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Opinions of Friday, 9 May 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: Bawku burns

I really feel sorry for the people of Bawku. My heart particularly bleeds for the innocent majority who have never handled a weapon and have nothing to do with the fighting in the township. These are the people whose lives are disrupted (and sometimes ended abruptly) whenever the Mamprusis and Kusasis decide to get at each other’s throats.

And they have been fiercely getting at each other’s throat quite regularly in recent times. They’ve been fighting each other for decades but a lull of many years ended a few months ago for reasons that are not clear to anyone. So since then it seems that whenever a Kusasi engages in a minor argument over the cost of a tuber of yam, scores will be settled with fierce gun battles. Whenever a Mamprusi woman starts crying – for any reason whatsoever – her kinsmen will attack a Kusasi for being the cause of her emotional distress.

One just cannot understand why these two tribes are fighting each other when we are all hustling to even put food on our tables.

And in the midst of all of this government, seems to have completely run out of ideas on how to deal with the situation. I still cannot understand why the president chose to go to Kenya to help them resolve their electoral dispute on the day his own citizens in Bawku were cutting each other to pieces with machetes. The last time I wrote about the Bawku crisis, I suggested that the president should visit Bawku and sit down with the factions there for a chat – just as he did in Kenya. But we all know that a journey to Bawku cannot be as enjoyable as an East African safari. That should explain why after reluctantly deciding to intervene in Bawku, the president chose to meet with chiefs and opinion leaders in Accra. Instead of one man flying up north, dozens of men (and women) were bussed to Accra to meet him. It such a long, tiresome journey to Bawku that after the meetings in Accra, the president’s message appears to have gotten lost in translation.

I don’t know how those who attended the two separate meetings with the president at the Castle interpreted his words to the people back home. But from all indications, the president’s message didn’t sink in as well as it should have. And that’s why they are still fighting.

There have been suggestions that by continuing to delight in shooting at each other, the two factions have shown gross disrespect to the president. Maybe. But respect is earned. And one way for the president to earn the respect of the Kusasis and Mamprusis is to show that he cares by going to Bawku, eating their food, talking with them (not at them like he did at the Castle) and encouraging them (quite forcefully) to see reason in the fact that violence benefits no one. Call it tough love.

I will continue to insist that if the president wants the people on the ground to stop the fighting in Bawku, he should go there and organise a big public event at which he will speak directly to them. This could be before or after he has met with both factions TOGETHER – allowing them opportunity to vent their feelings on all the vexed issues in the presence of all parties. If the president claims to be the man whose initiative helped broker the peace in Kenya by getting Raila and Kibaki to agree to Kofi Annan’s mediation, I don’t see why he can’t also go to Bawku to sit down with the Kusasis and Mamprusis.

The president has done a bit but it’s not enough. He can do more and I believe it should all start with a visit to Bawku. I am by no means saying that if the president shows up in Bawku the fighting will end. It won’t. But it will go a long way to change the minds of the thugs who delight in shooting each other at the least provocation.

Even before the president makes up his mind on whether or not to visit Bawku, I hope that the government realises that the situation in Bawku is a major security issue. Those who pose a threat to national security are not the Liberian refugees at Buduburam. The warlords in places like Bawku pose more of a national security threat than seven-year-old refugees. The warlords are the people Kwamena Bartels and his people should arrest and brought down to Kordiabe. We have a national security co-ordinator (and until recently, a national security minister) but both men failed to even detect the movement of sophisticated weapons into the Bawku area. If they cannot gather the sort of intelligence that could have nipped problems like the one we have in Bawku in the bud, what in heaven’s name are we paying them for?

And after all of these months of fighting, the security agencies only managed to seize 13 weapons this week. Every time Bawku has been under the curfew, the town has essentially been ‘locked down’, as the Americans will say. But no one in the security apparatus has had the wisdom to order a house-to-house search for illegal weapons. I am not wise enough (yet) to be interior minister. But in my foolishness, I would have ordered a search for weapons by now.

At his wits end, the interior minister is now asking us to pray for the return of peace to Bawku. On this I agree with him. After all the security screw-ups, we need divine intervention, don’t we? I don’t know if my prayers will be answered because I’m not godly enough. I hope, however, that those who are more upright than I am will take up the challenge. So go ahead and pray. Pray for wisdom for those in authority. Pray that they may do what is right and ultimately in the interest of peace. Pray that our intelligence people will act more intelligently than they’ve done in the past.

Pray for the leaders of the two sides who do not see reason in seeing eye-to-eye. At the end of the day, the key to the resolution of this conflict lies in their hands. Pray that they will have the courage to make compromises for the sake of peace. Most important of all, pray for the ordinary people in Bawku who do not even know how to fire a gun. They are the ones who are suffering – their lives interrupted by the violence and the long curfew hours. It’s no wonder that people are fleeing the town. They are fleeing both the senseless fighting and the long curfew hours.

Pray that as they flee, they may find peace wherever they go. I hope the Kusasis and Mamprusis will not take their bickering to wherever they find refuge.