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Opinions of Friday, 7 October 2011

Columnist: Sidibe, Abdul Musah

Media Ignorance: The Story Of Ghanaian Fulani

When the fascist took control of Europe in the 1930, their first act was to use the media to demonize the minority Jewish population in their respective countries. The purpose was to soften public opinion and avert any public back lash in favors of the Jews. Lo and behold when the holocaust started, not many objections were raised and over 6000 Jews perished. As Ghanaians, we may see the holocaust as a distant European history without any bearing on our nation. But the use of the media to target a minority ethnic group is a characteristic of several civil conflicts including Rwandan, Burundian and Ivorian wars. Thus far, no Ghanaian government has used the Fulani issue as an election galvanizing issue. But a reactionary politician could use these kinds of issues for political purposes and if care is not taken the minority Fulani Ghanaians could be targeted for discrimination and even violent attacks.

Already, there are scanty reports from the Ghanaian country side that the Fulani are denied access to health facilities and their children prevented from enrolling in publicly funded schools. In 2001, I was invited by the Cocoa Affairs Court to help the court in translating a case involving a Fulani man who was attacked and seriously injured by a farmer. The man had two of his fingers chopped off because the cattle he was entrusted went in to a farm. In the end the court dismissed case for lack of adequate evidence. The boy’s case is just an example of the brutalities against Fulani headsmen in the country.

It is very likely these days to read and hear ethnically charged, very insensitive, and very negative stories about the Fulani in Ghana. A story in the Daily Graphic of June 17, 2010 epitomizes the insensitivity of the Ghanaian media towards the Fulani people. ”Ghana is paying dearly for not taking drastic action to curb the activities of Fulani herdsmen, as they have not only become a security menace but now a health threat as well,” the story in the Daily Graphic noted. An Adom FM online headline reads “Five Fulani robbers basted.” I wonder what the reaction would be if a major news outlet in Ghana were to write similar statements about Ashanti farmers, Ga fishermen, Dagomba farmers in Ghana. I am sure that as Ghanaians we will all be outraged. Why we are not outraged in the case of the Fulani? Why are Ghanaians edging media fascism in a democratic state?

Over the years thousands of armed robbers were arrested by the police in Ghana, none of them were identified by their ethnic groups. And I am very confident the entire Fulani ethnic group by population constitutes a tiny minority of the crimes in Ghana. Yet anytime someone in the ethnic group commits a crime, the entire group is the focus of the media. Why not identify the armed robbers by name just as the media did in many cases including that of Ataa Ayi? Obviously the name “Ataa” is a popular Ghanaian name. Therefore demonizing his ethnic group will evoke a reaction from that ethnic group. Fulani are a tiny minority in Ghana, but they are a major ethnic group in many neighboring Africa countries. Therefore the Ghanaian media must be very sensitive on this subject as it could have dangerous consequences.

As a Ghanaian, my personal story and struggle is an example of the stories of the 1000s of Fulani citizens of Ghana. Born in 1972 in the Nima-Mamobi area, my father moved to Accra from Garu in the Upper East Region where was born in 1924, before Ghana was established as a nation. Family stories from my father had it that my grandfather was also born in Guru in the 1800s. My mom was born in Sang in the Northern of Ghana in 1936 and her mother was born in Gushiegu, also in Northern Region.

Therefore my roots in the country predate the establishment of Ghana as a country. I therefore consider myself an indigenous Ghanaian, even though I am ethnically and culturally Fulani, and speak the language very fluently. My late Uncle, Sergeant Laryea Fulani, was a retired Army office and one of the Ghanaian forces that fought in Burma alongside the British. He also participated in the 24th February riot that led to our independence. My niece is currently a warrant officer in the Ghana Armed Forces and my nephew, Dr. Ali Ayamba, is a medical doctor helping save the lives of 1000s of Ghanaians. Across the Northern and Upper Regions of Ghana are many Fulani family who have similar stories.

Ghanaian citizenship is a matter of law. The 1960 constitution of Ghana and the Citizenship Act, 2000 (Act 591) states:

“Any one born in Ghana before the 6th March 1957 is a Ghanaian citizen”.

Article 6 of the 1992 constitution states:

(1) Every person who, on the coming into force of this Constitution, is a citizen of Ghana by law shall continue to be a citizen of Ghana.

(2) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, a person born in or outside Ghana after the coming into force of this Constitution shall become a citizen of Ghana at the date of his birth if either of his parents or grandparents is or was a citizen of Ghana.

Ghanaian citizenship is therefore recognized by law and not by looks or ethnic origins. In fact nowhere in Ghanaian law is ethnicity recognized as the prima facie evidence of citizenship. As Ghanaian Fulani we derive our citizenship from the laws of Ghana and expect to be treated equally in Government policy.

It is against this backdrop that the recent issuing of IDs to Fulani by District Assemblies recognizing them as foreigners is unfortunate. We call on government to stop the move until the citizenship of those Fulani in the districts is fully established. This is important because if care is not taken government will end up discriminating against Ghanaian citizens because of their ethnic origins.

There are many Ghanaians whose ethnic groups are not in the majority in Ghana. The Lebanese, Gurma, Mooshi, Bassare, Chamba, Kootokoli, Bussanga and many others may on touch the ears sound odd to the media and some Ghanaians. But there are many Ghanaians who are of these ethnic groups.

Finally, I call on all Fulani who are Ghanaian citizens to refuse any attempt by district assemblies to discriminate against them and to report any such attempt to the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ). On my part, I will continue to expose any such policies to the international press and international human rights organizations.

Abdul Musah Sidibe


Abdul Musah Sidibe is a human rights activist and a Ghanaian and African political observer based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.