Ghana is one of Africa’s biggest postcolonial success stories. Since declaring independence from the United Kingdom in 1957, the West African state has enjoyed a high degree of prosperity and rule of law, due to sustained economic growth and a strong societal emphasis on education. Robust governmental institutions have flourished over the past 63 years and, especially during the Fourth Republic (1993 onward), when decentralization and power-sharing mechanisms were adopted in a new constitution emphasizing democratic governance. As a result, the West African state has traditionally been among the least corrupt, most politically stable countries on the continent.
Ghana native and 31-year Springfield resident Joshua Fabian Kpakpo Allotey Sr., retired from the state, is a product of Ghanaian civic and democratic dynamism. Born in 1949 in the Ghanaian capital Accra, Allotey immigrated into the U.S. in 1976 and earned a degree in accounting and finance at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. He attributes much of his homeland’s success to its hospitable culture. “In Ghanaian culture, people are very peaceful and very friendly. Ghanaians will welcome you even if they don’t know you and embrace you.” Allotey maintains the Golden Rule is also held in high esteem in Ghana. “Here [in the U.S.] we are taught to beware of strangers, but in Ghana we embrace strangers because our culture teaches that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. So if you are nice to somebody today, tomorrow the same person will be the one saving you.”
Yet long-simmering discontent in the eastern Volta region of the country, between Lake Volta to the west and neighboring Togo to the east, has in recent years jeopardized Ghana’s political stability. It is inhabited primarily by the culturally and linguistically distinct Ewe tribe, whose presence stretches beyond the border into Togo. Allotey claims that because of the arbitrary demarcation between French-held Togo and the British colony of Ghana, the Ewe tribe was split between the two countries. “The Volta region was given to Ghana [in 1957]. The present-day Volta region is what we used to call Western Togo, which used to be a part of the British Gold Coast. The problem started because when they were dividing this portion of Western Togo, they didn’t consider the culture, the language or the people. There were Ewes living on both sides [of the border] — in Togo and in Ghana. On both sides of the border, they speak the same language, they are the same people.”
As is often the case with ill-conceived colonial borders, the Ewes of the Volta region have felt marginalized from greater Ghanaian society. “In 2017 they started organizing themselves. They called themselves the Western Togoland Restoration Front [WTRF]. They made an attempt in 2017 to form a secessionist group and went ahead and declared independence,” says Allotey.
While the attempt failed to secure an independent state, the WTRF on Sept. 1 this year again declared independence from Ghana. Accordingly, separatists blockaded entrances to the Volta region with burning tires and heaps of sand, attacked and raided local police stations, and took police captive while demanding the release of fellow separatists. Transportation facilities were also attacked, and radio stations were taken over during the insurrection.
On Oct. 2, the Ghanaian government granted autonomy to the town of Alavanyo in a concession to the breakaway Volta region, whose inhabitants maintain that political under-representation is the root cause of the insurrection. Allotey concedes the secessionists have legitimate grievances. Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, “who is running for reelection, has sent soldiers there [Volta region] to intimidate people because it’s said that people from Togo come to the border region and register as Ghanaians and vote.”
“They think that they are marginalized. And they have a point in some places. Personally, I feel if they want to leave, we should let them go…there will be peace.”
Andrew Leonard of Springfield has an appetite for current events, particularly foreign policy and international politics.