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Opinions of Saturday, 19 May 2007

Columnist: Adin, Kwame

Tribalism is a Disease.

We Are Our Brothers and Sisters’ Keepers: Tribalism is not Love. It is a Disease.

The cancer of tribalism has taken roots in our Ghanaian society. I am alarmed that this disease has reached an epidemic level, and it threatens the well-being of the entire nation. The media has become a platform to make outlandish tribal hate message. Radio, TV, and print/electronic media have become regular channels for propagating tribal hate messages. Even a cursory reading of comments on Ghanaweb or any newspaper indicates the debilitating illness of tribalism. Frequently, professional tribal hate mongers inter-post their vile messages within civil dialogue. They try to usurp any discussion with their serial tribal hate comments. The fingerprints of tribal hate mongers are everywhere, and, like cancer, they invade the healthy cells of Ghanaians. The debilitating disease of prejudice and tribalism is alive and spreading among our brothers and sisters. Tribalism is evident in some of the contributions on Ghanaweb. Tribal hate mongers increasingly cast aspersions against Ewes, Ashantis, Fantis, Akwapems, Dagombas, Gas, Dagombas, Nzemas, etc.

It is amazing to read some of the insensitive comments on Ghanaweb about fellow Ghanaians. It is disconcerting to witness such extreme and intense tribal phobia among Ghanaians. Yet, it is almost impossible to find a Ghanaian family that is strictly homogeneous. Because of inter-marriage, education, business etc, each Ghanaian family comprises members of several ethnic groups. You will find members of different tribes in each Ghanaian family. These relationships are critical components of Ghana’s civil society.

I want to offer a counter-narrative to celebrate our common values. I want to work toward bridging differences among us. I want to join millions of Ghanaians who routinely enjoy the company of other Ghanaians, regardless of their tribe or social status. I want to highlight the richness of the varied cultures within Ghana. Ewes, Ashantis, Gas, Hausas, Dagaati, Dagombas, Nzemas, etc. need each other. I must predicate my contribution with the remark that I am of Ewe and Ghanaian origin. All through my education, both formal and informal, I have had the privilege to learn from persons from multiple ethnicities. My life has been enriched precisely due to these priceless experiences. With me, the litmus tests for friendship are the qualities of loyalty, honesty, fairness, respect, and humility. These are universal values. Tribal affiliations, social status, physical description, education etc are non-factors if you cannot treat others with respect, fairness, and humility.

I went to school with people from different ethnic groups, played competitive league soccer with guys from different tribes, and worked with people from different groups. My friends in Commonwealth Hall, Legon, in the 70s, hailed from just about every corner of Ghana. Through the privilege of friendship, we visited the hometowns of each other. My personal experience authenticates my belief that we are indeed our brothers and sisters’ keepers.

Please let me indulge readers with my own testimony about an incident from more than 25 years ago. I was then an instructor at Legon. During the military uprising of December 31, 1981, a platoon of soldiers set out to track down and eliminate a friend (family member), an Akan (I mention his ethnic group only for the purpose of this report). The leader of the platoon also happened to be an Akan, a man who curiously lived in our area and knew my friend. My friend owned a newspaper publication, which he used in vociferous campaign against military dictatorship and all forms of imposed authority. During the December 31, 1981 coup, he became a major target. He fled his home minutes before the soldiers got there. He sought refuge with my family. We knew we would all have lost our lives had they discovered him in our home. Yet we protected him. When some of our neighbors got suspicious, we had to move him to another location. It was intense and I even ended up in the hospital in a coma. I woke up in 37 Hospital in the same ward as soldiers who had sustained wounds during the uprising. All over the floor, there were litters of the bloody clothes of soldiers who lost their lives. That was enough to send me into another coma. Eventually, I woke up after throwing up all over the place.

Right after I got out the hospital, I got busy, trying to get my friend out of the country. This matter became critical as the soldiers began to intensify their search of the new location. When my friend was going underground, I gave him reading material that for some reason included, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Areopagitica. After near misses, we succeeded in getting him out. That was the last time I saw my friend, although I would read his news reports and listen to his on-air contributions. Apparently, he has been working for a prestigious international broadcast/news organization.

Two years ego, we were home for a family funeral, and a young man came to our home. After the usual greetings, he introduced himself as Sammy, the same name as my late brother. Then he said, “I am here to thank you since my father told me I would not have been born but for you and your family.” Apparently, he was born when his dad was in exile. As I was quiet, he went on to say, “you do not know me but I know you. You know my father ….” We all fell silent and then we prayed. It was a humbling experience. The son gave me links to his father and I have renewed contact with my friend.

