Revisiting The Road To Secession Agitation In The Volta Region

Feature Article Revisiting The Road To Secession Agitation In The Volta Region
DEC 8, 2019 LISTEN

In view of developments on the ground and certain misconceptions being expressed, I have been compelled to review this write up which started as a brief response on WhatsApp to a friend who never heard of the Homeland Study Group Foundation (HSGF) before; unlike myself who can claim a level of intimate knowledge about them. After all, an attempt was made to recruit me as their UK Representative, which I rebuffed. I therefore decided to add some meat to my response, in view of the blatant ignorance, persistent bigotry and hypocrisy being expressed by many, and share to a wider audience to bring some clarity to the unfolding saga, which has since escalated to another level with the purported declaration of Western Togoland as an independent state on 16 November 2019.

An old festering gangrene with deep historical roots which took a different turn and emerged as a secessionist movement in the 1950s is now threatening to embroil the sub-region into another chaotic, inter-ethnic conflict if not handled with caution. This discontent was successively repressed by various governments since the 1950s and this current attempt at suppression using coercion will not succeed to eliminate it. It will simply rather raise the stakes. We can conveniently say the days of brutalising the malcontents, throwing them into prison and forcing some into submission or exile are gone. They have lingering and new grievances which must be dealt with in order to quell for good the persistent discontent.

During the PNDC period there were actually five different such secessionist movements but the PNDC’s clampdown on them sent them underground and abroad where they operated from. The events surrounding the removal of Dr Fiagbe as VR Regional Secretary had much to do with this clampdown. The main protagonist, a nemesis of others who were detained under the CPP regime, was brutalised and publicly disgraced in the Anloga market. It is therefore not true that these secessionist movements did not operate during the PNDC/NDC eras as some are purporting. The HGSF, for example, emerged from the shadows in 1994 upon return to democratic rule. They actually became very active in Ghana under the Kufuor regime, which some perceived as a friendly regime. Those interested in verification may find this article most useful.

I am tempted to delve into the history of the secessionist movement in full, in view of the available and undisclosed information I am privy to concerning [the wrongful] detention of people, including relations, from its start in the 1950s to the ‘60s, on false allegations of plotting to secede but decided to leave that out. This had largely been covered in other available sources already, to which I have made references. Brief summaries shall suffice.

What I’d like to point out is that it started as a unification movement during the WWI. Torgbui Sri II, then Awoamefia of Anlo, after helping to raise troops to assist the British to defeat the Germans in Togo, asked for the area seized by the British to be added to the Gold Coast. This demand, with some variations, gathered momentum during the inter-wars period, with letters to the League of Nations too. A portion of a letter sent to the League of Nations by the leaders in Lome was quoted in my article How Some Ewes Became a Part of Ghana (see link below) in which the petitioners asked to be added to their kinsmen, Gas (Ges) and Anes (Anyis), in the Gold Coast. No mention of Ewes and the other divided ethnic groups was made. This request was seen as a blunder because it aroused French concerns and was subsequently toned down in further petitions, according to Amenumey (1989). Instead of meeting the demands, there was horse trading between the British and the French, with Lome and portions of the area seized by the British in the south up to Atakpame incorporating the railway line given to the French and current Upper East seized by the French swapped for it to form what became known as the Trans-Volta Togoland (TVT).

In any case, the demands for unification continued after WWII but soon degenerated into conflicting demands from the various ethnic groups from the initial bid to unite the TVT under UN trusteeship and present Republic of Togo to the Gold Coast. For scholarly research and details on this unification struggle and the complexities it assumed, Emeritus Prof. D.E.K. Amenumey’s The Ewe Unification Movement: A Political History, is the best account around and is recommended.

