Pondering Africansâ?? beginnings for advancement

Sun, 17 Oct 2010 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

The Accra Sports Stadium was re-named Ohene Djan Stadium by the former ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) in 2004. Then the Ohene Djan Stadium was re-named again as Accra Sports Stadium by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) September, 2010.

The first naming was innocently nationalistic, the second on purely ethnic feelings. This has set off an irate debate that had larger implications than AMA had thought of. This is expected, considering the manner African nation-states were created some 50 years ago. The controversy has also opened the debate about where the entire Ghanaian, and for that matter African, ethnic groups came from to their present abode. AMA’s argument has raised insightful public talks for Ghanaians and other Africans. Prof. Jacob Ade Ajayi, the eminent Nigerian historian and editor of General History of Africa (1989), who has done a lot work in this context, will be of help as a clarifier.

On the other hand, the AMA stance, a local edit, which contravenes national regulations, is yet to be ratified by the Ghana state, especially the Ministry of Youth & Sports, which has authority over the sports stadia and which in the first place changed the Accra Sports Stadium to Ohene Djan Stadium. Short of this, the AMA posture reveals how Ghana’s democracy is flowering, where the rule of law and freedoms are driving years of fear from one-party and military regimes that suppressed healthy debate. That makes AMA’s position not malice but paranoid.

So far there haven’t been any large following of AMA outside its offices. And the Kumasi Sports Stadium, Ghana’s largest, on Asante ethnic land and re-named Baba Yara (a non-Asante from one of the northern ethnic groups) in 2008, has not experienced the AMA-kind ugly attitude. That the Baba Yara Sports Stadium should be re-named Kumasi Sports Stadium because it is on Asante land. The Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) has not followed AMA. KMA sees Baba Yara in larger historical framework and the fact that Baba Yara, a soccer legend, whether a non-Asante or not, contributed immensely to Ghana’s soccer development and not only to any of the northern ethnic groups where he came from.

Ohene Djan, the source of the controversy, skilled sports administrator who helped laid down the foundation for the current fruitful soccer industry in Ghana and Africa, was from the Aburi-Akwapim ethnic group. But his services weren’t informed by tribalism, it was for national development. The Accra Sports Stadium is on Ga ethnic land but it was built with Ghanaians tax money and legally the land today is a government property. That makes the Accra Sports Stadium, like any other Ghana-government-owned national stadium for that matter, a pan-Ghanaian edifice. Ghanaians, therefore, have the right, both legally and culturally, to name it after any Ghanaian they deem fit.

There is no need for snarling tribalism. While the NPP’s re-naming of the Accra Sports Stadium as Ohene Djan Stadium was purely on patriotism, AMA’s stand is condescendingly on tribalism; that the sports stadium is on Ga tribal lands so it should bear Ga tribal name. That’s unAfrican. That’s African tribalistic logic at play brewed as seen in the thoughtless Somalia, where for the past 22 years, poorly thinking clans/tribes have collapsed their country and visited indescribable hardship on Somalians. AMA’s argument is culturally cold and an intellectually troubling development. Yes, there is tribalism in Ghana but it isn’t lethal and AMA’s attitude doesn’t represent the other 55 ethnic groups that form Ghana. In Africa’s turbulent political history and ethnic complications, AMA’s stand (not all Ga agree with AMA), no matter its moral and ethnic logic, is dangerous. But come to think of the hullabaloo, the then NPP regime, in attempting to re-name the Accra Sports Stadium as Ohene Djan Stadium, should have consulted all stakeholders in order to avoid any ill-feelings.

The stadium dispute reveals that Ghanaians’ deep cultural concerns, 50 years after self-rule from European colonialism, aren’t heavily factored in when certain serious national endeavours are being undertaken in national development. Failure of which later bring down good intensions, as is happening to the NPP decision on the Accra stadium. Despite the weirdness of some of the arguments on the Accra Sports Stadium naming and re-naming, of profound interest is the enlightening argument raised by the Aburihene, Otubour Gyan Kwasi II, when he spoke to Asempa News.

Instructively, hear Otubour Gyan Kwasi II and his Aburi Traditional Council: “… the AMA re-naming of the stadium on the basis that it has no leaning with Ga culture and customs was unfortunate, reminding the assembly that the land being occupied by Gas was given to them by the Akwapims and the people of Aburi when they first came from Ile Ifeh in Nigeria … the Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital in Akwapim named after a Ga and the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi among others.” The Aburi Traditional Council position is pan-Ghana, more nationalistic and educational than ethnic. It also raises the fact that in the long run all the 56 ethnic groups that form Ghana are simultaneously migrants, constantly mixing and come from the same cultural family. The slight differences are geographic. Rumoko Rashidi, the activist African-American historian, world traveler and author of Introduction to the Study of African Classical Civilizations (1993), would explain to the Ga and Aburi Traditiional Council that, “History is a light that illuminates the past and a key that unlocks the door to the future.” Prof. Ade Ajayi, with his style of rigorous research that presented new pathways in African historiography, will not have any disagreement with Otubour Gyan Kwasi II and the Aburi Traditional Council. But history lessons and a dialogue between Otubour Gyan Kwasi II, the Aburi Traditional Council and AMA will be superbly good for Ghana and Africa. As the Tshwane, South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) would say, Knowledge will empower the Aburi Traditional Council, AMA and Africa.

