Thursday, 21 June 2012

Fear and Panic of Ethnic Tension in the Country

On Thursday 5, the United Nations office in Ghana organised a meeting with an intriguing purpose – to craft peace messages to be targeted at four information constituencies or publics (in communication-speak) before, during and after the elections. These targets are youth, media, women and political parties. They brought together people from the media, NGOs and individual communications experts. The subtext of the event and the choice of publics is the fear of election-related violence in the coming months.

It is a sensible attitude that commends the UN for acting outside the restrictive box of reactive thinking, and it is an approach that should be recommended to the government of Ghana, not because of the possibility of election violence but because violent conflicts have broken out in too many places at the same time in recent weeks. We can no longer pretend that this is a peaceful country; while it is true that armed hordes have not camped on the steps of the capital, it would be untrue to argue that all Ghanaians go to bed and sleep in peace. Not if you lived in parts of the Upper West, Central, Upper East, Volta and Northern Regions in the past two weeks.

In the course of researching a subject early this week, I typed the words “Ghana news” in the Google search and among the top 25 stories that showed up were the following:

·        Two people are feared dead with several others critically injured after renewed ethnic clashes in the Mfantseman West district of the Central ...

·        One dead; six wounded in Kokomba, Bemoba clashes

·        4 dead in clashes between two Upper East communities ...

·        Four people have been confirmed dead in renewed clashes between residents of Namoligo and Shea-Tindongo in the Talensi-Nabdam district ...

·        Central Region: Two killed in ethnic

·        Two people have been killed in ethnic clashes between Ewe and Fantse communities at Akumfi in the Central Region. The clashes ensued ...

·        Ekumfi clashes: Ama Benyiwa Doe appeals for calm

·        Tribal clashes in Central region: 2 shot dead, 1 beheaded ...

·        Hohoe clashes: Women; Children flee; one person shot dead ...

·        Clashes force Nakpanduri SHS to close

This is just a snapshot of clashes in the country from a single search; it is possible that violent clashes are even more widespread than what has been captured here, and of course this list excludes the usual suspects of Bawku, Dagbon and a myriad of chieftaincy disputes that erupt into violent conflict every now and then in several parts of the country.

What on earth is going on? On the face of it, these different instances of violence are part of the same syndrome, different aspects of interlinked causes and effects. The first possibility as a cause has to relate to youth unemployment in the country. The profile of the person who is most likely to pick up a weapon unlawfully is that of a male aged between 18 and 30, although of course older men and women are almost always stoking the fires from some unseen headquarters. So although the unseen heads behind the violence are likely to be older ones, the hands that actually wield the weapons are young and idle. That is the clue: idle.

Too many young people in Ghana are unemployed, of whom a sizeable percentage is unemployable, of whom more anon. Government spokesperson have claimed that more than a million and half jobs have been created in the last two to three years but despite this unconfirmed claim hundreds of thousands of school leavers go onto the job market every year with no hope of finding a suitable job or any job at all. You just have to visit the centre of every village, town and city in Ghana and what strikes you is the sheer number of virile young men sleeping under trees or hustling furiously between sleeps when hunger and the spirit move them. It is not a pretty sight.

Youth unemployment has been described as a time bomb, but that is an optimistic assessment insofar as it expects the bomb to explode sometime in the future. This bomb is active and exploding now; it has no future, neither do the rest of society unless it is tackled now. The irony is that although this is an election year and campaigning is in full swing, no political party appears ready to provide any working solution. This is not surprising. Across the world, youth unemployment is proving to be an intractable problem for governments and societies. However, unlike other places, we have no safety net to cushion vulnerable people to prevent them from crash landing into crime and other unsavoury activities. In that way, we have created a bumper crop of strong young men ready to do the bidding of anyone who has money or excitement to provide some diversion, even if short lived.

The situation has not been helped by the educational policy that does not appear to take the needs of the country into calculation. In any case, there are two or more educational “systems” running in the country but these can be grouped into two broad categories, which can be neatly labeled as rich and poor. The rich policy is tailored at preparing the children of rich people for plum jobs in the future. The poor policy is for the children of the poor so that they will continue to be poor. Of course, what I am saying will be denied and perhaps I will be excoriated for saying it. But this is the effect of our educational policy on the ground, as we say. This is the reason why despite impressive growth rates in several African countries over the past decade the gap between the rich and the poor is growing bigger. The wealth being generated by growth is not being shared equally but is being appropriated by those with access to it for the use of their families.

The mass unemployment of young people and the un-employability of a large percentage are feeding into the indiscipline that is engulfing this country. The idea that anyone can do as they please has become a cancerous growth on our social psyche and spreading venom through the body politic.  To put it bluntly, everyone feels entitled to do whatever they like without fearing or feeling for the consequences of their action. This is why violent eruption has become the major means of seeking redress to the extent that no one appears unduly surprised to see a group of young men holding deadly weapons marching up and down town and city roads protesting against somebody or something. It does not matter who gets hurt.

In the main, people get away with such action and sometimes do get their way as well, which then encourages more of such action. Somebody profits from every situation no matter how bad it may be for the rest of society. Some people are harvesting the bumper crop of unemployed youth for their own benefit, but the chickens are coming home to roost. The time has come for this nation to craft peace messages of our own to reassure the youth that they have a stake in the future of Ghana. More importantly, we need to find the answer to the creeping violence because while from an Accra perspective such violent acts appear to be happening in faraway places but when the reserve army of the poor is mobilized no one will be safe. This is not meant to cause fear and panic.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, no cause nor need to fear! Holistically, the tensions in the country are too minimal for an all-out civil war is unlikely to occur during and after elections this year. The wars that have broken so far have been mostly intra-tribal. A keen eye on Ghana's traditional make-ups and the dispensation of authority side-by-side with local and central government will show a lack of "psychological and sociological enlightenment" about who we are, where and what we have to be, collectively. And it all beings somewhere. And that place I think is the top. Our judiciary and executive, and party leaders, especially. They have a lot of influence on the grassroots people than themselves. What kind of democracy are we practicing? Of course no country's democracy is perfect, but why should Ghanaian politicians get so partisan and selfish? What at all is at stake? And who is to check them? I don't think UN or EU are the best people to talk with our leaders, to promote a selfless agenda of presidency and the country's peace. AU is. But how wealthy and united and thus powerful is AU? Still they are the best, for the election at least. Peace!