In February 2014, I delivered a speech at the Springboard Road Show in Tamale.
When the time came for questions from the audience, one young man wanted to know why I was using my journalism to target prominent people from northern Ghana. Kwami Sefa-Kayi of Peace FM was at this event and witnessed what I am saying. This young man is not alone. Some prominent people from Northern Ghana have told me that I am allowing southerners to use me against my own people.
One of them recently told me that if President Mahama fails to win a second term, it would be a disgrace to all northerners, including me. He claimed the last time a northerner [Dr. Hilla Liman] was president, his regime was short-lived and that must not happen again.
I don’t think there are many Ghanaian journalists whose journalistic works and writings have hurt the John Dramani Mahama’s administration than me. I work as a Ghanaian, and I don’t consider ethnicity in my line of duty. For instance, when I met rLG’s Roland Agambire in my investigations into his companies’ involvement in the GYEEDA and SADA scandals, we spoke Gurune (Frafra).
He calls me his younger brother and I call him my elder brother. We speak the same I did my work without any ethnic consideration, knowing the potential damage my work could cause to his business. This is what I expect to see in the Ghana I am prepared to die for. We should rise above ethnicity.
Unfortunately, however, I get disappointed and frustrated almost on daily basis. I encounter people who eat, drink, breathe and preach tribalism.
There is tribalism in every part of Ghana, and some persons still believe that they ARE superior to others because of their ethnicity.
For instance, there are people who see failures of President Mahama as the failure of all northerners instead of as an individual.
When I write about some of these issues, I am either accused of fanning the flames of tribalism or that I am suffering from inferiority complex. Some have said that such topics are no-go areas. They are too sensitive to be talked about. But I think they are wrong.
Tribalism and ethnocentrism are dangerous, but at individual levels, they are not as scary as when they are systematically woven into the political fabric of a nation. The danger of tribal politics is that it gets people to use their hearts, and not their heads. Many countries have been ruined by this. Sadly, however, tribalism and ethnocentrism have been the most potent weapons for the NDC and NPP.
On Monday the immediate past Roads and Transport Minister, Dzifa Ativor, reportedly told party supporters in the Volta Region that the NPP had targeted and jailed Ewes in the past and if the party came back to power, it was going to target Ewes and jail them again. With this irresponsible statement out and condemned, it is assumed that Madam Ativor would lose the few admirers she won when she resigned over the bus branding scandal.
The Volta Regional branch of the NDC has condemned her comments and so has the founder of the party and former President of Ghana, Jerry John Rawlings. Indeed, such comments and thoughts should never be supported by anyone who has their SIXTH SENSE intact.
But let no one be fooled. One can predict, and accurately so, that in most quarters of the NDC, Dzifa Ativor is the biggest idol of the party right now.
Her ratings have gone up. Some of those who condemn her publicly will call her privately to say, it was a public relations stunt. “You spoke the truth. You spoke our mind,” they would tell her. “We are behind you. No shaking!”
This position is not different from what I heard in 2013. When I investigated the corruption in the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA), one person that appeared to have been immensely culpable was then Youth and Sports Minister, Clement Kofi Humado. When government promised to deal with the culprits, I thought he was going to be the first person to be charged. But my sources in government told me that he wasn’t going to be touched.
The reason? Some strong elements within the party, I was told, had argued that when the NPP won power, many of the previous government officials who went to jail were from the Volta Region so they would not allow their own party (NDC) to touch anybody from the party’s “world bank,” especially when Woyome was already undergoing trial. Not long after I got this information, there was another piece of information that high-ranking government officials had met over the GYEEDA scandal and it was decided that Abuga Pele would be used as the scapegoat.
Adom FM did a story based on that information and spoke to Abuga Pele. He said he had also heard about that meeting and the said decision.
No government official denied this news item. Abuga Pele was subsequently charged for willfully causing financial loss to the state among other charges, and Kofi Humado was used as a prosecution witness against him. Meanwhile, Humado had resisted opposition from some GYEEDA officials and signed the worst contracts that cost the nation hundreds of millions of cedis.
So what Dzifa Ativor said did not surprise me at all. It appears this is a well-rehearsed position, and I am sure many party people have been saying similar things at secret meetings with chiefs and people of the region. A lot of people have condemned Dzifa Ativor, but that is not enough. That will not solve the problem we have at hand.