For instance, the initial movement under the All-Ewe Conference was not a secessionist movement from the Gold Coast but a union to it. It was the case until the Borada Conference of 1949 when the Togoland Congress with S. G. Antor (a Guan) and Kofi Dumoga (an Ewe), formerly of the Togoland Union, as its leaders was formed (Austin: 1970: 192-3). By 1951, it was effectively operating and asking for the TVT to separate from the Gold Coast, with the Ewe areas within the Gold Coast not even included in its separatist agenda. Frustration at the lack of prospect for unification as envisaged thus led to the secession movement based on TVT borders as more feasible by the Togoland Congress. The revolt against the CPP in 1952/3 for reneging on election promises concerning the poll tax, cutting diseased cocoa trees, prices paid to cocoa farmers, coupled by the disregard by the UN of the legitimate demands of the Ewe people within the Gold Coast and the TVT not to be divided by arbitrary borders fueled its agenda, leading to its gaining massive support for its separatist agenda from the Gold Coast Ewes too. George Padmore reported that it reached fever pitch there (Padmore, 1966).

George Padmore devoted the whole Chapter X in his book, The Ghana Revolution, to their earlier forebears and foresaw the current situation, as the germane issues that gave rise to what he termed “irredentist nationalism” were not resolved by the plebiscite of 1956. This is thus an essential reading to appreciate how the arbitrary borders had seriously disrupted the socio-economic lives of the affected people, with even families and farms cut into two, thereby disrupting centuries of mutual trade and socio-economic relations, thereby impoverishing the people of the VR over the years. In spite of the artificial border, the Republic of Togo remains a major trading destination – a trade often associated with smuggling and the usual harassment - not only for Voltarians but now other Ghanaians too. But for many Voltarians, it was and still is crucial for their wellbeing. That is why Lome remains an important market for the vegetable produce of the people of Anlo, for instance, and the closure of the border for about two years by the PNDC in the 1980s had a devastating toll on economic fortunes in the southern VR, as captured by the auditors of the defunct Volta Premier Bank. When Anloga tomatoes sellers tried to find new markets in Accra, they were met with fierce resistance by the market queens in Accra. Only those who could pay backdated exorbitant fees were allowed to sell their goods.

It is interesting to note that the same past squabbles of the 1950s exist within the HSGF too, with one faction led by Captain Brooke advocating for only the TVT area and others led by its leader Mr Charles K. Kumordzi including the southern VR which was part of the Gold Coast colony too in the Western Togoland on the basis that it was also part of Togoland.

The TVT area was then a major cocoa and coffee producing area where even some Anlos own cocoa farms in the Ahamasu area, for instance. The discontent arising from the perceived discrimination in developing the Ewe areas within the Gold Coast and the TVT, and the prejudices and bigotry which had already made southern Ewes within the Gold Coast disillusioned with being a part of the Gold Coast which Sandra Greene also wrote about, quoted in my article referred to above, erupted into the deadly riot (the “Bugabuga War”) and subsequent curfew of 1953 in Anloga which spread to the rest of the country. In the words of Dennis Austin, this turned the sleepy town of Anloga into the “political barometer” of the Gold Coast. Of course, the execution of the six alleged ring leaders for the deaths of one victim in the riot earned the CPP the enmity of some Anlos up to today, and turned some people into separatists. It certainly made some susceptible to plots against Nkrumah, eventually culminating in the overthrow of the CPP regime.

It is crucial to note that the non-Ewe ethnic groups inhabiting the northern part of the TVT - the current Oti Region, through Northern to the Savanan and Upper East Regions comprising the Guans, Buems, Akans, Chokosis, Basaris, Konkombas, Dagbons, Nanumbas, Mamprussis, Grunshies, Bimobas and many others – had their people under German rule incorporated into the Gold Coast and therefore had achieved unification. They were therefore reluctant to support what had become overwhelmingly an Ewe secessionist movement in the plebiscite and subsequent agitations since then.

