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Opinions of Tuesday, 30 November 1999

Columnist: Yeboah, Stephen

The 'myth' surrounding the Bawku Conflict

: Can it be broken?

"Poverty contributed to the genocide. If the past is never going to happen again, we must grow our economy"- President Paul Kagame, Rwanda. The nature of devastation so far caused by the crisis leaves much to be desired. The altercation of chieftaincy in the Bawku Municipality and its environs between the Mamprusis and the Kusasis still remains an arduous challenge to individuals, the ruling government and many organisations. So terrible are the situations of conflicts that the democratic credentials of Ghana which is hailed in the world have been rendered widely questionable and has unmasked the fragility of the virtues of peace in the country. Governments appear to have failed in devising comprehensive strategies to control this unfortunate development. However, the horrific scenes in the Bawku Municipality and its environs needs urgent redress before situations become inexorable amid growing uncertainties. What actually is the root cause of this conflict and can the ‘myth’ surrounding it be broken?

Are Committees the answer to the conflict? The fact is that Ghana is fraught with the danger of conflicts in these small areas which are further exacerbating the country's unsavoury reputation seen in the astronomical increase in poverty levels among the majority people. According to a Thursday May 7, 2009 edition of the Daily Graphic, there was the setting up of an inter-Ethnic Peace Committee by the ruling government to broker a permanent peace in the Bawku Municipality and its environs. The terms of reference according to the report included "opening up a genuine, constructive dialogue among the people of Bawku, especially the major protagonists in the conflict. It is also to help educate the general populace on the need for peaceful co-existence placing emphasis on commonalities that unite the people, instead of insignificant differences dividing them". It is significant that the ruling government has made such an impressive attempt at providing a lasting solution to the conflict-stricken areas by forming the committee to enable it embark on programmes that would sustain the needed peace.

It is, however, worthy of note that the formation of the committee alone can never be the pragmatic solution to the tensions. Who can identify the people who fan the flames of these conflicts among themselves at attempts to culminate in a lasting peace? The available strategies are seemingly laudable on paper but considering the nitty-gritty of the whole issue, nothing significant appears to have been swiftly done. A major portion of the conflict can be gravely attributed to the present-day indecent partisan politics where factious campaign messages encourage the youth to knock their heads together to cause mayhem by the simply reason of soliciting for votes. This was evidenced in the recent electioneering campaign messages of both the NPP and the NDC that served to heighten the already ethnic tensions. Some politicians are the major drivers of this conflict; rightly explaining what Anthony Smith (Professor Emeritus of Nationalism and Ethnicity at the London School of Economics) said that actions of community leaders, who used their cultural groups as sites of mass mobilization and as constituencies in their competition for power and resources. Who is to blame?

How worrying it is to note that whiles other communities in the country sparkles with agriculture and vibrant economic activities all year round, the vast arable lands and huge markets in the Bawku Municipality and its environs continue to be subjected to the tremors of needless conflicts further leading to deepening poverty. There is absolutely no hope for the citizens as curfew continues to be renewed every now and then. Do they mean the Mamprusi's and Kusasi's do not know the importance of peaceful co-existence and have not lived peacefully before? The nagging question is what seriously happened? The people understand very well the benefits of peaceful co-existence with one another. The lasting solution to these conflicts, believe it or not, goes over and above the simple formation of committees. It is more about development than the perceived status quo.

Unraveling the issues

Conflicts have unintended effect of worsening the lot of the poor. Apart from the fact that education suffers and that social capital of societies are ripped apart, overall economic activities and employment are reduced as people become reluctant to invest in various enterprises. It is striking to know that the major force behind the ostensibly incessant conflict and simmering tensions is poverty. One may attribute this predicament to chieftaincy disputes but the issue of abject poverty completely surpasses chieftaincy issues. Do you know the devastating effect of poverty and what poverty can do? Nonetheless, this is not to disregard the importance of focused mediation in conflict resolutions; it should be operated together with leading issues of development. The increased discrepancies of development (in terms of infrastructure facilities and income) between the north and the south of Ghana have served to significantly alienate section of the people in the northern regions from progress and accelerated growth. The economy of the north must be improved if the conflict is to grind to a halt.

From policies of the colonial masters to post-independence governments, the south has benefited enormously to the total neglect of the north especially the Upper East and Upper West. What then should be expected from the people with this grim legacy? In the widest sense the disenchanted youth always finds fighting beneficial than the employed who are kept busy by available economic activities. Apart from regional disparities, one major case that holds water is the fact that there is a wide income disparity between the Kusasi and the Mamprusi. Whilst Kusasi’s are believed to be financially sound and have the big wigs in government positions and other respected endeavours the other is underprivileged and therefore disdained. Unless government as a matter of urgency spearheads the bridging of this unfortunate gap by improving the livelihoods of all the people to guarantee equity, nothing else again can be done. One should not forget that these same circumstances erupted the 1994 genocide between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. It is, therefore, of no wonder that President Paul Kagame has stressed the need to eradicate poverty (growing the economy) if another genocide is to be nipped in the bud. It is imperative for the ruling government to regard the nature of the conflict as more developmental than the perceived ethnic conflict that merits ordinary government mediation. These situations apply to all the conflicts that exist in the three northern regions. Ghana is, indeed, losing a lot.

The Executive Director of the Africa Peace Building Club, Salami Rahmani, disclosed that the Government of Ghana alone has spent a total of GH¢648 million to maintain law and order in the three northern regions since 2008. According to him, GH¢46,000 were pumped into maintaining peace at Bawku and Zaare (Ghanadot). We have every cause to be concerned of the way and manner tax payers money are wrongly spent on issues that can easily be dealt with. These funds could have been spent on more precious development projects for these areas than to equipping the security agencies to enforce law and order. The best ever move towards curtailing this unfortunate development by the NDC government is inclined to the setting up of the Savanna Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) capacitated to ensure the extension of infrastructural facilities and overall development in the three northern regions. A vigorous development strategy towards creating an enabling environment where the services of the people can be engaged in gainful economic activities is the sure way of arresting the alarming trends of the conflicts in Bawku Municipality and its environs. A social compact which exists when the majority of citizens agree (or at least acquiesce) to accept restraints on their individual actions, in exchange of tangible benefits is completely missing. The people have for a long time acquiesce to live under abject poverty and it is about time government stepped up the provision of infrastructural facilities for the people to have a appreciated livelihood. The people in Bawku Municipality and its environs have committed so much to ensuring food security in the country by producing enough food and agriculture products but have not had a fair share of state resources. Primary and secondary educations are at low ebb and good drinking water and health facilities are nothing to write home about.

They are hysterically forced to adhere to trivialities such as the unfortunate causes of chieftaincy disputes and ethnic tensions. Gradually, Ghana is recording a spate of 'ethnic cleansing' which would be very lethal to the economy when disregarded. The realisation of social compact which tends to affect the way people behave and interact should involve the role of the government, NGOs and civil society oranisations in extending the benefits of accelerated development to all the people.


The inter-Ethnic Peace Committee being equipped with bus and motor-bikes by the government and organisations to embark on outreach programmes of education for the people can never be the right antidote to the increased tensions in the Bawku Municipality and its environs. The government as a matter of urgency should extend more basic facilities to those areas and as such provide huge incentives to investors that wish to establish enterprises in the northern regions. The Northern Development Fund (assented into Law on 4th December 2008) and the Savanna Accelerated Development projects should be given the utmost priority to ensure equitable distribution of facilities. It should be known that not even a helicopter is enough for the committee to lessen the upsurge of these life-threatening conflicts and simmering tensions. It is high time the government set the record straight, renewing the curfew is a bane of the development agenda of Ghana.

The myth surrounding the conflict has been grossly misunderstood and it can be broken if leaders and security agencies of the country does not read politics into this unfortunate conflict. It is about time the government gave credence to the importance of sustaining the volatile peace in the Bawku Municipality and its environs for the true realisation of accelerated growth. Peace is development.

The author Stephen Yeboah is at the Department of Planning, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi- Ghana. Email: