor Mensah Otabil. These statements have often determined national discourse on more than one occasion and the politicians have also sought to use them as propaganda tools.

Indeed one columnist Mensah Dominic argues in an article ‘When religion sleeps with politics’ on Ghanaweb that religion is one of the causes of under development in Ghana since politicians and religious leaders are together through their message encouraging mediocrity. The pastors in their bid to extort worshipers tell them to give and God will bless them and the politicians hide under this cloak to push under development on God and hence forfeit blame. (Ghanaweb Feature Article 22nd August, 2013). Thus politicians instead of taking pragmatic steps to solve the country’s problems hide behind the religious nature of Ghanaians and thus make excuses with religion to hide their own flaws and inadequacies.

One can also make the case that because of the politicians desire to win power by courting the support of the religious bodies, they have indirectly endorsed these religious bodies and given them credibility. I believe this scenario may partly account for the spurge in the number of people who visit Prophet T.B. Joshua’s church especially after it became known that he helped President Mills spiritually to win the 2008 /2009 elections.

Furthermore,another major form of identity is gender and this has also affected national politics and is being affected by national politics. Although women form over 50% of the national population they are marginalized in national politics. A case can thus be made that because of the nature of national politics in Ghana, i.e. violence, insults and corruption, a critical component of our population who are considered fragile are cut off from national politics. On the other hand, men are dominant in politics in Ghana especially and in parliament. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union website, only 30 seats representing 10.9% out of 275 seats are represented by women in Ghana. As Beatrix Allah-Mensah argues in the book edited by Aryee, Deepening Democracy in Ghana, “That intra-party gender representation for leadership positions is unequal. Although there is often a significant number of women party members in most cases that is where it ends.” (2001:131). By this, she is arguing that although parties have women wings, the number of women in leadership positions is very insignificant in itself. That is although there is a division or recognition of the difference in gender in the country and women make huge contributions in political parties campaigns as well voting to determine the leaders of the country, the national politics is skewed to their disadvantage such that very few actually hold major positions although they are in the majority. Beatrix Allah-Mensah for example in the book edited by Boafo-Arthur titled Ghana: One Decade of The Liberal State argues that, “The role of women was evident in their support of the Convention People’s party (CPP); it is on record that women traders were keen supporters of the CPP government, which in turn offered financial assistance and supportive services.” Thus women have continuously played a crucial role in shaping national politics especially when it comes to choosing national leaders and party leaders financially or through open support. This can lead one to safely conclude that gender also affects national politics in Ghana.

Lastly, another form of identity especially after the end of colonialism is political party affiliation. Political parties in Ghana have played major roles in shaping politics. Party politics has thus become the main mode through which government and leaders are selected except for the few military governments Ghana has had post independence. The parties have lobbied for electoral reforms, they have served as checks on governments when they are in opposition and they are a source of political recruitment in Ghana. Their manifestos have also been the major policy guideline for the government once it wins power. However, military regimes have also had impacts on these parties, such that during military juntas, they are forced to go into holidays or they are completely banned. However, in times like that they have responded by converting themselves into clubs and other civil society organizations only to re-emerge after the ban on party politics is lifted. People have come to be more aligned to parties in some instances and identify with parties more than the state or their ethnic group. This has often led to political violence as some fanatics who can’t control themselves attack their opponents at the least confrontation. Political parties have thus been affected by national politics and have also influenced national politics in Ghana in profound ways.

In sum, various forms of identity have affected and are affected by national politics in Ghana in terms of formation and outlook. The various identity groups largely influence voting patterns and who leads the country for example anytime the five Akan regions vote in one direction, the Danquah-Busia tradition usually wins elections. (Frempong:2012). Also some of the forms of identity have taken the nation to the brink of conflict and animosity like the “in ward looking” diatribe by Victor Owusu and Ewes serving as checks on Ashanti hegemony by professor Awoonor. (Frempong,2001:146). But there have also been some positives such as the political parties serving as means of political recruitment and being major stakeholders in the consolidation of democracy. If Ghana manages these different forms of identities well like the United States has done as one of the most diverse States in the world, we can be the eventual benefactors as the energies and the ideas of these different identity groups will be liberated for national development but if politicians out of their greed allow themselves to be exploited by these groups or influence these groups by turning them against each other, then the country will be the eventual loser as it can result in a civil war.


Albert Opare
Albert Opare, © 2015

The author has 72 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: AlbertOpare

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