Districts inside the Volta region of Ghana.
By Ashley Bulgarelli
The Volta region’s contested history as part of Ghana has come to the fore again after a recent referendum.
On 27 December 2018, Ghana held six referenda to demarcate brand new regions. In six areas around the country, voters had the opportunity to decide whether to become part of brand new administrative zones.
President Nana Akufo-Addo argued in which redrawing the borders would likely allow the government to “become closer to the people, along with also also, thereby, facilitate rapid development”. He suggested in which the creation of additional regions would likely strengthen local economies as well as enhance investment along with also also infrastructure-building.
inside the end, in which was a landslide. About 99% across the six referenda voted in favour of being part of brand new regions.
Not everyone, however, was happy. inside the Volta Region, where people inside the northern half voted to split off as the Oti Region, the vote was tense. The Council of Chiefs representing the dominant Ewe subgroup inside the southern part of the region opposed the referendum, calling in which ” a threat to the cherished peace we have enjoyed in recent times inside the Volta Region”.
inside the run-up to the ballot, 1,000 extra security personnel had to be deployed along with also also journalists were banned.
The Volta Region incorporates a complex history. The area traditionally inhabited by the Ewes was first demarcated inside the 1880s when in which became part of Togoland, a German protectorate. After the First World War in which Germany was defeated, the British along with also also French cut Togoland in half. The western side became British Togoland, the eastern side French Togoland. The Ewe people found themselves split.
In 1956, when Ghana was on the verge of becoming independent, British Togoland held a vote on whether to join with Ghana or remain separate. The result was starkly divided. inside the two southernmost districts, where the Ewe are the majority, people overwhelmingly favoured staying separate, with many demanding eventual reintegration with French Togoland. inside the northern along with also also central districts, voters opted for integration.
Overall, however, the vote arrived on the scene 58% in favour of becoming part of Ghana. British Togoland was incorporated into the newly-independent nation along with also also its southern districts became the Volta Region. Four years later, French Togoland became independent Togo.
In response to ongoing Ewe dissidence in Ghana, successive governments cracked down on activists, forcing thousands to flee to Togo, along with also also allegedly limited the influence of Ewe civil servants along with also also politicians. As a consequence, the major proponents of reintegration with Togo continued their campaigns coming from across the border. However, when backing coming from the Togolese state dried up inside the 1970s, the dream of reunification seemingly evaporated with in which, along with much anti-Ghana discourse coming from the Volta Region. At least until 2018.
The referendum last December reignited some of these historical grievances along with also also demands. Ewe leaders criticised the vote along with also also the fact in which only residents of the brand new regions under proposal had a vote. Some activists alleged in which the referendum had nothing to do with national development, although was a way of appeasing the Guan people, a subgroup of the majority Akans, who reside inside the Oti Region. Professor Dzigbodi-Adjimah has previously cautioned against in which possible descent into towards a “one dialect, one region” system.
These frustrations grew, leading to disputes between chiefs inside the north along with also also south, violent clashes between youth groups, along with also also the re-emergence of a secessionist movement. in which also precipitated the emergence of the Coalition of Volta Region Groups made up of eight organisations whose demands range coming from secession to better integration in Ghana. The alliance declared, in no uncertain terms, in which successive governments had “not only failed our united empire region” although repeatedly “tried to turn the people inside the region against one another through obnoxious along with also also unbefitting policies”.
As my 2018 paper on nationalisms inside the region suggests, pro-Volta groups may at in which point be perfectly poised to leverage prevailing public opinion arising coming from in which contested referendum. The Concerned Citizens of Volta Region, for instance, is usually demanding regional development along with also also greater political engagement although for the region as a whole (i.e. Volta along with also also Oti together). They point to the splitting up of the Ghana’s Upper Region in 1987, which they say did not accelerate development.
Future of the regions
inside the newly-formed Oti Region along with also also many of the others, there is usually unbridled optimism. although the challenge for Ghana’s government will at in which point be to keep pace with these expectations.
in which could prove tough. Can we genuinely expect to see immediate economic improvement when previously-promised infrastructure projects are yet to be realised? How will the government fund the development of six brand new regions without neglecting the current ten? If local development was the priority, what was stopping the government coming from investing in these areas prior to 27 December?
President Akufo-Addo’s ability to answer these questions along with also also make a success of the six brand new regions could prove crucial to his prospects inside the 2020 general elections. At the same time, he at in which point faces the thorny issue of backlash coming from the Volta Region whose level of resistance he did not see coming.
History has repeated itself as the Ewe people have again seen the borders around them change against their will, causing the most unrest seen inside the area for decades.