What is tribalism?

Tue, 24 Dec 2013 Source: Allotey, Henry Kpakpo

Professor Kofi Awoonor of blessed memory once wrote a book eulogizing his birth tribe. In his book, he referred to himself as Ewe first and Ghana second. As usual, some misguided and illiterate Ghanaians, mostly Ashantis bashed and labeled him ethnocentric. They held out Professor Kofi Awoonor as a symbol of Ewe ethnocentrism in Ghana. When Professor Awoonor was killed in Kenya and all Ghana was mourning this illustrious son of mother Ghana, some Ashantis, mostly N.P.P apparatchiks where celebrating his demise on Facebook and other social media! That is how Ghana has turned into!

But I ask, what is tribalism? Is tribalism wrong? Is it wrong for one to eulogize and speak glowingly of his tribe and ethnic grouping? Was Professor Kofi Awoonor wrong in referring to himself as Ewe first and Ghana second? Wikipedia defines tribalism as ‘The state of being organized in, advocating for, a tribe or tribes. It also refers to a way of thinking or behaving in which people are more loyal to their tribe than to their friends, social group, country or any other social group’. By this definition, am left wondering which one of us is not guilty of tribalism!

Now let me ask, how do we identify ourselves in Ghana? By nationality or tribe? When somebody is not too clear of your identity, he or she will ask which tribe you belong to. What identifies us as a people is not our nationality but where we come from, which ethnicity we belong to. Now let me illustrate it this way. There are some Lebanese who claim to be Ghanaians. They have the documents to prove it. You can also have Liberians, Beninois, Burkinabe, Togolese and others who have taken Ghanaian citizenship and have the same rights as me and you. We equally have Ghanaians who for the sake of convenience have taken nationality of other countries. Some Ghanaians will even need a visa to visit their own country of birth! That tells you that our identity does not lie in nationalism. Being a Ghanaian can be a matter of choice. I can be born in Ghana, have Ghanaian parents but still decide I want to be a Lebanese, Togolese, Nigerian or any nationality of my choice. At least Jerome Boateng, Marcel Desaily and others have proven to us that being a Ghanaian is a matter of choice!

What about your tribe? Is being a Ga, Twi, Ewe, Fanti, Grushe, Dagomba, Wala and Frafra a matter of choice? Can we pick and choose which tribe we belong to? Can we change our tribe? Can we, for the sake of convenience change our tribe and take on the tribe of another? Will an Ashanti person who has lived in Accra all his life take on the identity of a Ga? Will an Ewe, born in Anloga in Kumasi take on the identity of an Ashanti even if he wanted to? What about a Ga, born in Tamale? Will he or she become a Dagomba simply because he was born there? The answer is a resounding No! While we can change our nationality with somewhat ease, we cannot change our tribe because that is what identifies us as a people! We were born with our tribe, not our nationality! If I was born in Britain, am British but what identifies me is my Ga tribe. So it is not where you are born that identifies you, it is which tribe you were born into that identifies you. So yes, Professor Kofi Awoonor was right when he identified himself as Ewe first and Ghanaian second. What identifies Professor Kofi Awoonor is his Ewe lineage and not his Ghanaian nationality. He could have decided to take on the citizenship of another country but he could never have repudiated his Ewe identity. What identifies Professor Awoonor is not the country that he claims citizenship of, but what identifies him as a person is his tribe!

I could have been born in Alaska, Russia or Afghanistan but I will always be a Ga man because that is what identifies me! So in theory, practicing tribalism is not wrong at all. We all have a strong identity and affinity to where we belong. As long as I have Ga blood running in me, I will promote and fight for the interest of my Ga people. Ghana MAY one day decide that Gas are no more wanted in Ghana and I will have to fight to defend my people. That is the hard, cold truth which we must come to terms with.

It is interesting that Ashantis are mostly guilty of screaming their lungs out and talking about tribalism if the situation does not favor them. Yet it is they who have strenuously pushed the agenda of tribalism everywhere they go. They accuse Professor Kofi Awwonor of being an ethnocentric yet Professor Awoonor can speak Ga without blemish. Can they say the same thing for former President Kuffour who has lived in Accra all his life yet cannot speak a single word of Ga? They accuse Togbe Afede of being tribalistic when he complained of neglect during N.P.Ps rule yet it was their Queen mother in Ashanti Afia Kobi Serwaa who declared Akuffo Addo the winner of the 2008 election when the contest has not even started. They accuse Ewes of practicing tribalism because they vote 90% N.D.C yet Ashantis vote 95% N.P.P solely because the party is Ashanti. They have the Asanteman council with their own flag and emblem. Can they say the same for other tribes? When you come to the Ashanti Region, all senior High Schools are named after their kings and queens. It is either Prempeh College, Opoku Ware SHS, Afia Kobi Senior High, Serwaa Akoto SHS, Boa Amponsem SHS, Barima Akoto SHS and others yet you have none of these in other tribes. Can somebody tell me a single school in the Volta Region named after a Voltarian Chief or Queen? Or a school in Greater Accra named after a Ga Chief? Or even a single school in Northern Region named after a Dagomba, Gonja, Mamprusi or Nanumba king? Nada!

You have several Ashantis who have established a wholly twi language radio and tv stations in Accra. They broadcast only in twi and no other language yet we see nothing wrong with it. If was an Ewe who had established a wholly Ewe Radio and TV station am sure Parliament will be legislating on how to ban it by now. I write and speak for my Ga tribe which is journalistically accepted yet you have some misguided and illiterate Ashantis sending me messages and asking me why I don’t write about Ashantis and their culture. Then I ask, why should I write about Ashantis and their culture? Don’t they have enough writers to write about their history?

I don’t hate Ashantis, as a matter of fact I admire them for their tenacity, hard work and their beautiful culture. I have written several articles condemning my own Ga people for possessing none of the qualities that have made Ashantis a great people in Ghana. I AM MARRIED TO AN ASHANTI WOMAN AND WE HAVE TWO KIDS BETWEEN US. I love Ashantis but I cannot countenance their hypocrisy when it comes to issues of tribalism. They have immensely benefited from tribalism and must allow other tribes to also benefit from.

So yes, I perfectly agree with Professor Awoonor and I accept his theory of tribe first and nationality second. I therefore declare that I am Christian first, Ga second and Ghanaian third!

Kpakpogh@yahoo.com 0243370764

Columnist: Allotey, Henry Kpakpo