GA-DANGME INTERNATIONAL (GDI), HOLDS 6th ANNUAL SUMMIT IN TORONTO, SATURDAY 28TH MAY 2005
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY SAMUEL ODOI-SYKES, GHANA'S HIGH COMMISSIONER TO CANADA
The Ga Dangme Conundrum
Since the independence of Ghana over 48 years ago, the people of Ga Dangme of the Greater Accra Region have been complaining to successive governments about the compulsory acquisition of Ga Dangme lands by the state “in the interest of defence, public safety, public order” and general national development.
In recent times, the complaints or grievances of the Ga Dangmes have highlighted perceived threats to Ga Dangme Language, Culture and Traditions, Poverty, Education, Marginalization and the extinction of the Ga Dangme Tribe, which has been termed “an endangered species”.
This 6th Annual Summit of the Ga Dangme International is taking place at a time of disturbing developments in the affairs of the Ga Dangme people which should be of primary concern to all of us here today.
An unfortunate confrontation has erupted between the Ga Traditional Council (GTC) the traditional rulers of the Ga Dangme people and the Ga Dangme Council (GC) which was founded by private individuals to promote the interests of the people of Ga Dangme.
The spat was triggered by a demonstration which was organized by the Ga Dangme Council, April 26, to demand an immediate solution to the grievances and complaints of the Ga Dangme people.
Addressing a press conference in Accra, on May 5, the Ag. President of the Ga Traditional Council, Nii Adotei Obuor, denounced the demonstration as unnecessary, and dissociated the GTC from it.
He referred to the leaders of the Ga Dangme Council as “deceitful and self-seeking”. He accused the Council of deviating from the purposes for which it was formed, and now manipulated by “politically motivated evil men”. The Council, he said, has no mandate to deliberate or speak on any Ga Dangme issues in the name of the GTC.
The Ag. President said the GTC was working earnestly with President Kufuor and his administration to find lasting solutions to the land and other problems of the Ga Dangme people, and there were signs of progress. A Land Committee has been set up by the President to review the whole issue of land acquisition and use, and the legal measures would be taken to return the unused Ga Dangme lands to their owners.
This embarrassing development has exposed the Ga Dangme Council to suspicion and mistrust. It has called into critical question the bona fides of the grievances and complaints of the people of Ga Dangme. There is now a heightened national criticism of the whole Ga Dangme case and the methods employed by the Ga Dangme Council to seek redress. The question being asked now is” 'who speaks for the Ga Dangmes?'
It is the constitutional right of all citizens of Ghana to take part in genuine demonstrations to vent their feelings or underscore their grievances. But it is wrong and unacceptable to use a demonstration to promote a hidden agenda.
Ghana's past experience teaches us that demonstrations are sometimes staged to create political and social unrest as a prelude to launching a hidden subversive act.
Those who planned the assault on Parliament in 1981 through a demonstration, led by the late Amartey Kwei, turned out to be the same group which overthrew Limann's constitutional government some few months later. The abduction and murder of the three High Court Judges and the Army Officer in 1982 was led by the same Amartey Kwei, a Ga Dangme citizen, who was obviously used by the same deceitful group.
Recent developments in the country should alert all peace-loving Ghanaians to guard against the intrigues of any self-seeking men who might want to exploit the Ga Dangme people's grievances to disrupt Ghana's orderly progress and development. The Ga Dangme people should not allow themselves to be used.
In spite of what they may say openly in public, there are some few over-ambitious individuals who are so hungry for power that they say they cannot wait until 2008 for a change of government through the ballot box. They have infiltrated proxies into many organization and groupings including the Ga Dangme group.
Apart from the obvious injustice in the sale of compulsorily acquired lands of the Ga Dangme people, many of the complaints of the Ga Dangme people have been dismissed as frivolous or illogical. Their rationale has been challenged which has yet to be specifically addressed.
I have not found it easy or comfortable to explain or defend some of our complaints. For instance, it is difficult for me to believe that there is a conspiracy or plan to keep the Ga Dangme people or region poor, or to subvert the Ga Language or Culture, or to exterminate the Ga Dangme people.
I say this as a true full-blooded Ga Dangme citizen, and I accept the responsibility of forming my own opinions.
A cool-headed assessment of the case of the Ga Dangme people shows that all our grievances derive from the fact of Accra being the national capital of Ghana.
If the capital of Ghana has not been transferred from Cape Coast to Accra in 1877, the Ga Dangme people would not today be a minority in their own land. Our lands, languages, and cultures would not have come under constant siege. But Accra would not then have enjoyed the benefits of exceptional developments and privileges of a capital city.
Compulsory Acquisition of Ga Dangme Lands
The development of Accra and Greater Accra as the national capital region for economic and social services and amenities necessitated the compulsory acquisition of stool and family lands of the Ga Dangme people by successive governments before and after independence. There was nothing wrong with that arrangement.
However, there have been long-standing complaints about the transfer or sale of such lands which were not used for the purposes for which they were acquired, or the leases of which had expired. Huge profits were realized from the transfers or sales by government officers without the payment of compensation to the original owners or returning their lands to them. This is the main creditable complaint of the Ga Dangme people.
The present government has shown appreciation of the grievances of the Ga Dangme people over this issue, and has put in place plans to have the unused lands returned to their rightful owners or be paid adequate compensation. One of such lands which was leased to Lever Brothers will be returned to the Osu Stool.
