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Opinions Wed, 29 Nov 2006

Ethnicity, Discrimination, And National Integration (Part II)

Institutional Tribalism/Ethnocentricism

Institutions may act in ways that are overtly ethnocentric or covertly ethnocentric. In this situation, institutions adopt policies that exclude ‘minority’ or specific ethnic group. Some have defined institutional ethnocentrism as any established laws, customs, and practices, which systematically reflect and produce ethnic inequalities in society. However, I will define Institutional tribalism/ethnocentricism as when people from perceived “ethnic minorities” are systematically discriminated against by a range of public and private institutions. If ethnocentric attitudes and behaviours accumulate to customs and practices within an institution, the institution is ethnocentric whether or not the individuals maintaining those practices have ethnocentric intentions. Under institutional ethnocetricism, power is a necessary precondition, for it depends on the power to allocate or withhold social and economic benefits, facilities, services, and opportunities, from persons who should be entitled to them, but are denied on the basis of ethnicity, regional, or geographical origin.

It is easier to fight against an established ethnocentric law that has become outdated and obsolete. The danger however lies with ethnocentric customs and practices as they are not easily and openly admitted. Institutional tribalism directly affects the routine ways in which perceived ethnic minority groups are treated in their capacity as leaders, employees, students, victims, suspects and ordinary members of the general public. The consequences of the institutional actions on people from ethnic minorities are not considered or deliberately ignored by the actors.

Let me digress a little to examine this so-called ‘ethnic minority’. I have always been confronted with this monotonous argument that minority is about numbers. It is therefore argued that, the ethnic majority would always have access to opportunities and power than people of ‘ethnic minority’. I have always argued and will continue to posit or hypothesize that, minority only originates when there is a systematic discrimination against a specific group. When equal access to power and opportunities is firmly established and religiously and transparently implemented at all levels of national endeavour, the notion of minority is obliterated. I am of the strong view that, people become aware of their ‘ethnic minority’ status when confronted with systematic discrimination and exclusion. For example, the Hutus are more populous in Rwanda but the Tutsis who were of lesser number have been the ruling class for several years. This was one of the major factors that led to the bloody ethnic cleansing in Rwanda. In Togo for instance, the Kabres under Gnassigbe Eyadema have violently and consistently suppressed the Ewe ethnic group who constitute the larger number of the population hence the prolonged instability and underdevelopment of Togo. In these cases, the Hutus and the Ewes constitute “ethnic minority” by virtue of discrimination and exclusion.

Unfortunately, Africa has been plagued with politics based on ethnic loyalties and tribal support. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country will soon hold its presidential elections next year. Already, tribal politics is dominating the campaign. In Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s ZANU party and the opposition, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have paralyzed the country between the Shona and smaller Ndebele ethnic groups. The recent presidential election in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) saw the electorate voting on ethnic and tribal lines; the Swahili speaking east voting for Joseph Kabila and the Lingala speaking on the west of DRC voting for Jean-Piere Bemba. Togo has been bedeviled by unnecessary underdevelopment because for a long time, the country has been paralyzed between the Kabre North and Ewe South. As Ghana is preparing towards its 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections, some ‘ethnic barrel organs’ are whipping the tribal dragon to create unnecessary tension and division in the country.

Some historical antecedent of Institutional tribalism/ethnocetricism

The borders of African countries were shrewdly drawn to continue serving the colonial administrators’ and imperialists’ agenda. When the colonial administrators were partitioning Africa, it has been alleged that then Queen of England instructed that, huge mountains should be placed among the people of Africa to impede unity, and cohesion. Therefore, different ethnic groups with least or no degree of homogeneity have been forced to inhabit the same geographical borders and having to live together as a nation. However, the first leaders of Africa after independence were eager to disavow tribalism as divisive and tried to turn such diversity into strength by fostering unity that will assumed a high degree of homogeneity amidst diversity which is necessary for growth of the African Continent.

Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah outlawed parties organized on ethnic bases, and also introduced and preferred the boarding school system above the day school system. Furthermore, young professionals were posted to work in places and with people different from their ethnic origins to foster unity and forge unity of purpose. The late Houpheouet-Boigny of Ivory Coast co-opted ethnic groups through astute distribution of ministerial posts, civil service jobs, social services, and development projects. However, the unity in Ivory Coast was completely destroyed by President Konan Bedie in an attempt to entrench himself in power, postulated the devastating concept of a true Ivorian and foreign Ivorian.

