I know many a Nigerian national would not take kindly to the caption of my article. The fact of the matter, however, is that it is better to tell the cold, unpleasant truth than to pretend that the kind of ethnic- and region-based presidential politics subscribed to by some major political parties in Africa’s most populous country is one that is worthy of emulation.
What is rather sardonically fascinating, for quite the opposite reasons, however, is the fact that some Ghanaian citizens have begun demanding precisely this sort of unsavory political culture and/or regime that is more likely to guarantee deepening ethnic divisions than foster the kind of cross-ethnic cohesion which is the fundamental prerequisite to forging a civilized modern/postcolonial sense of nationhood.
Recently, for example, a Mr. Seth Tagoe, appearing before the Mills-appointed Constitution Review Commission, called for the establishment of “a rotation of the Presidency on ethnic basis[,] so as to introduce equity at the presidency” (See “Lawyers Reject Presidential Rotation System” (MyJoyOnline.com 9/29/30). The primary, and it also appears the sole, grounds for such ethnocentric advocacy, on the part of the petitioner, is the fact of no Ga-Dangme indigene having been democratically elected President of Ghana. Interestingly, as the three prominent Ghanaian lawyers who were reported to have promptly rejected such parochial political arrangement aptly pointed out, were such a system to be endorsed, not only would the Universal Adult Suffrage upon which Ghana’s Fourth Republican Constitution is predicated be flagrantly aborted, our very sense of a cohesive national identity would be seriously impaired, almost definitely beyond repair.
For starters, in a democracy, it is the voting majority that determines which party and presidential candidate forms and runs the government, not simply any marginal band of (even genuinely) aggrieved citizens who would have their will and/or desire legislated as law. Thus in objecting to the present constitutional arrangement, Mr. Tagoe appears to be advocating for the sort of barely manageable political culture which prevails in Nigeria, largely the handiwork of the Hausa-Fulani-dominated northern-half of that country.
Perhaps the ever-rational and constructive Prof. Mike Oquaye put it best when he offered the following riposte: “What kind of [presidential] rotation do we anticipate? Someone tells me that there are more than five-hundred recognized tribes in Ghana[,] and even more than [one-]thousand unrecognized ones: so what is the level of rotation, for example, and wouldn’t such an arrangement be deepening ethnicity which we also want to avoid?” (See “Lawyers Reject Presidential Rotation System” MyJoyOnline.com 9/29/10).
The drift of Prof. Oquaye’s all-too-rational argument can hardly be disputed, although I would not venture as far as seeming to endorse that which clearly does not exist, by way of the approximate number of “ethnic groups,” as distinguished from “tribes,” in the country. Needless to say, if any self-perceived tribe in Ghana is not officially recognized, then, of course, there is almost every reason to believe that it is perhaps largely composed of a bunch of some charlatanic cynics. There are those unenlightened citizens, for example, who believe that an Asante, Akyem, Adanse and Fante are different ethnic nationalities when, in fact, these groups are essentially discrete pre-colonial polities belonging to the same Akan meta-ethnic nationality.
Among the Akan, however, there are seven or eight cross-geopolitical tribes of matrilineage. In other words, belonging to any of these tribes depends on the prior membership of one’s mother, even though there have been historical instances, largely at the level of the aristocracy, or royal families, in which membership has been patrilineally based, although such instances have been more of the exception than the rule. Among the aforesaid tribes are Aduana, Biretuo, Oyoko, Agona, Asene, Asakyiri, Asona and Ekuona. And so among enlightened Akans, the concept of tribe is something quite different from what the anthropology textbooks have to relate on the matter.
Mr. Tagoe, the staunch advocate of a rotational presidency, however, has a sticky problem on his hands; and the latter regards precisely what he means by “no Ga-Dangme” ever having been president of Ghana. For in my personal experience as a Ghanaian, for example, I have never known a Ga person from Osu, Korle Gorno, Labadi or James Town who desired to be identified more as a “Ga-Dangme” rather than more appropriately as a “Ga-Nyo.” In other words, a Ga, a Krobo, a Shai and an Ada may collectively be classified as “Ga-Dangme” but in real life, an Ada native may feel closer kinship with to an Ewe. And, in fact, there is a joke to the effect that: “If you go looking for an Ewe but instead come across an Ada, you just met the first-cousin of the Ewe that you went on the lookout for.” It is also significant to observe that of the three prominent lawyers who promptly and roundly rejected Mr. Tagoe’s rather self-serving call for what I have decided to term as “The Hausa Presidential Roulette,” two of them are of bona fide “Ga-Dangme” ethnicity. Prof. Oquaye, a brilliant scholar and longtime faculty member at the University of Ghana, presently serves as Deputy Speaker of the Ghanaian Parliament and MP for Dome-Kwabenya in the Greater-Accra Region. Perhaps what needs to be promptly added is the fact that in terms of his deep appreciation for our Fourth-Republican Constitution, few of his fellow countrymen and women can legitimately claim to rub shoulders with Prof. Oquaye.
Then there is also Nii Ayikoi Otoo, who is a former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. Nana Asante Bediatuo, the third legal savant, on the other hand, is an Akan of Akyem-Abuakwa sub-ethnic nationality. His presence among the three legal minds is quite interesting, since as the Apagyahene of Akyem-Abuakwa, at least that was his designation when I first met him at the Ofori-Panyin Palace nearly a decade ago, is quite close in kinship to the current presidential candidate of the New Patriotic Party. I guess what I am driving at is the fact that Nana Asante Bediatuo could have equally cynically highlighted, had he so desired, the fact that the widely-acknowledged numerically disproportionate contribution of the people of Akyem-Abuakwa towards seminal Ghanaian scholarship, independence struggle and economic development has not negatively motivated any among us to demand the sort of democracy-regressing political arrangement for which Mr. Seth Tagoe appears to be dangerously clamoring.
While, indeed, the current arrangement makes it rather difficult for a qualified ethnic minority to accede to the presidency, for democracy is veritably a game of numbers, and the majority often prefer to vote for one of their own, still, by and large, Ghanaians have reasonably demonstrated far beyond the reach or grasp of other nationalities with a similar level of socioeconomic development, that we are capable of privileging merit and substance over the sheer accident of ethnicity. And while we may not be necessarily be proud of our ultimate choice for president among the 2008 presidential candidates, nevertheless, it is quite remarkable to observe that Prof. John Evans Atta-Mills did not merely become president on the strength of his being of Fante-Akan sub-ethnicity.
For it goes without saying that “Tarkwa-Atta” needed to clinch the electoral endorsement of a remarkable percentage of Ghanaians resident across all ten regions of our country.
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI) and author of a forthcoming volume of poetry titled “The Obama Serenades.” E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.