The HSGF emerged from the shadows in 1994 after return to constitutional rule in 1993 and operates openly, not clandestinely. The old man and his activities are therefore well known in the VR and, to a large extent, the rest of Ghana. When they started, based on an alleged 50-year clause to review the plebiscite of 1956 which fell in 2006, they drew a large body of prominent support from all walks of life. Meetings were held in Ho, attended by prominent Voltarians, which made it difficult for government to take action against them. After failure to produce the alleged UN clause, interest waned from many of such Voltarian elite. Besides, there were wranglings among them, especially on some key historical facts being misrepresented, (for instance, the false claim that TVT covered the Peki to Anlo areas too), and policy to adopt. However, they still maintain some grassroots support, successive governments having failed to counter their propaganda. In fact, some viewed the Kufuor administration in a friendly manner, sent petitions to him and he reciprocated by condoning them for whatever support he could garner from the VR. Perhaps, the low-keyed approach to them left them to appear as inconsequential, disaffected malcontents who could be ignored to indulge in their idiosyncratic irredentism, so far as they were peaceful in their advocacy.

This state of discontent about developmental neglect is worsened by the negative perception of Ewes by non-Ewe Ghanaians and experiences of Voltarians in post-independent Ghana. I had taken up this issue in countless exchanges and in articles, one of which I’d want to present in support of my position.

The open anti-Ewe diatribes, demonization and vilification which even some high ranking Akan NPP officials and members indulge in against Ewes in particular have led to many disaffected people. Fact is, some people in the VR are so disgruntled with the bigotry and discrimination expressed against people from the VR, particularly Ewes, and the clear neglect of the region, even during the long years of J.J. Rawlings’ rule, in terms of development that they are convinced the only solution is to secede from Ghana. A former British High Commissioner famously revealed that there was an understanding among the diplomatic corps not to support projects destined for the VR, ostensibly as a reaction to the repeated but unjustifiable accusations of tribalism levelled against the P/NDC.

Those of us who respond to the ethnocentric trolls and yobos like those on Ghanaweb are deemed time wasters and naïve; in fact, even mad, with the popular adage about the mad man who takes ones cloth while one is in the bathroom applied to us. Thus, both the traditional and educated VR elite, especially the Ewes, failed to deal with the vexatious issues most Voltarians are concerned with. No wonder those in the Oti enclave became more determined to secede from the VR but their elite are even more pathetic than the Ewe elite in expressing and defending the interests of the VR. I never heard any of them exclaim even once that cocoa is grown in the VR too - a lot in the now Oti Region, - and that Voltarians produce a significant proportion of the GDP in response to taunts that Voltarians are parasites dependent on the aged Akan cocoa farmers and minerals mined outside the VR. I took this issue up in another article available on the web.

It is that deep-sitting discontent that the HSGF has tapped into and harnessed by highlighting the negative actions and the constant demonization and vilification of Ewes in particular. In a publication dated March 9, 2009, captioned Togolanders Problems As At Now: A Historical Background, they listed some of their grievances, of which I quote a part as ff.:

When Busia assumed the reign of the country, he could not fathom how Ewes (Togolanders) dominated top positions in the civil service, hence the dismissal of 569 Ewes. This was popularly known as the ‘Apollo 569’. Mr. Sallah, then the Managing Director of GNTC (Ghana National Trading Company, headquartered in Ghana House, Accra), took the government to court for wrongful dismissal and won the case. Dr. Busia disrespected the court’s decision with the infamous “No Court, No Court, No Sallah” declaration. A freeze was then placed on the employment of Ewes (Togolanders) into top positions in the Civil and Public Services.

As if that was not enough, he declared the Aliens’ Compliance Order. Thousands of hard-working non-Ghanaians including Togolanders were expelled and their properties plundered and taken over. All Togolanders in most Akan lands were sent packing. On 13th January 1972 Dr. Busia’s Progress Party government was overthrown thus ending briefly the tribal sentiments set in motion by the PP Government. A few years later, Ghanaians suffered the nemesis of Busia’s actions when in 1982/83 the Nigerian Government sent almost three million Ghanaians back home.

The show of disdain and disrespect for Togolanders, Ewes continued in another infamous statement made by Mr. Victor Owusu, a veteran politician that “Togolanders are inward looking”. To fuel the anti-Ewe campaign further there was media hype to whip up hatred for Togolanders, Ewes. People who have hatred for Ewes for no apparent reasons enjoy wide coverage of their hate articles in the print media. News captions such as:-

“Ewes are not Ghanaians” – The Believer Vol. 23 March 1993

“The Ewe Hegemony” – Statesman, May 1993, February 1994

“Ewes should leave Ghana in peace” Free Press Vol. 15 May 1994.

