Ethnic Diversity, Democratization and Nation-Building in Ghana

Prof. Kenneth Agyemang Attafuah, Ph.D., B.L.
Barrister-at-Law & Managing Solicitor
Ken Attafuah LawPlace
Accra, Ghana


The processes of creating the single geo-political entity known as Ghana out of hitherto multiple, diverse and independent ethnic states have been well told elsewhere and do not bear a detailed exposition here: colonial conquest, subjugation, purchase, trickery and domination. Virtually all African countries, with the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia, are artificial products of the same instruments of incomplete and inadhesive cementation for colonial political and economic convenience.

Nowhere in Africa did the tools of colonial coercion, subterfuge and penetration result in nation-building, or in the crystallization of a sense of nationhood. It is now trite that the introduction of schools, the construction of development infrastructure such as roads and railways, and the extension of missionary works into the heart of the continent principally aimed at serving the material interests of colonial powers.

Admittedly, in some measure, these innocuous processes, such as participation in colonial education and civil service, had the unanticipated consequence of bringing persons from diverse ethno-cultural backgrounds together, especially in the urban, and forging new networks of friendship, amorous relationships and interdependence that occasionally transcended the strength of ethnic ties and other primordial loyalties, and, as a corollary, a sense of nationhood, even under colonialism. Many such relationships provided the initial platforms for the anti-colonial political movements that subsequently enveloped the continent. Nevertheless, the emergence and continued relevance of voluntary ethnic associations as instruments for meeting the material, emotional and social security needs of new entrants to the urban milieu underscore the power, resilience and relevance of the ethnic group in the urban setting. In the urban context, strong in-group solidarity is often correlated with strong out-group hostility. Ethnocentrism or ethnic prejudice grounded in the belief that one’s ethnic group is superior to another group or all others combines with ethnic discrimination or tribalism to impede nation building and national development efforts in Ghana. Tribalism continues to bedevil the emergent nation. Formation of political parties, patterns of voting in presidential and parliamentary elections, political appointments and termination of public sector appointments, formulation of development policies and programs, and distribution of development projects are all heavily influenced by ethnic considerations.

Focus of Paper

Against this background, the fundamental questions discussed in this paper are twofold:

1. How is Ghana developing nationhood and tapping on the richness of its diverse cultures and communities?
2. How can Ghana nurture diversity and make the best out of it through, for example, strengthening democratic institutions
Prior to engaging with these issues, it is important to explore briefly the challenge of nation building within the context of multiple-ethnicities within a country, as well as the meaning and elements of the very concept of nation building. This brief excursion is important in order to clearly situate the subsequent discussions in a proper conceptual framework.

The Challenge of Nation Building amidst Ethnic Diversity

Despite its significant strides in nation-building, Ghana, like many other African countries, remains severely fragmented, fractured and mired along ethnic lines, with other primeval ties and loyalties binding most people far more tightly than the State can currently dream of or claim. The classic example is the traditional Asante-Ewe hostility which has been capitalized upon by nefarious politicians since Ghana’s independence in 1957. This is in spite of great personal friendships and business partnerships across the two ethnic divides, as well as numerous flourishing marriages between women from matrilineal Asante and men from patrilineal Ewe ethnic groups that are considered hugely advantageous to the children of such marriages. A great number of Asante-Ewe concubinages also abound in Ghana. Yet, it appears that the two ethnic groups are considered the most fearsome ethno-political enemies, with mutually strong suspicions and attributions of ill-will, and in their traditional settings, fantastic myths that justify out-group hostility and in-group solidarity, and, by extension, the maintenance of social distance and social exclusion of each other.

Mutually negative stereotypes and prejudicial attitudes also assail relationship between the large cluster of ethnic groups from the Northern parts of Ghana and those from the Southern parts. Partly rooted in the nature of the colonial and post-colonial political economy, the systems of resource mobilization for economic production, and the unfair distribution of educational and development facilities, all of which have benefitted the resource-rich South to the disadvantage of the relatively resource-starved North, and which have largely been maintained to date, “northerners” as individuals and groups often tend to be the object of vile discrimination in employment, housing and the provision of social services by “southerners”, while the former also tend to find a scapegoat in the latter for virtually every personal or group failing. At the root of the problem also lies the fact that the development of the resource-endowed South has been made possible by and with the critical supply of labour from the resource-deprived North.

The challenges that have attended the business of forging a sense of nationhood in Ghana have been daunting, longstanding and occasionally debilitating. Ethnic competition, rivalry, conflict, domination and marginalization often characterize inter-group relations in Ghana. In parts of the country, particularly in the Bawku municipal area of the Upper East Region and parts of the Volta Region, contiguous ethnic groups are still caught up in pre-medieval rivalries and inter-ethnic warfare even in the face of long traditions of intermarriages and joking relationships. These internecine conflicts are often fuelled by incendiary politicians and acted out by idle armies of unemployed youths who are misled into the belief that their long-term economic prosperity is tied to the political fortunes of the politicians.

Occasionally, the inter-ethnic violence is spurred by arguments and conflicts arising from the mundane activities of living. Indeed, in 1994, disputation deriving from haggling over the price of a guinea-fowl sparked off latent strife in one part of the Northern Region of Ghana, which quickly transformed into an explosive, full-blown war between two anciently contiguous ethnic groups – the Konkombas and the Nanumbas. More than four thousand people died in that war and numerous others became internally displaced persons; thousands moved to the heart of Accra and established a “temporary” slum settlement, known as Sodom and Gomorrah for its scale of unspeakable immorality, crime and violence.

The point is that Ghana has its fair share of inter-ethnic difficulties that frustrate and complicate the process of building a formidable nation out of the many distinct ethno-cultural groupings. Yet, tensions in ethnic relations in Ghana have been sufficiently well-contained and well-managed; the country continues to pursue with zeal, even of lopsidedly at present, the agenda of nation-building. A veneer of inter-group hostilities is discernible in social and political life, especially as evidenced in voting patterns and free speech on the more than 320 private Fm radio stations in the country.

Despite these major deficits in national integration, democratization and nation-building, the centrifugal forces of ethnic diversity have not been allowed to degenerate into full-scale armed conflicts and as witnessed in many African countries such as Liberia, Ivory Cost, Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda.

