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Fighting old battles we don’t understand

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
Some destruction in the aftermath of clashes between Commonwealth Hall and Mensah Sarbah Hall
Some destruction in the aftermath of clashes between Commonwealth Hall and Mensah Sarbah Hall

I really am trying to understand how the good-natured rivalry that is supposed to exist between schools, halls of residence, universities, degenerate into lethal fights that destroy everything in sight.

I am puzzled that people should insist that their identity should be defined by the place they spent three or four years of their youth.

For some people, it is the secondary school they attended which they believe defines them and they would go even further and limit the definition to the House they stayed in during their boarding school days.

It is more important to state you were in Aggrey House than to state the secondary school you attended.

When it comes to universities, I am told you are first a Casely-Hayford or Unity Hall alumni before you are a UCC or KNUST alumni.

In much the same way as I understand it, some people would proclaim their being Ewe or Ashanti or Ga before being Ghanaian.

I am impressed that people feel so strongly about these Halls and Houses that they would contribute money to make life easier for the current occupants of the place and would refurbish dormitories and laboratories.

I always have goose bumps at funerals when old boys and old girls arrive in their school cloths to sing the school song to bid a befitting farewell to an old mate.

But I cannot understand why alumni of a Hall would want to take into their old age and want to make sure the new generation of the Hall perpetrate a feud with another Hall, when they don’t even know what caused the original feud in the first place.

Rivalries

Like everybody else, I have been following the stories of the unrest and rioting on the campuses of the University of Ghana and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) with bewilderment and near despair.

These rivalries between Houses in Boarding schools used to have roots in sporting competitions but have been known to be manifested in dining halls where boys from a certain House would want to be the undisputed champions of those who can wolf down fried plantain faster than anyone this side of the equator.

It is interesting that some people feel more attached to their schools or Halls of residence after they have left the institution than they ever did whilst they were there.

I am trying to understand why some people feel so strongly that the reputation of a hall of residence they stayed in as students would affect their status in society 20 years or more after they have graduated and left.

I have been unable to find out the original trigger for the rivalry between Commonwealth Hall and Sarbah Hall. Needless to say that little detail is not considered important today for as long as it is remembered that on a certain date on the calendar, students from the two Halls are expected to simulate a battle and “defeat” their opponents.

The present-day occupiers of these Halls seem to have escalated the hitherto good-natured rivalry to deadly battles that include the destruction of university property.

The videos circulating about what occurred at KNUST are even more depressing than the Legon ones.

What is the rivalry about?

All I have been able to tease out is that the rivalry is traditional and should be seen as part of the legend of the University, and this has been argued to me with a lot of passion.

How does an uninitiated tell who is from Katanga? I was offered this perspective by an alumnus of Katanga: “Throughout the ages, it is this Hall that has fought all the battles for student rights on campus, the university management want to tame the Hall and thus ensure the entire university is tame, that is why they are picking on Katanga”.

An alumnus of “Conti”, Unity Hall told me they are gentlemen but would not be pushed around. He also blames the recent problems on the university management, which he feels should have known that their opponents should never have been allowed to march in front of their Hall.

If a route had been given to Katanga that took them away from Conti, there would have been no trouble.

On the other hand, I was told it was unacceptable that there should be any part of the university that would be a no-go area for Katanga.

I am none the wiser really about the source of the rivalry.

I don’t know if the Halls have football teams and when the last time was that Conti defeated Katanga at tennis or Commonwealth beat Sarbah at hockey.

I have no idea if any of the feuding Halls has produced someone who carried the Ghana flag at the Olympic games and I don’t know if the two Halls contest to produce the best engineer or the most imaginative architect or the artist with the most captivating gallery.

I had been told that alumni exercise a lot of influence on what happens currently in the Halls. I was hesitant about believing this until an alumni suggested to me that ten or more years after graduating from the university, some people consider themselves first as “Katangese” (a resident of University Hall) before offering themselves as “Technocrats”, a graduate of KNUST.

I like competition like the next person and since I am no good at anything really, I am a good cheerleader.

I try to find a good reason to attach myself to a winning team or person.

At school, I cheered on my House, my class, my best friend. Today I find a side to support in athletics, football, tennis, a debate, a flower garden or the cleaner bathroom, I find a way to measure mine being better than yours.

Link

I can see a link between me and anyone else who stays in Slessor House, Mawuli School, Volta Hall, Legon, Wolfson College, North Labone, Clive Lodge, Senchi Street and Abutia, but I will hesitate to make the assumption that because someone spends three years in a place some five, ten, or 20 or 30 or even 60 years after I had been there, we would have so much in common.

Back in my day, it was fashionable for the boys in my school to be seen as the “tough guys”.

I am beginning to think that many people never outgrow those days or else hark back to those days so much that they try to perpetuate the petty rivalries that they engineered during their time to become the “traditions” that guide the Houses and halls long after they are gone.

We must be leading very sad lives if the only happy moments we can hark back to are the three or four years we spent in a University Hall of residence and therefore want to live our youths through the Hall week celebrations of the new generation.

If the new occupants can’t find and fight their own battles and must celebrate old rivalries, then their lives are even sadder than we the old ones who want to influence them.