Eugene Adogla

Ethnicity and Political Division in Ghana

Ghana 2012 Presidential Election MapAfrica Democracy Index MapGhana is often regarded as West Africa’s best-governed country, with a relatively well-established system of democratic rule. Although the Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index for 2011 rates Ghana as a “flawed democracy,” it is nonetheless only one of two democracies listed in the region. (Mali appears in the same category on the map, but it has recently lost its democratic status.) Ghana’s December 2012 presidential election reinforced its democratic standing. The election was certified by nonpartisan overseeing groups as generally free and fair, although numerous accusations of irregularities were made. The losing political party also rejected the results as soon as they were declared, but it decided to pursue the issue strictly through legal channels.

The recent Ghanaian presidential election was also of note for the high levels of qualification held by the two contenders. The winning candidate was the incumbent, John Dramani Mahama, who had taken office in July 2012 after the death of his predecessor, John Atta Mills. Mahama had been a long-serving Member of Parliament (1997-2009), and served a stint as Minister of Communications. He is a noted writer and historian and is passionately interested in agricultural technology. Mahama is also reportedly fluent in English, Akan, Hausa and three other local languages, and is proficient in Ewe and Russian. He gained his Russian-language skills when he studied at the Academy of Social Sciences in Moscow, managed at the time by the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee, from which he obtained a postgraduate degree in 1988. The losing candidate, Nana Dankwa Akufo-Addo, is a member of one of Ghana’s leading political families, closely related to three of the country’s founding fathers, collectively known as “the big six.” He is also a leader of the Ghanaian pro-democracy movement, and is noted for his practice of human-rights law. Akufo-Addo is also famed for his athletic abilities, having been Ghana’s national squash champion in the 1970s.

The election returns show Mahama winning handily across most of the country, with an especially strong showing in the north and an overwhelming victory in the eastern Volta Region. Akufo-Addo, in contrast, won only the Eastern Region and the Ashanti Region, taking the latter area with an impressive 70.9 percent of the votes cast.

Ghana Ashanti Ewe mapAt first glance, these returns seem to indicate political differences between the Ashanti people of central Ghana and the Ewe people of the eastern Volta Region. The Ashanti are an Akan-speaking group who had formed a powerful state in the pre-colonial era that successfully resisted British imperialism for decades. Ashanti nationalism still runs strong, and its traditional monarchy continues to function, reigning over a “constitutionally protected, sub-nation state.” The Ewe people, on the other hand, found their lands divided by European imperialism, and they are split today between Ghana and Togo.

After briefly pondering the election returns, I turned to a former student, Eugene Adogla, whose Religiously Remapped website has previously been noted on GeoCurrents. As he explained, several regional issues played out in this election. Mahama did very well in the north, as he is from the town of Bole in the Northern Region, and northern Ghana had not supplied a president since 1981. The overwhelming vote for Mahama in the Volta Region, Adogla explains, had more to do with his party affiliation than anything else, as the left-leaning National Democratic Congress (NDC) that he leads had been founded by Jerry Rawlings, a half-Ewe, half-British political leader who was Ghana’s military head of state from 1981 to 1993 and then its elected president from 1993 to 2001. Ever since the founding of the party, the Volta Region has backed NDC candidates. The strong Ashanti vote for Akufo-Addo followed a similar pattern, as his party, the center-right New Patriotic Party, had been founded mostly by people from the Ashanti and Eastern regions. Akufo-Addo is not himself Ashanti, but he is Akyem, an Akan-speaking group native to the Eastern Region.

As Adogla goes on to explain: “Historically, there has been animosity between the Akan in general and Ashanti in particular and the Ewe people; this goes back to the days of conquest when the Ashanti Empire dominated the Ewe. The days since have been marked by subliminal rivalry that occasionally boils over, though thankfully not violently. Politics has become an arena for exercising this rivalry.”

Religious differences have not played a major role in Ghanaian elections. Although, like most West African countries, Ghana is mostly Christian in the south and mostly Muslim in the north, Christianity overall dominates the country, with only around 15 percent of Ghanaians following Islam. Both candidates in the 2012 election are Christian. Mahama belongs to the Assemblies of God, whereas Akufo-Addo attends Ridge Church, an elite multi-denominational Protestant church located in the heart of Accra.

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Religion in Africa; Agriculture in California

Geocurrents is not usually concerned with touting books or other websites, although requests for such consideration to do come frequently. But some works are so geographically impressive that they do deserve special mention. As a result, today’s posting will consider one website, Eugene Adogla’s Religiously Remapped: Mapping Religious Trends in Africa, and one book, Paul Starrs and Peter Goin’s Field Guide to California Agriculture.