“Quashiegah to lead NPP – Same Ewe Factor” – Statesman Vol. 18 July 1994

“Dzelukope Mafia” – Chronicle, June 1995

“Give this Ewes their own country” - Chronicle July 1995.

Such newspaper stories are used to renew and deepen hatred for Ewes, strengthening hate broadcast on the air-waves.”

And it went on to list more cases of perceived discrimination against Ewes which may resonate with many Ewes, including this writer who has spent decades countering such hate mails in cyberspace, often, as a lone warrior. I must thank though the multi-ethnic members of the “Moral Brigade” that cleaned up the Okyeame Forum. They did a yeoman’s job which can serve as an example for the whole country, starting with an Anti-ethnic Vilification Law.

I know it is a daunting task to change the minds and prejudices of people and make the ignorant aware and thus change behavioural patterns. I have a test case right now dealing with an Akan acquaintance, an ardent and active NPP supporter. Trying to convince him that the lower VR from Peki to the Anlo coastal areas were a part of the Gold Coast, effectively from 1876, and that the Anlos actually fought on the side of the Asantes during the Sagrenti War, with the picture of the signing of the peace treaty at Dzelukope from the October 10, 1874 edition of The Graphic of London, books and maps to support me, was just a fruitless exercise. He is convinced all those sources were fake or wrong, including what we googled for! He thus represents the stereotypical Akan the secessionists say one cannot reason with to build a harmonious Ghana for us all to live in.

He has ordered a book on the Sagrenti War through the British Library, hoping it’d support his wrong beliefs ingrained in him from childhood which the porous school system did not dislodge. I have Ivor Wilks’ voluminous book The Asantes and Spieth’s The Ewes but did not consider it worthwhile wasting my time bringing them to disprove him, as he is simply close-minded and obdurate. He is just as convinced like many members of the Akan ethnic group that Ewes climb the organisational ladder in the public service hierarchy by using juju to eliminate their ostensibly Akan bosses and colleagues and said same to my Ibo staff plus all the rant about Ewes coming from Togo to dominate them. Like most of his tribesmen, he is completely oblivious to the historical facts that Ewes had settled within the present VR and even across the Volta River to the west, as was the case for the Ada areas, before the first Akans came into the VR. And, of the Dangmes, before they came from Lorlorvor via the Okorhuem forest, as even the biased C.O.C. Amate narrated in his book, The Making of Ada, to settle among the Agaves, the forerunners of the Anlos from whom they split.

I have blamed our porous educational system for this level of abject ignorance about our human geography and shared history, which history, I understand, is not even taught at the basic level anymore in the usually selective and skewed manner with all the polished untruths. This state of affairs must be reversed with the appropriate teaching of all our history and human geography right from the basic level. In our days, one could get 1 in Geography and yet not know that cocoa is grown in the VR too even if one is from the VR, especially from the south! And it is still the case. I have to admit that some Anlos do not even know that their area was part of the Gold Coast colony proper!

It is the same stereotyping of Ewes that Dr Dag Heward-Mills foolishly and ignorantly repeated in a recently circulating video in which he said to his congregation that in the VR, there is “xorse vi de, boke vi de,” that is, a little Christianity, a little juju; a jaundiced perception of many non-Ewe Ghanaians of Ewes I had made mention of in my article above years ago. That educated Ewe scholars and commoners alike had recognised that the kind of syncretism that he also preaches, just like all those so-called pentacostal/charismatic churches, incorporates African belief systems - a recognition which Rev. Prof. Emeritus C.G. Baeta coined the phrase “christo-paganist” churches for - is lost on him. It is beyond his intellectual capacity; a medical doctor whose cosmology has not evolved beyond its Weberian primitive, substantive rationalisation level.

