Language, Politics and Governance

The influence of local languages in Ghanaian Politics and Governance

Essay, 2017

7 Pages, Grade: 82.50


Language, Politics and Governance: The influence of local languages in Ghanaian Politics and Governance.

Language is a very vital tool in human existence. Serving as the basis of communication, it is undoubtedly needed for every human act and according to Lal and Suri (2015), Language is man's finest asset. This then implies that there cannot be human existence without language, the basis of communication. Just as many countries across the globe are multilingual, Ghana is too. With about 100 ethnolinguistic groups, all further divided into numerous cultural and linguistic units, the major languages include Akan,Ewe,Dagbani, Ga and Nzema, (Laverle,1995, p.xx). All these languages, together with all others that have not been mentioned tend to define who Ghanaians really are. As such, the nature of politics in the country is partly built on the use of language particularly, the local languages which include the above mentioned languages as well as the various dialects used in the country.

It is worthy of note that inasmuch as Ghana may not be as populated as much as some countries may be, presidential campaigns and elections as well as that of parliament in Ghana have always been highly competitive. Usually dwelling on ethnic lines, it is palpable that a flag bearer or an aspirant for a parliamentary seat who is not knowledgeable and fluent in their tribal language as well as other indigenous languages of the country is likely to lose during elections.Due to how influential these native languages are on general elections, aspirants usually try as much as they can to run their campaigns in the English language (which is the country’s official language) and some local languages. For instance, in the 2016 presidential elections held on December 7,2016, the current president, His Excellency Addo Dankwah Akuffo Addo, the then flag bearer of the New Patriotic Party, won the elections by a total percentage of 53.80% (Electoral Commission,2017). This victory was to an extent, built on his ability to use local languages such as the Akan Language, Ga and Hausa consistently in his campaign, according to some media houses. Unarguably, most Ghanaian languages constitute the bedrock of cultural manifestations of the people, (Adams,1993). As such, his ability to blend both the English Language and the local languages in his campaigns helped him much. That is, most people felt some sense of attachment to him and saw the need to vote for him. According to the Electoral Commission’s final results in 2016, the incumbent president won in six (6) regions out of the ten (10) regions of the country. Notably, these regions were the Akan Speaking regions who constitute majority of the country’s population. This, some schools of thought believe was achievable due to his background in the Akan Language as opposed the background of his opponent who comes from the Northern Region of the country and couldn’t campaign to the Akans (who make up majority of the county’s population) by means of the Akan Language. Aspirants may be from particular tribes for instance, the Akan tribe,Ewe and Dagomba. However, failure to deliver by means of the Akan Language,Ga, and Dagare respectively, can cause their downfall in elections. That is, one’s tribe is manifested through his ability to speak the language. More so, from the researcher’s interviews with some of the county’s eligible voters, it was realized that once an aspirant decides to campaign solely by means of a foreign language notably, the English Language, the people feel neglected. Again, according to the 2010 Population and Census by the Ghana Statistical Service (2012,p.7), about 28.5% of the population are completely illiterates. Therefore, not campaigning by means of the local languages implies that the particular aspirant is not ready to be well understood by scores of citizens and this really does no good to the aspirant as what ever campaign promises and political ideologies he or she makes are not well understood and appreciated by the masses.

