GHANA JOSEPH PROJECT
…and the Fulani syndrome
IN Ghana a person who tends cattle in the bush is called a Fulani. It does not matter whether he is a member of the Fulani tribe of Northern Nigeria.
In my childhood, there were large herds in the southern savannah of this country, when it was sparsely populated by humans.
Local cattle owners employ Fulanis and paid them with only cow milk, which they converted into butter, yoghurt, and a form of cheese called wangas and sold at a profit.
The migratory nature of the Fulanis would not allow them to stay with the employer for a long time. Some, however, did stay for several years and became assimilated by the community.
They adopted the local cultures. They spoke the Anlo dialect and dress to the extent that they were indistinguishable from the locals. Such assimilated migrants were called Fulani Anlos.
Culture, they say, rubs both ways. So it was not surprising that some of the locals also took to Fulani ways. They wear the long dresses, chewed a lot of cola nuts and tobacco and drank fermented milk called nono.
Some spoke Hausa and converted to Islam. These people were nicknamed Anlo Fulanis. Ironically, the locals and the Fulanis had low perception of each other.
The Fulanis regarded the locals as too soft. The locals in turn thought the Fulanis were not be relied on. They would steal the animals and run away with them. They also disliked the Fulani habit of calling a person by his physical appearance.
To the Fulani any fair- complexioned person is Jato, a tall person, Dogo and a short man, Gejele. In view of their suspicions, there was no inter – marriage. One could imagine the reaction in one village when a boy with unmistakable Fulani features was born to an Anlo woman.
The baby was fair- skinned and had curly hair and pointed nose. No matter what the mother said, her son was a source of juicy gossip as he grew up and looked distinctly different from his siblings. For people called him a Fulani Anlo or rather Dogo, as he was tall.
In the Sixth Form, we learnt the Watson- Crick DNA helical structure and phenomenon of the genetic throw- back. Professor J.J Niles, a soot- black West Indian who taught this course always claimed that he was an Ashanti royal from Kokofu.
You believed him till lilting Jamaican accent gave him away. But genes can only be expressed; they do not talk. Professor Niles could after all be of Ashanti heredity.
Genetic throw- back simply means that certain hereditary characteristics could be hidden and only show up after several generations. This, to me, cleared the mystery of Dogo’s birth that had cause her family so much pain some twenty years earlier.
Slavery was the villain, as it was revealed that several generations down the family tree, there had been a “bought person”, a derogatory term for a slave. This bought person apparently had a hidden Fulani gene.
Attempts to woo descendants of slaves back to their Africans roots have assumed several forms. On a purely nationalistic level, a man such as W.B du Bois, a black Emancipator came to Ghana, the first black independent Africa country south of the Sahara at the behest of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
He died and was interred in our soil. On the social level many slave descendants in the Diaspora have come to Africa as tourist and as students of African Studies. Some claim to have found their roots through oral traditions by griots and from revelations by traditional religious practices.
More recently, a chair was created at Exeter College of Oxford University for Slavery Studies which would unearth information to enhance our understanding of the slave trade.
The task of home- tracing is by no means easy. Physical resemblance or genetic throw- backs alone are not of much use. As for languages, they had lost traces since their use had been forbidden. Look at any black man on the streets of New Orleans. His features could have match perfectly any one from The Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique or Angola.
This black man would have been told the great grandfather was shipped some 400 years ago through a fort on the Atlantic African Coast. Was it Goree, Elmina, Cape Coast, Prinzsentein or Ouiddah? It is this uncertainty that the Ghana Joseph Project Seeks to remove by providing a scientific bases for the search of the roots.
The Ghana Joseph Project is part of an elaborate plan to establish Ghana as homeland to Africans in the Diaspora. It takes its name form the Biblical Joseph sold into slavery by his own brothers. As narrated in the book of Genesis, Joseph ended up in Egypt and through exceptional qualities became a Governor and re- united with and saved his family during famine.
