The comment stung me like a scorpion, and the only possible reply would have included a description of it as stupid. But I managed to tame my anger for four weeks before approaching the young man from whose mouth came those unfortunate words.
That afternoon, I was busily working on a documentary at the production unit of my station, but they stood close enough to let in whatever they said. They were three of them, speaking about the deplorable leadership with which our nation has been cursed. As the lamentation went on, one of them thought he knew the cause of all the woes of the country in recent times.
“Don’t mind Mahama,” he said. “He has packed the Flagstaff House with confused Mpepefoɔ [Northerners] who don’t know anything and we are suffering.”
I have no patience or respect for people who judge others based on their ethnicity. I often lose my temper when dealing with such people. But on this occasion, I managed to restrain myself until my anger subsided before I confronted him.
Before I could remind him that the Chief of Staff, Mr Posper Bani, who was supervising the fine mess at the Presidency, was a member of his ethnic group and ask him whether it was fair to attribute the Chief of Staff’s performance to his ethnicity, he was humble enough to admit that his remark was unfortunate and duly apologized.
I could, however, not control myself when I recently logged on to Facebook and found a similar post by one Yoofi Stagger. He listed 18 ministers and deputy ministers from northern Ghana and added: “So how can Mahama … justify this northern dominance of his government, and yet they are not performing?”
A day earlier, I was with a PhD student from the Upper East Region and he shared his harrowing experience in a flight when he was returning from the United States recently. The discussion had moved beyond bad governance to the “incompetence of northerners.”
“The insults were just too much,” he said. “At a point, I thought of replying but looking at the number on the other side, it would have been useless arguing with them. I bowed throughout that discussion.”
He conceded that he wasn’t happy about the way the country was being managed and added that President Mahama’s poor performance could prove detrimental to politicians from Northern Ghana, such as Dr Mahamudu Bawumiah, who may have presidential ambitions in the future. At this stage, I disagreed with him. Though I didn’t tell him, I thought he was as guilty as those who had attacked northerners in the plane. In fact, he is not alone. Many prominent northerners I speak to express the same concern when they complain about how President Mahama’s government is faring.
Why should Dr Bawumiah atone for the sins of President Mahama? President Kufuor had his own flaws but they were not looked beyond him and his political party. Nobody equated President Kufuor’s failures to the Asante people or Southerners. No one ever equated President Atta Mills’ failures to Fantes or Southerners. When Eric Amoateng, a sitting member of parliament, was jailed for dealing in drugs, nobody talked about his ethnicity. And I am yet to hear anybody mention the ethnicity of Woyome when they criticize the manner in which he got the state to pay him GH¢51 million judgment debt.
So why must every northerner pay for the actions or inactions of President Mahama? In order for easy identification, and to be able to assign responsibilities for their actions, every human being has a name. Why must others be held responsible for the actions of President Mahama just because they come from the northern part of the country when the same cannot be said of those from the south?
I have also heard a lot about the northern dominance such as the list presented by Yoofi Stagger. One reason I described his post on Facebook as stupid was the ignorance displayed by that post. The constitution talks about regional and ethnic balance when one is considering such appointments. What is often referred to as the north or northern Ghana is made up of three separate regions. So if you name 18 people from the north, you are talking about an average of 6 ministers from each region of the north. And you cannot talk about northern dominance when we have close to 100 ministers and deputy ministers.
Many Ghanaians will not be proud of the way the country is being managed. One does not have to be a northerner or southerner to be concerned about the poor performance of the Mahama led administration. But to suggest that Mahama’s incompetence has to do with the part of the country he comes from amounts to intellectual deficiency. It makes people, who would have collectively fought for the Better Ghana President Mahama and his party promised Ghanaians, sit on the fence and become ambivalent.
If there is one thing that has damaged the credibility and integrity of Mahama’s government, then that is certainly corruption. Who are the outstanding crusaders against corruption in Mahama’s government?
You cannot present a list that excludes, Martin Amidu, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, Manasseh Azure Awuni, Alban Bagbin and Vitus Azeem among others. All these persons come from the North.
We don’t have anything against President Mahama or the NDC. We know the President is one of our own. We are aware of the prejudice and a tag of dishonour one has to wear for being a northerner.
But we cannot keep quiet and allow someone to mismanage the country just because he is one of our own. Personally, I feel very hurt when these things are said because it appears my little effort in making this nation better turns out to be an insult to me and the people of the north.
When I was carrying out my GYEEDA investigations last year, I had the opportunity to come face-to-face with the CEO of Zoomlion and Chairman of the Jospong Group of Companies, Jospeh Siaw Agyapong. We spoke English. When I met the CEO of RLG and Chairman of the AGAMS Group of Companies, Roland Agambire, we spoke Gurune (Frafra). Throughout our conversation, he referred to me as his brother, and in a way, he was right. I see him as an elder brother, but should that ethnic consideration be above the national interest? No! So I went ahead and did the story as if I didn’t meet him.
The GYEEDA scandal has brought a lot of embarrassment to the Mahama administration and the dishonest way the government has handled the scandal is even more worrying. It is part of the reasons corruption tops as one of Mahama’s sins. If you risk your life and spearhead the a crusade for the good of your country and end up being insulted or tagged as incompetent because the person who was president at the time was from your part of the country, it hurts.
