View Full Version : The Ethnic Imbroglio In Ghana: The Origins, Part 1

11th March 2011, 09:19 PM
The tribal imbroglio, rather than stating in recent times, has been brewing for a long, long while now. In fact, the roots of the prejudices and the insults we see some raining on others date back to pre-colonial times.

So, any attempt to understand the worrying phenomenon must address the canker from that era. That is what I intend to do, with special focus on the apparent cleavage between Ewes and Akans (and any others). But now, I’d begin with the colonial times. When you hear the cry of lamentation:

Dza le le leeeeeee!
Me zu kluvi
The road to Kontsiabu
Strewn with gold dusts.
Only those without
in their eyes gold dusts
felt the pangs of hunger and thirst

then you’d know that the time to narrate the doleful tales of the pre-colonial era, where it all began, has arrived; but you’d get a glimpse now.


Not to waste time apportioning blame, the Akans (and Gas, if I may add them), started these tribal abuse and attacks on Ewes many decades ago; nay, centuries back, as I said earlier. But as mentioned above, I won't delve as yet into the pre-colonial times when it was free for all, with even some Ewe states joining in marauding and plundering other Ewe states for the slave markets of the Gold Coast. I had indeed provided a write up on that sordid era on Ghanaweb’s SIL in the 1990s, which is available. One German businessman with biz connections to Ghana who used to read the nonsense on SIL wrote a private mail to me saying that he was always wondering why Africans sold each other into slavery to Europeans and Arabs; reading my detailed historical account enlightened him on how and why it happened for the first time. That story must be re-told all over Africa in other to understand the roots of the conflicts that bedevilled the continent after independence.

In Ghana, the colonial times modern version started after the WW1 when Anlo, Tongu and Peki migrants from within the Gold Coast and those from the newly acquired TVT from the Germans started moving to the Akan and Ga areas to either fish, farm or seek paid employment. Ewes from Togo and Benin Republic (Dahomey) escaping from French repressive rule came later. Some Ewes, esp. the educated ones, also got jobs with the commercial houses and the colonial administration. Some, such as Gbedema and Nkulenu, started their own private businesses. Soon, they were becoming prosperous in their chosen fields and/or rising up in the ranks wherever they were employed due to the usual hard working nature of most migrants. After all, the far superior German missionary vocational educational set up, compared to the British, had equipped them much better with skills in the crafts and building, such as carpentry and masonry, which were in much demand by the colonial authority and the other natives of the Gold Coast and Asante. That was when trouble began and the attacks started, as far back as the 1930s.

Below is a brief quote from S. Greene about how the Fantes started perceiving Anlo-Ewe fisherfolk; a perception or prejudice which is not much different from what permeates the Akan ethnic group as a whole up to today (not only a few bigots on Ghanaweb). Ewes find out to our chagrin or amusement, often as a kid, that that was how our fellow country men and women perceive us. The encounter is therefore a personal story too.

Not much has changed in the prejudiced minds of too many Akans, as we daily witness on Ghanaweb, even though many too have developed over the years an obsession or desire to marry Ewe girls, failure which often brought in its wake stories of tribalism heaped against Ewes. As I told some Akan teacher colleagues in Nigeria, it was the scary and “irrational” Akan “wofa” (uncle) inheritance system, stupid! Horrible stories of how Ewe widows were in particular dispossessed and treated shabbily were enough to dissuade any idea of marriage to even a most love besotted Akan man! It is no wonder that, with the interstate law of inheritance in place, marriage to Akan men has been on the increase.

I know an Ewe from the Peki area who swore that it’d never be possible to change the jaundiced perception of Akans of Ewes from his own experiences attending Mpraeso Teacher Training College, and then teaching at Mpraeso and in Kumasi. He said one particular woman - a cook in the school - they used to go to church with wouldn’t believe that he did not have any “akpeledzi” under their bed! I said it was possible and gave an example of my own experiences in Nigeria. I managed to convince my fellow Akan teachers that I don’t indulge nor believe in those things - juju or voodoo or even any god (white or black), and wouldn’t drink “ogogoro” with them – when there is original Gordon’s gin and lime cordial to have – and they somehow lost some “respect”, (or was it fear?) for me. They’d say I wasn’t a proper Anloman and fool around with me!

