SCD projects

Socio-cultural diversity and political issue deliberation in northern Ghana

Elena Gadjanova


This fieldwork project explores the ways, in which socio-cultural diversity impacts political issue deliberation in Northern Ghana. Specifically, it seeks to understand how the introduction of multi-partyism and subsequent regularization of political competition in the country impacts various communities’ political calculus locally. The research focuses on a number of districts in Bolgatanga and Tamale, which exhibit high socio-cultural diversity: they are home to several ethno-linguistic groups who practice two main religions (Christianity and Islam), and a sizeable migrant population originally from neighboring Burkina Faso. These districts also show a pattern of switching support between the political parties in the country, which is unusual in a Region strongly associated with the National Democratic Congress (NDC). A common explanation of voting patterns in developing countries points to patronage relationships and clientelistic networks. Such networks are expected to be stable, however, which is demonstrably not the case in swing constituencies like Nabdam, Navrongo, and Paga in Northern Ghana.

In short, the project setting allows for the study of the local determinants of cross-ethnic or non-ethnic voting. Theoretically, the cases could highlight how a process leading to the long-term diminishing of the salience of ethnicity in developing multi-ethnic states unfolds. A closely-related issue, which the project also seeks to address, is how political parties and local governments adapt to the new realities of co-ethnicity no longer being sufficient for communities’ support. Does political competition give rise to more careful issue deliberation and improved government performance in such cases? How is the negative incentive of stoking ethnic grievances for votes avoided? In what ways are identities re-constituted in the process?

The project relies on the collection and analysis of original constituency-level data in order to address the questions posed above. This includes interviews, focus group discussions and informal conversations with local government officials, party functionnaires, religious leaders, and traditional authority figures (chiefs and elders). In addition, the project envisages a survey of local constituents seeking to uncover what issues are important to the various communities locally, how such issues are communicated to authorities, and to what extent government performance or other considerations influence political support. The project is expected to result in several academic publications, which would be of interest to scholars of developing countries, (ethnic) clientelism, and the political accommodation of diversity more broadly. The research will also be complemented through the use of visual ethnographic material (photographs and videos).