The Joseph Project, launched in 2007 as part of the razzmatazz of Ghana’s celebration of her 50th Anniversary of Independence, seeks to facilitate for the Diaspora cousins easy visa to travel to Ghana and easy land acquisition for any person who would like to own an estate in Ghana.
Implied here is a call for relocation of businesses to Ghana. Additionally, there is a grandiose plan for a genetic map that would provide a data base for a family tree.
How has the Joseph Project fared after it was launched? Apart from starring inaugural address delivered by the Hon. Obetsebi- Lamptey, the ex- Minister of Tourism and Diaspora Affairs, there is next to nothing on the four website dedicated to the project.
This dearth of information is demonstrated by an enquiry at one of the sites from a Sharon M. King, PhD, who wanted to know whether there had been conferences, workshops or discussions to evaluate the project. Is there an answer?
It is pertinent to note that the aspect of the Joseph Project involving DNA-mapping has not been the first of its kind. There has been a global project launched in April 2005 to map out the migratory routes of mankind ancestors.
Designed on the premise that the first human beings originated from East Africa some 200,000 years ago, this project called Genographic Project, is a five- year research collaboration between the National Geographic Society, IBM and a geneticist called Dr. Spencer Wells.
The research is participatory and aims to collect 100,000 DNA samples throughout the world from indigenous people that would form the database against which people would match their genes.
To facilitate the research, a Genographic participation Tool Kit, complete with DVD is on sale with clear instructions about its use to determine your ancestry (www.national geographic. Con/genographic)
The project ran into difficulty from indigenous people around the world. They claimed that it was a clear case of ethno-colonialism. They protested that in the past such samples had ever been collected by researchers who proceeded to use them for purposes they, the sample donors had not approved. This protest was upheld by the UN and it instructed WHO to order the research to cease immediately. Here one wonders whether the Ghana Joseph Project has petered out from such protests.
Protests or no protests, the Genographic Project is going on in earnest on the assurance that it is a purely academic exercise. For the Ghana Joseph Project, however, one suspects that due to its link to tourism and profit, it may not escape the axe of Civil Societies connected with ethnocism. Does Ghana need the Joseph Project?
Tourists will always go where the environment is clean, sunshine is plentiful and bright, the people are friendly and public safety is assured. Immigrates will go wherever they are attracted by opportunities.
On another plane, one would ask whether we have not attracted foreigners into this country when the climate suited them. Without a Joseph Project we had the Lebanese, the Syrians, the Koros, the Yurobas, and the Ijaws coming herein droves.
Most of them left when the opportunity was exhausted. Take the freedom fighters who where welcomed to our national purse that proved useful in their struggle against colonialism. Ghana, to many, was like a hunting ground.
The Fulanis provide a lesson. They came as employees and now they have invaded this country with their own large herds of animals that are not subjected to any form of control.
They roam freely through farms and even villages wreaking havoc wherever they go. They are able to do this with the tacit encouragement of greedy chiefs who are only interested in tolls.
In a recent speech he delivered to farmers in Afram Plains, Mr. Kwasi Ahwoi, the Minister of Agricultural, spoke of a plan to cultivate fodder and restrict the Fulanis and their herds to Wawase and Forifori. This is laughable.
The nomadic genes in the Fulani make him a migratory being. The minster’s speech has legalized the actions of the Fulanis. Could the minister not put a cap on how many animals that could be reared in the Afram Plains?
The intention as it stands, sounds ethnocolonialism. It is like a blanket invitation for our cousins in the Diaspora to own land in Ghana, a gesture that might fuel a free- for- all land grab.
I can assure the minister that before he could blink an eye, there will be no leg room in the Afram Plains for the bullying Fulani and his beasts and we will be crying about over- grazing and desertification.
The fragile ecology of the Afram Plains can not support the voracious Sahel beasts. Is that a legacy one would wish the Fulani to leave the Kwahus in particular and Ghana at large?
Daily Graphic - Page: 7 Saturday, October 24, 2009