Mahama’s “Northern Brothers,” Akufo-Addo’s “Yen Akanfuo”

John Mahama Speech Speech7 President John Dramani Mahama

Fri, 25 Nov 2016 Source: Kwarteng, Francis

“In the highest reaches of national life, there should be no reference to Fantes, Asantes, Ewes, Gas, Dagombas, ,’Strangers’ and so forth…We should call ourselves Ghanaians—the brothers and sisters, members of the same community—of the state of Ghana” (Kwame Nkrumah).


President Mahama has received a groundswell of flak for referring to his audience as “northern brothers,” when he made a passionate appeal to his audience to vote massively for the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in the 2016 general elections.

President Mahama made this appeal at a time when peace-loving Ghanaians are raising strong objections to political ethnocentrism, which seems to rear its ugly head every time an election season draws nigh.

This is hardly surprising as Ghanaian politics, for the most past, has never been about issues-based planks, competence, pragmatic nationalism, political morality, comparative advantage, patriotism and meritocracy.

Our electoral politics has mostly been about regionalism or ethnicity, or a combination of both.

Our lazy politicians know how best to fan ethnic sentiments in the lead-up to elections, for purposes of securing votes for that matter, as they usually do not have progressively pragmatic planks to run their campaigns on beyond agitprop canards.

Thus, their intellectual and emotional investment in rhetorical flippancy involving the question of ethnic politics, eventually assumes an ideological stock-in-trade character.

On the one hand, ethnic politics and ethnic chauvinism are delicate matters.

On the other, they potentially harbor destructive tendencies in that they tend to marginalize or otherize groups far removed from the heliocentric power of mainstream political and economic socialization, thus potentially creating a vast expanse of disaffection for and within these marginalized groups.

That elevated sense of ethnic superiority which underscores the concepts of otherism and marginalization—call it superiority complex, if you will—comes with or is accompanied by a false sense of entitlement.

Yaw Osafo-Marfo’s deadly strain of ethnic imperialism captures this warped ideology of superiority complex.

Guans, the autochthonous inhabitants of what is Ghana today, have a lot to teach the rest of us who later joined them from without.

The Gonja People, of whom President Mahama belongs, are Guans. In any case is Bawumia also a Guan?

Since when did the word of arbitrary construction—“northern”—assume the concept of ethnicity or of ethnic group, let alone a monolithic, undifferentiated one?

Does the “south” or “southern” too constitute a monolithic, undifferentiated ethnic group?

What about “central,” “eastern,” and “western”? And all those in between?

What about Ivor Greenstreet’s characterization of Bawumia as “an Accra Northerner”? And who is a “Tamale Southerner” or a “Bolgatanga Southerner”? Why all these infatuations with “northerners” in our political parlance?

Nonetheless, the word “northern” is not the same as “Yen Akanfuo”!

Ordinary Ghanaians and their educated elites do in fact love childish simplicity.

With that said, being ethnically resource-rich does not directly translate into scientific and technological—namely technocratic pragmatism—wisdom for the technical advancement of those particular ethnic groups under whose feet nature has endowed with a vast swathe of mineral and gas/oil resources.

Neither do mineral and gas/oil resources imply an ethnic group will be more than capable of pragmatic governance and statecraft.

What is more, mineral and gas/oil reserves are not wealth in and of themselves.

In fact, science and technology are wealth-generating tools and those who control these instruments of science and technology also control wealth!

This is also why those in charge of the instruments of science and technology literally own natural wealth.

And they also control and manipulate our governments, institutions, political and economic leaders, and even our citizens in their corporate boardrooms, chambers of commerce, legislatures as well as on their stock exchanges—from afar.

This is why we must tread cautiously when doing politics.

Also, the fact that Akufo-Addo never publicly denounced Yaw Osafo-Marfo for his ethnocentric philippic against non-Akans is cause for concern.

And, what do we have to say about his own controversial ethnocentric statement on otherism— “Yen Akanfuo”?

Even so, the blunt rhetorical and conceptual specificity of Akufo-Addo’s “Yen Akanfuo” somehow makes President Mahama’s “northern brothers” rhetorical slip excusable, for the northern part of Ghana is not technically as ethnically monolithic or homogenous as the former’s “Yen Akanfuo” may seem to imply.

President Mahama brings his regional politics of inclusiveness to bear on national politics while Akufo-Addo, it turns out, does the opposite, his ideological infatuation with the politics of exclusion.

Akufo-Addo also never apologized for the harm his divisive “Yen Akanfuo” ethnocentric comment that caused a large segment of Ghanaians a heightened sense of discomfort, and, now, here he is, calling on President Mahama not to play “tribal politics.”

Playing politics of convenience and double standards are the stocks-in-trade of our schadenfreude bourgeois politicians.

Then again politics is fundamentally about playing double standards, about playing to the gallery—one’s constituency or constituencies, that is—even if it involves implementing the strategic decisional pragmatism of ruthlessness to bear on eliminating one’s foes and friends alike, who for one reason or another pose a serious existential threat to another’s political authority.

No one surgically describes this phenomenon of political realism better than Niccolo Machiavelli (see his book “The Prince”).

Regarding these sensitive matters therefore, Bawumia and Akufo-Addo have no moral right to label bona-fide Ghanaians as Togolese, Burkinabe, and Ivoirian.

We are yet to know what label Guans have in store for non-Guans in Ghana!

Thus far President Mahama, a Guan, has not called any bona-fide Ghanaian Togolese, Burkinabe, and Ivoirian.

Then again President Mahama, a Guan, was in what is today called Ghana before Akufo-Addo arrived from without!

In the main, though, the political philosophy of the ethnocentric party to which Akufo-Addo belongs has always been defined by identity politics and tokenism.

Technically, this ethnocentric party is not known to identify with broad-based party politics of the kind we associate with President Mahama’s.

This also means that it is not a mainstream political organization in the narrow technical sense of broad-based party politics.

We shall surely return with Part 2, the concluding segment.

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis
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