Tribal Bigotry and Political violence:Elections 2016 and beyond

It is yet that time of the year when a nation heads towards her national elections and already we are seeing the peace marches or matches or games to which we have become accustomed.

One would expect that the farther we go on our democratic journey, the more distant such cries for peace should become to our memories.

So then where lies the curse such that once every four years, a nation must toss and turn just because there is an election around the corner?

The cliché goes that “history teaches us that history teaches us nothing” but I put it forward that “he who fails the lessons of history may not survive the lessons of the present”. It is hence crucial that lessons from happenings around the continent are not lost on us.

For example, the political turmoil currently embroiling South Sudan is producing harrowing and unimaginable atrocities committed in the name of tribalism i.e. Dinka tribe of Salva Kiir against the Nuer tribe of Machar.

The situation though only forms part of what has been the general pattern of almost all political violence across Africa, whether in Kenya between Kalejins and Kikuyus or Liberia where Gios, Krahns and Manos massacred each other or in Rwanda where the massacre of Tutsis by Hutus is now a worldwide folklore.

It is therefore hard to ignore from these examples and more that the crux of Africa’s political violence resides squarely in ethno-tribal distrust and bigotry. And here in Ghana too, the ethnically coloured hate speeches by some top notch politicians should confirm to us that we are no exception to such a problem.          `

But in Ghana here, the tendency is to take the ostrich approach, sweeping this problem under the carpet and pretending that it does not exist, citing intermarriages.

But who said there were no inter-tribal marriages in those countries in which it occurred? In fact, in Rwanda, moderate Hutus who disapproved of the 1994 genocide were not only unheeded but also massacred alongside the minority Tutsis whom they sought to defend.

While we pray that those atrocities are never visited on our nation, we cannot in the least sense indulge ourselves in the delusion that we are immured from them. Consequently, this season offers us a unique opportunity to delve into the issue in search of a permanent solution such that we would not have to toss and turn every four years.

To begin with, it will be helpful to recall that this nation in her early colonial history was referred to as the British protectorate, but why was that so?

Who was being protected from whom?

Why must there be the need for a protectorate at all? The answer is that the British saw it necessary to bring the entire country under their control and protection in order to enforce peace and hence enable trade to flourish.

Indeed, critical to the bond of 1844, was the element of protection which the chiefs sought from the British in the face of the invasions from the Asante Empire.

To cut a long matter short, prior to the era of British colonialism, our forefathers did not live side by side as brothers and sisters, rather they lived in strife and animosity; tribe against tribe; slaughter of neighbouring kindred and selling the rest into slavery.

Indeed, none can deny that deep rooted in the folklore of the various tribes are oaths, myths and tales reminding each people of painful memories of the past.

It is true that through the establishment of a state bureaucracy and the institution of a national security force, the British were able to ENFORCE the peace.

The question though is: to what extent did the British MAKE the peace? Have the wounds from previous battles, slaughter and slavery been healed? Have the prejudices rooted in history been overcome?

Or perhaps, is this nation which is a creation of colonialism, a mere hodgepodge of people forced together by a constitution and a flag?

Events here and elsewhere on the continent suggest that the peace is far from being made. Subsequently, it should not surprise us that the political landscape presents the possibility of the reigniting of old battle fields; the re-aligning of tribe against tribe; and when wily and power hungry politicians cash in on the situation, the stakes would always be so high when it comes to our national elections. We can then only expect the “cry for peace” to continue, unless of course we can permanently overcome these challenges.

So it is clear we can never run away from our painful history, but we can confront it and defeat it for the benefit of posterity. Subsequently, any search for the panacea to this problem must begin with a battle against history.

As a first step, history must be given more importance in this country. The objective history tracing the lives of our forefathers must be on the fingertip of each Ghanaian. Why?

By shining the light of truth on our history, we can replace prejudice with factuality; we can identify the boundaries between fallacy and reality.

Why is this necessary? Because by knowing more about the history of ourselves and our neighbours, we can accept ourselves first and then also our neighbours.

For example, one major misconception among a certain group of Ghanaians is that, Ewes were brought to Ghana by Nkrumah. In the minds of such people therefore, Ewes are aliens and have no rights to enjoy as Ghanaian citizens.

Misconceptions like this breed hatred, fear, distrust and insecurity. In the end they turn the country into a time bomb waiting to explode.

So by putting our history in the hands of the ordinary man, we will be able dispel such misconceptions and the threat they pose; we will arm the nation with the truth, and the truth shall set us free.

Also by shining the light of truth on our history, we can as a nation be united in accepting what transpired between our forefathers; we will in unison acknowledge and applaud that which was right, but collectively admit and condemn that which was wrong. Subsequently we would shy away from the vices of our fathers but embrace the rights they did and celebrate our common bonds and positive values.

Toward achieving this, history in our schools must be given serious attention. History must be a core subject from basic to secondary levels of our education; and it must be thorough and comprehensive. It is pathetic to see the indifference which is currently attached to history in our schools.

Apart from something very scant which appears in other subjects, not much else is known of our country’s earliest history; the battles fought, a detailed account of origins of colonialism; not even much on our contemporary history.

Subsequently, we risk perpetuating a generation of ignorant intellectuals; and by perpetuating ignorance, we create a fertile ground for tribal prejudice, mischievous misconceptions and malicious bigotry to triumph in our national psyche.

So by breathing life into our history, we put the ordinary man in the forefront of the struggle for national unity and clear the obstacles of ignorance and prejudice out of the way.

And having succeeded in exposing our history and establishing the facts, there is the then need for a thorough national reconciliation which is not politically motivated, but one geared towards addressing the wrongs of our history.

There is the need to publicly air out and allow past enmities to dissipate; and to pledge our determined commitment to eschew the traits of the evils of ethnocentrism, bigotry and foolish pride which bedeviled our fathers; to apologize to each other on behalf of our fathers; and stretch a hand of genuine forgiveness to our tribal neighbours.

This should be a sustained effort; and should result in the commemorating of important events in our history dating back to pre-colonial era.

Of course it will be a daydream to think that true national unity can be achieved overnight; or that in a few years’ time, we can completely eviscerate ethnic conflicts from our landscape.

But with a sustained effort helped by the right kind of education, we can lay the foundations for the achievement of the “impossible”, if not by ourselves, our children at least. After all, lessons from the world prove that it’s been achieved elsewhere. Why not us?

It therefore behoves us to rise up together and breathe life into our motto of “One people, one destiny”; and if we slack, let lessons from other African countries goad us on, for “Only the best is good enough for Africa”; and only the best is good enough for Ghana.

Can we make the election jitters a distant history, a distance history comparable to “the wolves that once infested our forests”?

Yes, we can! Let’s collectively shout, Yes we can!

God bless Ghana!

By Propser K. Senyo

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