Here are excerpts from my friend’s correspondence: “I … remember how, through a twist of Divine Intervention, the Good Old Bearded Man Above miraculously made you to collapse in front of the vehicle that was “smuggling” me into political exile when the military guns began to boom in the barracks in December 31 1981. When you collapsed, the vehicle due to convey me to the village was compelled to discharge me, and take you instead to hospital. Apparently, the wild dogs of the Revolution were waiting at a discreet distance to intercept the vehicle and pounce on their most “Prized Trophy”. Miraculously, you saved my life because I did not travel on the vehicle on that fateful day. That was the last time I saw of you …God Bless you my Brother.” Indeed, I believe Divine intervention saved us. First, the vehicle would not start. However, once it started to run, the driver held his groin in terrible pain. My uncle then volunteered to drive. When we got into the car, I realized my friend was sitting in the middle, flanked by my cousin and me. I thought my friend would be less conspicuous if he had a corner seat. I got out and walked round the car. That was all I could remember. Later, I learnt that the soldiers had been alerted about our movement and they had mounted roadblock, not far from our house. Even today, as I reflect over that encounter, I realize it was God’s hands at work. Our friendship has become a family and spiritual bonding. I have not seen my friend since then, but I am thankful that he has brought into my family the gifts of personal courage, intelligence, humility, respect and kindness.

I am sharing these personal experiences because I know others would have their own stories to tell. It is too much straining to witness blatant display of tribalism. I am most disappointed when such hate message comes from citizens who tag the highest academic credentials to their names. A PhD tagged tribal hate message still carries the putrid smell of the cesspool of Korle Lagoon.

I feel that incendiary, antagonistic and wanton display of tribalism has no place in modern Ghana. Our innate qualities are rooted in our common humanity, not our tribal affiliations. Regardless of our political standings, we can still show candor and circumspection with each other. Ethnic hatred breeds more ethnic hatred and all of us must work hard at achieving a just and fair society. All the problems of Ewes, Gas, Ashantis, or Hausas are the problems of every Ghanaian ethnic group, indeed family. The problems of any one group are the problems of Ghana. Is there any one region of Ghana that is devoid of corruption, illiteracy, crime, superstition etc.? These are problems of under-development and poverty. We cannot deal with these problems unless we work together. We must not deepen the fault-lines of tribal divisions.

World acclaimed author, Chinua Achebe, encourages us to reach beyond our immediate environment since the world has become a market place (to paraphrase Achebe). We must reach out to all Ghanaians from all ethnicity and gender. We must learn from each other. The web is expedient for cultivating a world community. However, the anonymity it fosters has become a front for expressing vile and virulent comments about members of other tribes. Otherness pre-supposes division. In Ghana, however, we appreciate differences since these elements enhance the national entity.

Ghana is perhaps unique among African countries in being able to minimize the impact of tribal divisions. There are lessons for us, judging by the experience of next-door Ivory Coast or perhaps the horrific history of Rwanda. You cannot scapegoat one group for the problems of a society. Societies that selectively blame some groups for the ills of society are bound to self-destruct. Ghanaians living in North America (indeed the entire Western World, Asia and even other Africa countries) carry emotional scars that are indelible inscriptions of the effects of discrimination and racism. Here in the USA, however, there has been success in the struggle against discrimination by de jure. The battle against de facto discrimination continues. It is precisely because of it’s the strides against discrimination and racism that citizens from all corners of the globe make USA their home. Going by the example of USA, the fight against prejudice enhances the national entity and promotes a healthy social/economic atmosphere. The problem of race and ethnicity in the USA is real, but the society realizes it and therefore there are injunctions against blatant practices of racism and discrimination. A case in point is a radio jock, Don Imus, who was booted off the air for disparaging black female basketball stars from Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA.

To return to Ghana's situation, Ghanaians need each other. Just imagine how it might sound when some people declare that they would support only members of their ethnic group who play for Black Stars. It means that when you are on the team and you are Ga, you should only pass to a Ga player. Ditto, if you are Ewe or Ashanti or Hausa. You can see the absurdity. We would not have a team. Ghana is in the metaphorical sense a football team. We would win when we support each other. We would lose if the team were divided.

We must all condemn tribalism wherever it surfaces. Tribalism should not be the burden of the victims of such attack. Tribalism is a national burden; it is a cancer and it is within every ethnic group. Words are not mere invisible constructs. Words are living realities that carry arsenal effect. Evil tribal thought must remain in long gestation. Eventually, such evil tribal thoughts could be flushed through the human system down the drain. However, when we give birth to evil tribal thoughts, when we give expression to evil tribal thoughts, we would have no control on how far they travel or what havoc they wreck. Evil thoughts have their own momentum by multiplying in deadly and monstrous forms. There is no control as to the targets of evil thoughts.

Let us all join in the fight against tribalism. The fight against tribal hatred must complement, not constrain, the struggle for a just and equitable society. It does not mean we must not criticize or condemn acts that militate against the national entity. It means we must eschew the propensity to judge an entire ethnic group based on one person. An ineffective player is an ineffective player, regardless of his ethnic origin. When a player scores he does so for the team, alas all Ghanaians. We can struggle together (regardless of our political affiliations) toward a better society. Ghana can and must do better. Ghanaians love each other when they love members of other ethnic groups.

My appeal: If my contribution generates any discussion, let it be civil and candid. We are most effective when we register our disagreement or agreement with civility.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.