Jerry John Rawlings former President of Ghana emulated Houpheouet-Boigny’s strategy by ensuring that development projects and social services extend beyond Accra and Kumasi. Places that were once known as “overseas” have been linked up to the major cities. In addition, every region and ethnic groups were represented in his ministerial and cabinet appointments. Julius Nyerere, a descendant from a family noted for tribal chieftaincy extricated tribalism by fostering nationalistic pride in Tanganyika which later became Tanzania born out of the union with Zanzibar. Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya forged a deft alliance of ethnic groups in Kenya to foster national unity.

This vision of our first leaders after independence has been completely ignored by subsequent administrations. Under the New Patriotic Party (NPP) Administration, the national unity that was once experienced in Ghana is currently on the threshold of destruction. Tribalism has become so endemic and pervasive under the NPP administration that Religious bodies and other concerned bodies have voiced out their concerns. There is a very high perception that political positions and development projects are allocated on tribal and ethnic loyalty and support. And where political patronage is underpinned on tribal and ethnic identity, political instability and violence threatens. The recent accusation against Jerry Rawlings that he is fomenting a coup in the country by President Kuffour and the counter-accusation by Rawlings of assassination attempt made on him by the NPP government are clear signs of political degeneration in the country and should not be overlooked.

In addition, the colonial administrators adopted policies that undermined Africa’s indigenous system of development which provided them with means for pursuing their sustainable life objectives and growth, and replaced it with centrally controlled resources and distribution to further their divide and rule policy. African governments therefore, continue to misconceive development as a means of receiving basic services from the state, rather than as a process of growth and collective accumulation of wealth that could be reinvested in further growth. By this wrong perception of development, just like the colonial administrators, the ethnic group that is perceived to be loyal to the government of the day is rewarded with basic services and greater access to opportunities. This situation has given rise frivolous political entrepreneurs and unscrupulous tribal leaders to exploit tribal politics to achieve power. Unfortunately, Ghana and most African governments often use the same strategy employed by the colonial administrations to exploit ethnic differences for political ends.

In Ghana it is generally perceived that our political leaders base their programmes on ethnicity and factionalism rather than issues. With the exception of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah and to some extent Jerry John Rawlings, there is clear evidence that our leaders have never had any indigenous vision to turn Ghana around for growth. Often political positions and development projects are allocated on the basis of ethnic and tribal loyalty and support to the neglect of competence and performance, and relevance.

Some signs of Institutional Tribalism - Employment

There are some institutions in Ghana which are no go areas for some ethnic groups. By virtue of its Chief Executive Officer or Human Resource Manager belonging to a particular ethnic group, about 80-90% of top and middle management constitute people of his/her ethnic group. This may even transcend to the junior staff. This institutional ethnocetricism is reflected in the culture of the company and the common ethnic language that is used to carry out instructions and for holding formal meetings in the company. Appointments within these ethnocentric institutions are based on ethnicity rather than competence and performance. Members of minority ethnic groups within the company are discriminated against in promotion etc., and out of frustration they are either dismissed or impressed upon to resign. The mass departure of Ewe staff from Joy FM recently was alleged to have been ethnic influenced. (The Ghanaian Lens Thursday 5, October 2006, pages 1 & 4).

The common saying among Ghanaians that “send your application to this or that company because your country man is the CEO or the Human Resource Manager” is a clear demonstration of the fact that, employment in Ghana is ethnic based rather than performance based. This dangerous development is not only limited to the private sector. It affects government Ministries, Departments and Agencies. It is a common knowledge that, political appointment of Ministers to head government Ministries and Departments have resulted in significant change in the ethnic composition of the staff at the Ministries and Departments.

Deliberate and Institutionalized Distortion of History

There have been deliberate attempts by few myopic educated people to mis-educate the larger public by writing and introducing books into our academic curricular to implicitly promote ethnic superiority. Some history books have been doctored with the agenda of ethnic superiority. This calculated attempt was recently confirmed by the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Education, Winneba, Professor Akpanglo-Nartey at this year’s Fifth Nene Azu Mate Korle-Ako Adjei Memorial Lecture. He stated among other things that, the McMillan Atlas for Ghana 3rd Edition, 1987 of page 22 shows that ‘the Asante Empire in the 19th Century includes almost all the South’ (The Chronicle Tuesday, November 7, 2006, page 13). Whiles in fact, the GaDangmes have never been dominated by any other ethnic group.

