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Opinions of Saturday, 28 May 2005

Columnist: Annor, Joseph

"[i]f all Ghanaians were Fantes and Northerners, Ghana will be?" ? Rejoinder

The aim of this article is to response to Mr Ahmed Bawa Kuyini's two series of articles entitled "[i]f all Ghanaians were Fantes and Northerners, Ghana will be?" which appeared on Ghanaweb on 30 April 2005 and 11 May 2005 respectively. While Mr Kuyini suggestion in his articles that Ghanaians should put Ghana first and their tribes second, is a good suggestion, I rather tend to vehemently disagree with him in the way he presented his argument, particularly in relation to some examples he cited to support his arguments, which implicitly portray some tribes in Ghana as tribalistic.

Firstly, in Part 1 of his article, he unnecessary argued that some defunct political parties such as NLM in Ashanti that were established prior to and shortly after independence, advocated for federalism "undercurrent of dangerous ethnocentrism capable of destabilising the peace of the young nation" that is why it was not realised.

Like many Ghanaians, Mr Kuyini's erroneously equates for instance, NLM agitation for federalism in Ghana with tribalism or ethnocentrism. But this line of thinking is completely wrong for the following reasons.

NLM advocated for federalism at the time that Ghana (the then Gold Coast) was ruled by the British and the British were preparing Ghana for independence. Therefore, what is known as today Ghana went through different phases of constitutional development, resulting the 1951, 1954 and 1957 constitutions respectively (if my memory is right). Thus, various constitutions were developed for Ghana over the years between 1951 and independence. In this regard, various interest groups and political parties advocated and presented different models of constitutions that Ghana might adopt on attaining independence, hence the NLM advocated for federal form of constitution.

Further, Mr Kuyini's argument assumes that during the constitutional development period there was a rigid constitution or agreement binding Ghanaians to only adopt unitary form of government and in that regard, any group that presented a different model of constitution was a nation wrecker and tribalistic. However, if that were the case, the British and the Ghanaian politicians would not have taken the trouble to negotiate for the type of constitution to be adopted on attaining independence.

In addition, it is strongly debatable whether one can state with certainty that at this time of Ghana's history, the notion of 'nationhood' that Mr Kuyini used to support his arguments, strictly speaking existed as various areas of Ghana came under British rule under different circumstances at different times stretching over a century. While the Fantes came under British rule in the early 1800s, the Ashantis did not come under such rule until 1900 or so after Ashantis were finally subdued after series of wars between the Ashantis and the British. Similarly, the Volta Region only became part of Ghana in 1956 or so, when the people of Volta Region decided through a plebiscite to become part of Ghana. Thus, some of the later groups may argue that Ghana was not borne as a nation until independence and they may be right.

It is therefore unfair for a person to accuse a group of people as tribalistic simply because they advocated that Ghana should adopt federal form of government on attainment of independence. In any case, Mr Kuyini is probably not aware that at least there is an instance that the British divided a nation into two immediately before independence was granted as it happened in 1947 in India, as India was split into two countries, becoming India, and East and West Pakistan (the East and West Pakistan later in 1972 becoming Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively in 1972). Thus, what we see today as one nation Ghana perhaps, did not occur until independence and that for party to advocate for a valid system of government practiced in some of the most advanced democracies in the world cannot be equated without tribalism.

More importantly, Mr Kuyini wrongly assumes that a country can only be held together if it has unitary form of Ghana. However, most of the countries in the world that have experienced secession were not necessarily federal states. Perhaps, Mr Kuyini has only read about federalism and does not know how it operates as I will explain soon with the Australian experience. It appears that people like Mr Kuyini equate NLM's agitation for federalism with tribalism because of their ignorance and believing that with federalism, areas such as Ashanti with their comparatively huge resources would enjoy comparative advantage over other regions, or better yet, some facilities that Mr Kuyini and other have enjoyed would not have come to them. However, such thinking is flaw as depending on how a federal constitution is written, most of the major foreign income generating industries such as Obuasi Gold Mines scattered around in Ashanti and other regions would not have been in the domain of such regional governments. So to label some people tribalistic on the basis of such unfounded fear is unfortunate. In any case, if Ashanti for instance, believed that it would have gained some incentives from its vast resources if federalism is adopted, it would still be wrong to interpret that as tribalism as if that was the case, various politicians and so forth would not always lobby for development projects to be done in their areas.