The dangerous use of ethnicity in politics goes beyond Dzifa Ativor. It goes beyond the NDC. The NPP are also doing same. There are some who argue that since this is about Dzifa Ativor, we should stick to condemning her. They think any discussion that looks at ethnic politics beyond her amounts to equalization and justification of her cowardly act. I disagree.
There should be an open and frank discussion on this. Dzifa Ativor is not the main problem. The main problem is the system that gave birth to such extremist political ideas. The main problem is the millions of voters across the country who are swayed by such demonic political messages by the NDC and NPP.
Are we interested in tackling this dangerous ethnic manipulation in our politics or we want to pretend that all is well? Or should we contend that ethnicity is a dangerous taboo subject, shun talking about it and wake up one day to witness what happened in Kenya in 2007 or in Rwanda in 1994? If we want to solve it, then it must go beyond the condemnation of Dzifa Ativor because she won’t be the last person to incite one ethnic group against another for political gain.
The NPP have often accused the NDC of doing tribal politics. Though the NPP are not innocent, they are right in this regard.
But have the NPP bothered to find out why the NDC is always in a hurry to appeal to the ethnic sentiments of the minority groups in the country?
Yesterday, I said on Facebook that in as much as we condemn Dzifa Ativor’s irresponsible and dangerous comments, we should not lose sight of the actions of the NPP that make it easy for some minority ethnic groups to fall for such tribal sermons from the NDC.
Let me emphasise again that the NDC and the NPP both engage in ethnic politics.
Neither of them is clean. But what I have come to realize is that the NDC do tribal politics of inclusion, while the NPP do ethnic politics of exclusion.
Both are negative and condemnable, but if the NPP is not careful, it will continue to provide the fuel for the NDC’s tribal politics in addition to its own tribal politics.
The NPP as a party enjoys support from the largest ethnic group in Ghana, the Akans (mainly the Asante and Akyem), while the NDC enjoys strong following from the Ewe ethnic group and from almost all ethnic groups in the three regions of the North.
The founder of the NDC is an Ewe, and it is believed that is the reason the Ewe people support the NDC. Even though the founder of the NDC, Jerry John Rawlings, overthrew the first president to have come from northern Ghana, people of northern Ghana supported Rawlings massively in his two terms.
Neither of Rawlings’ two vice presidents was from the north but they supported him and still support the NDC.
The NPP is from the Dankwa-Busia (they sometimes add Dombo when it’s convenient) tradition, many of whose founders were in the Akan speaking group.
In recent times, some actions of the NPP seem to look down on and have alienated some of these smaller ethnic groups. The NDC are often quick to approach those people and go like, “we have told you they don’t like you… we are your people…We like you…” And it is working. Finding out why some people say the NPP knows how to govern but the NDC knows how to win elections.
How does this arrangement affect the nation negatively? In Africa, the only thing politicians fear is losing an election. But if the government messes up, and can be assured of re-election because of ethnic politics, then the nation is in trouble. It will give room for untold impunity, the kind we are experiencing in recent times.
It is in the interest of the nation that we eliminate the factors that serve as incentives for tribal politics. When politicians have no tribal wall to lean on, they will treat the voter well. The NPP often blames the NDC for playing the tribal card but I think the NPP’s actions have fueled this dangerous agenda by the NDC in addition to the NPP’s own ethnic politics.
If you want to know how the NPP has acted in alienating some ethnic groups and made it easy for them to swallow NDC’s politico-ethnic bait, here are a few examples:
In 2011, there was a by-election in Atiwa in the Eastern Region, which turned violent. At a gathering with supporters of the party later, NPP’s flag bearer, Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo Addo, told them the violence that had occurred in Atiwa was a precursor to what would happen in the 2012 elections. That was when he declared the 2012 elections an “all-die-be-die” affair. When addressing the party supporters, he said, “they [the NDC] think we Akans [with reference to the NPP] are cowards…” This unfortunate utterance by the party’s flag bearer did not help the perception that the NPP is an Akan party.
A man who is hunted for food does not oil himself and sit by fire. For some, out of the abundance of Akufo-Addo’s heart, his mouth confirmed it. Did he or the party apologise?
No! They justified the statement and claimed everyone who condemned it quoted him out of context. The NDC used it and continues to use it to further its ethnic political agenda.
In the 2012 elections, an NPP MP and financier of the party, Kennedy Agyapong, asked Akans to kill Ewes and Gas because of attempts by some NDC parliamentary candidates in the Greater Accra Region to prevent Akan traders from registering in their constituencies.
They feared the Asante traders would vote for the NPP candidates. The NPP supported Kennedy Agyapong and hailed him as a hero when he was finally released by the BNI.
