For a very long time, whenever someone asked me where I come from, I gave a tedious answer. It was never a straight “I come from XYZ”. I either had to add the name of the town closer to where I lived or quickly followed my answer with a description of the nearby “estate” associated with affluence. I sometimes still do this but consciously, I am learning to be boisterous about where I do come from. Overtime, the answer is slowly becoming an outright “I come from Zongo”.
Zongo is the name widely used for Muslim dominated neighborhoods in Ghana. Story has it that when migratory business men from Nigeria, Niger and other country in the Sahel region decided to permanently settle in communities they traded in, they were allocated lands on the outskirts by communal heads. Thus originated the name Zongo. So across the country, a Zongo can be found in almost every district.
Being on the outskirts of town and dominated by people who were not deemed as Ghanaian nationals, the Zongos got little to no share of the national cake. So overtime, as other communities developed their infrastructure and human capitals, the Zongos lagged behind. This disparity might not necessarily be the outcome of a deliberate governmental policy even though the expulsion of Nigerians by Busia is enough grounds to suggest otherwise. The people of the Zongos to an extent self-imposed themselves into segregation. They viewed secularity and westernization as antithetical to their conservative Islamic beliefs.
The era of de-facto segregation did phase out with the ever expanding population of the country resulting in a merging of “outskirts” with “downtown”. With it came more and more people from the Zongos enrolling into schools and competing for the spaces in academia, business, politics and civil service previously hegemonized by non Zongo resident. One would have thought that was going to be the precursor to a reawakening in the Zongos. Decades down the line, the situation is deteriorating.
To be clear, Ghana does not have it all. As a nation, we struggle with a number of basic social provisions like the supply of potable water, constant electricity, adequate number of quality schools, among others. But the situation is worse in the Zongos. Almost everything social ill has come to be synonymous with the Zongos. Dirty streets, choked gutters, unplanned neighborhoods, decrepit and derelict schools. The list does not end; high rates of illiteracy, dropouts, and teenage pregnancy. And then there is the issue of violence albeit not on an Iraq or Boko Haram magnitude, poverty and the entire community tagged as a hub for every vice.
When one single name is laden with this package, it becomes hard associating with it gratuitously. But once you become comfortable identifying with it, owning the struggle to change the narrative over that name becomes easier. You assert your relationship with the community while fighting to tell the story from the lion’s viewpoint. Like feminism seeks to empower women to voice their stories without the voiceover of privileged men, zongoism or whatever word fits, should promote the voices of people from the Zongos.
More than that, it should be a conscious effort to bridge that gap between “us and them”. Even though not deeply entrenched and lawfully segregated, a disparity between Zongos and other communities do exist and it will only get worse over time. If a top dollar premium is not placed on reducing the illiteracy rates and numbers of students dropping out after and while in secondary schools, it is only a matter of them before we circumference ourselves in internment camps of poverty and underdevelopment.
If we continue to sit unconcerned with arms folded, it is only a matter of time before Sakawa (cybercrime) becomes the order of the day and any other honest means of living with a moderate income becomes stigmatized. We have already allowed ourselves to slip down that slippery slope. When young men quit school to make quick bucks and they become the most suitable suitors in the community, then you know we are already heralding our descent.
We can only reverse back to the modicum gains we made a few years back if individuals who rose to the top of their professions during those very years return to the communities they escaped from. The externalities of their presence will be immeasurable. If a doctor who grew up in a Zongo community stays in the same neighborhood or at least returns frequently, imagine what a potential Sakawa boy will think about the prospects of education for a Zongo boy like him. Imagine the scholarship schemes and welfare funds we can establish when we have lawyers, engineers, teachers, accountants, and economists actively participating in their mosque’s “sadaqa” fund?
That is what Zongoism should look like at least. All hands brought on board to tackle the ills which have beset our community for far too long. Not entrusting its solution into the hands of politicians who come on the eve of elections promising development funds and employment agencies. At least that is a marked difference from the era of prayer mats and ablution kettles donation.
Zongoism should be about “no child left behind” in the provision of education, an end to forced marriages and domestic abuse. It should mirror the aspirations of the nation or even outpace it. Zongoism should be about us distinguishing between “standing up for our rights” and engaging in senseless acts of violence. And when we get oppressed while standing up for our rights, we should have lawyers and legislators who will bring the police to book. Something which should have happened during the 2010 situation at Madina Zongo.
Zongoism should change our voting pattern to one based on issues and not some perceived hatred of us by a political party. If the NDC candidate in your community is doing great stuff, that is awesome. If not, then you should know that voting for the umbrella is not some God ordained act. You can perfectly vote for a competent NPP candidate and that would not be an automatic ticket to hell.
I could keep on talking about what Zongoism should be but you get the picture. Zongoism is about bettering ourselves, developing our capacities beyond being excellent awure (wedding) organizers to a well-organized community where a 14 year old high school student is not shy of associating with in the midst of other students from gated communities and “residential areas”.