Opinions Mon, 19 May 2014

Let’s get the issue right to president Mahama’s head

I have listened and followed the discussion in the media with quite a great deal of attention and interest. I have seen how people have reasoned from different perspectives concerning the recent President Dramani John Mahama’s comments concerning Ashantes as being ungrateful and will not even appreciate a gold constructed road. Some have taken it political as a tension between NPP and NDC. Others through ethnic sentiments have taken it as an insult on Ashantes, and unfortunately have launched an open feedback not towards the President himself alone but to his ethnic background. A number of people have sided with the president for telling the truth. But I’ll say that only few people have seen and understood the gravity of the President’s comments in its global perspective. Unfortunately, the President’s comment is recalcitrant, typical of ethnic stereotyping and it shows how far stereotyping has cast its shadows on us to the point that the so-called elites of this country fall into this vulgarity. Let me take these few lines to explain what is stereotyping and what makes it so wrong.

Senegalese poet, writer, and statesman Léopold Sédar Senghor wrote that “L'émotion est nègre, comme la raison héllène” which is translated into English as “Emotion is Negro, as reason is Hellenic.” This statement was part of his formulation of the philosophy of Négritude which was an African solidarity movement aimed at fighting French imperialism among blacks. Senghor’s statement is probably the most typical and brutal example of stereotyping in art work which Senghor himself portrayed about black people. Emotions are found in intuition, sensitivity, subjectivity, arts, faith, imagination, etc. Whiles we can think of reason as being borne out of argument and debates, logical construction, methodology, science, technology and objectivity. Obviously, the former is vagueness, chaotic, uncertain, irrational and ferny. It is not intellectually valid and it leads to hasty conclusions. Do we find vague, chaos, uncertainty, irrationality etc. in President Mahama’s comments? It’s a question that Mr. Mahama himself have fallen a victim of making such general and subjective assertion.

Stereotyping maybe seen as a presumptuous judgment on a group of persons who are different from you. Unlike racism whereby one is looked down because of his color or origins, stereotyping cuts across many spheres. A person may be stereotyped because of his or her group identity for example being a Muslim, Christian, footballer or fisherman etc. In the same way persons can be stereotyped because of their ethnic background for example being Akan, Ewe, Bono, Fante, Ga, etc. So it could be understood that people are characterized by their social identity and ethnic origins.

Stereotyping is a very big problem in Ghana and is deep rooted in tribal and ethnic sentiments. Sadly, it’s an issue which has not been tackled and has received less attention. This is because we have all grown to feel comfortable with it even though it transpires in our socio-political lives. Common statements such as “Ashantes are like this…. Ewes are like that… Northerners are like that et cetera” have become so common that we have tended to downplay such an uncivilized attitude. Right from the inception of our nationalism, stereotyping has dictated through politics in the severest point that wisdom is associated with one’s ethnicity other than the content of one’s head and heart. We have moved from individual idealism to ethnic prejudicing—a kind of ethnic hatred. Even today, when we can boast of higher education, people still go to the polls with stereotyping sentiments as the only common sense to vote for a candidate. Our politicians, who could have known better, have capitalized these sentiments of ethnic stereotyping on the political platforms to solicit for votes. This attitude is a crime and the earlier we fight it, the better we shall move forward.

I’ll conclude by saying that stereotyping is an international fight. It’s a crime and President Mahama has committed it. This is not about Ashantes, it’s about Ghana and the dignity of each person in the country. I guess he’s walking free because even those who will call his attention to book and apologize have compromised with him. It’s time for us to forfeit our emotions, partisan and ethnic sentiments to see things in its right perspective. Let Mr. Mahama’s comments trigger warfare against any form of stereotyping in this country called Ghana.

Clifford Owusu-Gyamfi, University of Lausanne, Switzerland

Columnist: Owusu-Gyamfi, Clifford