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Opinions of Monday, 16 August 2004

Columnist: Alhassan, Amin Dr.

Open Letter To VP Aliu Mahama

Your Excellency The Vice President, Alhaji Aliu Mahama,

It is with mixed feelings that I write this open letter to you. This letter is occasioned by your historic step in breaking your 864 days of silence over the March 2002 regicide at Yendi. Under normal times, I will shudder to make my voice heard before you, given your position as an elder of Dagbon. But, your Excellency, these are not normal days so let me respectfully request that you lend me your ears. I should have also sent this to you as a private communication, but because I want it to generate a healthy public debate, I have decided to reach you via the media.

Let me start by assuring you that the majority of the people of Dagbon both Abudu and Andani did not (repeat, did not) really think you, Alhaji Aliu Mahama, were involved in the conspiracy to commit and the committing of the regicide. At least this was the impression I gathered during my four months stay in Tamale immediately following the tragic events in March 2002. Like any resident of Dagbon at that time, I endured the dehumanizing experience of a dusk-to-dawn curfew and the state of emergency while the rest of the country were enjoying the freedom and liberty that Mother Ghana promised her sons and daughters at independence. I gathered lots of opinions from both sides. One thing that was certain from my opinion sample was that, each time your name came up it was one of expectation than contempt. The people expected a word, a statement, an intervention or a gesture from you on the matter. They believed that, like any other reasonable Ghanaian, you were shocked and horrified by the mass murder, and that you were not personally involved in the crime. So do not worry about telling Ghanaians about your innocence as a person. You do not need to swear by the Holy Quran to profess your innocence. That is not the issue.

The issue is about absence of leadership at a time it was most needed. Your Excellency, the killing of a king, you will agree with me, is a very grievous matter that has political, social, and cultural as well as criminal implications. One of the challenges of leadership then is for it to rise up to the occasion of a disaster and demonstrate a resolve. People do not expect a leader to play ostrich and bury his head in the sand and hope that the problem will go away. In times of disaster people do not expect anything short of sharing in their grief publicly and helping to cultivate the wisdom to discover the path towards a resolution.

Thus when disaster struck in March 2002, most of the people, in their bewildered and confused state looked up to you for leadership. At least they expected from you a statement of resolve and condemnation of the act. And the main reason why the onus of leadership fell on you, even more than President Kufour, was that you are a prominent son of Dagbon with blood ties to both Abudu and Andani. You were picked as a running mate to Mr. Kufour because you share a common ethnicity and religion with the people of Dagbon. In view of these factors you were well positioned to initiate a project of compassion and reconciliation by addressing the nation on the matter, or on a less grand scale, addressing Dagbon through the FM transmissions in Dagbon. You did not do that.

You said at Sekondi Zongo on August 7 that you ? have not commented on this issue until now because of its sensitive nature.? To be honest with you, Sir that excuse does not cut the ice. At least a public act of condemnation through a media interview would have gone a long way to placate and ameliorate the frustrations and boiling passions of the people of Dagbon who justifiably expected so much from you. Your public condemnation of the regicide would still have been in keeping with the parameters of the sensitivity of the matter. You chose to be silent, and your silence was read as an icy indifference to the predicaments of the people on whose behalf your rose to become the Vice President.

I have the strong feeling you were advised against making a statement during the heady days following the regicide. But as you can see now, it was an error in judgment. You should have known then that come Elections 2004, the opposition would take advantage of your silence and inaction. Remember when the NPP was in opposition, it took maximum advantage of the murder of the judges and a military officer during the rowdy days of the PNDC. That is the poetics of politics. It is now the NDC?s turn, but my heart aches each time I see any political party taking a political advantage over the Dagbon crisis. But here again, that is how the ?morality? of multi-party democracy works. So we have to go along with it.

Your Excellency, in politics, (as you would no doubt know by now) public perception is everything. Thus perception is reality. The perception that the NPP and for that matter, your good self, was involved in the heinous Dagbon regicide, was politically driven. Permit me to draw your mind to an American example. You will recall that in the aftermath of the infamous 9/11 attacks in the US, the American government set up a bipartisan committee to investigate what might have gone wrong in terms of US government security arrangements. If for nothing at all, the bipartisan approach demonstrated that the Republican Party, which, at all material times was in office, had no hand in causing the attacks. Your Excellency, this bipartisan approach, to a great extent, has taken the sting out of conspiracy theories that could otherwise have been harmful to the Republicans. I venture to say that a similar approach by your government would have rendered all the politically driven perceptions about the NPP vis-?-vis the Dagbon regicide, fallacious. But then one does not cry over spilt milk; one can only learn from the mistake. And the lesson we have here is that the only way you can stop the politicization of our grief is to act and act convincingly.

You Excellency, now that you have broken your silence, I want to suggest four points for your consideration as what should be done next:

1. Take an active role in the mobilization for peace in Dagbon, similar to your initiative against indiscipline at the national level. People are going to criticize your peace initiatives as being motivated by the coming elections. Do not look back. Like President Kufour?s Presidential Special Initiatives (PSI) we can call this step of yours, VP?s Dagbon Peace Initiative (DPI).

2. As part of the DPI, reach out to both Andani and Abudu key elements and explore the possibility of holding a Dagbon Peace Conference outside Tamale, preferably in Bolgatanga. Try to plan the conference as a series such that each party can come in and talk, not to the press, but to each other. We should not try to secure a quick fix at the conference. It should be forum for a comprehensive take on Dagbon and its problems. Limit the media exposure to only the common decisions arrived at and not the conference deliberation. Let the delegates talk out fully their grievances, and let each side listen carefully. It may turn verbally nasty, but that will be in the spirit of reconciliation. Verbal assaults within the confines of a conference will always be better that the unsupervised physical assault that has become the lot of the people in Dagbon.

3. To be able to successfully organize such a conference will require lots of goodwill on both sides. Currently we have none. To help you build up such much needed goodwill, set up an advisory group with elements from both Abudu and Andani to consult with you regularly.

4. There are complaints that businesses owned by Andani elements in Dagbon are grinding to a halt because they are no longer able to secure government contracts. And most of the social angst from this unhealthy development is directed at you. You may not be aware of this because those close to you may be perpetrating it. As an elder of Dagbon, try to investigate this trend and check the practice of selective discrimination, in the spirit of reconciliation.

These four points are enough for the moment given that you have other pressing national issues to handle. The two options for you now, I believe, is to take this suggested initiatives or let posterity judge you as the Dagbon leader who watched his home town ravaged by a resolvable conflict from the safe distance of Accra. Some advisors will tell you to stay away from any initiative. The path of inaction is attractive because it is easy. Eschew that because it is the path of the disinherited. The mantle of leadership in any society struggling to find a new vocabulary of reconciliation always requires inventive bravery and not silence and inaction.

I humbly urge you to be inventive and brave to take the bull by the horns and reclaim your place in the history of Dagbon. It is not yet too late, but time is not on your side.

May Allah guide Dagbon towards peace and reconciliation. When you pray tonight, say a prayer for Dagbon and ask Allah to make you an instrument of peace and reconciliation in Dagbon.

Sincerely,

Amin Alhassan (Ph.D.)
Assist. Prof. of Communication
York University, Toronto

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