Ghana Life: How Elastic Is Loyalty?

People in Ghana identify with their extended family, their clan and their tribe in diminishing order of intensity. There is little shared identity with people of different tribes, and even hostility that occasionally erupts into local wars that have to be suppressed by the national army. At the national level, politics consists essentially of a contest between the Ashanti party and a coalition of opposing tribes forged by the first national leader, Kwame Nkrumah, although in recent years various moves have been taken to try to blur these tribal affinities. Progressive people seeking to forge a truly national identity have been fighting an uphill battle since Ghana was founded in 1957. In his novel, The Colonial Gentleman's Son, John Powell explores how Kwame Mainu, a young man born in the year of independence, seeks to reconcile the progressive aspirations of his father with the traditional expectations of his family, friends and clansmen.
The traditional wisdom has it that the borders of African countries were set by European powers without due regard to the ethnicity of the people, since some tribes find their traditional territory divided by a frontier line while others are corralled with traditional enemies. The German colony of Togoland was populated mainly by people of the Eve tribe but after the First World War it was divided between the French colony of Togo and the Volta Region of the British Colony of the Gold Coast. When the Gold Coast became Ghana, the Eves became reluctant citizens of the new state and during the era of Kwame Nkrumah, in the 1960s, there was a political movement seeking to reunite the Eve tribe in an enlarged Togo. The move was strongly resisted by Nkrumah who couldn't afford to lose a powerful force in his battle with the Ashanti party, but the Eves took their revenge subsequently by being centrally involved in all five of Ghana's military coups.
Against this background of tribal rivalry it was perhaps not surprising that few people respected the national government: its laws, its officials or its property. With loyalty extending only as far as the tribe, central government was regarded by many people as a vestige of colonial rule, serving the needs of those in power with their connections to big business and outside commercial interests. And the material rewards of political power were seen as so great that successive waves of military adventurers made their bids during the first three decades of Ghana's life as a free country. Many people sought to leave the country rather than suffer the increasing hardships, and even those who began each era with genuine revolutionary zeal joined the ranks of the exodus as their dreams were replaced by the next nightmare.
In The Colonial Gentleman's Son, Kwame Mainu succeeds in rising from a poverty-stricken childhood in a small Ashanti town to employment as a technical officer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. His work is interesting but poorly paid, and he is torn between staying to play a part in Ghana's grassroots industrial development and leaving to seek his fortune overseas. With each downward turn of the economy the urge to leave becomes stronger and he eagerly seizes an opportunity to pursue his education further at a university in the UK.
Kwame soon finds that being overseas does not automatically lead to the easy acquisition of wealth. On leave back in Kumasi he discovers that some of his fellow escapees are building big houses. His wife, Comfort, begins asking why she cannot be similarly accommodated and his mother and sister in Wenchi also have pressing needs, as have many other members of his extended family.
Kwame suspects that much of the money flowing in from overseas is being made from drugs trading but he can see no other route to a fast fortune. Comfort warns him of the risks of becoming an air courier but he is tempted by an offer from a friend to join in selling drugs in the UK. Then, unexpectedly, he is asked by the British customs to help identify the UK coordinator of the Kumasi-based drugs cartel. This work would augment his income by legitimate means but might result in the eventual arrest of some of his fellow tribesmen in the UK and in Ghana. His father would expect him to do the right thing but where do his loyalties lie?

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