1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Governance

Ethnic Structure, Inequality and Governance of the Public Sector in Ghana (Draft)



Ghana, like most countries in Africa is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society. Its current population, which is estimated at about twenty million, is a vast mosaic of large and small ethnic groups.

Despite its rich ethnic diversity, easy geographical and social mobility have scattered people from various ethnic groups throughout the country without destroying or weakening their ethnic bonds. Ethnic rivalries during the colonial era and the effect of colonialism on different groups and regions of the country, coupled with the uneven distribution of social and economic amenities in both the colonial and post independence Ghana have all contributed to the inequalities and to some extent some of the present day ethnic tensions within and among the various ethnic groups and the country in general.

Even though no part of Ghana is ethnically homogeneous, an overriding feature of the county’s ethnic polarization is the north–south divide and the dominance of the southern half of Ghana in general, and in particular by the Akan group. This segment of Ghanaian society has enjoyed relative economic and political dominance in both the colonial and post-colonial times. In addition, there has been a divide in Ghanaian politics between the populist and the elite strands in society and between the rural and urban populations. The north–south flow of migration is emblematic of the ethno-regional inequalities that have developed in Ghana since colonial times when infrastructural development and productive projects had been concentrated in the south and left the north relatively underdeveloped.

This study examines the nature and structure of cleavage and inequality in Ghanaian society; how successive governments have perceived and managed the main cleavages and inequalities in Ghana; and most importantly, what types of institutions and public policies have been adopted by post-independence governments to manage these cleavages and inequalities, particularly in the Ghanaian public sector; and the extent to which these institutions and policies have been effective in managing diversity, inequality and representation in government and in the public sector in Ghana.

The study has two main parts. Part one presents an overview of the ethnic structure of Ghana. It identifies and discusses the ethnic polarization and the internal rivalries within and among ethnic groups. It also highlights the socio-economic, cleavage and inequality problems within the Ghanaian public sector. It attributes the high levels of inequalities and some of the tensions particularly in the public sector to colonialism and inappropriate policies adopted by some post colonial governments. Furthermore, it examines the historical background of political parties, the politics of ethnicity, and the politics of recruitment into the Ghanaian public sector.

The second part of the study examines the main outlines of cleavage and inequality in Ghana focusing on the north-south divide, rural urban disparities, the Ashanti-Ewe divide and the dominance of the southern parts in particular by Akan groups in the political and economic fields. It then reviews the institutional arrangements and policies adopted by successive post-colonial governments to manage problems of cleavage and inequality. It also discusses the extent to which public policies, electoral rules, parliamentary and presidential systems of government, decentralization and affirmative action policies have tackled the cleavage and the inequality problems in Ghana.

A key hypothesis of the study is that despite the fact that the Akan group constitutes the largest ethnic group in Ghana it is fragmented and cannot win competitive elections without appealing to the major ethnic groups. A second hypothesis is that even though the Akan ethnic group dominates the Ghanaian public sector, post colonial administrations have shown considerable sensitivity to the need for a measure of representation in politics and the public sector for the other four largest ethnic groups. A third hypothesis is that, governance reforms and public policies in Ghana have tried to foster political inclusiveness and civic participation as a way to promote national unity.

We conclude that inequality and ethno-regional rivalry may cause tensions but they have not erupted in violent conflict largely because successive Ghanaian governments have adopted practices of symbolic distribution, representativeness and inclusion.

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