The Meanings of Nation-Building
i. Nation Building as State Reforms and Reconstruction
In one sense, nation-building refers to broad efforts to promote political and economic reforms with the objective of transforming a society emerging from conflict into one at peace with itself and its neighbors. In Europe, the end of the Cold War provided the occasion for the United Nations, NATO, the United States and a range of other states and nongovernmental organizations to engage directly and increasingly in nation-building operations.
In post-conflict societies, nation building equals state-building. It often entails the massive investment or deployment of financial resources and humanitarian aid. Indeed, in the contemporary world, nation building is often a strategy of modernization modeled after the Marshall Plan – the magnificent reconstruction effort initiated by the United States in 1947 to rebuild some European nations devastated by the World War II. The implementation of that plan cost $12 billion between 1948 and 1951 under President Truman. Nation building also frequently requires the use of armed force to ensure law and order. As in Liberia, Sierra Leone, DR Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Belarus, armed force was considered vital to securing the appropriate environment for the pursuit of other restorative and national reconstruction measures.
ii. Nation Building as National Identity Formation
The concept of nation building has a second, broader and probably more compelling meaning. In its broad sense, nation building refers to the process of constructing or structuring a national identity through the use of state power. The exercise of state power in aid of nation building commonly finds expression along two key dimensions, namely social psychological engagement and infrastructural development. The aim of nation building is to foster a shared and coherent national identity, orientation and unification among the people or peoples of a state in order to ensure the long-term political stability and viability of the state.
Typically, nation building in this broad sense entails the simultaneous use of strategies of mass reorientation, including propaganda, and major infrastructural developments to foster social harmony and economic growth. The second variant of nation building also emphasizes the development of the social sector comprising education, health and family welfare, water supply, sanitation, housing, social welfare, nutrition, rural employment and minimum basic services.
Symbolic efforts and manifestations of such orientation in aid of nation building may include (a) the introduction of superficial national paraphernalia such as flags, anthems, pledges and currencies, national identity cards; (b) the institution of national holidays; (c) the establishment of national colleges and universities, airlines and stadiums; (d) the institution of a lingua franca or national language for the state; (e) and the production, articulation or propagation of national myths. Nation Building is thus a complex and dynamic process with ideological, philosophical, political, socio-economic and cultural dimensions.
This broad view of nation building, then, is a deliberate political and cultural process of constructing or moulding a common nation out of hitherto independent political and ethno-cultural groups or tribes. In other words, the task of nation building in this broad sense is the creation of a universal national identity and sense of common destiny for people who previously belonged to different social formations and who defined and perceived their destinies as diametrically opposed. Thus, for instance, at the time of independence in 1957, the Gold Coast was a motley collection of different nation-states previously formed from the magma of wars, political alliances dictated by fear of military conquests, colonial annexation and impositions. Indeed, the Asante Kingdom, for example, was an amalgam of several smaller nation-states that came together to form a single political, military and religious entity “because of war” – osa nti. [The Asante nation gained its name from the corruption of the “Osa nti” to “Asante”]
Nation building in much of Africa commenced in the post-independence period as a reaction against the divide-and-rule tactics of the colonialists. It is an enterprise of persuading, manipulating, moulding, cementing and bonding diverse peoples into a nation with a common emotional relationship to the state and modernizing and improving their material socio-economic circumstances. That process continues to this day. This form of nation building thus requires the subordination of all competing ethno-cultural, primordial loyalties in a state to an emergent nationhood and supra ethnic identity.
Evidently, this meaning of nation building as national integration is a more daunting phenomenon. Thus understood, nation building appears to be a difficult and lifelong process. Canada has been treading the path of nation building since its founding fathers signed the Independence Proclamation and Constitution in 1877. A key challenge facing Canada today consists in finding ways to harmoniously integrate the two dominant “founding groups”, the French and the English, as well as the Aboriginals Canadians and the large numbers of immigrant and visible minority populations whose labour and other contributions helped build the country’s magnificent economic development infrastructure and sustain its enviable level of human well-being.
Today, the United States is grappling with a different kind of nation building founded on revitalizing the relatively shattered American economy, saving industries, jobs and banks, paying for education, rebuilding families, and generally restoring hope to millions. Building on the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., America under President Obama is also building a nation that is more inclusive and fairer, kinder and gentler. And the United Kingdom is now re-inventing itself in an effort to accommodate its increasing minority populations.
On the African continent, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria are all entrapped in what appears to be in a state of perpetual infancy in nation building and the facilitation of economic development. Malawi, Burundi, DR Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe are examples of other countries on the continent that failed to build nations when they should have, and are still grappling with the painful costs of development without nation building.
Elements of Nation Building as Identity Formation and Governance
Fundamentally, nation building is about building one identity out of many; it is about harnessing and utilizing state resources to deliberately create a shared and broad-based sense of belonging to an socio-legal entity that is greater than the sum of its parts, i.e., to the nation, with all its emotional, spiritual and symbolic ramifications and connotations. It is about using good governance and democratization to foster a new common identity for the citizenry. In other words, it is to engender inclusivity and national integration.
What, then, may be described as the essential elements of this variant of nation building in Ghana as a counterfoil to the divisive centrifugal forces of ethnic diversity? Thus conceived, the foremost elements of nation building in Ghana, in my view, include the following:
a. Fostering a sense of national identity and belonging;
b. pursuing socio-economic development vigorously, equitably and responsibly in order to enhance the overall quality of life of people in all parts of the country in a sustainable manner;
c. Promoting inter-group harmony to reduce ethnic prejudice and discrimination;
d. Advancing and protecting human rights, administrative justice and integrity in private and public life;
e. Nurturing an open society to engender transparency and reduce all forms of tyranny and caprice;
f. Fostering respect for the rule of law, transparency and accountability;
g. Ensuring individual and public safety and security; and
h. Creating the social and political space for a vibrant civil society to flourish and participate in the process of governance at the local and national levels.
Nation building, as with all processes, aims at the production of a preferred outcome, namely, a society in which most citizens emotionally and intellectually identify themselves with the salient manifestations of its nationhood, and the citizens evince a sense of unity, a common outlook, and a sense of shared destiny.
Strategies Employed in Ghana to Manage Ethnic Relations and Promote Nation-Building
Since independence, Ghana has worked toward the development of nationhood by developing and implementing several legal, social and economic policies and programmes aimed at integrating the country’s wealth of diverse ethnic groups into a mosaic of cultures. It has also instituted measures to tap on the richness of its diverse cultures and communities. The following are illustrative:

