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Opinions of Monday, 15 February 2010

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

Talking Down to the North

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

The Ghanaian Chronicle editorial captioned “GH¢ 200,000 A Month For Northern Conflict” (See 2/10/10) was in very poor taste. While, indeed, the editors of the Chronicle appear to be genuinely concerned about the seemingly interminable ethnic and political conflicts in the northern-half of our country, the facile attempt to homogenize the population of the north is rather invidious and unfortunate.

For, needless to say, just like its southern counterpart, northern Ghana is composed of diverse ethnic polities and sub-ethnic polities. Besides, whereas in the past we had a single geographical enclave amorphously designated as the Northern Territories (later Northern and Upper regions), today there are three discrete regions making up the North. And even more significant, not all the three regions are embroiled in the same degree of inter-ethnic or, even as in the case of what may be termed as the Northern-Region Proper, familial/monarchical strife.

What is more, one never confuses the predominantly Akan-speaking regions with each other, particularly when the subject of discourse verges on the patently negative. Consequently, at all times, we expect our prime media practitioners to maintain a fair and even-handed approach to all groups of Ghanaian humanity, irrespective of ethnicity, ideology, creed or geographical location.

The Chronicle’s editors also appear to have facilely put the proverbial cart before the horse, in assuming that the northern-half of Ghana is, somehow, relatively underdeveloped primarily because of the rampant incidence of ethnic conflicts. Actually, a plethora of ethnic conflicts are raging “Up-North” precisely because the area is relatively and woefully under-resourced; and such systematic under-resourcing has been going on since colonial times. It also goes without saying that almost all the known incidents of ethnic strife in Ghana, like many other regions the world over, are economically determined or resource-based.

Consequently, what the Chronicle’s editors ought to be productively engaged in is to be meticulously researching and systematically documenting the origins or causes of these ethnic conflicts and then intelligibly and intelligently suggesting effective solutions for these problems with, of course, remarkable input from the victims, themselves, as well as the primary actors or the so-called elites. Instead, what the Chronicle editors have given us, so far, is to condescendingly pontificate and pretend almost as if there exists an especially malignant gene that is unique to the DNA of northern Ghanaians and predisposes them towards a bizarre form of internecine aggression that is virtually non-existent in the south.

Indeed, decrying the massive urban drift from the northern-half of the country to the south is not highly likely to receive a positive response from any well-meaning Ghanaian, southerner or northerner. Rather, such a self-centered approach to a veritable national crisis smacks crassly of xenophobia. Instead, the Chronicle editors stand the chance of serving both their profession and Ghanaians better by critically examining our annual budget vis-à-vis the central government’s distribution of our collective wealth and other material and cultural resources in relation to population size, density and basic needs.

Needless to say, had the editors of the Chronicle done precisely the foregoing, they would also have realized to their utter chagrin that the reported ¢ 200,000 (Two-Hundred Thousand Cedis) that the government spends on peacekeeping operations is woefully inadequate, and that Ghanaians ought to thank their stars and Providence for the fact that the entire country is not already engulfed in conflict and other forms of ethnic strife.

To be certain, the Chronicle editors’ argument that potential development money is being frittered on law enforcement, geared primarily towards preventing the northerners from, literally, tearing at each other’s throats could not be farther from the historical reality. In brief, our contention here is that were the preceding argument empirically valid, one would have observed a phenomenal upsurge in public development projects in the north in years that the area has been relatively devoid of bitter conflicts as well as other socially disruptive activities. Chances are that any scientific investigation conducted on the foregoing score is apt to yield decidedly unimpressive results: meaning that the systematic economic immiseration – or abject impoverishment – of the North has always remained a geometrical constant, regardless of whether the North temporally enjoyed inter-ethnic harmony or strife.

Ultimately, what the Chronicle editors appear to be desperately, albeit pathetically ineffectually, attempting to put their fingers on is the exceptionally high price that all Ghanaians stand to pay if the central government continues to ignore the crucial economic and socio-cultural development of the North, by pretending almost as if northern Ghana were merely another region somewhere underneath our Earth or up above the clouds “so high,” as the old nursery rhyme intimates.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI), the pro-democracy think tank, and author of 21 books, including “Intimations of Love” (Atumpan Publications/, 2009). E-mail: ###