Between 1982-4, when their Anti-Ewe diatribes had reached fever point and they were advocating massacring Ewes as done to the Ibos in Nigeria who they claimed were also allegedly dominating Nigeria in the 1960s, I thought of putting some fear into them by creating some “kporsi” (“see-and-run”) to scare them. Fact is, practically every smart Ewe knows how to scare Akans and Gas even though they don’t have “foko” (anything), as we say in Anlo but I will keep that out of this write up. Good I didn’t do so, otherwise they’d be giving testimonies up to today about what an Anlo teacher did to them in Nigeria – they’d have packed out and run from their rooms on the ground floor of the storey building we were hiring. I “protected” myself practically by chocking the door handle with a chair, as I had seen in movies, before I went to bed, in order to prevent them from making me the first casualty of their let-us-kill-Ewes mania! Funny some of them even became staunch PNDC supporters, only to change their minds again years later when I met some on a visit to Ghana.

Anyway, enough with the digression into the personal narrative and to Sandra Greene.

From p.148 of Sandra Greene I quote:

"Increased Anlo identification with their northern Ewe-speaking neighbours may have also been enhanced by the experience many had while participating in migrant fishing. After World War I, numerous groups of Anlo men and women traveled to other coastal areas, including the Fante area of the Gold Coast, in order to pursue their commercial fishing activities. For many, this was probably the first time they had traveled outside their home area, and/or to a district where they were a distinct linguistic minority. In these locations, they conducted themselves as they had in their own home villages, but those among whom they come to live - often temporarily, just for the fishing season - came to view the Anlos' prosperity with jealousy and suspicion. Stories circulated that associated the Anlo with "blood-curdling" crimes. R.W. Wyllie indicates, for example, that from at least the 1930s "Fanti [children] learned to view the Anlos as thieves, kidnappers, sorcerers, and ritual murderers." The social tensions that accompany these beliefs - and the very fact that these beliefs were held by a non-Ewe speaking people - must have heightened the Anlo's awareness of their linguistic and cultural background and generated some sense of identification with their Ewe-speaking peoples whom they would have encountered in the Gold Coast."

The encounter with the Gold Coasters was enough to turn any Ewe into a paranoid schizophrenic, developed a siege mentality (become “inward-looking”?) and very resentful towards any idea of union with the Gold Coast, not to mention marry an Akan.

As some of you know, the Anlo area through Tongu to the Peki area had been part of the Gold Coast colony proper, effectively from 1874 though the British “bought” and claimed the area from the Danes in 1850; hence the freedom to move to other parts of the Gold Coast and Asante later. Besides, many southern Ewes are descendants Ga-Adangbe, Elmina and Denkyira fugitives dating back respectively to 1687 when the Akwamus first thrashed the Gas for cutting the “bolobolo” (foreskin) of their prince sent to the Ga Mantse Okai Koi’s court to understudy courtship, and 1700, when the Asantes defeated the Denkyiras and took over Elmina from the Denkyiras. Going back to Ge (Accra) and Sima (Shama) with their new kinsmen was just like returning to the ancestors' land.

In fact, it was the descendants of those fugitives who were the first migrants, having maintained links with their ancestral lands during their long period in exile. Reindorf had written about that back and forth movement among the Ga fugitives long ago. That’s how Osu-Anecho came to be founded and how all Ewes got the derogatory epithet “Ayigbe” (Ayi refuse), whether they were descendants of fugitives or not. The “dzulor” bit the Gas added originally referred to the Okai Koi stool regalia which the Ga-Ewes in Togo refused to return to Accra and still claim to be its protectors. Remember the trips with pre-colonial undertones their chiefs made to Ghana when the NPP took over power in 2000?

