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Opinions Tue, 6 May 2014

Time to de-escalate the creeping ethnocentrism

TIME TO DE-ESCALATE THE CREEPING ETHNOCENTRISM IN OUR NATIONAL DISCOURSE

After reading citifmonline.com’s story of 1st May, 2014 titled “Northerners in gov’t have failed the north – Prof. Karikari” and others on peacefmonline.com of 2nd May, 2014, one titled “Edward Mahama Defends Northern Gov’t Officials” and another titled “NDC Guru’s Plea To Prez Mahama; Don’t Fail Northerners”, I get the impression that ethnocentrism is gradually finding underserved but fatal space in our national discourse.

This, in my humble view, must be curtailed and not allowed to degenerate to levels that will present serious challenges to our national cohesion and development.

Without dwelling on the immediate triggers of these latest ethnocentric comments by some of these well meaning Ghanaians, i.e. the issues regarding the conduct of some former officials of the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA), the facts of which are still unfolding, I wish to state that, some of the comments contained in the above referenced articles appear to be fierce attempts by some Ghanaians to reduce public accountability issues in Ghana to the ethnic or geographic origins of the affected public officials.

If this phenomenon is allowed to ferment in our national discourse, it will mark a dangerous escalation of ethnocentrism in Ghana, especially when these comments come from people who should lead and promote positive engagements in how we collectively find solutions to our problems.

In the wake of these developments, I keep pondering over one question that I wish to share with my fellow countrymen. Why are we doing this to ourselves as a nation? We are slowly but surely creating and tomb-sucking a new monster called “northern elite” (composed of people from the three separate and ethnically diverse northern regions of Ghana) in public service. And based upon this twisted understanding of our identity as a united people, the public accountability role of these so called “northern elite” is assessed, not based on their terms of engagement in the public service, but based upon the geographic origin of those concerned.

I wish to take a minute to remind the perpetuators and tomb-suckers of this new “craze” of constant reference to “northern elite”, in our national discourse, to imagine a northerner who also joins this fray of partitioning Ghana into two-halves and refers to public officials in the other half of the country as “southern elite”, and again, based upon this distortion of a united people bound by a common destiny, he proceeds to assess Ghana’s development challenges and progress based on the contribution of his “southern brothers”.

Prior to the assumption of President John Dramani Mahama to the highest office of the land, who by the way is also suffering his fair share of the “northern elite” syndrome, Ghana could not boast of having been entirely successful in implementing the many World Bank and IMF projects that were designed and proposed for us to implement. For instance, following the implementation of programmes like the Presidential Special Initiatives (PSI) ,Programme of Action to Mitigate the Social Cost of Adjustment (PAMSCAD), the Structural Adjustment Programme I and II (SAP I and II), to the Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative, Ghana is still grappling with severe development issues across the country, including acute shortage of doctors and nurses, lack of teachers for rural communities, inadequate water supply, severe energy issues, high budget deficits, spiraling currency depreciations and many others. Not even a single successful outcome is attributable to the hugely resourced PSI under the supervision of Mr. Alan Kyerementeng, A Southern Elite.

Based upon this new phenomenon of pinning the so called “northern elite” to their public performance with reference to their ethnic or geographic backgrounds, will it be fair, to assign the failures of some of the above mentioned PSI and HIPC programmes in the past to our “southern elite”? If my memory serves me right, the failures of all these programmes were and continue to be dispassionately handled without the ethnic backgrounds of the people who were in charge thrown into the discussion. Where these issues have been distorted or coloured, they have mostly been on political lines. Although, that is also bad enough for our efforts to develop the country, assigning blame on ethnic or geographic lines has the potency to consume our collective sense of responsibility as a people and consequently retard our growth and development, and this must stop.

Although, this has not been established yet, if former SADA officials have a case to answer, why are these officials and their activities not simply referred to as Ghanaian public officials who should be accountable to their people for the success or failure of a national programme, but constantly being referred to as a situation of northerners failing northerners? In any case, the former Board of SADA was not entirely made of Northerners. At least three of the eight member Board came from the South of the Country. Did they play any role at all? Take a dispassionate look at these comparisons: The renovation of the Ridge Hospital Cost us 350 million US Dollars, The cost of partial construction of Sofoline Interchange is in millions of Dollars. Will you then understand the impact of less than seventy million United States Dollars seeded for a project that is intended to bridge an economic gap between north and south? The support of all is required for SADA to succeed but the current approach to it has the potential of crushing the young programme. Remember that this initiative, if successful, will be replicated in the western and Eastern corridors as Western Corridor Development Authority and Eastern Corridor Development Authority respectively.

Lately, some public commentators have even taken this distortion to unimaginable levels by insinuating that appointments by the sitting President, a so called “northern elite”, are based on ethnic lines. A radio presenter in Accra (name withheld for good reasons) in furthering this insinuation, indicated during his morning show programme that a latest joke in town that he wished to share with his listeners. According to this presenter, what is trending in Ghana today is the belief that if one does not change his name to Muhammad, one will probably not be appointed by President Mahama. Again, why are we doing this to ourselves as a people? I wonder how such a prominent person with that level of training and on such a national programme could make such a statement without it being noticed. Is it because it was said by Kojo and not Mohammed?

In view of these unfortunate developments and guided by the provisions of the Directive Principles of State Policy, I humbly appeal to all well-meaning Ghanaians to exercise extreme caution when commenting on National issues. It should be understood that SADA is an economic and developmental programme for Ghana rather than an ethnic programme for Northern elite. Our comments should therefore be focused on matters that unite us as one people with a common destiny and deriving our strength from our beautiful and rich diversity.

Columnist: Zakaria, Mawia