From Tamale to Accra: Culture, Shock and Rights by Prosper Batariwah

I had walked into the law school, naïve, unpretentious and not knowing to what to expect. In our first Logic class, Dr. Baasit asked us to introduce ourselves and the Senior Secondary Schools we were coming from, every single one of us. Wesley Girls, Achimota, Aburi Girls, et cetera. That was when I knew I was alone. Coming from a small single sex Roman Catholic Junior Seminary in Wa (with a population of a little above two hundred), it appeared I was (and still am) the only person in my year group to have attended basic and secondary school in the so-called North of this country. This was not the only horrifying detail for me. Most of the songs sang in church were in Twi and many people spoke Twi to me at a first meeting. This was some sort of cultural shock for someone coming from places were Waali, Dagaare and Dagbani were spoken.

Then I was told I didn’t look Northern because I did not have a Muslim name and a tribal mark. I was horrified, angry and amazed. A year before, I had taken my biometric birth certificate only to see my place of birth typed and printed as ‘Wa, Upper East Region’ (Wa is the regional capital of the Upper West Region). Then during the 2016 election, It was reported that some sporadic violence had broken out in Jirapa, Northern Region. (Jirapa is in the Upper West Region). A friend of mine once asked me whether we have telecommunication networks as well as internet in the so-called North. When another found out that I was from the so-called North, she inquired whether or not I knew Amina. Let us even use the 2010 Population and Housing Census. There were over two million persons in the then Northern Region alone. The Upper East had over a million persons while the Upper West had a little above seven hundred thousand people. The total population of these three regions would be about 3, 700,000. The population of Accra alone is said to be about four million persons. If you do not know every single person within a land mass of 3,245 km2 in the Greater Accra Region, how can I know over 3,700,000 people within a land mass of 103,147km2. How can I know Fatima, Memuna and Karim? After the Yendi Peace Process and the enskinment of a new chief, many people have casually passed comments that the so-called Northerners have a new chief. For goodness sake, not everyone in the ‘North’ is Dagomba and take that to mean the tribal groupings in the ‘North’ do not owe allegiance to the Ya-Na. Ga chiefs do not owe allegiance to Ewe Chiefs. That is exactly how it plays out. Almost every day I get the comment, ‘Oh! You don’t look like a Northerner’. I have been trying to understand this statement for years. Does it mean I am too refined or perhaps I have excelled in areas of human endeavour where Northerners have been few and far between? To sum up my experiences in the ‘South’, I have become in all senses of the word a specimen, a spectacle, a work of wonder and interest.

I do admit that many people down here are nice and lovely people. I have come to realise that many people just don’t know about their country and her rich cultural heritage. It is interesting that educated Ghanaians still pass comments smeared with ignorance about some parts of their country. Article 39 (1) of the 1992 Constitution provides’…the State shall take steps to encourage the integration of appropriate customary values into the fabric of national life through formal and informal education and the conscious introduction of cultural dimensions to relevant aspects of national planning’. I learnt a great deal about my country, her size the number of administrative regions she had, the number and kind of ethnic groups, the paramount chiefs of tribal groupings in Ghana as well as their rich history from my Junior Secondary School Social Studies and High School Geography. The state qua state has indeed made bold attempts but the sociological response is terribly abysmal. This perhaps is either a problem with our education or with us as people. We have to find out.

It has always been trite learning that ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Article 15(1) of the 1992 Constitution provides that ‘the dignity of all persons shall be inviolable’. This is further amplified by the side note which states, ‘RESPECT FOR HUMAN DIGNITY’. I am yet to find a Ghanaian case that deals with this right in great detail. For now, let us make do with Law v. Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration), [1999] 1 S.C.R. 497 at 530, Iacobucci J., succinctly described human dignity as follows:

Human dignity means that an individual or group feels self-respect and self-worth. It is concerned with physical and psychological integrity and empowerment. Human dignity is harmed by unfair treatment premised upon personal traits or circumstances which do not relate to individual needs, capacities, or merits. It is enhanced by laws which are sensitive to the needs, capacities, and merits of different individuals, taking into account the context underlying their differences. Human dignity is harmed when individuals and groups are marginalized, ignored, or devalued, and is enhanced when laws recognize the full place of all individuals and groups within Canadian[let us replace with Ghana] society.

If you did not know, now you know. It is a painful thing to pass comments that devalue people and make them feel less human. What is more, it is a violation of the person’s fundamental human right to human dignity, a right that is inherent.

Furthermore, article 17 indicates that a person shall not be discriminated against on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status. This is further amplified by the meaning attached to discrimination under article 17. Discriminate ‘means to give different treatment to different persons attributable only or mainly to their respective descriptions by race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, gender, occupation, religion or creed, whereby persons of one description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of another description are not made subject or are granted privileges or advantages which are not granted to persons of another description.’. To the extent that discriminating against persons based on their ethnic origin is concerned, disabilities are imposed when such persons have their personal dignity violated, thereby brewing inferiority complex.

Nobody wants to see this country fall into a period of tumult where pent-up emotions are released to give way to danger. We have learnt about the bitter ethnic violence that threatened to destroy some of our very own African countries. We cherish our peace. Nevertheless, the change begins with you. Learn about your country, her culture and her people. I dare posit that the most important condition of securing personal dignity is ‘to do to others as you would have them do to you.’. Until we begin to acknowledge minorities and secure their rights, we are sitting a ticking time bomb.