1. Adoption of Affirmative Action policies and Programs

At the start of the Nkrumah’s pre-independence Government in 1950, there were significant differences in levels of development between the South and the North. Even to this day, there are portions of the North that are derogatorily referred to as “overseas” because of their acute levels of underdevelopment. The Nkrumah Government introduced and implemented an Accelerated Development Plan with in-built elements of corrective affirmative action. The policy continued throughout the reign of Nkrumah in the post-independence era till his overthrow in 1966. This resulted in a preponderance of physical development structures, including factories and schools, all of which aimed at facilitating the expeditious development of the North. This included a policy of free education for students from the North, and scholarships for bright students from the North to pursue secondary education at first class and prestigious schools in the South. Regrettably, not enough attention was paid to the qualitative output from those structures, and the affirmative action policies, like all such truly affirmative action measures, should have been time-bound, implemented within a specified time frame, monitored and periodically evaluated to ensure that they were indeed addressing the educational imbalance it was introduced to address. This was not done, and the whole programme became a sorry subject of criticisms as, by 1966 (i.e., 15 years later), there was no evidence that the gap was closing.
2. Use of Mandatory Constitutional Framework for Nation Building
Ghana’s constitution compels the deliberate implementation of efforts and initiatives to achieve national integration. Socio-economic development and nation building are constitutional imperatives in Ghana. Indeed, Ghana’s Fourth Republican Constitution (1992) provides the legal framework for the pursuit of socioeconomic development and nation building.
In the Preamble to the Constitution, the people of Ghana assert their conviction that the purpose of establishing a democratic framework of government is to “secure for [themselves] and posterity the blessings of liberty, equality of opportunity and prosperity”. Article 1(1) also provides that the welfare of the people of Ghana constitutes the basis for the exercise of governmental power. The essence of that welfare is elaborated upon in the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) found in Chapter Six of the Constitution which, in Article 34(1), calls for the use of law and state power to establish “a just and free society”.
Accordingly, Article 34(2) specifies the realization of the following fundamental conditions of liberty and human welfare for Ghanaians as the foremost job description of the State:
a. Basic human rights
b. A healthy economy
c. The right to work
d. The right to good health care; and
e. The right to education
Given the great importance the framers of our Constitution attached to these cardinal conditions for ensuring the welfare of the people, Article 34(2) obliges the President to “report to Parliament at least once a year” all the steps taken by Government to ensure their realization. Indeed, for Ghana, these foundational elements of human liberty and prosperity constitute the key benchmarks of socio-economic development, which the Government of every President must earnestly strive to achieve. This article therefore provides the compulsory template for the essential contents of the President’s Sessional Address to Parliament.
The Constitution also obliges the President to pursue, and report to Parliament on, other key policy objectives contained in the DPSP. And I must add that the President does not have to report to Parliament only once a year, but at least once year! Minimalism is not a best practice when it comes to public sector accountability.
Significantly, Article 17 of the Ghanaian Constitution prohibits discrimination on several grounds, including gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, place of origin, religion, creed, political opinions, occupation, social status or economic status. The nation will be well built when every Ghanaian is allowed to feel that they really belong in Ghana; when no one is unjustifiably discriminated against on the basis of based race, colour, ethnicity, ancestry, place of origin, sex, age, political affiliation or belief, physical or mental disability, economic status, social status, and family status. When no competent public officer is dismissed from employment because of their real or perceived political colour, the nation will be deemed to be well built because it will be truly inclusive.
Article 35(3) of the Constitution provides as follows:
“The state shall promote just and reasonable access by all citizens to public facilities and services in accordance with law”.
In a most progressive pursuit of nation-building, Article 35(5) of the Constitution charges the State with the obligation to “actively promote the integration of the peoples of Ghana; it charges the State to prohibit discrimination and prejudice on the grounds of place of origin, circumstances of birth, ethnic origin, gender or religion, creed or other beliefs”.
Towards this end, the State is further required in Article 35(6) to pursue and implement appropriate measures, among other things, to:
(a) foster a spirit of loyalty to Ghana that overrides sectional, ethnic and other loyalties;
(b) achieve reasonable regional and gender balance in recruitment and appointment to public offices; and
(c) provide adequate facilities for, and encourage, free mobility of people, goods and services throughout Ghana.
The State is also obliged to take steps to eradicate corrupt practices and the abuse of power, and to promote political tolerance among Ghanaians.
In Article 36, the State is enjoined to competently manage the national economy with a view to maximizing the rate of economic development and securing the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every person in Ghana. It must also provide adequate means of livelihood and suitable employment for the people, as well as public assistance to the needy.
In particular, Article 36(6) requires the State to afford equality of economic opportunity to all citizens, and to take all necessary steps to ensure the full integration of women into the mainstream of the economic development of Ghana.
These, then, are the core goals of nation building as enshrined in the Ghanaian Constitution. Nation building in contemporary Ghanaian society, as in the contemporary world generally thus includes the active promotion of good governance, including the eradication of corruption and the prevention and control of administrative injustice and abuse of power. Indeed, it may be said that nation building today is fundamentally about good governance, and good governance is best assured when it is anchored in sound leadership, equity and accountability.
Nation building in Ghana will be advanced when Ghanaians sincerely and prudently “protect and safeguard the independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ghana”, in accordance with Article 35(2) of the Constitution, and “seek the well-being of all”.
The nation will be built when, as required of us by Article 35(2), Ghanaians sincerely “promote just and reasonable access by all citizens to public facilities and services in accordance with law”. We further build the nation when we enable people to achieve their goals without placing frustrating impediments in their way.
We build the nation when our chiefs set personal examples of tolerance and acceptance of diversity, when they engage in high level cultural diplomacy – when the Agbogbomefia of Anlo pays a courtesy visit to the Asantehene, when the Nayiri of Mamprugu exchanges visits the Nzimahene, the Wa Na visits the Ga Manste, or the Drobohene visits the Krobohene, and forge friendships in real and substantive ways. What positive impact on inter-group relations there would be, when ethnic groups join forces to stage food festivals in celebration of each other cultures, and organize language clinics for members of the other ethno-cultural group.
We build the nation when we protect and defend the civil rights of all persons from discrimination and unfair treatment regardless of their political orientation or affiliation, or their religious persuasion or creed. We build the nation when we do not abuse our power or authority at the workplace; we build the nation when we do not subject our subordinates at the office, factory or church to bullying, sexual harassment or other form of demeaning treatment or humiliation.
We build the nation when we cultivate among all Ghanaians “respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms and the dignity of the human being.” The dignity of the human being, we are told in Article 15(1), is “inviolable”. That means that human dignity as sacred. A nation is built and sustained when it respects the dignity of all persons within its boundaries.
3. Use of Socio-Economic Development as Strategy for Nation-Building
Socio-economic development provides an impetus for nation-building. Much racial bigotry and ethnic prejudice melt away when the processes of socio-economic development plunge strangers from different social groups into unavoidable cooperation or collaboration on such platforms as school-based formal education, the workplace, sports teams and military battalions and police contingents.
The introduction of the boarding school system in Ghana, for instance, served as a training ground in inter-group tolerance, peaceful co-existence and social harmony. More than the university, the factory or the church, it was in the boarding schools of this country that the most enduring inter-ethnic friendships were forged, and where long-term political alliances were incubated and nurtured. Respect for religious diversity and tolerance was better fostered among our peoples from interactions in the boarding school than from the state propaganda apparatus.
In some measure, the attainment of higher education and economic success reduces ethnic bigotry. The ethnic bigot with a superiority complex accords genuine respect to the rich or successful business executive from a despised ethnic minority background. Such an executive is treated with a greater sense of fairness than his/her compatriots or other in-group members. It is evident from the foregoing that socio-economic development is the handmaiden of nation-building.
4. Commitment to Fairness in the Distribution of National Development
Ghana’s pursuit of sound economic development, likely to be boosted by the exploitation of crude oil from the South from the year 2010, can be best anchored and sustained in a well-considered strategy of nation-building, which will ensure a just and equitable distribution of development projects, recognizing that, and that a country with a lopsided social and economic development structure based on geography and ethnicity is not building a nation but commotion. To this end, Government in 1993 established the University for Development Studies as the first tertiary institution in the North, which has a catchment area of approximately 41% of Ghana’s land mass. This was part of broad efforts by the State to bridge the yawning educational and developmental gap between the South and the North. This was partly founded on the recognition that literacy is empowering, and illiteracy and ignorance are often perceived, rather sadly, as a ticket to ill-treatment. The University was also to open up the North to vibrant intellectual activity and increased engagement with civil society. Similarly, in 2009, Government established the Northern Sector Development Authority (NSDA) – a special statutory agency devoted exclusively to overseeing the development of the Northern parts of Ghana. Although Government has pledged to provide significant seed money, the NSDA has the power, among others, to mobilize financial and other resources to finance approved development projects.
5. Development and Promotion of a National Peace Architecture
Between 2005 and 2007, Ghana developed and tested a comprehensive Peace Architecture, with the support of the United Nations Development Fund, which contributed immensely to the management of ethnic and political conflicts in the country . The key elements of the peace architecture included specific roles for the following statutory bodies, including the National Peace Council which was deliberately created, to (a) serve as an early warning system; (b) ensure continuous monitoring of conflict situations and “conflict spots”; (c) intervene in conflict situations and pursue such measures as are reasonably necessary to arrest and redress the situation; (d) make appropriate recommendations for action by Parliament, the Executive and other statutory agencies such as the Ghana Police Service, and social dialogue bodies such as the Council of State, CHRAJ, NCCE and the National Media Commission; and (e) make recommendations to enhance democratization in a particular institution, community, District or Region as may be appropriate.
The social dialogue and deliberative bodies that have played important roles in preventing and managing ethnic conflicts and building peace in Ghana include:
a. Affirmative action policies of the Nkrumah Government – establishment of boarding schools, fair and equitable distribution of scholarship across the country, and multi-ethnic appointments;
b. Broad civic education on citizenship, rights, obligations and national cohesion by constitutional and social dialogue bodies such as the:
c. Erstwhile Centre for Civic Education of the late 1960s;
d. National Charter Secretariat of the 1970s; and
e. National Commission for Civic Education – the constitutional body charged with the promotion of civic awareness about duties and responsibilities of the citizenry;
f. National Commission on Culture;
g. The Council of State;
h. National House of Chiefs
i. National Council of Religious Bodies
j. National Peace Council
k. Committee of Eminent Chiefs
l. National Media Commission;
m. The role of Parliament and Municipal and District Assemblies in enacting legislation and by-laws that promote nation building;
n. The Role of the CHRAJ, pursuant to Article 218(b) of the Constitution, in investigating complaints “concerning the functioning of the Public Services Commission, the administrative organs of the State, the Armed Forces, the Police Service and the Prisons Service in so far as complaints relate to the failure to achieve a balanced structuring of those services or equal access by all to the recruitment of those services or fair administration in relation to those service”. The typical focus of concern in such complaints and investigations are ethnicity, gender and regionalism;
o. The role of the National Reconciliation Commission in excavating Ghana’s history of human rights violations, administrative measures and other acts and omissions that fractured the nation or otherwise undermined national cohesion;
p. The role of the Judiciary in the progressive interpretation of laws during adjudication in order to advance socio-economic development, national cohesion and unity;
q. The role of political parties in serving as national platforms for the articulation of common ideologies, visions and aspirations for the governance of the nation; and
r. The role of the National Identification Authority in establishing a credible national identification system to accelerate socio-economic development and promote a symbolic sense of belonging through the use of the national identity card.

6. Use of Traditional Social Mediators

The chieftaincy institution is an integral part of traditional and contemporary systems of governance in much of Africa. In The Position of the Chief in the Modern Political System of Ashanti, Prof. K.A. Busia demonstrated the centrality of the role of the chief in resolving a large variety of conflicts, both intra and inter-ethnic. In Ghana as elsewhere, chiefs continue to be veritable instruments for conflict resolution and peace-building, even if some of them, through their insincerity, incompetence and unbridled wealth acquisition, are the engineers of the perennial chieftaincy and land disputes. But the role of the Committee of Eminent Chiefs led by the King of Asante, (Otumfou Osei Tutu II, Asantehene) in exploring solutions to the long-standing Yendi Chieftaincy Affairs has been most lauded, although the inability of the State to effectively resolve the criminal justice dimensions of the dispute has thrown a heavy damper on the Committee’s otherwise glorious efforts .

7. Teaching Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution Skills to Youths

Teaching young people to eschew conflict (whether ethnic or political), to prevent conflict, to avoid being drawn into armed conflict, and to resolve conflicts when they arise, is one of the most important duties of Government and society. As former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, puts it, “There is no higher goal, no deeper commitment and no greater ambition than preventing armed conflict”. This must simply be one of the core concerns of the State, through such agencies as the Ministries of Justice, Education, Youth and Sports, independent national human rights institutions, National Youth Council, civil society groups and competent individuals across Africa. Indeed, in the context of the Konkumba- Nanumba conflict, the personal intervention of Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, now President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was crucial to ensuring sustained peace. Dr. Chambas recognized that, beyond the usual ceasefire, peace-keeping and other official interventions by security agencies, enhanced youth awareness of the triggers of conflicts, the possession of critical skills in conflict prevention and alternative dispute resolution such as negotiation, mediation and conciliation, were critical to sustaining inter-ethnic peace and avoiding retrogression to armed conflict. Thus, in 2001, at his invitation, Dr. Chambas and I worked quietly with Konkomba and Nanumba youths, part in hotel conference rooms, part on a soccer field in the township of Bimbilla in Northern Region, and part in the traditional areas of two opposing communities. The goal was to enhance their youth leadership skills, equip them with appropriate tools for preventing and resolving conflicts, and to foster in them a sincere appreciation of the humanity of each other and the acceptance of their diversity as intrinsically and mutually beneficial.