I can make long comments on the above quote but suffice it to say that it was the beginning and end of the love affair which started as unification with the Gold Coast movement ending up as the drive to secede from the Gold Coast. So we read from the December 6, 1919 edition of the West Africa magazine a letter sent to the colonial government of the Gold Coast:
“We PEOPLE of Togoland, descended from two principal countries, Elmina
(Ane) and Accra (Ge), both of the Gold Coast Colony, ask to have British government because it is the government of our fathers, whose customs are our customs, and a British Colony is half-an-hour distant from us.
We ask to have British government because it is the government of our kith and kin, our race and our tribe.
We ask for British government because of our relationship with our people on the west, which must assert itself..” (culled from West Africa 12-16 Dec. 1994)

And so on it went. One may wonder why the petitioners did not even acknowledge the Ewes, Dagombas, Konkombas, Akans and the host of other ethnic and tribal groups in Togo who also have their “kith and kin” within the Gold Coast and the Northern Territories. I guess this piece of history may come as a surprise to the ingrates who make a living of always reminding us that Ewes come from Togo, some of whom carried a video to Lome to trace the roots of Fiifii Kwetey there, instead of doing so in Accra! Well, he said he was from Nogokpo, which rubbed a sore spot for me, but that’s another story.


By the 1940s, Ewes, Anlos in particular, in the Gold Coast had had enough of the vilification and underserved demonisation their successes were arousing. The returnee Anes and Ges (Gas), now fused as the Genyi, as Anlos refer to them, through intermarriages, also soon discovered that they were not welcome, or often welcomed with shouts of “Ayigbe dzulor”! Disenchantment set in and secession from Ghana became a far better option. The result was the 1956 plebiscite and the rest is history.

Then come the post Feb 24 1966 coup era, when Busia and his PP turned this traditional vilification of Ewes into a political tool to win the 1969 general elections. It was preceded by an internal struggle within the NLC to share the spoils of office after the coup. An extended quote from Dennis Austin, that great chronicler of Ghana history, captures the gist of it, so here we go:

“A surprising and disagreeable novelty of the election was the extraordinary anti-Ewe sentiment that was express1ed in conversation with many of those who were against Gbedemah and his party. One can explain this strong animus not simply by a dislike of Gbedema’s reappearance in political life but in relations to events after the 1966 coup. Suddenly there were the soldiers and the police, and everyone burst out singing, but when the music died down away it was noticed that the NLC (it seemed) was commanded by minorities: Ewe and Ga. When Ankrah (a Ga), was moved out, and charges were brought over-hastily by Harlley against the Chief of Defence Staff, Michael Otu, the evidence to many was overwhelming. It was all an Ewe plot. Soon Ghana would be run for the benefit of an energetic minority, operating first within the armed forces, and now behind Gbedemah.

‘Appoint an Ewe to a public corporation or to a government department and within a year the entire hierarchy down to the messenger will be an Ewe.’ So the argument ran. And there was always some evidence for it, since the Ewe, deprived of any natural wealth in their own barren region, have been energetic in seizing the opportunities of public employment, including positions in the army and the police, which wealthier communities (like the Akan) did not wish to occupy. In practice, looking through the list of senior officers in government department and the public corporations, the evidence is certainly not clear of any Ewe domination: it could hardly be in view of their number. But a belief does not, of course, have to be true before people hold it fervently.

Now there is an Akan-dominated government of an Akan dominated society. Were I to become, by some improbable chance of fate, leader of the governing party I would be much less apprehensive of my Ewe opponents in front than of the large and expectant following behind. I would be fearful too of the ambitions of those now excluded from power, remembering the Songs of Innocence that:

The strongest poison ever known
Came from Caeser’s laurel crown” (D. Austin 1976:125)

Austin was writing with hindsight about what befell Busia’s regime, overthrown in a coup led by an Asante.

The interested reader is referred to the link below to read an extended abstract of the book in order to get a fuller understanding of the ethnic imbroglio in Ghana and so be able to compare events from then and now and subsequent analysis.

Source: Dennis Austin