Accra! Love it or Leave it – to Asase on Ga anti-Ashanti Xenophobia

Accra! Love it or Leave it – to Asase on Ga anti-Ashanti Xenophobia

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I was recently forwarded a piece posted by good friend Asase on Say it Loud http://sil.ghanaweb.com/r.php?thread=11824875 and titled ‘What fuels the anti Asante xenophobia among Gamei’. He writes

“The purpose of this short essay is …… the visceral xenophobic jingoism that many Gamei tend to exhibit towards the Asante. I have known Gamei of all clans all my life.  From Nungua to Mashie and everything in between, I have connections to al of them.  My bossom friend is from Nungua.  Individually, one couldn’t have a better friend than a Ganyo. On this small forum, Gamei like Bikome, Otu, Wole, the late Commodore, Ataa Lankwei, on their own alone are all great chaps.  Of course, there are individual Ga rascals but overall individually, they are superb.  The problem is when they come together as a people. That is when the stupidity commences.”

My short response is that there is no anti-Asante Xenophobia and if there were, the fault is not with the Ga

There have been several comments and events arising out of the flood and the fire that sadly claimed several lives and Asase’s essay was in response to outbursts on that forum relating to the dismantling of Sodom and Gomorrah.  I think that a reasoned response to his diatribe on ‘Say it Loud’ should be shared with all who may think his way.

The several tribes in country have coexisted peacefully since the British colonised us and have continued to do so after the country was put together by Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah to attain our independence and become a republic.  All tribes in Ghana have borrowed from one another, the Ga kpodziemo has so many variations to the extent the churches have started adopting and adapting the liturgy, the Ga yooshibimo is being used extensively as the basis for the marriage ceremony and of course the Ga yarafeemo rites have been adopted by so many mainly because they have found themselves in Accra.  Accra has always been a melting pot of the diversity of Ghana and any attempt by persons with intent on hegemony of one tribe or culture will be repelled.

I believe that when Asase was born in Ga and went to school in Ga, he found the Ga people very hospitable and accommodating of ‘strangers’, so to speak, though there must have been a few errant groups such as the Ga Shifimo Kpee who found common cause with the Matemeho National Liberation Movement of Ashanti to fuel anti tribal ‘gboi ŋgbewɔ’ sentiments with the chant of ‘Gamei ashikpon, Gamei anoŋ’.  Fortunately they did not succeed.

Now, in case Asase grew up in Ga with several Ga friends without realising that the Ga also have a culture of which they are very proud and would not want that culture to be subsumed for the sake of Ghana much in the same way as Ga has been overrun by all who do not want to go back to their own villages, even in their retirement when there is no advantage to be gained by being in Ga, let me say a word or two about the Ga.

The Ga tenet of inclusiveness, the essence of their existence summed up in the phrase ‘ablekuma abakuma wɔ’ – ‘let strangers come and be part of us’ is why the Ga are the most ethnically mixed of all the tribes in Ghana. So you may find Adanse,and  Alata in JamesTown, or Aneho, Ashanti, Adjumanko and Alata in Osu; Otublohum is replete with many Awamu and Brazilians, Abola has many of Denkyira stock, Teshie has Krobo and there are Ga names that make you wonder where the people come from, but that does not make them any less Ga.  It is that principle of ethnic inclusion and general welcome of all into the Ga polity that has shaped the people.  It is this inclusiveness that has allowed several who are not Ga kroŋ to speak the language, adopt the customs, adopt the names and the identity; some even had to ‘cut’ in order to intermarry to the extent that they cannot be distinguished from Gamei.  There has been no resentment against their assimilation and integration and they are allowed a Ga identity

The Ga concept of governance, with the family head as the ultimate authority, may be at odds with how other tribes view governance, the Ga chieftancy system is largely borrowed and the people are are fiercely republican.  It is this strategy of adoption and integration that provides the resilience that enables them to survive and thrive even though they are now a minority on their own land.  They have won wars based not  on might or numbers but through a strategy of joint enterprise as city states; so where the  Asante may go to war chanting ‘okum apim apim bɛba’, the Ga will cook the war with their eternal prayer that ‘kɛ atwsa akpe, wɔno bɛ miŋ fɛi’.

Asase’s explanation of centralisation as the reason why everybody has to come to Ga to do business ignores that fact that Accra has always played a central role in the economy and politics of  whole country and developments in Ga have benefitted persons from all tribes not just Gamei.  Why Asase singles out the Asante from other tribes is rather bizarre, most Gamei do not know the difference between Asante and Akyem or indeed Akwapim, I had always referred to all Akan as Kwahumei and not in any pejorative way, because those were the people that I knew growing up in Lagos Town, but in his haste to blame the Ga, Asase makes a strange rambling though not too thoughtful a statement.

