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AD58: Day of Tolerance: ‘Neighbourliness’ a strength of Ghana’s diverse society

Isaac Newton Bortey and Daniel Armah-Attoh 16 Nov 2015 Ghana
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The stability of a society with a diversity of cultural and religious beliefs depends on citizens’ tolerance and desire for peaceful coexistence. As explained by Berns and Fitzduff (2007), peaceful coexistence describes how a society embraces and harnesses the positive potential of its diversities, actively pursues equality and interdependence, and eliminates the use of violence to address differences. Ghana is a secular and heterogeneous society in which diverse religions and ethnicities (see Table 1) have generally cohabited peacefully. Indeed, in each of the country’s 10 regions, one can identify residents of different religious and ethnic backgrounds, and in some cases, small ethnic groups have their own traditional heads who are well-recognized by the traditional leaders in the host regions.

The Constitution protects religious freedom, and Christian and Islamic groups collaborate on the National Peace Council and other forums. Nonetheless, differences emerge at times. In early 2015, a demonstration by a Muslim group in the Western Region against requiring Muslims in second-cycle schools to participate in Christian worship activities and remove their hijabs drew reactions from Ghana’s president and communication minister, the Ghana Education Service, the Catholic Bishops Conference, an Islamic scholar and security expert, and the National Peace Council.

On the ethnic front, according to Boafo-Arthur (2008), the Akans have dominated the political life of the country, whilst the Ewes have had strong representation in the military and civil service. Evidence of Akan-Ewe power struggles can be seen, according to Boafo-Arthur, in the country’s series of military takeovers between 1966 and 1981, mostly led by officers of Ewe descent, as well as in voting patterns in the 1969, 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 national elections. In addition, pockets of localized conflicts and violence, most often with undertones of chieftaincy and land ownership disputes, have occasionally erupted in the country.2 And in recent times, some politicians campaigning for election have played on voters’ religious and ethnic identities to win votes. Nonetheless, according to Throup (2011), in a sub-region noted for violent conflicts, Ghana has never suffered major civil strife occasioned by ethnic and religious differences. As Ghana observes International Day for Tolerance (16 November), this analysis of data from the 2014 Afrobarometer survey shows that Ghanaians are highly tolerant of people of different religious faiths, ethnicities, and nationalities (and to a lesser extent of people living with HIV/AIDS), even though some believe that their ethnic group is at least “sometimes” treated unfairly. This high level of tolerance is a strength that those who would fan ethnic and religious intolerance should respect for the sake of the country’s peace and stability

Key findings
  • More than nine in 10 Ghanaians would like or not mind having people of different ethnicities (95%) and religious faiths (94%) as neighbours.
  • Almost nine in 10 Ghanaians (88%) would like or not mind living next to immigrants or foreign workers.
  • More than two-thirds (68%) of Ghanaians would like or not mind having people living with HIV/AIDS as neighbours.
  • Tolerance for people of different ethnicities, different religious faiths, different nationalities, and positive HIV/AIDS status is generally widespread across various religious groups, ethnic groups, ages, education levels, and geographic locations.
  • Nonetheless, from 2005 to 2014, appreciable percentages (from 31% to 47%) of Ghanaians have expressed the view that their ethnic groups are “sometimes,” “often,” or “always” treated unfairly

Ghanaians express high levels of tolerance for people of different religions and ethnicities. Eight in every 10 survey respondents say they would “somewhat” or “strongly” like to have people of different religious faiths (80%) and people of different ethnicities (81%) as neighbours (Figure 1).

In addition, 14% would not care if their neighbours were of a different religion or ethnicity. Only one in 20 (5%) say they would “somewhat” or “strongly” dislike living near people of different religions or ethnicities.

Since the “like” and “wouldn’t care” responses are both indications of an absence of intolerance, in aggregate terms, overwhelming majorities Ghanaians accept people of different ethnicities (95%) and religious faiths (94%) as neighbours.

Isaac Bortey

Isaac is a performance auditor with Ghana Audit Service, a contributor to the Future Africa Forum, and a scholar with the Leaders of Africa Institute

Daniel Armah-Attoh

Daniel is the project manager for North and Anglophone West Africa