Further, while the British refused to give Ghana federal government partly due to its size, it gave Nigeria federal system of government. Does it mean that the Nigerians have become more tribalistic because they are operating federal system of government? Well, I do not know about that and I do not think there is any empirical evidence to support that.

In any case, in any proper federal system there are measures in place to check against some regions gaining significant comparative advantage over others and vice versa. For instance, in Australia (where I have lived since 1989), the Federal Government has jurisdiction over certain matters such as the military, the collection of personal and corporate income taxes, immigration, customs and etc. However, the states virtually have the responsibility to oversee the running of hospitals, education, policy and so forth. They raise their own other forms of taxes such as land tax, yet receive substantial part of their incomes from the federal government, because they are not able to raise enough taxes on their own to run state polices and so forth.

Given that some states such as New South Wales (where Sydney is capital) have more people and businesses and can raise more revenue on their own than smaller states like Tasmania, there is a system in place to address such imbalance. Therefore, the Federal Government gives significantly higher income on proportional basis to Tasmanian Government than the New South Wales Government. Thus, in a good federation system a mechanism is put in place to ensure that no state is significantly worse off or better off, otherwise the economy of California (by itself) being the 6 largest economy in the world and larger than even the entire Canadian economy, would be significantly better off than the other U.S. states such as Alaska. Similarly, had Ghana adopted federation, it is unlikely that the comparative economic situation of different regions would be significantly different from what exists today.

Further, federalism itself in a way promotes constructive competition as each regional government having much more autonomous power than a centrally controlled regional minister would be seeking to develop its area. Even assuming the central and some regional governments of such system were not performing due to corruption and bad management, it would have been unlikely that all regional governments of such system would be performing bad. In that regard, the effect of the performing regions would be that the citizens of non-performing areas would seek to change their governments for better ones. Moreover, as it happens in Australia, the various regional governments would have their own police and so forth, which would better help in dealing with regional issues instead of entirely relying on Accra.

Despite this positive side of federalism, many people deliberately argue that NLM promoted tribalism because it agitated for federalism. Most of the G7 (largest world) economies are operating on federation. While federalism might not have been suitable to Ghana, particularly because of its size, it does not mean that those who advocated for such system are tribalistic.

Further, in the part 11 of Mr Kuyini's article he wrote that: "[t]he votes in last elections in Fanteland and Northern Ghana were not along tribal lines. The Northern votes are always arbitrarily distributed, and in line with the national character of the political parties. To me, the Fantes and the Northerners are the best in Ghana. If all Ghanaians were like the Fantes and Northerners, Ghana would be a paradise?, because we would vote for parties in patterns that reflects their national character and/or because they are capable of delivering the goods".

Is Mr Kuyini's assertion completely true? Let me start with the Fantes, everyone is aware that during the last elections despite that Professor Mills is a Fante, the majority of the Fantes voted for NPP, led by an Ashanti. In this regard, it appears obvious that at least, in the last elections the Fantes were more concerned with economic and other issues than merely voting on the basis of the ethnic background of the presidential candidates. On the other hand, the same argument probably rebuts Mr Kuyini's implied assertion that some tribes like Ashantis and Ewes voted on tribal lines. For instance, if according to Mr Kuyini's argument, the Fantes voted for Mr Kuffour and his NPP because of Mr Kuffour and NPP's "national character and/or because they are capable of delivering the goods", while does the same person implicitly accuse the Ashantis of tribalism for voting for the same Mr Kuffour and his NPP party, simply because Mr Kuffour is an Ashanti and for that reason, it is simple to state that Ashantis would not have voted for Mr Kuffour on the same basis as the Fantes, but on tribal basis, neither did the Ewes find NDC as a better alternative than NPP, but voted on tribalism because of President Rawlings.

