You are here: HomeWallSayIt Loud2008 03 01SO WHICH TRIBE IS THE INWARD LOOKING ONE? (GHANA IN THE 21st CENTURY?)

Say It Loud


2008-03-01 11:39:22


LETTER TO THE SPEAKER Tribalism and Socio-Human Interconnectivity

There is a popular rhetoric out there, about nationalism and tribalism that seeks to create the impression as if everybody sees him/herself first as Ghanaian, before ever considering their tribes or ethnic groups/groupings. Thus, it is easier for people to say that ?Ghana first, tribe second;? however, as novel as this may sound, there is some element of political correctness about this. Many people are not what they claim they are. No one wants to be seen as tribalistic, but too many people are tribalistic to the core.

If there is a legacy that our founding father, the late Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, left for this nation, it is a process towards nationalism evidenced by the boarding school system that brought?or compelled?students together from various ethnic groups, to live in the same dormitories and undertake various academic projects. To some extent, that helped militate against some prejudices some ethnic groups had/have about others. That has been one of the strongest spots of our educational system. In that sense, it is easy?maybe easier?for us to blame the uneducated for perpetuating these tribal sentiments about other groups. However, the very same educated people who wage the metaphorical war against the fanning of tribal sentiments become complicit, unknowingly, in this process because?by their socialization?they have cultivated deep-seated prejudices against people from other tribes.

Just this past week, I was on the phone with a friend, who is in Ghana, and who works in the media. Let?s call him George in this piece. Even though we both attended a journalism institution, he has been more active working and writing for a media organization for a living. Virtually choking on the phone, he narrated his story of how he is being ?prevented? from marrying a lady with whom he had been in a relationship until recently. The marriage has been stalled because the parents of the lady do not want an Ewe to marry their daughter. My friend is Ewe; he comes from Tsito; the lady is Ashanti, and she comes from the Atwima-Nwabiagya district of the Ashanti region.

George is very educated: he has a Diploma in Journalism, a B. A in Business Administration, and a Master?s degree in Human Resource Management. By his linguistic performance, both in the local and the English languages, no one can tell which part of the country he comes from. Unfortunately for him?that is, by Ghanaian standards?his name gives him away. He is one of those whose names mirror their tribal roots. He is not like the Obed Asamoah?s whose names could enable them to ?pass? to other tribes. He is distraught, and, I am sure, there are many people caught in the same web that my friend finds himself.

He had been forewarned, because the lady had told tales of how her mother did not want her to marry anyone from particular tribes. However, he knew he had some clout, which, he thought, would dissolve the tribal barricade that threatened his conjugal relations in the future. I am aware that cross-religious relations are always a problem?because even our pastors and the best preachers of national unity detest that?but, perhaps, I am the only one who still doesn?t know that cross-ethnic/tribal marriages are impossible even when the best people with the most altruistic reasons are involved in this process.

The fact is that each society has a history of ethnocentric issues. In Zambia, for instance, the race for the Presidency of the football association is becoming ugly because one of the candidates is already facing ?disqualification? just because he comes from the eastern part of the country. Implicitly, we do these also when we have to consider various people for positions for national office. As things stand, some groups can never become presidents of this country, unless by consensus or by appointment.

One of the worrying situations in the socio-political life of Ghana?and many other African countries?has been how our deep-seated ethnocentricism has pigeon-holed individuals into sects. It is not uncommon to hear terminologies such as ?Ayigbenii,? ?Kanbonse,? ?Yeegye ye man,? and ?Mepepefuo,? among other derogatory terminologies. The history behind these terminologies has not been lost on the modern-day person, who is still heavily-influenced by these sentiments.

It is funny to think about how stereotypes about tribes have not only gained currency, but have almost been interpreted as factual lenses for judging people. Too often we believe that all ?juju? men come from the Volta region and Ashanti?s are either arrogant or drug dealers. We think Akyems are cheats, and all those who come from the three Northern regions have a difficulty understanding simple issues in life, because they are ?mix-mix.? In the view point of the Ghanaian, the behavior of an individual is now a microcosm of his/her ethnic grouping. Thus, when an individual from the Volta region, (say) in 1929 did behave in a way that matched a particular stereotype, we believe all Ewes behave that way. It is important to note that stereotypes are not bad in themselves, but when they are prejudicially used to judge others based on a whole, then we are almost getting to the point of treating people unfairly.

I am of the view that tribes/ethnic groupings are socially-constructed geo-political systems that have caused a lot of damage to modern-day societies and their progress. My friend could not control his birth; he could not choose which parents he may have wanted to have given birth to him, but, in some sense, he could control his socialization; even if he wanted to be born an Ewe what is wrong with deciding that he should be born by Ewe parents? He has an enlightened worldview, altruistic intentions, and a positive outlook on life, features which are not intrinsic to any particular tribe or ethnic group. There are Ewes who are good, so are there Ashanti?s who are good.

By the way, who said Ewes were better than Ashanti?s, or who said Ashanti?s were better than Ewes? Recently, a friend returned from a visit to Ghana, and told an interesting story that mimicked these tribal challenges. He met a lady friend who hails from the Upper West region, and made some comments about how good the lady looked in her outfit. The lady?s response was fascinating. ?You see what God can do?; who will even know that I am from the Upper West region?? As interesting as her response was, however, it is a sad diagnosis of our national malaise. Maybe, the joy of the response is the criticism it covertly makes of our system, too.

Socialization takes a very different form once an individual comes to the world of experiences. I may be born an Ewe but my cognitive process(es) will have nothing Ewe about it. At any rate, the fact that I come from the Northern or Upper West region does not mean that, intrinsically, I have some cognitive dissonance. No one thinks Ewe, neither does anyone think Ashanti; all individuals think as human beings. For example, one may be born an Ewe, raised by an Ashanti parent or guardian, in (say) Kwabre. Identity is a conglomerate of experiences gained as a result of socialization, and our places of birth or the people who give birth to us are only natural arrangements that we have no control over. Life is complicated by a network of social engagements. As we trek through the barren lands of life, we carry with us dispositions that are alien to our persona and identity. It is this experience of socio-human interconnectivity that makes us better people and who we are, and not the labels strewn in our way by many who have made a career from and by negating the value of other human beings whose differences they mistake for inferiority.

My friend (George) has been unfairly treated, and I hope he gets someone who fits his type and experience.

Because of our ethnocentric lenses we always promote monolithic views at the expense of diversity. With such a mindset, we leave no grey areas to accommodate multiple identities, norms, values and practices that are different from others. We think that anyone who does not belong to our grouping is an outcast.

The text for this piece is set to American English

Author: Godwin Yaw Agboka, a Ghanaian based in U.S
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