what is so important about ethnicity?

Day 12
We got up so early today. Egg salad sandwiches (Ghana style) for breakfast with a delicious multi-fruited juice. The bus was late because traffic was so thick, almost like pure, unprocessed groundnut paste, mmmmmm. Lecture today was on the ethnicities and ethnic relations in Ghana. I am going to begin writing more about thoughts and issues that come to mind while in Ghana now that I have covered the basics of where I am, what I am doing, and how it all happens.

Ghana is a state with many nations of people, many ethnic groups. Ghana is a state of nations and needs to be one united nation of people. There is a long history of ethnic tension and turmoil in Africa, you cannot lump every African experience with ethnic conflict into one ball of dough. You cannot think that every issue of ethnicity results in what you have seen in Hotel Rwanda.

Nigeria has had a long spat with ethnic tensions, especially in politics. This led to a civil war in 1964, of which I do not know much about. This war has created a tense ethnic political struggle as evidenced by the most recent elections and the numerous calls of foul. Nigeria now sits divided into 36 states, most based on ethnicities.

Cote d’Ivoire began an ‘open door’ policy and many people flocked to the country. However when elections rolled around only natural born Cote d’Ivoirians could run for the office of President even though now the country had so many new citizens from many differing places who felt the need to be represented.

The most well known example of ethnic tensions built into full blown conflict is that of Rwanda and Burundi. With the Tutsi minority given the reins of power by the colonial controllers, the Hutu majority did not appreciate this and built up the difference of ethnicity until this was such an important issue to cause genocide in 1994. However this conflict began well before 1994 and continues long after. The conflict spread into the DRC and countries such as Uganda became involved.

Among the many examples of ethnic tensions and conflict Ghana remains a fairly good example of how conflict and death can be avoided. As with many African countries Ghana was a country etched onto a map without regard to established nations of people or traditional ideas of territory. Because of this Ghana has a number of ethnic groups. Politically Ghana has avoided conflict by requiring, in the constitution, that each ethnic group should have representation within the Ministries of the government. Another point that has led to the uniting of ethnic groups for one Ghana is the secondary school system. The secondary school system is a boarding school model and most students travel long distances to go to the best schools in Cape Coast. While in school the student learn about the different ethnic groups and learn to live with one another. This creates more of a rivalry between school teams and less of a rivalry between ethnic groups. The issue of language often arises in Ghana. Most of the country is Akan speaking, yet it is considered politically incorrect to declare the major Akan language of Twi to be the official language. Therefore the country is united in language by English, but everyone says ‘Akwaaba.’ No matter where you are a Ghanaian will welcome you with this Twi phrase.

We had a field trip today to the National Museum of Ghana, which is also celebrating its 50th year of being open. The museum was really quite lame. There were some cool artifacts from the history of Ghana and other African countries and people, but it was again nothing that we had not already seen. The tour guide was a bit loopy too and told us most of the knowledge about Ghana that has been hammered into our heads from every tour we take. Back at the hostel we ate bananas (the short sweet ones), crackers with pure fat happy cow cheese, and vanilla wafer cookies. Kyle and I headed to the internet cafe. Our first ‘reflection’ paper is due on Thursday and some of the students are typing them out. I finished mine the old fashioned way. I reverted back to the good ole days of elementary school and handwriting a paper, it was very reminiscent – and yes it was legible.

We all gathered around the tv in the courtyard to get ready for the Champions Cup game between Liverpool FC and AC Milan. We were all pulling for Liverpool. They dominated the ball the entire match, but Milan’s ability to make a goal out of anything did them in. Milan took the match 2 – 1. What a let down. The ‘the value is the same commercials were quite entertaining as well,’ but more on that later. It was a sad ending. We also found out that our good friend Richard was fired. The story is that he supposedly took something from a room after a visitor had left and denied it.

That evening the rasta guys showed up to take us to the reggae club on the beach. We had been warned by our other Ghanaian friends about this because bad things had happened in the past. However, the majority of our group wanted to go and since most of them were girls we were not about to split the group. The rasta brought a trotro,one of them must have owned it, but we joked that they might have stolen it. It was my first ride in a trotro. They are the cheapest form of transport in Ghana, but not the safest. All 20 of us piled in and headed to Osu to pick up some more members of our group. We headed to the beach with a typical trotro load – packed like sardines. At the beach we were charged to get in, first it was 10,000 cedis, then it suddenly changed to 20,000 cedis. That made quite a hassle, but we finally entered the beach. The rasta for some mysterious reason did not have to pay (because they brought the white girls). We got to the beach, were given seats, and ordered drinks. The waves on the beach at night are amazing. They are massive and seemed to go in no particular rhythm as they usually do during the day. Glancing around the beach it was easy to see that all present were Obroonis or rastas looking to make friends with an Obrooni to get a drink or to get a girl. Our group stuck together, looked out for one another, enjoyed the music and dancing, and helped each other out of creepy and potentially bad situations. In the end it was a very fun evening, but this is where the true intentions of our rasta friends showed through. I hope everyone in our group now understands now my previous wariness.

The rasta are a very interesing group and fill a very odd and unimaginable role in Ghana. They worship Bob Marley and weed. If you get them talking they will go on and on for eternity about how it is ‘nice to be nice’ or ‘charity is carity.’ Many have great musical skills, but not such great skills when it comes to meeting a girl without creeping her out. Most are defined by their dreads, knit hats, drums, or weed wisdom.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

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1 Comment

  1. Glad that you’re being safe–your family will appreciate your wariness.The rastas in Ghana sound very interesting–and financially savvy. Don’t forget that the Rastafari movement embodies so many political and racial issues, especially for black Africans. Why is there so often a disconnect between what the religion claims to be, what others view it as, and what rastas actually do? Might be worth pondering through out your journey.

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