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Opinions of Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

THE OUTSIDER: Why they are at each other's throat

Hello Kwame,

First let me congratulate you for taking the bold decision to go up north to assess what’s happening there for yourself. But for God’s sake, where in heaven’s name is your brother, the president? I know you are interior minister and these things fall perfectly within your domain. But you don’t have as much clout as your brother does and I expected him to have been the first person to rush up there to help calm nerves. Instead, what did he do? He chose to go to Zambia to bury Mwanawasa. Does he care more about a dead friend than his living compatriots? Sometimes, your brother makes me wonder whether his grey matter has turned black!

Just around the time we heard the news that there has been a violent eruption in the north, there was also news that construction labourers working on the presidential mansion were on strike. Your brother immediately rushed to site to talk some sense into the labourers’ heads. Just a few hours after he left the site, the labourers were back at work. Shortly after he had persuaded the labourers to get back to work, he jumped on a plane. Off to Zambia he went to bury his dear Mwanawasa.

Obviously, your brother cares more about that mansion than about the people of the north. If this were not the case, he would have flown up there with the same urgency with which he raced to the Flagstaff House to talk to those striking labourers. But I suppose the argument, as always, would be that he is the chief executive and he has very capable line managers who handle these sorts of things and he doesn’t have to micromanage everything.

That’s true. But if this is the case, why will he even bother to intervene in a strike by a bunch of lowly-paid construction labourers working on a project he’s not even the one paying for? The strike at the presidential mansion did not make the international news headlines. The violence in Gushiegu and Tamale did. So, even in this fickle mind of mine, I know that people burning homes and chasing each other with bows and arrows is a greater cause for concern than 200 labourers refusing to work. When a president behaves this way, I’m tempted to think that either he doesn’t care or he doesn’t get it. In this case, I think it’s a little bit of both: he doesn’t get it and he doesn’t care.

And this sort of attitude by our leaders is one of the reasons why the people of the north, as those of us in the south like to say, “are fond of fighting.” They feel marginalised. I think they have been marginalised for far too long.

The first time I visited the north, it felt like I was out of Ghana. The roads there are the worst in the country. They do not even have hospitals which are as bad as the ones we have down south. Even in their big towns, people still live in mud houses. The schools there make the bad ones we have down south seem like Ivy League Universities. And to cap it all, there are no jobs there for able-bodied young men and women to do.

I’ve dealt with a few northerners and I find them to be the most hardworking people in the land. And they are honest. They are the sort of people any manager will love to employ because for them no work is beneath their pay grade. But all the jobs are down south and they are left up there with nothing to do. And you, your brother and your friends in government (and those before you) have done very little to end the marginalisation. After the floods of last year, your brother set up a northern development fund to help change the status quo. One year on, nothing has been done to get this fund to work for the benefit of our compatriots in the north. Even the legislative processes necessary for this fund to take off are yet to be initiated.

Couldn’t you have done this with the same urgency you used to sell off Ghana Telecom?

A man with no job, no place to lay his head and no hope for the future will not think twice about setting his neighbour’s house on fire if someone relatively well-off (like a politician) asks him to do so in return for a cedi or two. He has nothing to lose – except his miserable life. For someone like that, death comes as a blessing and so living on the edge offers hope of a quick end to a wretched life. They have nothing to lose. And that’s why they fight over guinea fowls and lotto kiosks. That’s why they fight over who among two dead chiefs should have their funeral rites performed first.

Kwame, marginalisation is not the only cause of the sporadic violence in the north. At the end of your trip to Gushiegu, I heard you say on radio that “there are some people in the northern region, particularly in Tamale, who feel they can get away with murder... That is wrong but that’s a belief some people hold that they can get away with anything.”

This is called impunity. And you and your brother and his government are partly to blame for the growing impunity in the north. I was even surprised to hear you make a statement like that. At the height of the Dagbon crisis, the District Chief Executive for Yendi was accused by several people of alleged involvement in the instigation of the violence. No one bothered to investigate the allegations against him and the guy is still walking around a powerful, free man. In the recent outbreak of violence, about three people have reported that they saw the Gushiegu DCE allegedly pouring petrol around some houses. He also reportedly gave out weapons to some people and pointed out who they should fire at. Police extensively questioned the people who made the allegations against him but have not bothered to ask the DCE a single question. And you are telling me there are people up north who think “they can get away with anything”?

Please, spare me the long talk. You know who these people are. Deal with them and stop wasting our ears. Tell us something we don’t know. After all, you are the interior minister and you have “intelligence” we don’t have. The children of Alhaji Jemoni, whose houses and cars were burnt at Gushiegu, still fear for their lives because those who destroyed their property (and tried to kill them) are still walking free. I bet you will give us another lecture on impunity if, tomorrow, Alhaji Jemoni takes an axe to the head any of those suspected to have taken away everything he has worked so hard for.

Remember, and tell this to your brother, that there can be no peace without justice. And justice comes in many forms. If the state doesn’t deliver it, people will find other means of getting it. The latter option often leads to war and the shedding of blood.

Finally, Kwame, tell your brother if he even cares half as much as I think he should, he must get on a plane and go up north to talk peace with his fellow citizens. I can’t understand why your brother finds it easier to go to Kenya to talk to (Odinga and Kibaki) and to Zambia (to bury Mwanawasa) but finds it so difficult to take a 30-minute flight to the north to sit and talk peace with his own compatriots about peace. I think it’s because there are no five-star hotels up there. But that’s the point. He should go up there and live with them for a few days, look around and see the poverty and squalor for himself. For a man used to the comfort of the Waldorf Astoria, this is a tough thing to do. But he should try and go up north. He should go and sit down with as many of the people as possible – from Yendi to Bawku to Gushiegu – and talk to them about peace. They will listen. They may not immediately stop fighting.

But such engagement, followed with sincere policy initiatives to bring development to the north will go a long way to calm nerves and bring hope to many of those up there who have nothing to live for.

For now, there is calm. But you and I know there will be another storm soon. Question is “where?”

It’s me,
Citizen Kwamena

PS: Check out my blogsite: www.atokd.com;
or send email: akwamena@gmail.com