Ghana: Post Independence Reflections

Posted on March 14th, 2009 by

On March 6, the fifty-second anniversary of Ghana’s independence, the Philosophy Department hosted a small gathering in the Courtyard Café, to celebrate that independence (and the role of its leader, the philosopher Kwame Nkrumah), and also to learn about Ghana today. We heard from three Ghanaians who are a part of the Gustavus community: Sidonia Alenuma, a professor in the Department of Education; Paschal Kyoore, a professor in French, in the Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department; and Baffour Appiah- Korang, a sophomore Economics student. The three talked together about Ghanaian independence, Kwame Nkrumah, and Pan-Africanism.

The public discussion prompted this interesting follow-up email discussion among the three participants, particularly about the ways that ethnicity functions within Ghana, and across the continent of Africa. I reprint the discussion with their permission,.

PASCHAL: Lisa and Baffour, thanks for inviting Sidonia and I to be part of that conversation. One thing I wished I had been able to do before the evening’s conversation is re-read Nkrumah’s “Consciencism”. I would really want to refresh my memory on the ideology and philosophy that he espouses in that work so that I can reflect on what I think of it today as opposed to the time I read it the first time so many years ago.

ON THE MATTER OF ETHNICITY:  Nigeria has much in common with Ghana in terms of historical experience. Nonetheless, there is also something peculiar about Nigeria’s experience with problems of ethnicity. They had a civil war because of the problem of ethnic identity. One part of the country (Biafra) wanted to break away and form its own country. Ethnicity is also compounded by fanatic religious identity, and we have seen it fairly recently in the clashes between Muslims and Christians in the north. Ghana has had its own problems with ethnicity but thank God it has never been on the scale that we have seen in Nigeria. Understanding the issues surrounding ethnicity helps one also understand why some African countries are more politically and socially stable than others. I could go on and on, but I will stop here.

LISA: Why do you think Ghana has not had ethnic conflict at the same levels? I remember hearing the name “Biafra” as a fairly young person, and being very confused about it.

PASCHAL: We have had our own “share” of ethnic problems in Ghana. There are some areas of the country that are notorious for having these sort of problems virtually every year. They are often related to chieftancy disputes. Who has the right to be the next paramount chief etc? It has really been a thorny problem for some parts of the country because they never seem to find a solution. However, Ghana has been, should I say, lucky because we have never had ethnic disputes on the scale we have seen in Nigeria. There have been some scary moments in the past when we feared that election results would reflect such ethnic affiliation to some parties that it could provoke a real strife after the elections. This was the case during the years that Rawlings was elected and re-elected president, and the churches actually called on people to pray for peaceful elections. God did listen to our prayers!

The Nigerian situation is compounded by the fact that they have many more ethnic groups
and that there is a fierce competition between the north and the south to control political power. There is also a long standing rivalry between the Ibos and the Yorubas for political power, and If I am not mistaken it is one of the reasons why the civil war happened. I don’t want to sound like one of those zealous patriots but I believe strongly that one of the reasons why ethnic conflicts in Ghana have never been on the same national scale as is the case in Nigeria is that the country is more “politically mature” than Nigeria. How would one explain why  there are always serious problems with elections in Nigeria? I remember reading a piece  written by a Nigerian journalist after the recent Ghana elections and how he expressed admiration and envy for the peaceful and democratic elections in Ghana, especially given how close the results in both the first round and the second round of voting were. People in Ghana say that now that we have found oil, we have to be careful not to go the Nigerian route. Oil has been a source of corruption and violence in that country.

That’s my short take on the question. Sidonia and Baffour might have other ideas.

BAFFOUR: Just to add to what Professor Kyoore said about ethnicity in Ghana. I very much think that we have not had ethnicity problems on a large scale because of the culture and values of GHANAIANS as  whole. Sort of like the American values of individualism, success, hard work etc. Ghanaians pride ourselves in being a peaceful welcoming and warm people.

Like all values, these Ghanaian values always come up when ethnic tensions rise. It is a unifying factor in a way because, in having so many tribes and cultures, there must be something that brings the nation together to solve these kinds of problems. I would conclude that, in my opinion, it is the Ghanaian value of peace that has helped Ghana through these problems. Not to say that we are a perfectly peaceful nation that has not seen any war. We have had our fair share of violence and I think Ghanaians have just learnt lessons from those times.

SIDONIA: Very well said, Paschal and Baffour. This reminds me of the piece I read on the Ghana Home page a couple of years ago. I even bookmarked it. Find the link below.

The author talks a lot about how political maturity has a role in resolving ethnic tensions and violence in Ghana and how that could be played out in Africa as a whole.

Chieftancy has been a major cause of not only interethnic violence but also within the same ethnic groups. But as mentioned earlier, these kinds of unrest are now less common, perhaps because we have learned from the past and perhaps because there are now more interactions between different groups that the focus is on how similar we are rather than our differences. Yes, there is a sense of Ghanaian pride that transcends ethnic boundaries and the ethos of the country encourages respect, generosity and the love for differences especially towards strangers. I think education too has also played a role in bridging the gap and disparity between different ethnic groups and has fueled a sense of commonality and understanding. The runoff (without disturbance) during the last elections was especially a specific indication of political maturity on the part of Ghanaians.

PASCHAL: Though I find the article interesting, I also find it too repetitious. Also, it’s
interesting that at the end of the article the author is proposing something similar to what Kwame Nkrumah proposed decades ago: A United Africa. Sounds wonderful, but I don’t see it as something that can be realized in our life time. It’s not pessimism on my part (since I consider myself to be a strong for Pan-Africanist).  I am being pragmatic. If ethnicity is such a thorny issue within the borders of African countries, and if we are not tackling the problem well, how on earth can we ever create a United States of Africa.  We need to  strengthen  regional co-operation first. Make them work in practice and not just on paper! If those regional entities work in all domains (political, economic, cultural) we can then dream of using them to galvanize a real interest in trans-African unity. Otherwise, all talk of a United Africa is merely intellectual discourse that is interesting for only academics!

SIDONIA: Nice reaction to the article. I don’t endorse all that the author said either. And yes, a United Africa may be a dream but sometimes it better to dream and theorize on paper than not to dream at all . . .

I thought you might be interested in what Papa Yalae (author of the article below) has to say about the topic we have been discussing lately. He echoes what has been said and gives other perspectives on the issue of why ethnic violence has not been too rampant or too severe in Ghana.
1. The affinity existing among ethnic groups, the socio-political relationship cultivated by the educational policies of the 1st Republic. 2. The political neutrality of Fante-Akan, which prevents the two most antagonistic groups from political collision. 3. The recent emergence of popular abhorence against political monoplization (military or civilian) and against political violence.

Papa Yalae


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