The problems of Ga Dangme lands are not generated solely by the compulsory acquisition by the state. A far more widespread problem is created by the rampant sale of lands by stools and families. Many Ga Dangme chiefs sell the land of their districts to strangers and use the proceeds for their own purposes without rendering account to their citizens. Sometimes the same piece of land is sold by a chief and/or his elders in Accra to two or more buyers, leading to protracted and costly land litigation, and losses to innocent victims.
It was in order to check this nefarious practice that the Land Development (Protection of Purchases) Act, 1960 (Act 2) was passed. It is mischievous to mislead the people of Ga Dangme that Act 2 was passed to facilitate the expropriation of Accra lands by the state.
Ga Dangme Chiefs should be made more accountable in the discharge of their duties as custodians of Ga Dangme lands. Selling stool lands and pocketing the monies for themselves is unacceptable in the general regime of accountability. Vast majority of lands in the ownership and control of non-Ga Dangmes were purchased from families and traditional rulers and not state governments.
The people of Ga Dangme were involved from the beginning in the movement to fight for Ghana's independence. Two of the famous “Big Six” pioneers were Ga Dangme citizens Ako Adjei and Obetsebi Lamptey. Of the three Ex-service men who were shot and killed at the Christiansburg Crossroads shooting incidents in 1948, two were Ga Dangme citizens Sgt Adjetey and Cpl Odartey Lamptey. It was this event which kick-started the final struggle for Ghana's independence.
Accra was the cradle of modern national politics, and the main battle-ground for the independence struggle. The youth and women of Accra bore the brunt of the fight against the colonial administration.
Ga Dangmes have played vital roles in all political groupings or parties at all times. Vulgar abuse and insults have however kept many high profile Ga Dangmes from venturing into politics.
There is a strong perception that the Ga Dangme people have been marginalized in politics. They do not get their fair share of the national cake in spite of their enormous contribution to Ghana's socio-political development. As long as the Ga Dangmes are not united, they can easily be taken for granted in national politics.
Language and Culture
It is the policy of the current government to promote respect for the diverse languages, cultures, beliefs and traditions of all the peoples of Ghana without any discrimination.
More than 70 dialects are spoken in Ghana, which are classified into 4 main linguistic groups AKAN, MOLE-DAGBANI, EWE AND GA DANGME. The most widespread language is TWI which is spoken by about half the population.
The Ga Language is taught as a core subject at the primary level in all schools in the Greater Accra region. Every school child in Ghana is required to learn and pass in at least one vernacular language at the primary level.
As the national capital of Ghana, Accra has attracted Ghanaians from all parts of the country to settle in the city in search of work and other social amenities and opportunities unavailable to them in their own towns and villages. They speak their own languages, and the state cannot compel them to speak the Ga language. They are also greater in number than the Ga Dangmes who form just 8% of the population. Dangmes are 4.3% and Gas are 3.4%.
Extraordinary pressures have been exerted on the land, language, culture and traditions of the indigenous Ga Dangme people who have now become a minority in their own land through the influx of strangers. This is the inevitable evolution of Accra as a national capital. National capitals all over the world go through this experience, and their indigenous populations more often lose their distinct identity.
I do not find any evidence to suggest that there is, or has ever been, a conspiracy or policy by any government to undermine or sabotage the teaching and spread of the Ga language. The language has just been swamped.
It is the ultimate responsibility of the Ga Dangmes themselves to devise innovative strategies to promote and popularize Ga Dangme languages to supplement the contribution of the state.
There is no evidence of discrimination against the Ga Dangme people or schools in education.
The 2000 Census established that the Greater Accra region has the lowest illiteracy level of 20.6% in the country. The highest rate is the Northern Region 78.7%. The rate of Eastern Region is 40.8% and Ashanti Region is 40.4%.
However, the drop-out rate of the youth of Ga Dangme is now rising steadily. The pressures and distractions of a city life are undermining the educational effort and performance of the youth in Accra. We have to make exceptional effort to keep our children in school, and take interest in their studies.
This is a problem which must be seriously tackled by the Chiefs and civil society of the Greater Accra region with the support of Ga Dangmes in the Diaspora. Without good education the future youth of Ga Dangme will be marginalized in jobs, politics and other economic activities.
“Ga Dangme in the 21st Century”
The Ga Dangme people have failed to attain their best in national affairs generally because they are not united. We seem to get on better with people from other ethnic groups than with ourselves. Unity holds the key to progress and development of the Ga Dangmes in the 21st Century.
Our traditional rulers must play a leading role in forging this unity. Chieftaincy disputes and land litigation have stood in the way of unity and held back the development of the Ga Dangme region. Al these impediments must be put behind us in this century if we wish to progress.
Our chiefs should emulate the good examples of their counterparts from other regions of the country to push forward the development of the Ga Dangme region. We should encourage and support them to do so instead of attacking the integrity of hard-working and successful chiefs from other ethnic tribes. Success and praise can only be won by one's efforts, and one person's gain does not represent the loss of another.
The people of Ga Dangme should not allow themselves to be drawn into or used for ethnic politics. The Ga Dangme people are only 8% of the population and so we dare not be drawn into unjustifiable ethnic confrontation which we cannot win. It was an outrageous behavior for the Ga Dangme Council to propagate the lie that the Asantehene had been sold acres of land in Accra for the building of a palace.
Finally, Ga Dangme citizens in the Diaspora should take an interest in the progress and development of their region and the whole country. You can particularly be of assistance in the fields of Education and Health in which Ghana stands in dire need of help. If our children, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces are not sufficiently educated in modern Ghana, they will be marginalized by the system.
To accept this challenge will attest to your sincere interest in your region and country.