The tribal question – why Akufo-Addo will lose the Ewe vote

Wed, 8 Oct 2008 Source: Amenyo, Kofi

When Akufo-Addo, speaking at Ho, reminded residents of the close links that had existed between the Ewes and the Busia-Danquah tradition during the first republic, he was using history selectively to serve his own purposes. It is true that time was, when the Ewes made common cause with the Busia-Danquah tradition when all other parties united under the UP to form the only opposition to Nkrumah’s CPP. This became necessary with the passage of The Avoidance of Discrimination Act (1957) which banned all parties based on ethnic grounds.

The union was short-lived but good for the tradition while it lasted. In the early 60s Busia rode on this sentiment and became extremely popular in the Volta Region. That was what Akufo-Addo, who must have been in his early teens at that time, was referring to as he addressed the crowd at Ho. What he failed to do was to say what happened after the marriage of convenience ended. Nkrumah would gradually turn more and more against his opponents. Some individuals in the opposition would ‘cross carpets’. By 1964, there was no opposition left as the country became a one party state. The Ewes had nothing to do with a Busia-Danquah tradition any more – until Busia would come back to show his true colours.

The Busia-Danquah tradition’s fortunes in the Volta Region

1960: J. B. Danquah led the opposition United Party and stood against Nkrumah in the presidential elections getting almost 11 % of the votes. Ewes might have been among those who voted for him. 1964: a referendum to turn the nation into a one party state (that of the CPP) had an official result of 99.91 per cent in support. This referendum marked, perhaps, the lowest point of electoral fairness in our country’s history. It was rumoured that even though the ballot was secret, the Yes and the No boxes were placed some distance from each other and there were people outside the curtain to watch if your feet misled you to the wrong box. Other, equally ludicrous, rumours about that referendum abound. In 1965, an unopposed Nkrumah would be massively re-elected (probably using the same electoral tactics as before). 1969: Progress Party, under the leadership of Busia, actually won 2 of the 16 seats in the VR. The elections were held on a Friday. The two northernmost non-Ewe constituencies, cut off by the Volta dam and poor roads, did not receive their ballot papers on time and had to vote the following Monday. By then, Busia had already been declared winner and the people simply pitted their strength with the winning team. In that year, PP won ALL the seats in the Ashanti, Brong Ahafo and Central Regions. Talk about a world bank of votes! Gbedemah, the Ewe “leader”, lost the parliamentary seat he had won because a constitutional provision debarred him from taking it. 1979: A good year for the tradition in the region. The Popular Front Party, led by Victor Owusu, won 5 seats in the region. The United National Convention, the party that splintered from the main Busia-Danquah group and led by William Ofori-Atta won no seats in the region. The PNP won 11. There was no “direct” Ewe party. The PNP’s candidate, Limann, won comfortably in the region. For the Ewes, better a Northerner than an Ashanti and certainly not Victor Owusu! 1992: the opposition NPP protested against the presidential elections (held in November) which Rawlings won and subsequently boycotted the December parliamentary elections. NDC won all the 12 seats in the region. 1996: NDC won all the 19 seats in the region. 2000: NDC won all the 17 seats in the region. 2004: NDC 21, NPP – 1. The only NPP seat was won in non-Ewe speaking Nkwanta North constituency with a measly 30% of the votes thanks to our first past the post electoral system. 2008: ?

Tribalism gained ascendancy in the Second Republic

Busia’s regime, arguably, marked the permanent institutionalisation of tribalism in our politics. Not that this was not there before but Nkrumah went the extra mile to cut through the divide. Recall the manner the Brong Ahafo Region was created. Nkrumah also added the southern Ewes (Anlos) to the erstwhile Trans-Volta Togoland to form the Volta Region while removing parts of the Trans-Volta Togoland to the Northern Region all in a balancing act. His topmost lieutenants (at least in the beginning) were from all the tribes of Ghana. Tribalism was at low ebb. Busia, whether by design or mere neglect, came to open the wounds anew. It was the same Busia whose government passed the Aliens Compliance Order and many non-Ghanaians, who had known no other country, were forced to leave our country. True, Busia ruled for only 28 months but it seemed he had an agenda to do an overbalancing political act. Busia, a onetime darling, became the most hated politician in the Volta Region. Then Victor Owusu made his infamous statement describing a whole tribe as ‘inward looking’. He would say he was cited out of context but is that not the usual response of public figures who gaff? (Is it true that he brought drinks to the togbewo of the region in a futile act of contrition?) This is what Akufo-Addo would not tell the crowds at Ho.

