In large part, we’re accepting of each other. We know we’re different in terms of language and other cultural traits and don’t mind too much. In truth, we prefer to tease each other about our differences, rather than go to war over them. Would you really kill and maim and destroy, because your neighbor wraps his piece of cloth on his bear torso and not on a jumper shirt, or because he opts to wear a smock, rather than wrap a piece of cloth around his body? Or more delicately, shall that attitude of his towards another mortal of your choice be the basis for your leaving town to go to war? Come on, let’s get real. Who cares that I eat Waatse every morning and not Komi ker kenagn? Fetredetsi may not be my thing at all, perhaps because I simply don’t get the navigating bit right and unfailingly soil my shirt, much to Davi’s annoyance. I may call Fufuo Fufui, but why should such trivia form the basis for schisms between us, rather than options to chose from and impress visitors with?
Last time I looked, some Fantis were holding their own on a verandah of the third floor, in the Ministry of Finance, there in Accra and didn’t seem too concerned that there’s a whole world around them. And if an Ewe sought to join in, he was welcome, even if he spoke faltering Fanti, Pidgin or Queen’s English, or some intelligible combination of them. Who cared? All they required was that Apetor have a sense of humour and therefore, be able to give and take at short notice. This defining attribute has held true over the years for many, in spite of ourselves. Indeed, come to think of it, the lyrics of Yen araa ye asaase ni was written in Twi by an Ewe, Ephraim Amu, who also composed the music! We’re accepting of our diversity and that’s a good thing; a thing to be cherished and nurtured, because its a source of strength and not weakness.
We cherish diversity in the flora and fauna around us, because it makes for beauty and the different species occupy different niches in a delicately balanced ecosystem which wouldn’t work otherwise. We’ve learnt that diversity within and between populations work to the advantage of a species of plant or animal life forms. The population as a whole is better positioned to survive changes in its ecosystem, when there is sufficient diversity in it. What constitutes strength in an individual specimen of the population today may become a weakness tomorrow, because of an extreme and challenging change in the ecosystem. With diversity, there just may be other specimens within the population who possess what have been weaknesses hitherto, but constitute the right traits for surviving the challenges of the reconfigured ecosystem. Diversity of itself introduces strength in any population, so let’s cherish and take advantage of it and not be fearful of otherness.
How then shall we manifest our Alpha CORE attribute through daily conduct? In the last 60 years, we’ve been vowing to do honourably with regard to our collective called Ghana, through the National Pledge in its various iterations. When we’re able to stumble through its lines at all, we congratulate ourselves as very knowing, forget what we just pledged and then get on with our lives as if nothing significant had happened. I’m certain you’ve seen and perhaps been entertained by clips on TV, or on the Web in which an interviewer presses a subject to recite the National Pledge, with ridiculous, even hilarious results. Just so that we both know what I’m referring to, here is the current iteration of our National Pledge:
I promise on my honour
To be faithful and loyal to Ghana my motherland.
I pledge myself to the service of Ghana
With all my strength and with all my heart.
I promise to hold in high esteem
Our heritage, won for us through the blood and toil of our fathers; and
I pledge myself in All things to uphold and defend the good name of Ghana.
So help me God.
So there; no need to continue fumbling and mouthing nothings when asked. Four beautifully phrased and undoubtedly, noble promises and pledges which ought to guide our everyday decisions. Yet do they really guide our choices? I suspect that if an interviewer cared to ask, he’d receive some pretty weird and inexplicable responses about why we call Ghana our motherland, rather than our fatherland. Worse than that, I strongly suspect that we most of us are unable to relate with the somewhat abstract entity called Ghana as intimately as the word motherland elicits. As a result, a disturbing discord between the pledge and the choices we make pervades our way of life in … yeah, our motherland.
Indeed, I suspect that if we tried, we many of us would have a really hard time assembling sufficient evidence to convince our grandchildren that we’ve been faithful and loyal to our motherland, rather than our fatherland; that we’ve rendered service to the nation with all our strength and heart and not to our own selves only; that we’ve held our heritage in high, rather than low esteem and, or that we’ve upheld and defended the good name of Ghana consistently and nobly, rather than pursued personal well being first and only. No, I’m not making accusations here, though I may sound that way. Rather than take a guilt trip after 60 years, let’s turn this ship around and head somewhere, by pledging to our neighbour from now on. The nation-state is an abstraction introduced to us by the European colonizers and we’ve been struggling to own the concept for 60 years with ahem results. I don’t suggest we throw the concept away altogether, but rather, that we take a different approach to building that larger and diverse community called Ghana.
Permit me to pledge to you, fellow Ghanaian and do pledge to me in return, as we live together in the region called Ghana and beyond. Let’s pledge to each other to conduct ourselves in a particular way and hold each other accountable for the pledges we make. That way, we can have community together, however diverse we are ethnologically, in religious beliefs, or in any other measure of sameness. That way, we can have a common CORE which transcends the provisions of our Constitution in fact and differentiates us from other nationalities. Here’s what I suggest we pledge to each other, with regard to our Alpha CORE attribute:
I promise on my honour to be faithful and loyal to my fellow Ghanaian.
I pledge to defend his right to remain different.
Let’s keep it simple and straight forward. In pledging to defend our Alpha CORE attribute, we’re pledging to stay together and reassuring each other that we have nothing to fear about our neighbour’s otherness. If he holds fast to that promise daily, then he’s not going to rise up in the middle of the night and come at you, merely because you’re of a different ethnic background, or religious persuasion; which more likely than not, you are. And since you have the same disposition towards him, hey, you enjoy community together. Of course, it takes more than reciting a pledge to build a nation from people of such diversity. We’d have to teach our grandchildren from kindergarten upwards how rewarding it is to belong to a common nation and how disadvantaged they would be without nationhood, using role playing games and other devises. And there are a plethora of additional instruments we’d have to employ to assure success in deliberate nation building.
By the way and just for the avoidance of doubt, an Alpha CORE of the sort I’m suggesting has nothing to do with xenophobia. Being accepting of each other does not require or imply hostility towards non-Ghanaians. Indeed, it is in our best interest to remain welcoming and hospitable to friendly foreigners. For, which of us doesn’t have a nephew, or niece; an auntie or uncle; a brother or sister resident in a foreign country, who sends money from time to time in response to our pleas and text messages asking for immediate help in paying school fees, settling hospital bills, discharging bloated funeral debts, or reroofing the dilapidated ancestral home? It cannot go well with our expatriate communities across the globe (and I mean across the whole globe), if we are perceived to be xenophobic. We had a good record of hospitality towards foreigners until promulgation of the Aliens Compliance Order (1969). Its inhumane execution in 1970 arguably earned us the equally inconsiderate Ghana Must Go expulsion from Nigeria in 1983.
Pledging our Alpha CORE attribute is intended to help us be more deliberate in building community of a specific kind with our neighbour who is identified as Ghanaian by our Constitution. That doesn’t prevent, or excuse us from building other kinds of community with the rest of humanity. ©
Glossary of terms:
Waatse : rice boiled with beans and served with spicy sauce and other condiments;
Komi ker kenagn : fried fish and chilli, served with boiled, fermented thick corn dough pressed into a ball;
Fetredetsi : rich, spicy okra sauce, served with boiled, fermented soft corn dough;
Fufuo / Fufui : boiled cassava, plantain or other starch source mashed into a thick, smooth bulb. Served with rich, spicy soups;
Apetor : affectionate Ewe title for an adult male;
Yen araa ye asaase ni : the title of a patriotic song. It translates to ‘This is our land’.