In governance, the local languages play a vital role just as the official language, the English Language does. This is manifested in all aspects of governance including Legislative matters. For instance, during a parliamentary proceeding in November 2015, the current second (2nd) Deputy Speaker of the Ghana Parliament, Hon. Alban Bagbin, who by then was the Majority Leader of the House stated that parliament could equally adopt other local languages during debates in the house. This, according to Ghana News Agency (2015), he made by reference to page 47 of the standing orders of the house which permits a member to use any of the following languages: Akan, Nzema Ga, Hausa, Dagbani and Dagari, provided there is a means of interpretation. This manifests the influence of the local languages in governance. The mere fact of creating a section for local languages in both the county’s constitution and the standing orders of parliament alone is indicative of how the various local languages in Ghana play a role in the county’s political matters. Still on legislative matters, the Parliament of Ghana, hitherto, had no room for individuals who could not speak the official Language for parliamentary activities, the English Language. Nevertheless, in the 2016 elections, few aspirants who could not speak the English Language were voted to be in parliament. Example of these current members of parliament include the Member of Parliament for the Akwatia Constituency in the Eastern Region, Hon. Mercy Adu-Gyamfi who is currently in parliament even though she cannot speak the English Language so well (Boateng,2017). Furthermore, the Ministry of Education has made it a point by making the study of local languages particularly, Akan and Ga in schools compulsory. It is believed that the study of a Ghanaian language in the Junior Secondary School besides the English Language is a start towards learners becoming bilingual in Ghanaian languages (Owu-Ewie,2006). This, according to many Schools of thought is probably the reason why every government, since Ghana attained independence in March 6,1957 has tried to make a policy on the study and use of local languages. That is, the controversy about the language to use as the medium of instruction in Ghanaian schools, especially at the lower basic level dates back to the castle schools and missionary era (Owu-Ewie,2006).

Moving forward, the legal order in Ghana is pluralistic, encompassing not merely law derived from the former colonial power, now supplemented by post-independence legislation, and a system of courts to apply that law, but also a body of indigenous or customary law applied mainly in the Native, now Local, Courts (Harvey,1962). This simply makes us understand that in the judicial sphere of the country, there is the recognition of the modern courts operated by government officials such as the Chief Justice with her judges and the local courts manned by Chiefs. Obviously, these local courts use local languages used in their communities. Nevertheless, the modern judicial system ( the courts) use the English Language as the official language for court proceedings. Notwithstanding, the local languages are sometimes used in their activities. Right from the Circuit Courts to the High Courts, the use of the local languages play a predominant role in judicial proceedings. This is usually manifested on the part of witnesses (who are illiterates and as such, can’t speak the English Language) and interpreters. In a small survey conducted by the researcher among the people of “OforiKurom”, a town in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, it was realized that regional and minority languages and dialects are sometimes used before judicial authorities. For instance, in the High Court of the Kumasi Metropolis, there are more than two (2) interpreters who usually convert whatever court authorities and officials say in English to the Akan Language as a result of the high number of individuals who are familiar with only the Akan Language in the area. Though many people have argued about this act of always interpreting what is said as time consuming, other schools of thought including Cardi (2007,p.4) admit that the sole rationale behind this is for effective communication. That is, for a fair trial, the court is always interested in effective communication and a better understanding of cases between court officials, both the defendant and the respondent as well as all individuals gathered to witness the proceedings. As such, as to whichever language that an individual understands, the court is always ready to get it in its proceedings.

The nature of politics in Ghana cannot be discussed without throwing some light on the operations and activities of civil servants. With ten (10) administrative divisions technically called regions, the country is further divided into districts with their own district assemblies. These districts have local and zonal councils and about sixteen thousand (16,000) unit committees on lowest level, (Laverne,1995). It is worthy of note that in all these areas, there exist offices filled with civil servants and administrative staff who work day in day out to enhance governmental activities. Though the various ministries are all located in the capital city,Accra, they all have one or two offices linked to them in the various regions. In view of this, various languages are employed in the various activities carried out by employees of these offices. That is, every administrative region has more than two different ethnic groups residing there. As such, in dealing with the masses, the local languages used for everyday interactions in the various regions are used. For the purposes of writing, the English Language is used. However, this is not the case in verbal discourse. The researcher, after visiting the local council of the East Akim District in the Eastern Region to find out how a lost voters identification card could be replaced found out that since the Akans are dominant in the area, the mode of communication was by means of the Akan Language. Again, the researcher realized that a few other staffers were “Voltarians” from the Volta Region. As such, the use of the Ewe Language was heard in the office. This goes a long way to manifest the prevalence of the various local languages in politics and governance in Ghana.


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Language, Politics and Governance
The influence of local languages in Ghanaian Politics and Governance
Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
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language, politics, governance, ghanaian
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Gilbert Ansah (Author), 2017, Language, Politics and Governance, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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