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Opinions of Thursday, 26 July 2012

Columnist: Aluiza, Amasaba Abdul-Yakeen

Zopngo or Zango


For some time now, the word zongo has received some prominence in the media and by extension the public. This could be partly as a result of the climax of political activities leading to the 2012 general elections. Another factor that brought zongo into the media / public milieu for discussion is due to the breakdown of the social cohesion leading to some skirmishes in the second week of June, between the Natives and the Muslim community of Hohoe in the Volta Region.

Zongo further received accentuation on Saturday, June 16, 2012, at the inauguration of the National Council of Zongo Chiefs (NCZC), which had its venue at the Accra International conference Center. This council is to format and to adopt a new approach to deal with the problems connected with the zongos for a long time. This NCZC is to tackle correct perceptions and stereotypes affecting the communities which these chiefs rule, and by so doing will eventualyl cleanse zongos from its bad past and thereby give it a new image. Any approach to educate the public to erase the lingering perceptions of zongos is a most welcomed idea and should be embraced by all and sundry who have roots in and from zongo.

Since 1993 when Ghana joined the committee of nations on the democratization process, several jargons emerged or were coined. These were either consciously or unconsciously made by the political elite, the purpose of which as usual, is to exploit the political population to the advantage of the minority elite and politicians. One popular name coined by the political juggernauts is Zongo caucus which the politicians have used as a tool to milk the zongos: Some other names are the Fanti confederacy, the Anlo and Akyem Mafia, etc.

Recently we have heard of political parties promising to create a zongo fund to cater for the needs of zongo communities. June 22, 2012, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, 2012 running mate of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) was at the Madina Central Mosque, and as part of his speech he pledged to tackle the mirage of challenges facing the zongo communities when the NPP is voted into power. He also promised the reintroduction of salary for Arabic and English teachers.

On the other side the NDC is actively inaugurating executive members of zongo youth associations belonging to the party around the country. One recent example was inauguration of the Ablekuma Central Constituency of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) youth executive - Midday Metro TV news of Monday, June 21.

The word Zongo unarguably has existed since the speaking of Hausa became an accepted medium of communication by the West African People located in the northwestern Nigeria and southwestern Niger, and in some parts of Mali and some communities in Ghana. The Language Hausa is internationally spoken lingua franca in West Africa and beyond. The Hausas have long been famous for wide-ranging itinerant trading, and of cause are wealthy merchants. In the era of the Trans-Sahara trade which was well noted with the caravans (a long chain of camels) in the trade of human slaves, and the Islamists conquest in the spread of the Islamic religion by persons such as Othman Dan Fodio, the language Hausa has subsequently become an acceptable lingua franca among the Muslim community.

The capital town of the East Gonja District, Salaga has become and has been a Hausa speaking town even though the indigenes are the descendants of the great Ndewura Jakpa. This is so because history has it that Islam penetrated Ghana through the northern territories. Today any first time visitor to Salaga who chooses to sojourn in Salaga for a while, and leaves, would reminisce the town with Hausa and Islam as well as remnants of slave trade. Because of this almost symmetrical idiosyncrasy among many Moslem communities, there are individuals in Ghana who without any careful study tagged persons living within zongo to Muslims and or as predominantly Hausa speaking. Indeed some even hold preposterous view that every person of Northern extraction willy-nilly speaks Hausa and is a practicing Muslim.

This perception has also been extended to the use of the word zongo. The word is wrongly pronounced and wrongly used and abused by many persons. Does the word zongo exist and is there any community best described zongo? According to the HIPOCRENE PRACTICAL DICTIONARY IN HAUSA-ENGLISH AND ENGLISH-HAUSA, the word zongo does not exist. What the dictionary provided was ZANGO. Indeed in the lexicon of the dictionary and perfectly confirmed by investigations conducted among Hausas from Katsina, Sokoto, Kano in Nigeria and Nigerians living in Ghana, the word Zango (plural ZANGUNA) means: a camp, a stopover or a range.

By popular knowledge and information gathered indicated the word zango literally means a transit quarters, a tent pitched as a temporal resting place for wayfarers; especially merchants and cattle dealers to repose for a while after which they commence their journey. One source, indicated the word had its roots from ZUGUNA (best pronounced SUNGUNA), meaning to squat.

Also the word Zango could mean an unscientific method of measuring distance, of which the dictionary refers to as range. Hence a typical Hausa person will state, he/she has covered one, two or more zangos and left with X number of zangos to reach his/her home or final destination.