Religiously Remapped shows what can be cartographically achieved with state-level data on religious observation. Eugene Adogla has gathered a tremendous array of statistics on religion in Africa, which he has used to generate a series of innovative maps. Most maps of religion in Africa do little more than separate Muslim from Christian areas. Adogla, however, shows how complex the situation really is, depicting even the distribution of such minor creeds as Rastafarianism and Eckankar. Adogla’s discussions of religious trends are also well considered, and well worth reading. (Disclaimer: Eugene Adogla is one of my former students, and Religiously Remapped was initiated several years ago as project for one of my courses at Stanford University.)

In their Field Guide to California Agriculture, geographer Paul F. Starrs and photographer Peter Goin have devised a new genre of writing. The book’s title hardly does it justice, as the “field guide” that it encompasses is embedded in a comprehensive, erudite, and eloquent disquisition on the history, economics, sociology and – above all – geography of agricultural production in what is arguably the world’s top farming location. It is, in a word, a masterpiece – one that should appeal equally to a broad public audience and to academic experts. The authors have an uncanny ability to hone in on topics of interest and significance, conveying their importance with precision and wit. Their book is both immensely informative and unfailingly entertaining.

This is unusual in a field guide. For geographically inclined readers, the genre is often exasperating. If one turns to traditional field guides with spatial questions in mind—where the range of one tree species begins and another ends, say, or where to find a particular kind of bird—it quickly becomes clear that the work provides little discussion of distribution. The focus is trained on identification, teaching readers to distinguish one species from another. Although I treasure my library’s field guide to North American mammals for its maps, I am perennially disappointed by the fact that it has more information on teeth than on range. How many readers are likely to trap small rodents and pry their mouths open? While marketed to a general audience, the book appears to have been designed for a professional field zoologist.

One could easily imagine a field guide to California agriculture written in the same technical spirit, focusing on diagnostic criteria. Detailed drawings or photographs would accompany bare-bones text, helping readers distinguish one crop from another in the field. For orchard crops, the emphasis would be tree shape, leaf form, and bark pattern, with a sentence or two about the crop itself thrown in for ornamentation. Such a work would be useful for classes in field geography and for curious drivers making excursions across California’s great Central Valley, but would be of limited interest to the general public.

Thanks in good part to the University of California Press, field guides have been evolving into a much more expansive form in recent years. Starrs and Goin, however, have taken the genre to a new completely new level, in both a scholarly and literary sense. To be sure, the book fulfills all of the necessary functions of the traditional field guide, aiding readers in crop and animal identification. Distinguishing features are listed for each entry, and an eight-page “agricultural product identification” guide provides a useful overview. If one is wondering, for example, whether an orchard contains walnut trees, guidelines are provided. As the walnut entry on page 216 puts it: “The utterly distinctive graft line where the English walnut slip was grafted onto a native black walnut rootstock … shows 6 to 24 inches above the ground: an instantaneous sign that this is a walnut…” But as is typical for the book, the key to walnut identification does not conclude so prosaically. Instead, the paragraph ends with an evocative tag: “The cicatrice is signature.” One does not generally turn to field guides for stylistic grace, but Starrs’ writing is at once eloquent and playful. One gets the impression that he had a great deal of fun writing the book, and his enthusiasm can be infectious.

The Field Guide to California Agriculture covers a staggering array of crops and livestock, from bok choi to oysters to cannabis. Each entry covers economic significance, spatial distribution, historical background, and issues of labor demand and farm management. The photos are plentiful and the maps are sharp. California’s share of the national harvest is duly noted for each entry, as is the market value. Obtaining the relevant numbers required considerable sleuthing for some crops. The marijuana entry is one of the most detailed in the book, as befits a crop that may well be worth more than all other California agricultural products combined. It is to Starrs and Goin’s credit that they tackle the issue head-on, writing about it with knowledge and verve.

The Field Guide to California Agriculture is divided into four main sections. The largest is an encyclopedia of crops and livestock, forming the field guide proper. The volume begins with a 70-page historical overview, and concludes with a similarly comprehensive essay on agricultural regions. These book-ends could together form a book on their own. The second section is a luscious photographical gallery aptly titled, “The Paradox and Poetics of Agriculture.” With enlargements and additions, it too could stand alone. Packaged together with the individual crop entries, they add up to a tour de force.

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