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Opinions of Saturday, 28 May 2005

Columnist: Annor, Joseph

Is it true that Ghana may go to war on tribalism ...

or is it an over exaggeration?

Of late many Ghanaians have contributed to the discussion about the level of prevalence of tribalism and ethnicity in Ghana. While some of these discussions have been very useful and suggested some practical ways of promoting cohesiveness in Ghana, others tend to over-exaggerate the level of tribalism in Ghana and even suggest that Ghana may be at war if the trend of tribalistic ascendancy is not reversed.

The purpose of this paper is to point out that while tribalism exists in Ghana, many have exaggerated the high level of existence of tribalism in Ghana and the suggestion that Ghana may fight tribal war because of tribalism is an unfounded fear created in the society, which drives away foreign investors. While I found it prudent that some people write and advise Ghanaians to improve on tribal and ethnic relationship, I equally find it hard to believe when others in the least chance warns that Ghana may go on war if the tribal discrimination is not reduced. When I read the articles of the latter group, what I say to myself is that these people do not understand what they are talking about. For if they could imagine the consequence of war, I believe they would not dare suggest war for Ghana.

In any case, what I would like the doomsayers to understand is that so far as we remain human beings and we see things differently the issue of tribalism, whether real or perceived can never be completely eliminated. Even in advanced society such as Canada, which all her provinces speak English, except the minority French-speaking Quebecois, some political leaders of the French Quebec have always advocated for secession from Canada, despite that they have been given partial control over some national issues such as immigration. In some of their referendums on the secession issue, the Quebecois have come close to seceding from Canada.

Further, an article in the Times (www.timesonline.co.uk) entitled "the language battle that is tearing Belgium apart" dated 9 May 2005, Mr Anthony Browne discusses the problem currently confronting the Belgium politicians because of its bilingual nature. The paper stated that "[l]anguage wars between French and Flemish-speakers in Belgium have ignited, sparking riots, bringing the Government to the brink of collapse and prompting some commentators to declare the country is "finished"".

The above two examples drawn from Canada and Belgium, two of the most advanced countries in the world, should clearly demonstrate to us that no matter how advanced a society is, so far as linguistic and other differences persist, the nation will be confronted with the problem of ethnicity and so forth. While I am not suggesting (and do not support the fact that) people should be intentionally discriminating against fellow Ghanaians on the basis of tribe or thinking that they are superior and others are inferior and vice versa, I equally hate to hear or read the suggestion that Ghana will be turned into Liberia or Ivory Coast because of tribalism. Personally, I do not believe that Ghana will ever reach a stage where the tribal sentiments will rise to the extent that tribal war may be inevitable.

As I said above, I certainly wish that as a nation we will all respect and treat fairly each other, irrespective of the ethnic background of the person. However, unfortunately it does not always happen in that way as there are some extremists and also those who do not guide their tongues such as Mr Mfum's recent unnecessary comment about a referee. However, that does not mean that we should be clamouring for war, while clearly the conditions for war do not exist at all. More importantly, what we sometimes refer to us tribalism is not tribalism at all, except we are not honest and fair. For instance, since the Australian federation began in 1901 or so, about 80 percent of all the Australian Prime Ministers have come from the two major states, that is New South Wales and Victoria. In fact, it is not possible even to become a leader of the two largest parties and for that matter, a potential prime minister without gaining the support of the MPs from at least one of these two largest states. I do not believe that this happens coincidently, rather the shear larger size of the population in these two states compared to the other three states and 2 territories has determined such a pattern. However, most Australians have not even noticed this, but if this were to happen in Ghana, the warmongers would be taking their arms.

