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Opinions of Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Columnist: Avorkliyah, Selorm Kordzo-Aheto

Tribalism is Utter Stupidity-Ghana Beware!

Dear Fellow Ghanaians,

At some point in the plundering of Africa in the mid 1800s, the Europeans thought to themselves they needed to have a sit-down to decide who plunders where so that they wouldn't have to suffer the inconvenience of bumping into each other now and then. It was that simple. Africa was theirs to plunder but all that was needed was some sanity among their own ranks so that the minor skirmishes over this and that in far-off Africa will not degenerate into the damaging of diplomatic ties amongst their "good" selves back at home in Europe.

So Africa was split among themselves like school yard bullies sharing the lunch of a weakling. To either appease their consciences somewhat or rather have reason to say to each other "that is mine" and "this is also mine," they threw in the additional clause that they must have some sort of agreement in place with the natives of Africa - the Principle of Effectivity.

That is how come one Fante chief became signatory to the Bond of 1844 that ceded the southern half of modern-day Ghana to the British. Needless to say this agreement will not hold water even in the courts of pirates and guerrilla warmongers. It is instructive to note, the British not being entirely pleased with resources the northern half of modern-day Ghana had to offer, simply called it a protectorate instead of a colony which would have affirmed their interest in looting from the northern half, equal measure.

Fast-forward to about a hundred years later, Nkrumah's generation of travelled and educated natives are up in arms demanding independence. Of course the imperialist did put up a fight but they had to let go at some point. Even their so called effectivity agreements had expired and the world had changed a great deal. Nkrumah's generation was not a bunch of straddling native chiefs that were in awe of the guises and guiles of white men.

So somewhere in the middle of the 1900s, Nkrumah's generation formed new nations. They decided the names, the anthems and to some extent, the geographic boundaries of these new nations. However, the geographic boundaries was much less a thorny issue than selecting the lyrics of the anthems for their new nations. It was pretty simple. Just go with what the white man has been holding on to. Nkrumah was told British-Togoland was up for grabs and he readily added it to the landmass of his new nation, Ghana. You ought to keep in mind, Nkrumah's plan was to liberate the entire continent.

The account I have just given, is not ancient history. It's less 200 years of history so I find it most befuddling that it is not common knowledge amongst most Africans. In the absence of the colonialist booty markings that led to the carving of nations across the African continent, the sovereignties or kingdoms that were existent in Africa were simply tribes. So the African was and still is first and foremost, a tribesman.

This situation takes a lot away from the sense of nationhood needed to forge, as it were, a nation of one people. Visionaries like Nkrumah identified the problem in those early days and took conscious steps to integrate the peoples and rid their countries of ethnocentrism. 50 years on, we are all fully aware of consequences of the failures of some of those patriarchs of the new Africa nations in integrating their people.

The gory genocide in Rwanda, the endless wars in the Sudans, the Congos, and the atrocities in Liberia and elsewhere across the continent, serve as poking reminders of how volatile the tribe situation is especially when it takes political dimensions.

Anytime I find myself "quarantined" at an international airport and asked series of needless and pointless questions for my "unpardonable crime" of being black and carrying the passport of lesser-known Ghana, I brood and then I shrug it off and console myself that I also have a country I can call home. However, when I eventually get home and someone has reason to think he is better than me for belonging to one tribe or the other, then the utter putrid stupidity in tribalism, racism and classism become very clear to me yet again.

Addressing the folly.

I remember my days in primary school in Tema quite fondly. The views I reached on life and society at that very early age are still very useful to me now that I am a grown man who has to shave every other day. I remember anytime I had a punch-up with anyone back then, there were some choice expletives that were ceremonial necessities. A reference to the genital of the opponent's mother was always top of the list. Beyond that one, any verbal jab that you can think of that would deliver the most collateral damage was up to your creative abilities.

Often, my opponents would hurl the all too familiar "Ayigbeni" at me. It just failed to make sense to me at that age and now. How does the tribe I belong to become reason to feel insulted?

My opponents soon realized this was an arsenal with very little firepower when it came to me. They then often opt for the reminders that I have a big head. This was of course reason to flare up and loose it completely. Truth be told, I do certainly have a big head.

It was even then very clear to me that anytime I found myself belonging to a group long enough, I was given reason to dislike other groups in favour of the one I found myself in. Primary class 4B was supposed to be our archrivals when I was in class 4A. However, when we closed from our school in the afternoon, the boys from other schools were the unforgivable enemies and class 4B boys were allies all of a sudden. It just didn't make any sense then and it still doesn't make any sense now.

I guess it is in our very animal nature to find ourselves in huddles; be it tribes, sub-tribes, political parties, church groups etc and look upon "outsiders" with scorn. It will be unnecessary at this juncture to tell anyone how very wrong that is. However, the point has to be made about people using such divisions to their own benefit.

We all have to remember this: when we allow this generation of politicians who lack the kind of foresight Nkrumah has to split us into our puny and unknown (any well-travelled person will agree not even the Ashanti tribe rings a bell at most places outside Ghana) tribes to win votes, there is a probable consequence like what we have seen in Rwanda and elsewhere.

We are not Cro-Magnons living in caves. We are human being living in the 21st century. Let's get pass this primordial stupidity of tribalism!

Selorm Kordzo-Aheto Avorkliyah

Asia Pacific

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