There is the geographical meaning of Zango, which explains that zangos are often located at the peripheral part of townships. If this is the case then places such as NIMA, MADINA, FADAMA in Accra, ASAWASE, and ABOABO in Kumasi are inner city communities. With the present locations of these communities, describing them as such is totally wrong, therefore the geographical descriptions of zango holds no relevance and will be difficult to fit it in any Ghanaian community.

In view of the security of the wayfarers and also to keep the chastity of the Islamic religion and their culture, many of these merchants and wayfarers created temporary settlements (transit quarters) at the outskirt of towns. As at then these townships were homogenous in nature-the inhabitants spoke one language and practiced a restrain and untainted culture. A cursory sociological review into such communities will offer a different profile.

It is obvious that over time, however, these camps have developed into permanent human settlement with an aggregation of cultures. Indeed a cursory look at the Zangos contradicts the character that it used to be. As such it is strongly believe that if a study is commissioned in the Zangos, on the social characteristic, the result will offer a wide range of tribal and cultural profiles all co-habiting in one catchment area. Again communities such as Nima and Madina in Accra are perfect examples that readily can be recalled as area that bear such wide range characteristics of sub cultures and tribes.

Another lingering perception is that Zango is principally a Muslim enclave. In the logic of these persons other religions are not practice in these inner communities. In effect these communities are intolerant of other faiths. This is wrong, for my knowledge of Madina and Nima in Accra and, Abaobo and Asawase paints a different picture. Because, there are big churches and of different denominations well situated in prime areas in this communities.

Another perception connected to the immediate paragraph is the criminalization of such communities; therefore the mention of the word zongo a public impression of communities inundated with either ramshackle or derelict structures, poor road network, insufficient amenities and overall lack important social advantages.

These areas are seen as slums and shanty towns, endemic with poverty and hence susceptible to violent crime, gansterism and other inequities. If this logic is to stand, arguably, then there are several zongos, because even in the plush neighbors exist the worse and sophisticated forms of crimes and other forms of transgression.

Again I use Nima and Madina as reference points. At the last count Nima has more than ten Commercial Banks, all of them located from the Accra Girls Senior High School and ends at Ring road. The story is even interesting at Madina, because the banks have clustered themselves at one location and make very easy for traders to shuffle among them and do inter-bank transaction with very little difficulty. From the Madina Central Mosque way down to Hollywood, one can find all the famous commercial banks in Ghana. If these were communities lacking the best form of security why businesses are booming per the establishment of banks, doing good business. The case of the 2006 arm robbery of the ECO BANK is exceptional as this can occur in many areas which supposedly described to have almost zero crime rate.

With these geographic, ethnological, literal/lexicon social meaning should we still maintain the word Zango to describe these inner city communities? It is therefore misleading to label Nima Madina, Fadama, in Accra Asawase and Aboabo in Kumasi as Zongos, because they are now permanent settlements and are right in the center of Metropolitan Accra and Kumasi. They are strategically located and are in the nerve of several business districts where business activities thrive without reproach. My appeal is to the National Council of Zongo Chiefs to expunge the word from the name. The word Zongo is associated with unspeakable derogatory tendencies as such our leadership should refrain from undertaking actions that will reinforce such perceptions especially with the inauguration of N C Z C. If per zongo they mean Settler Chiefs within Cities or best Chiefs of Moslems of Persons of Northern Extraction In Settler Communities in Cities, or National Moslem Chiefs of Northerners In Cities, then acceptable. Because the Television footage (GTV and Metro TV) showed that many of them were from three northern regions of Ghana, even the chairman, Professor Naa Nabila, and the PRO of the Chiefs and Wagara Chief, Alhaji Baba Issah. The presence of the duo hugely summed it all that they are Moslem/Northern Chiefs Living within the Cities. Some of them by their nature do have jurisdiction beyond their communities.

I would like to end by stating; what would be our reaction if a group of black community leaders of African-American origin choose to name themselves National Council of Nigger Chiefs? In the light of this I urged these eminent personalities who are betters of ours (Moslems and Northerners) to expunge the zongo from the name, which does not exist in the lexicon of Hausa dictionary and secondly connote a negative opinion. With extensive consultation I am without doubt an alternative word devoid of derogatory tendency would be found to replace zongo.

Amasaba A.Y. Aluiza/