Talking our Way to a United and Peaceful Ghana

Wed, 18 Mar 2015 Source: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi

“One love, one heart . . .

Let’s get together and feel all right”

? Bob Marley

Ghana is normally a socially cohesive nation; the peoples of this country have existed alongside one another for thousands of years. Ancient wars among our people did not fracture the alliances formed out of adversity and need. Even the brutal violence of divide-and-rule colonialism and slavery did not create permanent fissures in our society. It has therefore been relatively easy to form the Ghana nation out of our diversity.

But if the proverbial man from Mars had landed in Accra two weeks ago, especially near a loud radio, he would have gone back and reported to the Martian people that the country known as Ghana was tearing itself apart due to ethnic and religious tensions. He would have concluded that this nation was warring upon itself.

Two main issues created the impression of tension. One was the religion in school story while the second was on ethnicity and politics. Each one of these is explosive enough on its own to cause plenty of trouble; having the two running at the same time is a recipe for serious trouble anywhere.

But of course, this being Ghana, it was more froth than beer. This country is not at war. Ghanaians of all persuasions, cultures and ethnic origins continue to live, work and even love together. In the immortal words of the writer C. Joy Bell C., “We are all equal in the fact that we are all different. We are all the same in the fact that we will never be the same. We are united by the reality that all colours and all cultures are distinct and individual. We are harmonious in the reality that we are all held to this earth by the same gravity…”

As I write this article, the sun is shining outside like it will never dim on this land; I can hear birds chirping because there are no gunshots to scare them away; the sky above us is blue without a single war plane or drone in sight; children are going to school where they can; we don’t all have electricity all the time, but there is some. We have peace. But we cannot take it for granted.

Most Ghanaians have no idea of war. They have seen a few war movies and seen pictures of the effect of war in the news. But thank God, most of us have no firsthand experience of war. And among this huge number of war-innocent citizens are those shouting the loudest from the comfort of radio stations. Most of them go to the studio and shout words of hate and venom and go back home and drink some iced water or stronger, eat some solid food and tap their stomachs with the satisfaction that a day’s work has been done.

It used to be so in Liberia, and Sierra Leone; it was the same kind of situation in Rwanda and DR Congo; even the young nation of South Sudan had great expectations and our neighbours in Mali once held the accolade for the most engaged civil society in our sub-region.

In the early 1980s I went to Afghanistan with Alhaji A.B.A. Fuseini, the current Deputy Minister of the Northern Region. He was then a young journalist and not yet acquired his title. We traveled through the then Soviet Union and as we entered Afghan airspace, the Soviet Air Force fired flares to deflect any American or Mujahedeen ground-to-air missile attacks on our Ilyushin jet. Our hearts pounded, our legs turned to jelly. That is war.

A few months after the war in Liberia ended in 1997, I went to Monrovia to participate in a training programme for Liberian journalists organised by the London based peace NGO, International Alert. Other Ghanaians in the group included Professor Kwame Karikari, Afi Yakubu, Nana K. A. Busia, and Napoleon Abdulai, who put the team together. Our passports were collected on arrival in a farm basket because there were no physical facilities for arrival procedures. Indeed, the plane that took us from Abidjan to Monrovia was not insured because no sensible insurer would insure a plane flying into an African war zone. That is war.

There were only one-and-half hotels standing in Monrovia. The full hotel was Mamba Point Hotel which was unscathed because it was in the “American Zone” and the other was the “Holiday Inn”, which was not what the name implied but a half shell… There was not a single bank, police station, post office or any civil facility available. We had to change money with some people sitting along open gutters in the middle of Monrovia. There was no school and no school children; the only safe transport was ECOMOG trucks and those belonging to the militias that were being disbanded. That is war.

I went to Rwanda shortly after the genocide while the stench of death still rent the air. An estimated 937,000 people died in the genocide in which Hutu militias killed Tutsis and moderate Hutus in orgy of ethnic cleansing ever seen on earth. The people tried to be upbeat about the future but it was difficult to run away from the recent past. In a church where hundreds of people were massacred while seeking refuge, were skeletons upon skeletons into the distance. They too were humans ones; they loved, they ate, they held hands, they even cursed one another and listened to radio stations. This is war.

I reported from the covered the United Nations Rwanda Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. It was an extraordinary courtroom situation. Witnesses, most of them survivors told horrific stories about the genocide, but the most harrowing stories were about betrayals and the breakdown of “normal” human decencies under extreme conditions.

One witness, a Tutsi woman, told the tribunal about how she handed over her baby to her Hutu friend as the militia rampaged through her town. She hoped that even if she was killed her child would be saved. She went into hiding as the militia appeared and was horrified to see her friend turn over the baby to be killed with the words, “take her, she is a Tutsi baby”. We cried together in the courtroom – judges, prosecutors, journalists and lawyers; everybody cried from the depths of our hearts. Weeping for a baby betrayed. That is war.

A war is not like what we see in the movies. In the movies, there is a hero who comes out victorious. In a real war even the hero is not necessarily a winner. There would be no winners if we talk ourselves into a war. And it takes only a little spark to turn the talk into war.

So, how can we discuss our social problems, especially those that have to do with religion and ethnicity, without triggering a war? This country needs to talk about these issues but we have to have constructive discussions and come up with solutions that will work for all sections of our nation. At the moment, all the talk is just politics, and therein lies the danger. So-called communication teams from the NDC and NPP are talking themselves hoarse in the hope of getting our votes. Not all these people would be allowed to speak even on behalf of their siblings but by an unfortunate quirk of history they are allowed to abuse the airwaves and drive a wedged through our nation.

As a nation we need to have a peace agenda. We have a real reason to stay united and in peace. The reason is simple: war is unbearable. An even stronger reason is captured in this quote from J.K Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”

Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi