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Feature Article of Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Columnist: Anekunabe, Emmanuel K

Northern Ghana: Ethnic Conflicts and Politics.

The state of security and stability of Northern Ghana is deteriorating at an alarming rate due to resurgence of brutal and brazen ethno political motivated murder of Moses Alando Banaba in Nalerigu. The current unrest in Bawku is another chapter in a long history of tensions between Mamprusis and Kusasis. Northern Ghana is riddled with conflicts over ethnicity and land ownership as well as over who has rights to assume certain chieftaincies. Example is the fighting between the Andani and Abudu clans in the Dagbon Traditional Area and the recent chieftaincy skirmishes in Buipe during the visit of Vice-President, John Mahama.

Unfortunately, when most people think of Northern Regions today, the first thing that comes to mind is ethnic conflict. The naive and ill-informed prognoses of these clashes ignorantly attribute it to disagreement over “guinea-fowl”. Metaphorically, that “guinea-fowl” reflects: inequality, bitterness, and discrimination, prejudice, grinding anger, years of repression, harassment, extortion, injustice, sense of retaliation and reprisal deeply rooted in ethnic and clan animosity! The impression some fellow Ghanaians get of you when you tell them, “am from the north”, is that of someone from a war zone carrying machete, bow and arrows! Who can blame people like that? Northern Ghana is becoming a dramatic setting for a Rwanda-to-be. Sorry to sound an alarmist.

Ethnicity-land ownership-chieftaincy is a very complex area which can be a subject for a prolonged debate. However, the home truth is the immediate relevance of ethno political discourse in whipping ethnic sentiments for self serving political expediency. How does politics factor into ethnic and clan clashes? How and when our politicians, from presidential candidates and parliamentarians since Ghana’s independence and in particular since the return to multi party politics, have exploited longstanding historical grievances related to land and chieftaincy in ethnic terms.

One of the political root causes could be attributed to when land ownership in Northern Ghana came under the custody of chiefs in 1978 during the Acheampong regime when a law was passed vesting all Northern lands into the hands of selected ethnic groups chiefs and left out most others based on the recommendations of the Alhassan Report of 1978. This was a destructive danger as hegemonic political elites used the state to promote their own peoples interest at the expense of other groups. These conflicts of today are not accidental but the by-products of political engineering.

More so, the invocation of distinctions between the “native/indigene” and “stranger/migrant” rhetoric by politicians to assert themselves in the communities during representations as elite “sons of the soil”. This certainly feeds the increasingly violent ethno politically motivated tensions in local society that often pit one ethnic minority or segments of the same ethnic group against the other. When presidential and parliamentary candidates prominently pledge to create separate chiefdom for certain communities as some of the political campaign promises to win electoral votes. This sinister political strategy has far reaching implications and consequences than just to win votes and accommodate interests of certain communities. When politicians mount campaign platforms threatening those ethnic groups or clans that they thought would vote for rival candidates. These politicians are then acting as ethnic warlords. These ego centric and tribalists should face criminal prosecution for ethnic incitement. This conscious and manipulation of ethnic consciousness by the politicians terribly gives rise to periodic explosion of ethnic clashes.

Sadly, clashes are sometimes instigated, orchestrated and financed by senior government officials. They’ve helped establish “gun culture” and “culture of violence” in the north. The youth are recklessly armed with AK 47 assault rifles, automatic pump action guns and submachine guns. Retaliations therefore become the “unfinished business”. There is lack of political will to prosecute perpetrators of these clashes and killings. This has led to the culture of impunity. Today, the killers of Ya-Na Yakubu Andani II and his 40 elders are sitting pretty! Absolute travesty of justice!

Astounding lack of political delivery surrounds the ethnic and clan crisis. Successive governments’ responds have always been rhetorical: Commission of Inquiry and White Paper reports that are never implemented. Under the guise of ensuring peace, justice and reconciliation in the north, the governments of Ghana set up committees: Justice Lamptey Committee 1981, Justice Ampiah Commission 1991, and the Ollenu Commission Report 1994 and the Permanent Peace Negotiation Team. Governments simply refused to implement recommendations. As Martin Luther King jnr. noted, there can be no peace without justice!

Ironically, Ghanaians have taken pride in our country as a regional and continental beacon of democracy, stability, security and freedom. However, we’re daily awakening to realities of barbaric killings, insecurities, ethno political tensions and horror signs of anarchy in the Northern regions of Ghana. As Ghanaians, let us not live under any illusion that, this ethnic and clan violent clashes is a “northern problem”. It has the potential to bubble up to the surface in Accra and Kumasi with an unimaginable reverberation across the country!

Source, Emmanuel. K. Anekunabe. e.anekunabe@yahoo.co.uk

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