Civil society has not been left out the process of equipping youths to effectively engage in conflict prevention and conflict resolution. In March 2009, the Accra-based West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), an agency of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) founded by multi-millionaire George Sorros, organized a three-day training in conflict resolution, human rights, and post-conflict reconstruction for youths from all over the West African sub-region at the Kofi Annan International Peace-Keeping Training Centre.

8. Cross-Cultural Diplomacy By Traditional Rulers/Authorities

Sincere cultural exchanges and courtesies between traditionally opposing traditional leaders, such as the Asantehene in the Ashanti Region and the Agobgbomefia of the Asogli State in the Volta Region of Ghana were instrumental in neutralizing and abetting ethnic tensions between their peoples in 2004. Our chiefs must institute internal diplomatic cultural exchanges. We will register significant breakthroughs for peace and inter-ethnic respect if, for instance, paramount chiefs pay courtesy State visits to the “rival” chiefs, and learn over a week or several days, the ways of the other. Such domestic diplomatic missions by our traditional rulers would serve to bridge the gap between our different cultures and tone down the inter-tribal prejudices if they are seen by the populace to be sincere and gratifying. Let our traditional leaders take up the staff of new cultural leadership and forge genuine multiculturalism in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda, and the impact will transcend intercultural symbolism and contribute to the establishment of a society of genuine belonging. In entrenching a welcoming society of genuine belonging, we must emphasize the values of tolerance, toil and teamwork, as the famous African scholar, Professor Ali Mazrui, would put it.

9. Institutionalization of Public Educational Programmes

Strategies for managing ethnic relations and promoting nation-building in Ghana have also included educational campaigns by constitutional and statutory national bodies such as the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), For instance, the NCCE in 1998 staged several town hall meetings on identity, civic responsibilities and nation-building. Similarly, in August 2001, to help deal with the challenges of nation-building in the face of evidence of growing tribalism , CHRAJ organized a national consultation on combating tribalism and promoting nation-building. The program line-up included the following topics and issues:

a. Preventing Racism/Tribalism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance through the Promotion and Enforcement of Human Rights Principles and Norms

b. Overview of Ethnic and Racial Conflicts in Ghana: Causes, Origins and Factors Contributing to Inter-Group Violence

c. Voices of Victims

d. Dealing with Racism/Tribalism
i. Multiculturalism: The Strength of the Nation
ii. Embracing Diversity in the School and Workplace
iii. Cultural Competency and Skills for Cross-Cultural Communication
iv. Characteristics and Skills of Effective Interculturalists

e. Prevention of Ethnic and Racial Conflicts Through the Creation of Mediation, Conciliation and Social Dialogue Bodies

f. Social Inequality: Trends, Pattern and Impact on National Unity and Development

g. Strategies for Promoting National Integration and Ethnic Harmony – The Role of Civil Society:
i. Traditional Authorities
ii. Youth Associations
iii. The Media

h. Realization of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Right to Development as a Strategy for Preventing Ethnic and Racial Conflicts

i. Correcting Persistent Patterns of Inequality Affecting Ethnic Groups

j. Enhancing Ethno-cultural and Religious Harmony Through Good Governance, Lawfulness and Social Equity

k. Strategies for Combating Racism/Tribalism and Related Intolerance at the Workplace and the School – The Role of:
i. Employers
ii. National Association of Teachers
iii. National Union of Ghana Students
iv. Trades Union Congress

l. Basic Skills in Mediating Inter-Group Conflicts

m. Voices of Hope

The CHRAJ fostered a sense of community ownership of the program through an expansive engagement of civil society actors in the planning process; it also drew resource persons from all sectors of Ghanaian society, and replicated the program across the ten administrative Regions of the country. These events were given wide publicity through the print and broadcast media, particularly through radio and television, in English and many local languages across the country.

10. Establishment of Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commissions

In Ghana, one recent method of national re-tooling for nation building was the institution of a national reconciliation process that sought to excavate the truth about gross human rights violations and abuses of the past, offer opportunities for healing, apology, reparation, forgiveness and reconciliation. The object was fairness and inclusivity.
Several countries that have undergone cataclysmic political change have found resort to transitional justice mechanisms as important ways of freeing up the bottled energies of the people occasioned by the pains of conflict in order to enable channel their energies into contribute meaningfully to the development of their countries, and to focus on nation-building. Such other post-conflict societies as South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco, Sierra Leone and Liberia have experimented, with different degrees of success, with truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs) as mechanisms for healing and nation building. Cote D’Ivoire, Togo, Kenya and Zimbabwe are at different stages of establishing transitional justice mechanisms.
11. Creating an Educational System that Produces Nationalists

In promoting nation building and national integration, it is imperative that Ghana consciously implements an educational system that produces supra-ethnic nationalists who are well-informed, cosmopolitan, tolerant, understanding and accepting of diversity.

