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A New Dimension of the Legacy of Colonial Borders

Many African countries today are still battling with colonial borders that were arbitrarily delineated at the close of the 19th century by those who had no knowledge about, or had never set foot in, Africa. Using rulers and other few mathematical instruments, the borders were drawn on papers in European capitals during and after the Berlin Conference. It is estimated that about 44 %  of African borders are straight lines and about 80 %  follow the behest of longitudinal and latitudinal lines. African countries also have the most unusual, strange borders and shapes.

Groups with national ambitions saw their aspirations shatter after they were arbitrarily divided into adjacent countries, regardless of their religion, creed, language, and ethnic composition. The newly created states had to contend with, and manage, a large set of groups with distinct – and sometimes contrary – traditions, ambitions, customs, among others. The consequences were, and have always been, disastrous. On one hand the groups continued to court and pursue their individual nationalistic agendas at the expense of the common good of the newly created states. On the other hand political bigots have continued to exploit and capitalise on tribal, religious and linguistic sentiments to garner political support.

But the problem has another dimension that has often eluded casual observers. The Ghana-Togo border, a typical case of a colonial border that has uniformly partitioned at least six ethnic groups into Ghana and Togo respectively, is an ideal scenario to emphasise on the other dimension of the political menace those artificial borders created. The about 1100km long border is a sort of elongated line comprising numerous straight lines and bends that avoid rivers, watersheds, and stones.

Unarguably the most affected group on the borderline are the Ewes, who stride the southern end of the border. About 3.3 million and 2 million of them live in Ghana and Togo respectively, although a few of them live in nearby Benin. Over the years the group in the Ghana side of the border, by virtue of their location, believe they have been systematically marginalised and neglected. Not only did this sentiment solicit the ineluctable empathy from their counterparts from the other side, but it has also triggered severe feelings of irredentism and national ambitions.

To many Togolese, Ghana “stole” the Volta region, the southern quarter of the border predominantly occupied by the Ewes, in 1956 when a plebiscite was held to determine whether the citizens of the then British Togoland favoured an integration with the Gold Coast, which was on the verge of gaining political independence from Britain and would be called Ghana. This brought severe polarisation and tension at the border area; while the northern size of the border, occupied by different set of ethnic groups, favoured an integration with Ghana, the southern part (the Volta) largely favoured an independent Togoland that would later unite the Ewe nation. The results of the referendum showed 58 %  votes in favour of reunification with Ghana, although the results from the southern section indicated a 55 % votes in favour of separation, suggesting that the results were northern-driven. Some somehow believe the lifelong bitter or not-too-good relation between Ghana and Togo, doorstep neighbours, is a clear manifestation of this incidence.

But today what further exacerbates the political quandary of the Volta region is the phenomenal political contract they have “signed” with one of the two major political parties in the country, the National Democratic Congress (NDC). Since 1992, when Ghana returned to civilian rule, the region has been an unflinching “world bank” of the NDC, hence in times when the NDC holds the political realm the region feels at ease and peace and witnesses massive installations of infrastructure. But the picture becomes bleak when the other major political party, the National Patriotic Party (NPP), holds political office. Currently the NPP is the ruling party in Ghana and all hell is breaking lose in the region.

As part of preparations to conduct the December 2020 elections, the Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana, whose chairperson has been recently appointed by the country’s president, has commenced a nationwide compilation of new electoral register. The EC holds that the old register is unimaginably bloated and contains serious irregularities as in some towns the number of registered voters surpass the total population of those towns. The NPP has so far vehemently supported the EC because they believe those irregularities occur in the Volta region where they argue “Togolese” had registered and voted in Ghana’s previous election(s).

The current government does not seem to play cool with the new electoral register, vowing to exclude all “Togolese” names and prevent any “foreigner” from registering this time around. The president has warned that the December 2020 Elections should be a Ghanaian, not a West African, elections. Accordingly, a disproportionately heavy military has been dispatched to the region to “protect” the register, although the government claims the move is to clampdown on the importation of new Covid-19 cases. The opposition NDC, however, believes this is a political machination to intimidate, harass and bully would-be voters from registering, thereby slimming their chances of winning the upcoming elections.  

In any case Ghana shares borders with two other sovereign states, Cote D’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. So far residents closer to any of the other two borders have not raised fears of intimidation and harassment ever since the voter registration exercise commenced. However, there have been numerous complaints and instances of military intimidation and bullying in the Togo border. A 19-year-old schoolgirl who resides in Ghana but schools in Lome, Togo, was allegedly assaulted on her way to school on 29th June 2020. A video also circulated on social media where a woman alleged that security personnel repeatedly break into houses looking for “Togolese”. The traditional leaders in the area have registered their outrage at and dissatisfaction with the current situation. The latest dismay came from Torgbui Afede XIV, the President of Ghana’s National House of Chiefs, “Volta sees military deployment into the region as an invasion and deliberate intimidation.”

 Many of the Volta people are embittered because they are not considered Ghanaians. They believe the recent actions by the current government is nothing but attempts to disenfranchise them en masse. They also complain of the little-to-no piece they get from the national cake. As an extreme example, the Minister of Finance, when presenting the 2020 budget in parliament, “omitted” the scale of infrastructure projects the government would execute in the Volta region for the 2020 fiscal year.

The injustices the people have faced over the years have only increased their edge to carve a solid independent Western Togoland, which they believe would unite all the Ewes in their three settlements. Regular monitors know that the secessionist movement in the region has only progressively intensified quite recently. In as much as such movements should be condemned in their entirety, it is proper to address all concerns and issues that at first engender the seeds of these movements. It is a wakeup call on the government of Ghana to treat this sensitive issue with all the urgency and sensitiveness it deserves. It is a matter of a brother or sister visiting a brother or sister that lives on the other side of the border. This is a reality Africa countries can never run away from. But wilfully gamble and play politics with the lives, family relations, and aspirations of a people, unfortunately partitioned by a line, is a dangerous sport and must be shunned at all times, especially in African countries where the task of sustained development is still a mirage.

By Iddrisu Kambala Mohammed

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