Just over a week ago Patrick Fynn touched one of the raw nerves of our favourite national past time – tribalism. He wrote a riveting piece that attracted quite a few commentaries entitled ‘Tribalism is holding back Ghana’s development’. Tribalism is, without doubt, one of the few topics that stir a lot of emotions on ghanaweb and many of the Ghanaian websites. Anytime the topic of tribalism is raised it opens a lot of horrible old wounds that many would like to do without. It is a huge concern to a lot of Ghanaians who look for solutions that never comes. Not many can deny that tribalism is a massive problem in our nation; it is very pervasive, and no single soul in the country can run away from its harmful tentacles. You can behave like an ostrich, yet it will stare at you from your rear. We all wish it can be solved, but it is rock sturdy and unshakeable like the rock of Gibraltar.
To a degree, it is the elephant in the room that nobody is prepared to talk about with honesty. However, make an unguarded statement and it will be the end of your ultimate political aspirations if you are in public life. As bad as it is, it’s also a conduit, in some cases, for people to vent their anger and frustration. The fact is tribalism, like nepotism, cronyism, and corruption are all bedfellows with incompetence – they are inseparable. There are those who deny it without acknowledging the fact that it is a latent force that lies just beneath our skin. There are a lot of noble people out there who are able to elevate themselves above some of these mushy bits of our humanity. My frustration is with those who condescend to the rest who are unable to distance themselves from this fundamental survival instinct.
Every society has fissures and fractures, which experience strain every now and then, mostly in times of economic difficulty. Even in the West, racism, xenophobia and nationalism experience exponential activities in times of economic down turn. Tribalism is not any different from some of these social dregs. The solutions are not easy but, be that as it may, there is a way to solve it, nevertheless most of the people who complain bitterly are not prepared to contemplate or give free market a hearing. Free market and less government is the only way that can cure this perennial national cancer for good, or perhaps curb its destructive influence in our national life.
Place two people who naturally will hate each other’s guts in a dangerous position where their life is threatened, and they will instinctively cooperate to liberate themselves. Their cooperation is not based on their love for each other, but predicated on their mutual interest for the preservation of their individual lives. A very good example that comes to mind is the story of the Tuskegee airmen, which has been made into a film. Of course, Hollywood always embellishes even true stories to the extent of grotesqueness, but there is also a limit to what can be done to make it more appealing to movie audience. It was at the height of the racist Jim Crow laws during the WWII. Though a lot of people opposed the formation of the unit, regardless, through back room dealings and arm twisting it saw the light of day. Eventually, this all black American military pilots passed out and excelled in the theatre of war. They were so good white bomber units who under normal circumstances wouldn’t have anything to do with them sought after their services as bomber escorts when this black unit proved their superior ability. My moral point is the white bomber crew did not seek their service because they loved them; it was due to the fact that this black unit had superior ability to keep them alive. By the experience of this white bomber crew some of the racial barriers would have been broken down not by legislation, but by mutual interest. It is obvious that, perhaps some of their prejudicial beliefs of black inferiority would have also been shattered.
Now, coming to the nitty-gritty of the piece, it’s important to note that every single action we take has a price. Some are less expensive and others are very dear. When you hold a government position and you don’t pay a price for your actions you continue to do the same costly things indefinitely. In Ghana, most of the best jobs are in government. For example, let’s assume the chief executive of a government enterprise employs the services of an incompetent crony to fill a position, though there are better qualified applicants. The fact is that CEO does not pay a price for the indulgence of his unprofessional choices. So long as he does not pay a price there is no need for him to change for the better. Let’s broach a very practical example of a lazy salesman. If the CEO of a private company employs a lazy crony who is unable to bring in clients do you think that CEO will continue to keep that person even if he is his own brother? It will not continue if that person is really in business to make money. He will definitely get the best salesman available who can keep his operations afloat. Currently, will any Ghanaian care a damn about who rules if that person delivers the best opportunities available. Not a single soul will care a hook even if it is a monkey.
There is no way anybody is ever going to complain if a better candidate is picked ahead of him. However, if it comes to your knowledge that an incompetent person was employed for the simple reason that he belongs to the tribe of the boss who refused you a job you are going to be angry. For example, in a state enterprise everyone pays taxes for that company to be established. For that reason, a young man goes for an interview in that company with pre-packaged expectations and misplaced sense of entitlement. Sadly, he fails to secure the job and later he finds out that the boss comes from an undesirable tribe who coincidentally offered the job to his fellow tribesman. In the mind of this jilted applicant, the conspiracy has run its full circle. On the other hand, that presumption will not open a vista in the mind of this young man if it’s a private business.
Finally, if the owner of a business knows that employing a particular member of his tribe will earn him GHc 10,000 and engaging the service of another from outside his tribe will fetch him twice that who do you think the owner will go for? On the other hand, if he is that stubborn to act out his tribalism that is his cup of tea. I can assure you he will not last long in that business when his competitors are able to cut down their cost and pass it on to their customers. Any wise person will go for the best person available to gain the maximum returns. Tribalism can be strangled in Ghana if we promote economic growth through private enterprise rather than thinking that the government should provide everything like Mahama is moving heaven and earth to establish a new national airline. Kindly wrestle with this idea, do you think if this new national airline being floated around comes to fruition President Mahama will appoint the best person available to run it, or a party functionary? Socialism is what is killing the country. Stop socialism and you cut off the breast milk of tribalism. Socialism is the life support machine of tribalism.
Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr