Two months ago at my inauguration on these grounds, I urged that we renew the sacred compact that comes with being able to call yourself a citizen. I am proud that I am able to say without equivocation, I am a Ghanaian citizen” – President Nana Akufo-Addo, Independence Day address, Mar 6, 2017.
This is a good time to reflect on who we are, as we bask in the 60th anniversary of the founding of our nation, Ghana. Sixty years is a short time with respect to nation building, although some may hold the view that we’ve long come of age and ought to be much further down that path than we are today; that there really is nothing worth celebrating. Whichever view you hold on the matter, one fact remains; that we, being different in significant and diverse ways, have held together for 60 years and that is worth celebrating. Considering that we never sat to initiate a union, but were amalgamated as a colony for the administrative convenience of a foreign people who had no understanding of what divides us, I’d say we’ve done pretty well in maintaining the fragile union called Ghana.
Data from our 2010 census indicates that, taking ethnicity and religion for illustration’s sake, we are quite a hodgepodge of peoples. Akans made up 48% of the population, Ga-Dangme 7%, Ewe 14%, Guan 4%, Gurma 6%, Mole Dagbani 17%, Grusi 2%, Mande 1% and various others (including naturalised Ghanaians) 1%. Looking at our demographics from the perspective of adherence to religious belief, 5% professed no belief in particular, 13% identified as Roman Catholic, 18% as Orthodox Protestant, 28% as Pentecostal or Charismatic Protestant, 11% as adherents of Other Christian beliefs, 18% adhered to Islamic beliefs, 5% to Traditional Religious beliefs and 1% to various other beliefs; such as Buddhism (see diagram).
Our being able to hold the union together for 60 years despite this degree of diversity among the 27 million who regard themselves as Ghanaians is noteworthy, particularly in this age of revived fascism (now fashionably reconfigured under the banner of Identity Politics). Yet the absence of open and sustained hostilities cannot pass for the presence of unity, as the UK’s vote to exit the EU demonstrates. So, as we reflect on the 60th anniversary of our independence (or, as I suggest here; the anniversary of our union), let’s take a moment to consider the CORE attributes which make us one people, despite pronounced diversity in ethnicity, religion and other indicators which now serve as qualifiers for inclusion, or exclusion in some countries.
Clearly, outward measures of sameness like common language, common traditions, common garments, common foods won’t cut it, in defining our CORE. We’re commonly different in all of those outward expressions of culture. Indeed, I’ve often heard compatriots speak of the Ghanaian accent, in reference to our country’s official language; the foreign English language. Yet when we care to listen to each other, we invariably acknowledge that there isn’t one Ghanaian accent in speaking English, but rather many, because we’re able to discern the ethnicity of a speaker to a good degree of accuracy by his accent and that, without linguistic expertise.
What then makes us distinctively Ghanaian, other than the geography of our birth place, which is entirely accidental, because it was appointed by a foreign power for its own ends? (Even then, we‘d need some tweaking of the description, because persons who are born elsewhere may legitimately demand inclusion as Ghanaians, because of descent, or choice through naturalisation, for example). What is that CORE which qualifies us as Ghanaian and won’t go away, even when we choose to adopt additional, or substitute nationalities? I suspect we’d argue about the nature of our CORE attributes till the cows come home, if we tried and then lose it all and call each other names and go to bed no better off than we were the day before yesterday, or when the third chapter of the 1992 Constitution was written; the chapter which defines who are citizens of Ghana. So, rather than take that route, let’s maintain the constitutional definition as sacrosanct and keep the peace between us.
Of course, carrying a copy of the Constitution about is somewhat clumsy, so I’ll suggest four distinguishing CORE attributes; some factual, some aspirational, in the four posts which follow and then leave my fellow Ghanaians room to become totally annoyed or otherwise, just as we tend to become when discussing local politics, the prospects of our preferred soccer club, or in the worst case, the performance of the national soccer team; the Black Stars. Just take a deep breath and hold it for four seconds. Now exhale slowly. See? The world didn’t end when you paused for a moment. So chill out and be entertained, then get mad at me after the four attributes if you will. Lom na va, otherwise Onaapo, which I prefer to render in English as, come if you will, or the blessings I carry will continue to elude you. ©
An earlier version of this post and portions of what follow on the same subject were published on modernghana.com on March 4 & 5, 2017.