Accra has become our London.  I use London because it is the capital of a unitary state the size of Ghana.  Also our colonial ties lends itself to useful comparison.  In other developed nations, no city dominates a country like London dominates the UK.  That is what Accra does in Ghana.  Every tribe in Ghana can be found in Accra.  A couple of years ago, a Ga friend who is a member of this forum asked me, the first time we met, when the Asante started coming to Accra.  I explained that until the mid-1970s, Asante by and large stayed in their region.  Then, every village, town or city, even a street in a city had its own rich person.  Teshie had its rich people, Nungua its own, Suhum, Takoradi, Kumasi, Cape Coast, all had their rich men.  The Kumasi timber magnates did not have to go to Accra to be wealthy.  Poku Transport, BM Kuffuor, YF, et al, made it in Kumasi and spent their wealth in Kumasi.  Cape Coast in the 1970s had Kojo Alata, Dakowski, and so on.
Since the mid-1970s, political developments and a different economic model have produced a poisonous admixture of extremely centralisation and corruption in such a manner that, one has to be close to the centre of political power to be able to make headway.  Those who refuse to, or are not able to re-locate to Accra for whatever reason, have had to be making weekly or monthly commute to Accra to conduct business.  

Did Asase really mean that a lot of those who came to Ga had an agenda to influence political decisions and indulge in corruption?  If that is what he means then he has answered his own question. Gamei certainly cannot be at fault with xenophobia if they do not do corruption and do not take advantage of political connections as he claims those who come to Accra tend to do.

The fact of the matter is that the high value economy of Ghana has always been dependent on Ga, it was so during pre colonial times when the Ga controlled the trade with foreigners, a reason why the Asante stationed their troops outside Ga, in the 19th century, to try and have a bit of that high value economy.  Anyone who understands business must realise that marketing aspect of the supply chain is of a higher value than commodities or manufacturing and Ga was operating already as the commercial capital of Ghana which was why the decision to move the capital to Accra was made.

The 3 million or so residents of Accra now produce the bulk the wealth in Ghana and that a small street in Osu a small part of Ga probably generates more Value Added Tax for the government than a host of villages in the hinterland!  Whether you like it or not Accra has been and will continue to be the commercial capital of Ghana.

In another paragraph again he blames the Ga……

At the tail end of the 1970s, the late Mr Gyambibi, the owner of Plaza Hotel in Kumasi had to re-locate to Accra, not with his hotel, but with his other business interests.  He saw the light sooner than most.  He bought land at the outskirts of Accra in what has now become New Achimota.  At the time, he had only three or four neighbours with only on Ga family.  Despite all the four or five families in the area being Akan, the children of the Ga spoke Ga.  No one forced the Twi language on them.

But what Asase writes belies his true intentions – to play Ashanti victim so as to make a point.   Asase’s complaint is that the Ga xenophobia is because other people do not want to learn the Ga when they could get by in Twi!.  But no one forces language on anyone!  People learn languages because it is beneficial to them and not because it is forced on them.

So when I went to school in Koforidua the first thing that I was desperate to do was to learn the language because that was a sure way of making me less marginalised and this was at the time that the lingua franca in most secondary schools including those in the Ashanti region was Ga.  I found a Kwahu girlfriend to assist me with the language and I am very proud of my Twi even if my mates tell me that it is not as conc. as I wish it to be and still speak it with a broad Ga accent.

The ‘majorityfuo’ however have this agenda about the Twi language which betrays their ‘villager mentality’ – a national language that does not allow us to interact with others in Africa or indeed with the rest of the world may be a thing of pride to some, but it is certainly in my book,  a useless manifestation of our advancement or to put it bluntly, we will be advertising our backwardness for the whole world, we already have a official language and I certainly do not want to be lumbered with another vernacular language. The fact that in this republican Ghana there are still several who owe allegiance to a king somewhere in a kingdom somewhere in Ghana does not mean that we must go backwards to adopt one of the many languages as a national language and I know that is what Asase is going for but it will not happen.  The unitary republic of Ghana has different tribes, different customs, different cultures and different languages, it is the diversity of this land that makes that coexistence possible in Accra.  The accelerated education programme by Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah should have yielded fruit by now and all must be able to communicate in our official language – English.

Most Ga are polyglot, they want to learn and speak other languages which is why in even at their most poetic best their prayer has traces of the Akan language, it is not because it is superior but just because it is the cultured thing to do.  They would as quickly use Portuguese or English or even French words to capture the essence of what they wish to say.  Most inmigrants who come to Accra are the same, but if they do not want to learn another language it is really their loss.

But why blame the Ga?