After all, business people and government officials would still have been using GYEEDA and SADA to siphon state resources. To be fair to Mahama, the rot didn’t start when Mahama was President. GYEEDA's rot started from President Kufuor's era. They were unraveled in Mahama's time and he was expected to act on them.
Tribalism has been the bane of our development and a threat to our democracy. When politicians misbehave, knowing that they can rely on a section of the electorate as “World Bank,” it doesn’t promote good governance. Apart from the devastating effects of mishandling of ethnic differences, looking down on people because of where they come from is the greatest form of injustice. To be fair, the people of Northern Ghana are not the only ones who are subjected to these kinds of ethnic prejudices.
The first article I wrote on this subject was in 2009 when a student of the Ghana Institute of Journalism died and we were going to the Volta Region to bury him. Some students vowed never to step foot on the Volta Region, describing the people as demonic and all the offensive words one could find. Some of them would go but they wouldn’t drink water or eat anything in that region. So serious was the fear that before the bus moved, the President of the Campus Christian Family who was also from the Volta Region, Mr Noble Johnson Kukubor, had to make a speech to the effect that the Volta Region was not as deadly as they feared. And these were journalism students. Even the dominant ethnic groups such as the Akans face their own forms of ethnic prejudices.
For people from Northern Ghana, it is worse because of their peculiar twin problems of poverty and conflicts, which are often accentuated by the excessively negative media reportage of the area. Last year, I had to interrupt a presentation by the International Communications Officer of DW, Xiaoying Zhang, and tell her how that media house was almost insulting Africans. We were media people and civil society activists from 24 countries who had visited the headquarters of DW in Bonn, Germany, as part of the Friedrich Nauman Foundation fellowship on Freedom of the Press.
Madam Xiaoying Zhang was exploring DW’s website with us, explaining to us how enormous their influence was as Germany’s international broadcasting service. When she got to Africa's page, all the pictures were horrible images of war and poverty. There was nothing positive about Africa.
When I complained about the content on a particular page, she explained that was a page dedicated to issues of poverty and its related issues, but when she clicked on other links, she was embarrassed to learn that they were even worse. I pointed out to her how unprofessional and unfair that kind of journalism was. I told her my piece of mind and she promised to convey my concerns to the editorial team.
Back in Ghana, I have realised that the media treat northern Ghana the same way the Western media treat Africa. If it’s not conflict or poverty, it is no news. When the youth of Nima riot, its twin brother, Mamobi, is not mentioned in the report.
But when the youth of one suburb of Tamale riot, it is reported as Northern Region being in flames. If you are in a" trotro" vehicle, you are likely to hear an ignorant commentator say, “These northerners too, what at all is wrong with them?”
There is nothing wrong with them. Europe, America and the rest of the developed world are more peaceful than Africa not because Africans are less intelligent or violent by nature. In 2007, when the American Noble Prize laureate scientist, Dr. James Watson, remarked to the effect that the whites are more intelligent than blacks, he attracted a barrage of criticisms and condemnation worldwide. Describing it as baseless, unscientific and extremely offensive comment, the scientific community said those remarks were Dr Watson's personal prejudices. Later Dr Watson’s DNA revealed that he had black genes in his system.
The question one needs to ask therefore is: why these numerous conflicts on the continent when Africans are not less intelligent than Europeans?
Our wise elders say when a man with healthy teeth is chewing his food awkwardly, one must be sure there is sand in it. The sand in the context of what is happening in Africa, and for that matter northern Ghana, include poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and mass unemployment. At the heart of them all stands subtle but dangerously powerful political manipulation that serves as a recipe for impunity in Tamale, Bawku and the other trouble spots in the north.
Experience has thought us that where these factors exist, peace and order become the casualties. I will never take up arms to fight no matter the circumstances. I believe education has given me something to live for. I could not have resisted the temptation if I were in the same environment and situation as my unfortunate brothers up there, who are exploited by the Northern elite in much the same way the political elite in Africa exploit us and make us appear stupid and inferior among other races.
Equating President Mahama’s failure to the failure of Northerners is a s result of the northern Ghana prejudice. It is part of what the Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls the danger of the singly story.
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story,” she said.
Northern Ghana is not a land of only doom and gloom. It is a land of abundant human and natural resources, which have been neglected since the colonial era. Despite this neglect, that part of the country has produced men and women who are helping shape this country. The Upper West Region, for instance, is the region with the lowest population in Ghana but it is one of the regions with the highest number of medical doctors and specialists.
It is true that President Mahama, whose management of the country leaves much to be desired, is from the north. But he is not the single story of the north. In Ghana today, Martin Amidu, the hero whose picture is currently the most popular profile picture on social media, is also from the north. All people of the north cannot be judged by Martin Amidu’s virtues In the same way, they cannot be responsible for Mahama’s failures. Mahama is not the single story of the north. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminds us it is dangerous to use one story as the one and only definitive story of a people:
“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity…
“I've always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a Senior Broadcast Journalist with Joy 99.7 FM. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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