ETHNICITY AND ITS EFFECTS IN GHANA
An ethnic group is made up of an aggregate of people who claim direct ancestry from a common ancestor or ancestress, real or putative. They are people who have one history of origin and therefore, have a common language, destiny and aspiration. Specifically, ethnicity is subject to other definitions. A generally acceptable sociological definition of ethnicity identifies the phenomena as a strong in – group loyalty and a sentimental attachment to one’s own group and its traits.
Some people use the term ‘tribe’, however, this word has attained a non – prestigious connotation, and has been used particularly by Europeans to denigrate the people of Africa and other developing countries. In historical context the word ‘tribe’ is broadly accepted, but in contemporary context it is problematic when used to refer to a community living within a traditional society. It is strongly associated with past attitudes of white colonialists towards so – called primitive or uncivilised group of people living in remote and undeveloped places.
The concept of tribe or tribalism is so emotionally charged that most people including both politicians and intellectuals will have nothing to do with the concept because of the stigma that it brings to those with which it is associated. It is perhaps not surprising that the word ‘tribe’ was abolished by a decree in Ghana during the Acheampong regime in 1972. Under this decree of abolition, the term tribe was removed from documents requiring information about one’s ‘ethnic origin’ for example, on application documents for jobs, import licenses, passports etc. Empirically however, the abolition proved to have been an exercise in futility because Ghanaian surnames invariably reveal the ethnic origin (tribe) of an applicant.
EFFECTS OF ETHNICITY
Ethnicity, first and foremost, can lead to an exaggerated and fanatical adherence to the values of one’s group which gives rise to what is called ethnocentrism. According to Assimeng (1981), ethnocentrism is a condition under which a particular tribe sees itself as the centre of the universe, that is, the central pivot or the kingpin around which everything turns. People who are ethnocentric look down on other ethnic groups as subservient or less important and this could hinder national unity thus, impede national growth and development.
Furthermore, ethnocentrism conflicts with the imperatives of bureaucratic procedure. Qualification may be set aside and instead of positions and statuses being achieved, they may be ascribed on the bases of one’s ethnic allegiance. This creates social injustice, which significantly affects efficiency in the long-term. By appointing a person of the same ethnic group, who is not functionally specialised for the position, is ignoring the rules of bureaucracy which require that division of labour at work places should be based on functional speciality. Also, the principle of first come first serve is easily and eagerly subverted as queues are jumped in favour of ethnic consideration. The practice of nepotism amounts to corruption and could subvert the entire bureaucratic system at a workplace. In societies where nepotism is rife, corruption, inefficiency and a lack of progress abound.
Also, another possible effect of ethnicity is the assigning of stereotypes to ethnic groups. It is based on the notion that just because of a person’s membership of a particular tribe; he or she has all the behavioural traits believed to be associated with that tribe. These characteristics, however, are often inaccurate since they are not based on any objective criteria.
Finally, extreme ethnocentrism could degenerate into civil wars. When the people in a nation are divided on ethnic lines and sentiments, disagreements and conflicts, with its ultimate result of war is inevitable. An example could be seen of the Rwandan genocide of 1994 which led to the loss of thousands of lives as a result of the conflict between the Hutus and Tsutis; the two most dominant tribal groups in the country at the time.
In conclusion, however, given the dysfunctions of ethnocentrism as manifested in conflicts of various kinds, civil wars, political antagonism, nepotism, corruption and stereotyping, certain policy measures should be put in place to check or contain it. Among these are flat sharing among people of different ethnic backgrounds, encouraging inter – tribal marriages, the abolition of zongo and the development of a lingua franca that is, one common language among others.
It should also be noted that as Ghana enter into another election season, steps must be taken to minimise ethnic sentiments through the use of decent language and tolerance to ensure free, fair and peaceful elections before, during and after this year’s election.
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