This issue deserves a fuller examination though, as the missionary intrusion into Africa produced a serious clash of cultures and ways of life still unfolding in which even dancing traditional dances, visiting the local herbalists, (in the absence of Western medication), marrying more than one wife, dressing codes, etc., were considered unchristian then. This missionary imposition of European cultures was severely criticised by their enlightened country men and women of whom the name of Mary Henrietta Kingsley deserves illustrious mention. The African response from the 1930s with the rise of breakaway African syncretic sects, the so-called Ethiopian churches, the forerunners of the recent explosion of such movements into mega churches deserves scholarly examination.

The dissenters have a large number of sympathisers who identify with their grievances as genuine, However, most Voltarians, even though they agree with their grievances, are resigned to the fact that they are stuck within Ghana and so do not support the secession as a solution, and actually do not take the adherents seriously. They are seen as fringe elements of a simmering discontent. But, as conflicts go, such a discontent does not require a majority support before it is capable of causing a serious incidence which can escalate into a major conflict. The government should therefore be careful not to make martyrs of anyone in order to give their cause new grounds for anger and violent reactions. The Police, I hope, have gone for the expensive vehicle they ran away from at Alavanyo. The days when such aggrieved persons are rounded up, beaten and locked up must be a thing of the past. Many conflicts in Africa, just as in the past, started with small quarrels or disagreements and soon escalated into full blown destructive wars, with reprisals from both sides spiralling out of control. Soon, no one even knows what really started it and we hear silly excuses like it was caused by a fight over a guinea fowl. That must not be allowed to happen with any government overreaction to what is essentially an overblown protest movement by some aggrieved Ghanaians. And that is what it is, a protest movement indulging in Most Distracting Gimmicks (MDGs), which all political entities indulge in. In this case, it has taken the form of brinkmanship, a kind of hyping up or raising the ante in reaction to the apparent indifference of government to their concerns. Worsening the situation was the ethnocentric division of the VR to form the Oti Region. This is an area Ewes of Krepi (Peki, Ho, Kpando to Hohoe) also fought alongside the Guans and Buems to finally liberate from the slave raiding and plundering yoke of the predatory tripartite Akwamu-Asante-Anlo allies and their hangers on in 1874 before the British handed over the area to the Germans after 1884. Then, Torgbui Sri II of Anlo raised troops to help the British to seize the TVT and Lome from the Germans in 1914. Accordingly, most Ewes see as their sphere of influence and extension of their homeland the whole VR, in view of not only their overwhelming number but the centuries of living together and intermarrying. That is why many Ewes, including Anlos, were shocked and upset when the Awoamefia impostor Patrick Agboba, injudiciously accepted the invitation to attend the Akwasidae, considering the role the current Asantehene had played in fomenting further the Oti movement by breaching the terms of the Dzelukope Peace Treaty which forbade Asante from ever claiming suzerainty over any polity east of the Volta river again. This matter is intended to be revisited in fuller detail.

I urge government to release on bail those arrested with immediate effect and start a national dialogue on the germane issues which have sustained the secession desire. Note that I did not say start a dialogue with the HSGF, as they are only one of the aggrieved parties to the issues. Having far exceeded the brevity threshold I set, I would not like to go into the details of the agenda for this national dialogue but it must certainly result into a new curriculum to ensure the proper understanding and teaching of our history and human geography facts, inculcation of mutual respect for each other, and the criminalisation of of tribalistic discrimination and prejudices with an Anti-Vilification law put in place. There is no way any right-thinking person can accept the status quo to remain as it is, and expect peace to prevail.

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D.E.K. Amenumey The Ewe Unification Movement: A Political History. Legon: Ghana Universities Press. 1989.

C.O.C. Amate The Making of Ada. Accra: Woeli Publishng Services. 1999..

Dennis Austin, Politics in Ghana: 1946-1960. Oxford University Press. London 1970.

George Padmore The Gold Coast Revolution

Sandra E. Greene Gender, Ethnicity, and Social Change on the Upper Slave Coast: A History of the Anlo-Ewe. Portsmouth: Heinemann & Kames Currey.1995.

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