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Opinions of Friday, 12 February 2016

Columnist: Africanus Owusu-Ansah

AGOGO – A gogo or agoraphobic

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk.

John Keats

Agogo is normally a peaceful town, and the town – folks very lovely and affable – until – their relative peaceful nature was punctured by the marauding Fulani nomads with their cattle having omnivorous (or just herbivorous) appetite to eat up all the crops of the farmers; including cocoyam, plantation, water-melon, and other vegetables. There is no more ‘highlife a gogo,’ but the townsfolk have become agoraphobic.

Agogo fascinates me. The name originates from the weariness of the first settlers (They are weary: w’agogo). They pitched camp beside a river they name ‘Agogowa’. This is the home of my lecturer in Russian Grammar, Dr. Felix Sampson Kwabena Owusu—long but not as mouthful as Xaxagbe or Kuntunkununku which is stylistically shortened to Kuntz; Dr Owusu had an infectious smile and would continually grin while we were fumbling with the stiff rules of Russian grammar (Genitive Case, Instrumental Case, Accusative Case, Dative Case, Ebei! Or as someone would exclaim, Haba!).

One professor of Russian Poetry (name withheld) would ask us to stand on our tables for being unable to recite ’Ya Goya’ by Andrey Voznesensky (I am Goya of the bare field by the enemy’s beak gouged, till the crates of my eyes gape) – till the day one of the students ‘fell’ from the table. The punishment ceased. “I am grief”. Incredible? It was at the University of Ghana.

Agogo is the home of my holy room-mate, Kwadwo Baah Wiredu who would organise students to pond me every Sunday not for losing, but for winning the ‘What-do-you-know’ quiz. Those were the halcyon days of the seventies—more than forty years ago.

The story of the mischievous Fulani herdsmen sets one wondering about world nomadism. One may recall the Wandering Jew or as the French call him ‘le juif errant’ the mythical figure whose legend spread in Europe in the 13th century.

In ‘Flores Historiarum’ (1228) Roger of Wendover wrote about him under the title; “Of the Jew, Joseph, who is still alive awaiting the last coming of Christ” quoting from Biblical sources: “Verily, I say unto you. There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death till they see the son of man coming in his Kingdom.”

The Gypsies or the Romani (Romany) people were traditionally itinerant ethnic group living mostly in Europe and originating in India (Rajasthan and Punjab) about a thousand years ago. The World War II (1939-45) saw the Germans deporting these Gypsies or sentencing them to forced labour in concentration camps. As many as 1,500,000 were killed on sight.

Come in ‘The Cowboys’. The Reader’s Companion to American History says this about ‘The Cowboy’ (a derogatory reference to the black cattle herdsmen designated ‘boys’ rather than men, no matter how old they were).’ ”The cowboy of myth and reality had his beginnings in Texas… 1866-86, the era of the open range and the great cattle drives. The incentive was the high price of beef up North where Union armies had exhausted the supply, and the urbanizing East provided a ready market.

A steer worth four dollars in Texas was worth forty dollars in the North … Beginning in 1986, they begun moving long lines of longhorns northward with the primary destination being the railhead at Sedalia, Missouri. Indians and farmers who resented cattle trampling their crops and spreading the dreaded Texas fever protested their passage. Outlaws stole the cattle and were not averse to killing the men driving them.”

On November 24, 2011, Nana Akuoko Sarpong, known in his heyday (NOT heydays) as Shawcross, the Paramount Chief of the Agogo Traditional Area granted an interview to Daily Graphic in which he refused claims that he had signed a secret pact with the herdsmen, and was deriving personal benefits from their occupation of the Agogo Stool Lands.

He explained: “I don’t own cattle. My passion is planting trees and doing fish farming”. Nana Akuoko Sarpong’s decision to sign open contracts with some of the herdsmen, including Alhaji Karim Grussah, Alhaji Dauda Kassim David, Alhaji Salia, Duuse Moro, Ali Mamadu, Fuseini Hassan was to get a supply of cattle for a possible meat industry in the area.

The contracts made, provision for fencing the area to keep the animals in a ranch; and digging boreholes for the water needs of the cattle, had been breached by some of the herdsmen.

In March 2011, the Agogo Traditional Council served notice on Alhaji Grussah, the Guaranteed Cattlemen and all the private cattlemen of Agogo to evacuate the area.

The notice read in part: “You have breached all the conditions and the basis upon which the said grant was made, i.e. failure on your part to fence the land and also dig wells to provide water for the animals causing the animals to move from the allocated site to destroy water bodies and farms of residents, not to mention alleged cases of threats and other inhuman behaviours. You have, therefore, created an atmosphere whereby we could no longer contain you and your cattle within our farming areas.

By this notice, you are to evacuate with your cattle and leave farther away from the farming areas on Agogo Stool Lands latest by the 29th of March 2011, failure of which would compel us to forcibly drive you away from the area. In respect of all others who on their own accord took land from the local people without reference to the Agogo Traditional Council, we are by this notice informing them that they are all affected by this drive”.

In response to this notice, Alhaji Karim Grussah and his group wrote to the Council to express their concerns that “…some misguided persons in the area have resorted to unlawful acts by killing our cows and spraying the grass in the area with poison such that our cattle would die should they graze in those areas”.

Notable persons from the Agogo Traditional Area have waged a relentless fight in this Fulani menace. Such people include ‘some’ chiefs in the area including Nana Agyei Frimpong, the Gyasehene, Ernest Owusu-Bempah and the Member of Parliament for Asante-Akyem North, Honourable Kwadwo Baah, the Agogoman World Wide Association.

The atrocities committed against the inhabitants are legion: destroying farm produce, harassing farmers, threatening the farmers, raping the women, engaging in armed robberies, doing acts of highwaymen, et cetera. The vast land which include Kowireso, Kyenkyenku, Abiriwapong, Nyame Bekyere, Bontere have been affected.

Of course, there is a court order compelling the authorities to flush the illegal cattle-owners and herdsmen out of the area. The IGP, Mr. John Kudalor and the Ashanti Regional Police Commander, DCOP Kofi Boakye have toured the area to ascertain the situation. They are likely to have been briefed about the court order, and the Road Map for the evacuation of the unwelcome visitors. One is not being ethnocentric here.

We understand the ECOWAS protocol. But the ECOWAS protocol directs aliens (call them ECOWAS citizens) to follow laid down procedure when in a country not of their birth. The arms these Fulani men are wielding, how did they obtain them? Some as deadly as AK 47! The Fulani biroro (cattle—driving Fulani) can be deadlier than the Fulani gida (home settled Fulani) It is hoped their findings would ensure peace and harmony to all residents in the area, be they cattle owners or food crop farmers.