You don’t have to be an anthropologist or Prof. Ade Ajayi or Rumoko Rashidi to understand this. Just travel through Ghana/Africa, as I have been privileged to have done, and you will get it. Not only are most Ghanaians/Africans not aware of this but the fact that all Ghanaians/Africans, come to think of it, are practically from the same cultural pedigrees have not been appropriated heavily as national/continental unity fertilizer, as an educational forage, and vehicle for greater national/continental progress.

AMA and the Aburi Traditional Council controversy occurred as a result of lack of deeper regional and national thinking that should be informed by Ghanaian/African traditions and history; more from AMA and the shallowness of the policies and issues that run the Ghana nation-state (and other African nation-states). The policies are more colonial despite the fact that the texture is African.

Some years ago, I had a long chat with Canada’s Carleton University political scientist Daniel Tetteh Osabu-Kle, himself a Ga, following a review of his book, Compatible Cultural Democracy: the Key to Development in Africa (2000), I did for the London, UK-based New African magazine. Osabu-Kle explained, drawing from his book, African experiences and his mature age, that since all Africans practically have the same cultural roots it is possible to create a cultural symbol drawn from all the African ethnic groups and use it as both national and continental unifier and stimulant for larger African development. I can use myself to illustrate Osabu-Kle. Though I am an Asante, I am told by my maternal elders that over 100 years ago our family migrated from the present Denkyira area, which is now part of modern Ghana’s Western Region. My paternal family, too, is said to have come to the present Asante land from the Nzema ethnic group, which is in Ghana’s Western Region.

At a subterranean ethnic mix, my paternal grandfather, Opanin Kweku Akosah, a wealthy high cross-ethnic polygamist, married from good number of Ghanaian ethnic groups: Ewe, Asante, Ga, Akuapim, Akyem, Brong, Fante, Dagomba and Ahafo. Opanin Akosah was easily able to marry from these Ghanaian ethnic groups simply because he found his Asante culture and other ethnic groups’ practically the same. Fruitfully, he had over 60 children with his wives. And my grandfather’s children are examples of Osabu-Kle’s hypothesis.

As modern African nation-states evolve, there are rapid mix of the over 2,000 African ethnic groups more than our ancestors could imagine during their lifetimes. Of concern, among the Ga and the Akwapim, because of the geographic proximity between them, is the high-level ethnic mix among them than AMA and the Aburi Traditional Council could fathom. Sometimes issues like this might be civilizing and healthy. It helps thinking and clears some of the entangling tribal cobwebs in the African brain. It also helps clarifies the African mind and that itself might be a kind of exorcism, especially in situations where some of the issues running the African nation-state are convoluted and unhelpful. You never know how deeply you can think till you are involved in some pressing controversies. But the controversy should be driven by facts and civility despite various jaundiced opinions expressed, some bordering on misplaced emotions than evidences.

And if hard facts are to drive the re-naming of Accra Sports Stadium, and we are to avoid fatal controversies, which of the two ethnic groups’ facts should prevail and resolve the issue. If none prevails, how are Ghanaians/Africans to harmonize the facts for progress? We can draw from Benford's Law of Controversy, as articulated by science-fiction writer Gregory Benford in 1980. It states that “Passion is inversely proportional to the amount of real (true) information available. In other words, the fewer facts are known to and agreed on by the participants, the more controversy there is, and the more is known the less controversy there is.” Are the Akwapim facts weightier than the Ga facts or the other way round? Which of the two ethnic groups’ facts will settle the dispute and engender less controversy? Or should the two facts merged to create less controversy? That will be very African and all-encompassing proposition. Granted that various African ethnic groups (some incompatible) were brought together against their will by colonialism, Benford's Law would infer that controversy is expected in modern African nation-states make-up from scratch. Here African communities such as the Ga and the Aburi-Akwapim must frequently decide on courses of action based on insufficient information as a result of the many unrealistic national public policies running African nation-states.

But the deeper facts are that, the culture driving the over 2,000 African ethnic groups are practically the same (holding geography constant) and could be skillfully appropriated to resolve the Ga-Aburi-Akwapim stadium naming controversy. And used for grander local, national and continental progress. For the larger progress of Ghana, all the 56 ethnic groups that form Ghana may need each other more than any of them may envisage. AMA’s thinking might help all Ghanaians to look clearly at the whole ethnic issue both culturally, morally and intellectually, as if it is for the first time that Ghanaians are experiencing such incident.

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi