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Opinions of Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

Dagbon: An elusive peace

Sometimes I wonder how King Solomon – reputed by Christians to be the wisest man who ever lived – would resolve the conflict between the Abudu and Andani clans in Dagbon. Throw in the three wise men who went to see the infant Jesus with frankincense and myrrh and the situation won’t get any better. For good measure, just add Kofi Annan, Mahatma Ghandi and a certain “super chief” and the story will be the same.

The recent violence in Tamale is blamed largely on the age-old animosity between the Andani and Abudu factions. It all started as a petty political argument between a group of butchers. When it ended, machetes had been drawn, guns had been fired and one man was lying dead. In Tamale these days, it seems almost every argument ends with the Abudus and Andanis drawing swords and cocking up their guns.

Let’s face it, the Dagbon conflict is not going to end anytime soon. The Abudu and Andani gates cannot agree on which of their two most recent deceased chiefs should first be accorded the “befitting” funeral rites a traditional ruler deserves. It’s been more than five years and this is still a sticking point that has defied the wisdom of even the “super-chief” (tweaaa!) and his panel of eminent chiefs. The Dagbon people seem to care more about two dead chiefs than about the very existence of their tribe and the development of their community.

If they cannot agree on a couple of funeral services, can you imagine what would happen when it comes to choosing who should be the next chief? Let’s just assume that, somehow, a miracle happens and they come to an agreement on whose funeral should be held first. You will see that shortly after that, the conflict will move into a new phase: the one to determine who succeeds the last chief who was brutally murdered in 2001. The Andani clan (where he came from) blames his murder on their brothers and sisters from the Abudu clan. The Andanis insist that they have a right to choose the next chief but the Abudus say “no way, you’ve already had your turn. It’s our turn now to pick the next chief.” Call me a doom-monger, but the second phase of the Dagbon conflict (and we are nowhere near the end of the first phase) could be bloodier.

From where I stand (and it’s not a very privileged position) there is no way out. The people of Dagbon will never have a chief again. And that’s alright. If they’ve managed to do without one for the past eight years (gleefully hacking each other every now and then to remind themselves that they are a leaderless tribe), I think they should be able to do just fine without a chief (not to talk of a “super-chief”) for the next millennium. We should just leave them be.

This country spends millions of dollars every year just to keep the peace between the Andani and Abudu gates. And what are they fighting for? It’s certainly not a golden magic wand that will turn their kingdom into a paradise on the verge of the Sahara. Does it make sense that two sides of the same family are fighting over two dead men? And all this madness is in the name of tradition? Tradition my foot!

It’s time we told the people of Dagbon that enough is enough. Let’s stop pampering them. We have talked about their conflict in hushed tones and laughed behind their backs for far too long. Now is the time to tell them what they need to hear – that they have become a laughing stock. Let it be known to them that they are almost on the verge on becoming an extinct tribe because of their recalcitrance, their blindness to reason and their unwillingness to live together as one big Dagbon family.

Haven’t they heard the simple truism known even to wild animals in the bush that “a house divided against itself shall not stand”? If Dagombas are fighting so ferociously against each other, what will they do if (God forbid!) the Fantes decide to attack?

Very few Ghanaians will fail to see that the marginalisation and the underdevelopment of the north as a deep blot on the national conscience. I am not one of them. I will like to see government actively pursuing an agenda to transform the area – providing good roads, schools, water, hospitals and jobs for the people. But, gosh, how can this happen when the people up there do not see the need to put aside their petty squabbles and live together in peace? A lot has been done to persuade the combatants up north to live in peace – especially in Dagbon – but they have never seemed to be in any mood to cohabit. Since we cannot continue to waste our scarce resources on peacekeeping and fruitless peace missions, I think the time has come to force peace down their throats.

First, we have to tell the combatants (the factions, the gates, whatever you choose to call them) that we’ve had enough of their nonsense. For eight years, Dagbon has been a taboo subject. We don’t talk about it because some people claim that passions will be inflamed. If passions are not inflamed already then I wonder what they will do if they get to that point. Let’s start talking about Dagbon like we’ve never done before, with a deliberate intention of shaming the leaders of the Abudu and Andani clans, drawing attention to the senselessness of the dispute and the violence it generates. It should help them become a bit more reasonable! They always talk about the “genesis” of the conflict. To hell with the genesis. The question is: what in heaven’s name are they now fighting for? The decrepit Gbewaa Palace?

Secondly, there should also be a major effort to seize all the illegal weapons in the area. People have more guns in their homes than shoes. At the least provocation, they reach out for their guns. In a poor community in Dagbon, where CD players are a rarity, the number of very sophisticated weaponry in circulation is mind boggling indeed. All these weapons should be seized – by any means necessary – and destroyed. If this means placing the area under a “lock down” for a month, it must be done. Soldiers will then move from house to house, farm gate to farm gate and shrine to shrine to forcibly seize and destroy the illegal weapons. This might not necessarily get all the weapons which are in the wrong hands but it’s certainly better than the lame one-month ultimatum the regional minister has issued for people to voluntarily hand in their illegal weapons. I know that the ultimatum will not be heeded and I wonder why the regional minister doesn’t.

Thirdly, it would help if justice is seen to be done. The killers of the Ya Na are still walking free. No one knows where they are but it will not surprise me if they still walk about in the community thumping their chest and claiming to be above the law – their confidence buoyed by the protection they receive from some powerful politicians.

And by the way, the politicians should stop interfering. Politics cannot be used to stoke the flames of tribal animosity. It makes for a very dangerous combination. Right now in Dagbon, Andanis are NDC people (and they are in power) and Abudus are NPP people (who just lost power). This is one of the reasons why the Dagbon conflict is not going to see a resolution anytime soon.

But, I believe that when the politicians dissociate themselves from the clans, it will be easy for law enforcement to do what it’s supposed to do – go out there and arrest the bloodthirsty hoodlums who just can’t keep their hands off their guns and machetes.

If after all of these the Andanis and Abudus continue to insist on killing each other, we should build a big cage and put those who do not value their lives in it. Then they can engage in what they enjoy doing – hacking and killing each other. How about that for reality TV? It will be quite entertaining, especially for those of us who enjoyed Russel Crowe’s ‘Gladiator’. When the last man in the cage drops dead, hopefully, Dagbon will find peace again!

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E-mail: ato@atokd.com