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Opinions of Saturday, 12 October 2019

Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah

If Kwame Nkrumah is a Liberian then who am I?

Joshua Attoh Quarshie, (a well known “former Gold Coast politician”); has been reported by Ghanaweb to have resurrected the tired issue of tribe, ethnicity and hometown as the acceptable parameters for citizenship.

To paraphrase him, Kwame Nkrumah is Liberian. Let us leave it at that.
“It is all so sad,” my mentor will say, “when Kwame Anthony Appiah, the renowned Ghanaian philosopher, has addressed such matters comprehensively. But do we read anything important?”

Before colonialism we were Africans, not Ghanaians. Even the Gold Coast boundaries have evolved, and tribe as an administrative construct was not an issue before then.

My father has Ewe lineage from present day Togo but he was here in present day Ghana before independence.

Part of his ancestral village was/is in present day Togo. Interestingly my father’s hometown is Begoro in Eastern Region where he grew up on a farm, and he and his siblings have Akan names.

When I visit my family in Togo the Twi they speak is pure and unadulterated like honey from Kakum Forest.

My mother’s mother’s mother (i.e. my great grand mother) is from Abandze (maternally). My mother’s father is from Dogo, a nearby village.

My mother’s father, Michael Williams, came from the seafarers who arrived regularly from Sierra Leone to trade. He got married and had two daughters Beatrice Araba Williams and Elizabeth Araba Williams (not twins) with my maternal grandmother (Comfort Maria Adwoa Foriwah Adjarkwa).

My mother’s mother’s mother’s father (Great great grandfather) is Akwapim. He named my great grandmother Mary Koranteng. My grandmother is called Foriwah (My grandaunt Mama Ekua Budu insists it is Fante “Foowa”, not Akwapim Foriwah).

Now Michael Williams’s father is likely from present day UK, Holland or Germany.

My mother’s mother apparently has another lineage from James Town, Accra. My mother tells me when she was a child her mother took her on regular family visits to James Town.

Now let us look at Dogo, a village close to Mankessim. Dogo is on a hill and overlooking Otom. The pronunciation is different from Dogon, the legendary Malian town which is also (?coincidentally) hilly country!

Besides the Fante people from Abandze, Mankessim and all, partly migrated from Ekumfi in the Bono East Region. Hence there is a village named Ekumfi in Fanteland.

Let us leave out the Togo connection for now before it gets too complicated.
I meet university graduates who tell me “If your father is from Togo then you are not Ghanaian, you are Togolese.”

Others, including a lawyer, tell me I have borrowed the Fante name Ato, and that I should go to Togo and ask for my “real name” and change my name.

During my undergrad years a lecturer gave a 10-15 page term paper that required students to write about “the conception of health in your community”.

He explained that community meant “where you come from”.

“Who told you that you are from Cape Coast?” the lecturer FURIOUSLY waved my paper to the class. “When we Akans are talking don’t come and add yourself to us.”

I was only 23 then but I knew the lecturer was out of order.

As fate would have it, weeks away from graduation, the said lecturer followed a colleague lecturer to the university Catholic church inside Mensah Sarbah Hall to serve as a godparent for baptism.

There I was the Sacristan, Catechist and Prayer Secretary for Pax Romana. Everybody including the priests and Mass Servers literary took directions from me. You can imagine how embarrassed he became when he queried “your mission here?”.

Then followed, “Why didn’t you tell me you were Catholic? You’ve been coming to my office every time but you never introduced yourself as Catholic. Right from the first semester you should have introduced yourself to me as A CATHOLIC so that we will see what we can do. May the good Lord help all of us so that you graduate successfully.”

Talk of ethnicity and religion…….and whatever else for grades!

At a time when enlightened people have transcended the narrow mindedness that results from the artificial/arbitrary constructs of ethnicity, and race and rather emphasize global citizenship and our common humanity, here we go again, in another mad race to the bottom.

Now, where are you from; who are you?

“If you say you will talk/write; before you realise it is you who have become a bad person,” remarked my mentor.

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