These developments are generating gradual tension and anger among other ethnic groups who have equal part to Ghana’s history. This deliberate attempt to misname the ethnic groups in Ghana would not only be a serious inhibition to the nation’s policy, but will also lead to miscalculations and errors of judgment. Confucian Analects noted, “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language is not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.”

There is a high general perception under the current NPP administration that distributions of national projects are carried out on ethnic and factional basis. The inordinate desire of some particular ethnic groups to expand chiefdoms and hegemony in the country and the refusal of some traditional councils to be part of the National House of Chiefs, the perceived government interference into some chieftaincy institutions to install chiefs who were deemed not qualified, are seen to be execution of an ethnic agenda. The recent accusation by the minority parties and the CJA (after the ROPAB demonstration) that the NPP administration has recruited “party police” (people recruited into the Police Service based on faction and ethnic loyalty) and the alleged recruitment of a larger number of a particular ethnic group into the Ghana Armed Forces requires grave attention. Allocation of government contracts, are perceived to be contracted on the basis of party loyalty and/or allocated to favoured ethnic groups.

Ethnicity and Good Governance

Tribalism directly affects good governance with sometimes irreversible devastating consequences. It alienates sections of the nation’s human capital which is an indispensable ingredient in the bowl of national development, from participating and meaningfully contributing to national growth. Indeed, harmonizing and engaging every human resource available to a nation regardless of ethnicity for national development and growth is the totality of good governance. Any other attempt will not advance us as a nation. Some African governments have responded to this ethnic challenge in varying ways. Ghana needs to adopt holistic and pragmatic management approach. The identity configuration of the country need to be critically examined vis a vis the western democracy we have adopted so as to develop ethnic policies for the country. A national framework with which all can identify without any distinction based on ethnicity and tribe needs to be put in place. A few states in Africa such as Botswana and Benin have been able to pragmatically manage their relatively inconsequential diversity to reflect exemplary cohesiveness, democracy, stability, and sustained growth.

Ghana faces significant ethnic pluralism that is nevertheless containable through the development of very meaningful relationships; inter-ethnic marriages, business partnerships, and very meaningful long term relationships over the past fifty years. We have attained a high degree of homogeneity through these relationships. There are very few in Ghana who can claim to be true Ashanti, Ewe, Fante, Gonjah, Akyem, Dagomba, Ga etc. A look at any obituary in the newspapers will demonstrate how fifty years of nationhood has detribalized us. That is why we should all rise up as a nation to slay this tribal dragon. The challenge however is putting in place an effective system of distribution of power and opportunities that upholds the integrity and legitimacy of our dear country, Ghana.

At present, most African countries are addressing the ethnic identity issues through an appeasing system of distribution and allocation of national projects and services. This is a rather an ad hoc management rather than a strategic approach. The issue of identity is particularly sensitive for Ghana and Africa in that, it touches not only on politics and economics but also on the ‘organizational capacity for a self-generating and sustainable development from within.’

At age fifty, Ghana stands poised between rediscovering its roots; its pluralistic indigenous values, institutions, and experiences combined with Western experience, and pursuing the myopic agenda of tribal/ethnic dominance. The consequential tensions cannot be easily resolved. But as David Wiley suggested, “an eclectic process that fashions a system in which ethnic groups can play a constructive role in the modern African state could significantly reduce the tension, foster cooperation, and facilitate the process of nation building.”

I am calling on all NGOs, Religious Bodies, development partners, the Ghana government and well meaning Ghanaians to set a week aside during our Golden Jubilee celebration for public fora, lectures, seminar etc. on this sensitive but important issue to arrive at a resolution on the ethnic policy that should govern the country.

Ethnicity reinforces our very beings as individuals and as a nation. It is in harmony with charting our destinies with regard to national unity and progress. Ethnicity should not and must never be a hindrance to national unity, progress, and growth or the source of violence and instability. Our collective failure to see the constructive elements of ethnicity, has not only profoundly undermined our self-determination as a sovereign nation, continent, and people, but has also escorted us to our failure in the search for practical and peaceful solutions to importunate problems that confronts us in Africa. As stated by Francis M. Deng, “ethnicity is more than skin color or physical characteristics, more than language, song, and dance. It is the embodiment of values, institutions, and patterns of behavior, a composite whole representing a people’s historical experience, aspirations, and world view. Deprive a people of their ethnicity, their culture, and you deprive them of their sense of direction or purpose.” Indeed, ones ethnicity is a fundamental human right which must be respected and safeguarded at all cost.

Kofi B. Kukubor
The author of this article is an International Trade Consultant and a Part-time Lecturer


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Kukubor, Kofi B.