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Opinions of Thursday, 6 May 2010

Columnist: African Spectrum

Forging A Common Ghanaian Identity

Factionalism appears to be fast gaining ground in our community at the expense of a common national identity. Many Ghanaians in the Chicago area and elsewhere in the U.S. are more likely these days to identify with their ethnicity or geographical origins than with their nationality. This explains the proliferation of social organizations based almost entirely on ethnic and other parochial allegiances. In some odd way, people owe allegiance first to these organizations, then to Ghana, the one and only entity recognized by the U.S. government as representing the interests of all Ghanaian citizens in this country.

It is important to stress that there is nothing wrong with the idea of people who share the same interests or come from the same cultural or social backgrounds banding together in some formal organization to promote their common interests and pursue mutually beneficial goals. On the other hand, when such efforts are pushed too far, they rob a diverse immigrant community of much-needed cohesion. Factionalism turns groups into islands or self-segregated enclaves and makes some Ghanaians indifferent to the problems of fellow Ghanaians.

The unpleasant nature of factionalism is even more pronounced when it comes to social functions. Events such as outdoorings, weddings, and funerals are now organized for the most part along either ethnic or religious lines. People who don’t belong to a particular group don’t see the need to be part of that group’s social activities. Conversely, the hosts or organizers of these events are often not too enthusiastic about having people with whom, in their view, they have little or nothing in common at their gatherings except, of course, when they need financial donations. What all this means is that, even though we all come from the same country, most Ghanaians belonging to rival ethnic organizations see each other as total strangers coming from different planets. There is none of the fellowship that normally unites compatriots who find themselves in a foreign land and makes them share their joys and sorrows.

We must acknowledge, however, that the various ethnic and other parochial associations came into being simply because there was a void to be filled in our community. If there had been a credible community-wide body to take on the roles now being played by these small groups, the latter’s influence on the people might have been minimal. As everyone is aware, the ethnic and church groups help their membership tremendously. Among other things, they help their members mourn their dead and contribute substantially toward the cost of funerals; they participate in weddings and outdoorings; and they even offer financial assistance to needy members whenever it is deemed appropriate. Generally speaking, the groups take good care of their members, although there are some whose leaders are not quite as altruistic as they should be.

But there is safety in numbers, as the time-honored cliché goes. There is more to gain for all Ghanaians in our community to see themselves as one people, indivisible, and begin doing things together than as separate groups. Take, for instance, social events. Since most Ghanaian social functions are essentially fund-raising affairs, wouldn’t it make more sense for people to take advantage of the patronage of the entire Ghanaian community than that of a small group of familiar faces from the church or ethnic association? But this would only be possible if our immigrant community developed a Ghana First mentality or otherwise subordinated ethnic and parochial loyalties to the need to forge a common Ghanaian identity.

Developing a sense of common Ghanaian identity would be advantageous in other ways beyond boosting party attendance. With effective leadership, the collective resources of all Ghanaians could be harnessed to benefit the community as a whole as it is done in other recent immigrant communities that had the wisdom to stick together as one people. Like us, these immigrants are hardly homogenous, at least in terms of ethnicity, but once in America, they are Indians and Pakistanis and Chinese first – to name just a few - and everything else second, making it possible for them to pool resources and offer help to those among them who need it irrespective of their origins in the old country. Their approach to the issue of a common national identity should serve as a shining example to Ghanaians. It is a big factor in their phenomenal success as immigrants in America.

So, before we get too comfortable with such divisive labels as Ashantis, Fantis, Ewes, Gas, Dagombas, northerners and southerners, let us all try to be Ghanaians first and see if our lives in this country won’t be made a lot easier through unity and co-operation, as opposed to rivalry and antagonism.