Now in considering the Northern aspect of Mr Kuyini's vote, I would like to remind Mr Kuyini's that perhaps, he has a very short memory or if he was a child had not read enough to comment on politics. In 1979, when Dr Limann stood in the ticket of PNP and Mr Victor Owusu was the presidential candidate of PFP, it is a fact that the three Northern Regions, especially, the Upper Regions, overwhelmingly voted for Dr Limann (who was from then Upper Region), yet no one has ever complained that they did that on tribal basis as they were entitled to vote who ever they wanted.

Further, even if it is true that the Ashantis and Ewes have tended to vote for leaders from their tribes, I submit that they are entitled to do so as such pattern of voting is not necessary undemocratic. More importantly, instead of people like Mr Kuyini trying to find the true reason for such pattern of block voting, they simplistically attribute it to tribalism and insult other people. For simplicity, I will use the Ashanti to explain this point. I want to state specifically clear that the Ashantis do not necessarily vote for NPP (and its ancestral parties ? UP, PP and PFP) because the leaders come from Ashanti. Rather, the Ashantis vote for NPP and its ancestral parties because of its link to the Danquah-Busia tradition (whom neither of them was an Ashanti). In this regard, it does not matter whether the leader of such party is from Ashanti, Eastern Region, North or even Nigeria, the Ashantis would probably still vote overwhelmingly for a party of such tradition, unless there is a very strong reason not to do so. In this regard, those who blindfold their eyes and hide behind the tribal score card and make irresponsible argument should simply stop, as in presenting such arguments they become guilty of tribalism themselves. The fact of the matter is that there is nothing wrong with such block system of voting. Even in the U.S.(probably, the most advanced democratic country in the world) such regional block voting is common as Californians for instance, (almost) always vote for a Democratic presidential candidate. Thus, the outcome of U.S elections is decided by only few swinging states such as Iowa and Ohio. Yet in Ghana such regional voting is equated with tribalism simply because we have tribes in Ghana.

In addition, while the late General Acheampong was an Ashanti, it was Ashantis more than any other tribe that fiercely rejected his concept of UNIGOV, even in the face of political arrest and harassment. Yet, when people make their irresponsible allegation of tribal voting they never take this significant factor into account. It is a fact that probably, the two most prominent figures to have fiercely opposed the UNIGOV concept was Mr Gabdemba (an Ewe and traditionally CPP who was the main contender against Dr Busia in the 1969 elections) and Gen Afrifa (obviously from U.P. tradition), who organised rallies together. For such opposing political personalities (and their respective Ashanti and Ewe followers) to unite and put their lives at stake to oppose Gen Acheampong means that the Asantes and Ewes do not necessarily vote on tribal lines as some wrongly allege, rather it depends on a lot of factors such as the tradition that they believe it. While most fair-minded Ghanaians would by now realise that the UNIGOV concept was absolutely crab, it was the three Northern regions perhaps, more than any other regions that overwhelmingly voted for Gen Acheampong. This clearly shows that there might be some other factors that drive the voting pattern in the North and that Mr Kuyini's assertion that "the Northern votes are always arbitrarily distributed, and in line with the national character of the political parties", may not be completely true as if that was the case they would not have voted for UNIGOV, a concept which had the sole purpose to entrenching Gen Acheampong in power and nothing else.

From the foregoing analysis, it is clear that while Mr Kuyini claims that he is writing to educate people to see Ghana first and their tribes second, he has rather been prejudiced against some tribes. Clearly, Mr Kuyini is among the group of people who see anything particularly with Ashanti as tribalistic. While Mr Kuyini in part supports his argument of tribalism with constitutional development issues which occurred more than 40 years ago, when majority of Ghanaians were not probably not born, he probably does not see any tribal sentiments in some of the tribal and other conflicts that have occurred in some parts of Ghana over the last ten years or so, which are more relevant today to our prosperity and security as a nation, and not issues which are completely history now.



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