Your London analogy however is as apt as it is perverse! – I have seen a lot of Ghanaians who have passed through Accra and not learnt the Ga language and come through to London and not learned the English language and then when they qualify for their citizenship, they have that major problem – The Life in the UK Test! They have huge television sets for watching Kumawwod, large phablets for watching videos on whatsapp, but they cannot deal with the test because they are not computer literate and have not bothered to learn the English language – same attitude as when they were in Ga.

So Asase, I want better for your compatriots than you may want for them, it is cool not to speak Ga but at least let them learn some English so that their communication will extend beyond the village to the city and overseas and they do not find themselves marginalised as you would wish them to be.  I however resent it when people claim that they come from Accra when they are in England, and then when asked where in Accra, they tell you that actually they are not Ga but come from somewhere else – let your compatriots be bold of where they come from, whether it is from Kumasi or near Kumasi does not matter.  Remember Asase that there is no Ga word for Accra and no Ga person will tell you that they come from Accra.  They will tell you Teshie and when you ask where they will tell you Krobo or they may tell you Ngleshie and when you ask they will tell you Ashabiena or Blofo ashi-e.

The complaint of most Ga now is the filth and stench in accra and this is not directed against the Ashanti though it is only the Ashanti stuff that you see.

Sodom and Gomorrah is as much a disgrace to all governments that have let it fester as is the digital dump right in front of it, it is on the same scale as the Lavender Hill where the mayor dumps pure unadulterated excreta from the posher areas of Accra into the sea.  So if Gamei complain that the filth in Accra is as a result of the rush for people to come and settle in Accra, it may sound offensive but it is certainly true.  Accra was a much neater place as you found it in the 1950s, it was a much neater place when I left in 1980.  The transport, water, toilet and electricity systems all worked.  The filth in Accra has certainly not been created by the Ga indigenes and they are right to complain about it and for government to do something about it.

Of course they are exclusive areas and fine places and the city has been opened up beautifully but the truth is that when you cram16.26% of the Ghana population into GA region which is 1.36% of the land mass in Ghana or 8.40% of the population into the Accra metropolitan area which represents 0.08% of the land mass of Accra there are bound to be environmental problems.

But I agree that the language some have used ‘that people should go back to where they came from and take their filth with them’ is not the most sensitive thing to say about fellow Ghanaians but it suggests to me that there are some that can no longer take this especially since those complaining about the floods and the fire and the movement from Sodom and Gomorrah all proved that by speaking in Twi and other languages they were pointing the fact that they do not belong to Ga and of course they stick out like a sore thumb.

I know that anyone that matters in Accra speaks the Ga language but I do not force anyone to speak Ga to me, I generally speak Ga when I am in Accra and English when I enter an office; when I have travelled to places such as Amanorkrom, I start with the Akwapim and when I struggle, they help me out by asking that we speak in English or they speak to me in impeccable Ga, a mark that they have imbibed something of their stay in Ga.

When however I am on the streets of London and someone comes to me and starts speaking to me in Twi because I say I am a Ghanaian, I respond in English. When they ask why if I am a Ghanaian I do not speak Twi, I respond in Ga.  In most cases, that is the end of the discussion or we continue in English.  But when their response is that saa kasa nu minti my response as expected from a cultured Ganyo is ‘onye aye e sormi’ .  that immediately transforms the conversation with oh wu didi ma tɛm!

So what Asase writes about has hegemony all over it, it is he who is being hypocritical and this reminds me of my favourite song of my Koforidua days – aboa ni hu amane na nso ɔtumi nkaŋ.  You did not expect Gamei to react, you wanted them to be cultured, to grin and bear it, but sorry pal, the wind is blowing and the circumspection is all out of the window not.  The Ga have found that voice to articulate their concerns about this back door hegemony and they are saying it loud.

Indeed for most Gamei circumspection is a watch word ingrained into them during the outdooring rites with the saying – Ga humi bilɛ kɔyɔɔ tswa dani ewieɔ; so if the Ga have now found their voice it is because in their perception too many people are taking the piss, so to speak, with their hospitality and are not living under the sensible rules of peaceful coexistence – when in Rome do what the Romans do .

Asase why blame the Ga for their considered outburst.  There is no anti-Asante xenophobia amongst the Ga, but perhaps what you are experiencing now is a necessary realignment in how we all perceive the tribal configurations and perhaps a resurgence of the Ga voice on issues that burn deep. The Ga are now only speaking, it is better to start listening, but if you blame them for anti-Asante xenophobia, they may just start shouting and screaming and that will not be good for Ghana

Accra, love it or leave it!  – Ga sɛɛ gbɛ dzi gbɛ

Ade Sawyerr

London July 2015

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