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GHANA STUDIES / Volume 14 ISSN 1536-5514 / E-ISSN 2333-7168© 2012 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 81 ETHNICITY, RELIGION, AND CONFLICT IN GHANA: THE ROOTS OF GA NATIVISM1 RICHARD ASANTE Recent studies suggest that violent conflicts have declined in Africa since the end of the Cold War. According to the African Development Bank (2008: xi), “in 2006, seven African countries experienced conflicts, compared with about 14 in the late 1990s.” However, contrary to the expectations of many scholars and political pundits, the post-Cold War period has also witnessed sporadic outbursts of ethnic, regional, and religious hostilities and conflicts with disruptive consequences, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Chad, Sudan, and Nigeria . This development poses major challenges for consolidating the peace, social co-existence and citizenship. Cultural differences are claimed to be at the root of many of the world’s conflicts, both within and between states (Gurr 2000; Horowitz 1985, 2001; Lake and Rothchild 1998), and among them (Huntington 1996). Samuel Huntington emphasizes cultural differences as the root of conflicts in the post-Cold War era. In his words, “the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic; the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflicts will be cultural” (Huntington 1993: 22). Posner (2004), however, argues that the mere presence of cultural differences cannot possibly be a sufficient condition for the emergence of political or social strife. In recent times, Ghana’s image as an island of peace and stability has come under threat as a result of frequent disputes and conflicts between adherents of Ga traditional religion and some Christian churches over the 1. The author is grateful to Christopher Agyare-Kordie for research assistance. 82 Ghana Studies • volume 14 • 2012 annual ban on drumming and noise-making,2 imposed by the Ga Traditional Council prior to the celebration of the Ga traditional festival of Homowo .3 Homowo, which literally means “to hoot at hunger,” is a harvest festival commemorating a famine in the history of the Ga people.4 The festival that begins in May and ends in late September is celebrated annually by various Ga communities to usher in the farming season (Brobbey 2007: 63; Tsikata and Seini 2004: 41–42).5 In May, prior to the festival, the Ga Traditional Council imposes a onemonth ban on drumming and noise-making throughout the Ga Traditional Area, which covers the Accra-Tema Metropolitan area of the Greater Accra Region.6 On the one hand, Ga traditionalists justify the imposition of the ban on the basis that it is a time-honored religious tradition of the Ga 2. The ban on drumming and noise making is also observed as part of festival celebrations among some ethnic groups in the Western, Eastern, and Ashanti Regions of Ghana. However, many of the clashes on drumming and noise making have occurred in Accra between the Ga Traditional Council and Christian churches. The clashes and violence attracted considerable public debate and discussions across the country. Radio and television discussions and phone-in programmes were characterised by accusations , counter-accusations and recrimination with strong ethnic, regional, and religious sentiments. This has become a source of public worry and had the potential to undermine the peaceful coexistence of the various ethnic and religious groups in Accra in particular and Ghana in general. 3. The traditionalists are those who adhere to religious practices handed down by the ancestors. Christianity is more recent and of foreign origin. There are different types of traditional religious practices and Christian churches in Ghana. The conflict over the ban on drumming and noise-making is especially between the Ga Traditional Council and Christian churches, particularly the Pentecostal and Charismatic ones, which are noted for their livelier forms of worship, involving drumming and dancing, as well as clapping of hands, shouting, and other signs of an intensely emotional religious experience. 4. The Ga people are the indigenes of Accra, the national and administrative capital of Ghana. 5. From July on, the different divisions of the Ga traditional area mark their actual festival days with ritual cleansing, pacification...


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