On Ghanaian-ness, Akan Dominance & National Identity

On Ghanaian-ness, the construction of the nation-state and the unsuccessful attempts at replacing ethnic identity with an (in)coherent national identity & the way Akan dominance erases other ethnic identities in the national imaginary & public sphere.

I know how uncomfortable the majority of you are going to be with seeing “Akan dominance”. So let me deconstruct it for you now by acknowledging my own privilege. There is Akan dominance just like there is Dagbamba dominance in Northern Ghana.

Many have replaced Ghanaian-ness with Akan-ness in away that erases many (othered) ethnic groups in Ghana to a point where Ghanaian-ness=Akan-ness even abroad. The first thing non-Ghanaians do when I say I’m Ghanaian is speak Twi to me. Which I ain’t gon’ lie is annoying AF.

Just like many Akans like to flaunt their Akan pride and lord it over people of other ethnic groups, many Dagbamba like to do that too. And I say this having spent over 80% of my life in the Northern Region. We need to acknowledge our ethnic privileges as we have this conversation on national identity.

Several times when I’ve brought up the issue of Akan dominance even in academic spaces I’ve been silenced by Akan identifying people who told me to “get over it” or “you just have an inferiority complex”. Instead of engaging in conversation on how we other others, we silence them.

The reason why we cannot have a fruitful discussion on ethnicity & ethnic identity across African countries is the construction of the Western notion of the nation-state (through the partition of Africa etc.), the creation of national boundaries/borders etc.

When Africa was partitioned into nation-states, ethnic groups were divided across national boundaries. This is why my friend Salomé Dzakpasu who is Ghanaian visits her family in Togo. And why there are Dagaaba in Ghana and Burkina Faso, Ashanti in Ghana and Ivory Coast etc.

Groups that identified as kingdoms (with identified paramountcies) or acephalous states were divided by the imaginary lines that demarcate the nation-state. This violent construction of nationality, citizenship etc. upset the political set-up of nomadic groups like the Fulani etc.

In postcolonial Africa, many countries instead of acknowledging ethnic identities & working towards building conviviality among ethnic groups have sought rather to erase various identities by replacing them with a unified national identity that favours the majority & erases the minority.

In schools in Ghana, we do not have a curriculum that tackles the issue of ethnic identity; teaches people to affirm ethnic others; validates othered ethnic identities as part of our national identity.

Instead we throw teenagers together in boarding school & hope they work out their ethnic differences without providing guidance that de-hegemonizes dominant ethnicities that are read as national identities.They go to college as bigoted adults who lord their ethnic identities over ethnically othered groups.

The erasure of certain ethnicities that are majority (population-wise) like the Mole-Dagbamba (the Dagbamba. Mamprussi, Nanumba etc) have been as a result of their perpetual marginalization from colonial times. They didn’t have much influence in policy & developmentt etc and that fueled their marginalization.

We have learned in our 60 years of existence as a country that replacing ethnic identity with national identity that elevates some groups & marginalizes others is not going to work. It hasn’t worked in countries like Nigeria & Kenya. We know that we are only Ghanaians football season. LOL

Rather, acknowledging ethnic pluralism from the most basic level of education, in civic education, in the socialization of our kids will perhaps help ease tensions around conversations on ethnicity in Ghana. Ghanaians will continue to value ethnic identity over national identity & we have to accept that.

And it is important to note that ethnic identity and national identity can be compatible if we work towards de-marginalizing other ethnic groups and de-hegemonizing dominant groups in the national imaginary; at national events, public conversations etc.

I’ve read the academic work of some Ghanaian scholars from the Akan group who’ve campaigned for promoting Twi as the national language. While this may be liberating for many from that group, it is colonizing for others who don’t identify with that group. Let’s be better than the colonizer.

Also, non-Akans who assimilate into the dominant Akan culture do not get push-back for being non-Akan. Those of us who spent over 80% of our lives in our hometowns & are unwilling and or unable to assimilate into dominant Akan/national culture are called Difficult Northerners. LMAO

About the Writer                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Wunpini F, Mohammed studies media, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. She’s the editor-at-large for Savannah Lifestyle. She tweets regularly at @wunpini_fm

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