Whether we like it or not, ethnic bigotry is part of Ghanaian culture. Those saying the resignation of the bigoted Deputy Minister wasn’t good should think again. I find these people sounding like those liberal whites Martin Luther King Jr talked about in his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ who would rather have “negative peace” which is the absence of tension than a positive peace which is the presence of justice. But that is what majoritarian societies breed: the acceptance of the status quo — trust me, I lived it as a Dagomba in Tamale.
One thing I have always told myself truly truly is that tribal bigotry is not the preserve of any group in Ghana. We have it in most of the larger groups. Any groups larger like the Ashanti, the Dagomba, the Ewe, and Gonja have bigoted and disparagingly negative views of other groups. This tends to affect the smaller ethnic groups more because these larger groups have political power and in turn can and do use it to affect how resources are assigned in this country.
I have lived most of my formative years in Tamale and I can assure you that Dagombas have some detestable stereotypes about the Gonja mostly because of our wars with them before modern Ghana was created. My best friend Seidu Ibrahim Mumuni is Gonja and he’s like a family to me now. My mom loves him just like her own son and her mom loves me the same. That means we have made progress. But we still need more to do. There’s still a lot of mistrust about inter ethnic marriages in Ghana so you get my drift. Just ignoring the problem or pretending it doesn’t exist does not change that or make it go away.
Now, there’s a difference between bigotry and simple banter. And I see a lot of people mixing things and having their feelings hurt over these two things.
My friends at Legon including Sylvia Sarbah and Dziedzorm Kwame Dadugblor and Elias Adanu used to tease me about how I pronounced certain words which they taught was distinctly Northern or Dagbanli inflected. I wasn’t amused by that. Not one bit. In fact Sylvia Sarbah still teases me about how I pronounce her name. But that’s banter, it is not bigotry. Same goes for R or L sounds by Ashantis. Getting teased of course doesn’t make you ecstatic but don’t confuse it with bigotry. Bigotry is an entirely different issue which involves feelings of superiority and used as tools to discriminate. When you start saying Ashantis are arrogant or greedy or Ewes are prostitutes etc, then you are getting into bigoted territory. You’re doing so because at this stage, you’re assigning a socially tactically valued behavioral trait to an entire group of people. And these socially tactically valued behavioral traits can, and if history is any teacher often tends to have dire negative socioeconomic and security consequences and repercussions for groups so tagged.
Because people are not thinking this issue through but approaching it emotionally, they are saying things that are below their intellect.
When you put things up on the surface like MLK wanted with race relations in the US in the 60s and 70s, you make progress. We need everyone to work towards extricating ethnic prejudice from their hearts. It is not a competition about who is more prejudiced than the other. We need to work together. Now that it has come to the forefront, what do you think a Dagomba man would do when he’s thinking about saying something bigoted against a Frafra or an Akan man? He’d obviously think twice or face the wrath of Ghanaians. It forces people to think about the welfare of others when they are doing personal and public dealings.
If you are angry about what happened because you feel you are being accused, then you are approaching this the wrong way. I recently told a Dagomba youth group I’m in that they should never feel better than any Ghanaian ethnic group. Our quest to develop ourselves doesn’t come or should not come at the expense of others. It is not a zero sum game. We are brothers. We must be brothers.
“Though passions may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”—Abraham Lincoln.