We should by all means do what ever we can to improve our inter-tribal relationship. Ghana is blessed to have strong tolerance (acceptance) for inter-tribal marriages both among high profile Ghanaians and the ordinary Ghanaians. The former President J. J. Rawlings an Ewe is married to an Ashanti. The Asantehene (like myself an Ashanti) is married to an Akyem. President Kuffour has J. H. Mensah (Brong) as brother in law. Mr John Mahama of NDC has an Akan as wife. The list can continue forever. Given this trend of inter-tribal marriages occurring not only among the common persons like me but also among some of the most high profile Ghanaians, we should exploit the situation to promote healthy inter-tribal relationship among us. Further, we all have friends from outside our tribes. One of my best friends in Australia is a Fante, and in deed I share so many things in common with him than any other friend. I also have a good Dagomba friend, so do I have Ewe family friends. I believe this sort of friendship is common through out Ghana. Therefore if some few individuals within us are extremist, we should ignore them as they cannot dictate to the majority of Ghanaians.

Clearly, if the doomsayers' prophecy were to occur, unlike other African countries, we will invariably be fighting our children, nephews, friends and so forth. For instance, as an Ashanti married to an Akyem, if there is a war between Ashantis and Akyems, I will be fighting my wife, in-laws and even children, and not to mention friends and people I know from Akyem. The same also goes to Mr Rawlings as if Ewes are fighting Ashantis, he would be fighting his in-laws, Mr Peprah (NDC former finance minister), P. V. Obeng and alike as Mr Rawlings has strong affiliation with all these people. The list can go on and on, but these two examples should suffice to clearly tell us that such a situation would put us in every difficult and awkward position.

In effect, Ghana has some unique feature perhaps, not commonly found in other countries. We should therefore build on this unique feature and ignore the doomsayers, who would be the first to whisk their family and themselves to safety abroad in case of such unlikely situation, as they have the money and means to run away from the country and leave the ordinary people not only to suffer, but also to die and so forth. My warning to the doomsayers is that their tricks will eventually be exposed, so they should not negatively use the tribal card to promote their own selfish interests.

*************************************************************** The Times (www.timesonline.co.uk) May 09, 2005 The language battle that is tearing Belgium apart From Anthony Browne in Brussels LANGUAGE wars between French and Flemish-speakers in Belgium have reignited, sparking riots, bringing the Government to the brink of collapse and prompting some commentators to say that the country is "finished". The dispute, over whether 120,000 French-speakers living in Flemish areas should have the right to elect French- speaking politicians, arouses high passions in a country split between the two languages. As the apparently innocuous spat in an electoral district just outside Brussels escalated out of control, demonstrations ended in violent confrontations with police. Senior government ministers cancelled all other work for emergency negotiations, but failed to broker a deal over the weekend. "It is clear ? there is no progress," Laurette Onkelink, the Francophone Socialist vice-premier said. The unresolved dispute will now be handed over to the federal parliament to try to broker a deal. "For the Government, for the majority and the country, this week will be pivotal," Johan Vande Lanotte, the Institutional Reform Minister, said. Such is the anger on both sides of the linguistic divide that the French-language Le Soir newspaper wondered on its front page: "Is Belgium finished?" The linguistic schism is so deep that no political party yet straddles the language divide. There are two separate Socialist parties, one French and one Flemish, a dialect of Dutch. There are two national theatres, and universities and hospitals are either French or Flemish, with doctors sending patients to a particular hospital on the basis of their language. Belgium ? the last surviving artificially created state in Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia ? has tried to resolve the tensions by dividing itself into three semi-independent regions. In the north is the Flemish-speaking Flanders, where the largest political party is the separatist Vlaams Berlang; in the south, the poorer French-speaking Waloonia; and embedded within Flanders is Brussels, the only region of the country that is officially bilingual, although in practice it is more than 80 per cent Francophone.

The latest dispute has arisen because Brussels is surrounded by a commuter belt in Flemish territory and French-speakers living there want to have the same language rights as if they lived in Brussels.

In Flemish communities, all official business and advertising has to be in Flemish, making it difficult for French-speakers to have dealings with their local authority.

The Flemish, who make up 60 per cent of the 10.5 million population, complain that in many areas, most notably Brussels, French is taking over. Brussels was historically a Flemish city ? and is still the capital of the Flanders region, as well as the national capital ? but it has become almost totally Francophone, making the Flemish resentful that they have difficulty using their own language in their own capital.



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