Let me start by saying I do not intend to offend Yvonne Okoro with this article—it’s just that her instagram post is fresh enough to serve as the example I need for a typical no harm intended tribal joke, often thrown out by Ghanaians on social media.
Also, Yvonne Okoro had an obvious disclaimer, saying, she did not intend to offend her ewe brothers and even tagged actor-John Dumelo from Volta in her ‘tribal joke’ post.
But this does not still make our incessant pressing of the tribal joke button less of a problem: at best a rude enterprise.
We can all issue disclaimers and make fun of certain things—however, considering the unconscious tribal tension which still exists in Ghana, these stereotypical jokes only aid in entrenching prejudice and should not have a place our exchanges.
And saying you do not intend to offend a group of people with a gratuitously offensive joke does not mean the people are not going to be offended. You do not determine what should offend people, especially when you are pushing them to the wall. It’s like saying; I do not intend to hurt you and proceeding to knock your head with a hammer.
Perhaps, we do not understand the in-built offence and the concealed messages such jokes which have become rampant on social media carry—and therefore, I will break it down for a good digest using race as the measuring rod.
Tribe and Race have almost the same characteristics, though one can become a subset of the other. They share a common denominator, which is: you cannot really choose which tribe or race you are born into. And the moment you are born into one, you are stuck—this makes Tribe and Race case sensitive.
If a white celebrity posts a joke, something like black people in Africa live on trees—and adds a sentence saying, no offence intended to black people, would we still find the joke (which obviously is not true) offensive or not?
Of course black people will kick against it on social media and tag the joke as bearing racist elements, while calling the white person who posted it a chief bigot. But this person said ‘No Offence’ intended and to be frank, it’s not true that black people in Africa live on trees—yet, it would still be offensive.
Such is the shape of all tribal jokes which is increasingly becoming cool to share on social media with even our Ghanaian celebrities doing it. I don’t have the slightest doubt that Yvonne Okoro meant no harm but what’s the point of this joke if it’s not to subtly ensconce already existing blinkered misconceptions in the minds of her audience?
Last year, I wrote an article titled “The ‘Ewes Have Bad Body Odour’, the ‘Ashantis Are Thieves’ the ‘Akwapims Are Fools’ & the ‘Fantis Are Lazy’ | Tribalism in 21st Century Ghana” in which I stated that: “Even though you do not often find Ghanaians playing the tribal card when dealing with one another face to face (except of course the politicians), the tribal war continues—but it has taken a different form and it is at its peak on the internet.
As I mentioned above, except the politicians who occasionally take up tribal stance, hoping to win votes or upset others, the ordinary Ghanaian has succeeded in camouflaging his tribal sentiments—making it seem the era of division has ended.
Even with education, civilization, the need for togetherness and the fact that it is impossible to avoid other tribes, some Ghanaians still hold tight whatever misconception or belief they have in relation to other tribes.
Obviously, it is of no huge benefit to dictate your dealings along the lines of tribalism. This together with some sort of over-reaching moral consensus has made it unattractive for people to be ‘openly tribalist’—-but that has not been able to quench the fire of division in Ghanaians.”
I added: “How many times have you read online from someone hiding behind a computer that ‘ Fantis are lazy, Ashantis are thieves, the Ewes smell, the Akwapims are fools, the Northerners are not human beings, why should a Northerner rule us and blah blah’?…
We’ve come a long way as people but if with our level of civilization and so called ‘spirit of tolerance’ we cannot completely get rid of the inappropriate tribal nonsense manifested through our growing virtual world activities, then we surely have another century to fight each other behind closed doors before we can catch up with the others.
If you think the issue of tribalism is not that bad in Ghana, try marrying someone from a ‘despised tribe’ and you will be sentenced to death by hanging—by those you call your own people or her people. In a 21st century Ghana, this should have been in our tearing apart history books.”
All I am trying to say is simple; either offence was intended or not, Yvonne Okoro had no business sharing the above bigoted joke—such jokes add nothing valuable to the conversation, except to create unnecessary sense of superiority of one group of persons over the other.
And let me add, despite the disclaimer, some followers of Yvonne Okoro were still offended by her post—confirming my earlier point that you don’t throw a punch and not expect the receiver to be offended just because you said he shouldn’t.
The conversation needs to rise above such long held misconceptions and our celebrities should not be encouraging these tribal jokes.