12. Adopting a Policy of Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism emphasizes the value of, and contributions to the development of the state by, each cultural group being a constituent part of the state. It is a policy that encourages the recognition and celebration of the principle of unity in diversity. It is a policy that partly underpins the relative peace of such countries as Canada and Switzerland. Encouraging individuals and groups to learn the language and culture of persons who are culturally or linguistically different from themselves could help advance the purposes of national integration and cohesion. It is desirable and fulfilling to celebrate ethnic diversity not as calamity but as opportunity.
13. Introducing or Expanding Cross-Cultural Excursions

Deliberately planned and well supervised excursions of students and youth groups to schools and communities different from their own could also contribute to fostering inter-group harmony, trust, respect and cooperation. In many places, student and youth group excursions already exist, and these must be purposely expanded to cover more young persons in order to broaden the scope of coverage and the scale of beneficiaries.

14. Abolishing the First-Past-the-Post System of Governance

The popular practice of winner-takes-all on which the electoral systems of much Africa is based is inimical to national integration and nation-building. It provides an excuse and justification for bloc ethnic voting that invariably allows ethnic groups that are in the numerical majority to not only win elections but also to sweep and grab all public and political offices in a manner akin to sharing the spoils of war after raping and plundering the countryside. It is politics of exclusion and marginalization, and it is a politics that is inherently against the grain of constitutionalism and good governance, even if it is legal by virtue of being the law of the land. In place of this legalized rape and plunder and marginalization, which in Africa means the exclusion and marginalization of large number of ethnic minority groups, must replaced with the system of voting known as proportional representation.

15. Expediting Decentralization

It is imperative that the process of decentralization of government be accelerated, with appropriate devolution of power, and the provisions of adequate financial resources and responsibility.

f. Future Directions in Nation Building
Our country will make significant advances in nation-building if we tailor our development strategies closely to the DPSP contained in Chapter Six of the Ghanaian Constitution. As outlined in the DPSP, the key principles that must be earnestly promoted in order to achieve effective nation-building are:
(1) Pursuit of a viable socio-economic development agenda;
(2) The cultivation of a vibrant and competent crop of leaders imbued with focus, high ethics and liberal, republican democratic values
(3) Fair and equitable distribution of the benefits of development;
(4) Promotion of inclusivity, acceptance and shared sense of belonging;
(5) Prevention of Discrimination based on the prohibited grounds enumerated in Article 17(2) of the Constitution and elsewhere;
(6) Ensuring Responsible Media reportage of potentially divisive ethnic remarks; and
(7) Promotion of fundamental human rights, social justice and the rule of law.
To succeed with nation building efforts generally, there must be a firm commitment on the part of Government and civil society to social justice – a view that everyone is entitled to fair treatment, equitable access to the opportunities and resources of the State, and to prosper in life; a view that those who are disadvantaged by circumstances and the accidents of birth must be helped along the ladder of personal growth and development. It is a view that the nation is better built and made even stronger when no one is left behind; when, in the language of the times, “we all move forward in the right direction”.
Nation Building is not an event but a process; it is not a revolution, but it is no fancy needle-work either. Nearly twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, German unification is still a struggle, although from the outside, it seems like a seamless process of integration and socio-political harmony. Failed families and suicides increased vulnerabilities and crime, a sense of anomie and purposelessness were among the initial burdens that many former nationals of East Germany shouldered in the early phase of the unification. South Africa continues to experience the pangs of racial unification and the promotion of multiculturalism. In Ghana, the task of promoting ethnic tolerance and political harmony continues to be as difficult today as was.
The answers, as I have emphasized, lie in continued democratization, the promotion of good governance, human rights, multiculturalism, cultural diplomacy sound economic management and social justice.



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3 responses to “Ethnic Diversity, Democratization and Nation-Building in Ghana

  1. That was some scholastic article!

  2. anthony

    these are some of the scholarly articles i want . prof. thanks for the information

  3. Dajo Ugba

    The article very scholarly and timely. Pls.what is publication date of the are article?

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