In 2015, a tape said to be the voice of former Finance Minister and Member of the NPP’s Council of Elders, Yaw Osafo Maafo leaked. In that tape he was heard saying even though about 90 percent of Ghana’s natural resources were concentrated in mainly Akan-speaking regions of the country, it was people who come from regions without resources that were governing the country.
“…You have all the resources, but you have no say in the management of your resources and that is what is happening. Your development depends on the one who has no resources,” the voice said.
“You can’t say this openly,” he cautioned the Council members, but added that they were at liberty to talk about it.
“We should protect ourselves, we should protect our income. No one who is the source of income, the source of revenue, the source of resources allows another person without those resources the chance [to rule over them].”
Mr. Yaw Osafo Maafo did not deny the voice. He admitted that was his voice. He only claimed that the voice was doctored, which many people, including Abdul Malik Kwaku Baako, openly doubted.
“I do not find any gaps in what was recorded,” Mr. Baako said, adding, it would be difficult to defend or justify contents of Osafo Maafo’s leaked tape.
Osafo Maafo, with his level of education and intelligence, should have known that resources are not only limited to what nature puts in a country.
The human resources are also important. The Upper West Region, may not have much resources but some of the best surgeons and medical doctors in Ghana come from that region.
But ethnocentrism has a way of clouding one’s intelligence to overlook this and look down on others.
When you look down on people and make them feel inferior, they will not vote for you.
If you buy a private jet for your wife and disrespect her, another man with a bicycle can take her away from you if he respects her.
That is why President Mahama travelling to the Volta Region alone causes panic. There are people who are mature enough to overlook comments such as Osafo-Maafo’s, but they are an insignificant minority.
When the NPP decided to compile what it called foreigners on the Ghanaian voters’ register, it did its compilation on the Ghana-Togo border.
When it was suggested to the NPP that it appeared to be targeting people in the Volta Region, the party said it was doing the same thing in the other two border regions and would publish those findings as well.
It appears this was not the case. The party did not publish the any findings from the other border regions.
Granted that all these examples I have cited have no merit, the NPP’s record has not helped in dispelling the perception that the NPP is an Akan party.
Since Ghana returned to multiparty democracy in 1992, the NDC has been led by an Ewe, a Fante (Akan) and someone from Northern Ghana. In the case of the NPP, all those who have led the party since 1992 are Akans. The most hardworking person in the NPP now and the most probable successor of Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo Addo is Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia. The last time I asked someone in the party how easy it would be for Bawumiah to lead, the person said it would be difficult for him because of his ethnicity.
The NPP would not admit it but the struggle between the Akyem and Asante factions within the party has hurt and continues to hurt the fortunes of the party. These incidents have become good fuel for the NDC’s vehicle of tribal politics. These actions are not any better than what Dzifa Ativor has said.
Ethnic politics in any form and by anybody is bad and condemnable. And we cannot solve this problem if we treat tribalism as a taboo subject. We must not be hypocritical and assume that the problem is only in one party.
Let’s confront this unpleasant reality and openly and frankly. Let’s keep educating those who think on tribal lines.
Ghanaians should be wise and know that when it comes to elections, they are putting their destinies and those of their children in the hands of others. If Dzifa Ativor or anyone tells you to vote for the NDC because the Ewe in the party would go to jail, ask her whether jails are for innocent people. If anyone says vote for Mahama because he is a northerner, ask him or her what that would mean for you because you don’t have drinking water but someone in Mahama’s family has a private jet.
Irrespective of who wins an election, we should push for equal distribution of resources so that no ethnic group would feel they must vote for a particular party before they can be heard.
The power brokers in the NDC and the NPP should make it easy for any person from any ethnic group to lead the parties. President Mahama is reported to have said in the north that he would not have been able to come this far if he had been in the NPP. They will not believe him or take him seriously if the NPP demonstrates that an Asante, Akyem, Ewe or Dagomba have equal (and real) chances of becoming flag bearers of the party.
Finally, the National Peace Council, the political parties and interest groups should take up this matter more seriously than the periodic condemnation of dangerous utterances. What happens behind closed doors, such as Yaw Osafo Maafo’s meeting, is more dangerous than what is uttered in public.
The threats tribal and ethnocentric politics pose to our development and peace are deadlier than terrorism. We are not fighting it because we are ignorant or hypocritical about it. For the politicians, it is in their interest to keep it this way. There is no easier way of manipulating a people than dividing them.