Tribalism is still a very decisive factor in the political equation in our country. The NPP assumed power with a perception that Ewes had had been over favoured in nearly 20 years of Rawlings’ rule and it was time to set the balance “right”. We all know what that has meant. Eight years of NPP rule and, true to form, they’ve done little to stem the tide of tribalism. Of the 17 odd candidates who stood on the NPP presidential ticket last December, not a single one of them was Ewe. No, nobody prevented them from standing but the party didn’t feel like a natural home for them. What kind of a “national” party is that? The only Ewes found in the top echelons of the party are the ones who have turned their backs on their people who, in turn, regard them as quislings. Why should an Ewe who joins NPP become a pariah to his own people? Why should he join the party because he has a bone to pick with his own tribesmen or because he might be rewarded with a post? Shouldn’t his actions be driven purely by an ideological conviction?

Isn’t it surprising how many commentators, even on this forum, without much ado, tuck Rawlings into the Ewe fold? This is a man whose unknown father is a Scot. He was not brought up in Anloland and his Ewe is faulty even at its best. He married a woman from an Ashanti heartland who gave birth to children who, by custom, will inherit from their father as well as their wofa! If anything, he is as detribalised a Ghanaian as you can get anywhere. But it is our notorious habit to put people in tribal slots. And so his mother’s people, in true Ghanaian style, have accepted him as their very own and a hero. They have sung songs of adulation to him – Xornametor! But didn’t they also sing such songs for Kotoka, an Anlo man who teamed up with an Ashanti man, to overthrow Nkrumah? Those of us old enough still remember the women straining their voices over the rhythms of the agbadza drums: Tsa ma miele fukpekpe me fifia miexo ablode; e-Kotoka yee, Mawue ne yra woooo. These are the simple folk who, today, still follow NDC, perhaps, because Rawlings, who doesn’t really have anything new to tell anybody anymore, tells them to do so.

It does not have to be so – cutting through the tribal divide

In his frantic effort to win the presidency, Akufo-Addo, in the same speech at Ho, promised a university for the region. But he has promised that to all the regions and a factory for every district! We have heard such things before. He probably thinks national unity can be achieved by such promises. He is wrong. It is what he does when he gets power that counts. For now, he should be sincere about the past of the party tradition that he represents which has not done much to endear itself to Ewes. It will be too much to ask of him to cut out even oblique references to a Busia-Danquah tradition but it will be necessary for him to tone down the traditional rhetoric (which has been too divisive a force in our politics) in favour of a purely ideological one or a pragmatism that is not the preserve of any one tribe. Ideological inclinations do not go in tandem with tribal belonging and there is nothing that says an Ewe, especially the middle class ones who will pull along the others, cannot be naturally inclined to an ideology of a “property owning democracy”. But if it is linked to a Busia-Danquah tradition, he smells something that is anathema to him. My fellow Ewe classmate, a manager at a successful bank in Kumasi who, not being a politician has nothing to gain privately from an Akufo-Addo presidency, has told me he will vote for the man despite his shortcomings. I respect my friend for his choice even if I don’t agree with him. And one of my brothers, the odd one out, continues to support NPP in a constituency it has absolutely no chance of winning. Why shouldn’t he?

Our constitution does not prescribe a rotational presidency whereby every tribe will stake their claim to have a taste of the candy. It is as stupid for Ewes to think Rawlings’ lengthy rule has used up their quota as it is for Akyems to feel that this time is, surely, now their turn or for Northerners to say it’s been a long time since Limann and they’ve been playing second fiddle for far too long. In an ideal situation, which we must all strive for, only the best man or woman, purely on demonstrable merit and proven competence, should be good for the top post no matter where that person comes from or even the origin of the person who preceded him.

I feel Akufo-Addo is not the man to unite us. He is too old and belongs to the old guard. A new crop of youngsters, not tainted by the misdeeds of their forebears, is what is needed to put Ghana together. Indeed, the present set up of NPP cannot do that. It is still too deeply steeped in the old ways. That Akufo-Addo will lose the Ewe vote massively is a damning testimony to NPP’s inability to bridge the tribal divide. The party will have to change beyond recognition to do that. We will begin to see real change the day that party has a Northerner, Fante, Ga or, most importantly, an Ewe, at the helm. It should be a person whose most distinguishing feature will not be the tribe he belongs to – just like Nkrumah. Until we get that, the Volta Region will continue to be an NDC redoubt or that of any party that does not lay claim to a Danquah tradition.

What the ordinary Ghanaian (no matter of what tribe) needs most is a marked improvement in his basic life – the everyday exigencies of existence. He is not asking for mansions to be built for him but he will not tolerate ministers flaunting their wealth in his face even as he, himself, is mired in poverty. With the presidential material available, Ghanaians have been put in a situation where they can only hope to make the best of a bad situation. If Akufo-Addo wins (the cash-strapped NDC and its lacklustre perpetual loser, Mills, aren’t any better) and does something positive about our basic needs, we will forgive him for everything – eight years of NPP’s squandered chances, his own arrogance and gilded background, even his weed smoking. He will have four years to do so. If he succeeds (to everyone’s pleasant surprise) even Ewes will be willing to give him the nod for a second shot.

Kofi Amenyo (kofi.amenyo@yahoo.com)

Columnist: Amenyo, Kofi