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Opinions of Thursday, 15 April 2010

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

Understanding Northern Conflicts through Otumfuo’s Reactive Comments

Forty-one able-bodied men were picked up in Yendi at a time of the night sleep is sweetest. The arrests were in connection with the murder of Ya-Na Yakubu Andani, which happened in 2002. They were brought down to Bimbilla and sieved. Nine of them have been charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Two of them are said to be facing charges of unlawful possession of arms. The “vibrant” Ghanaian media do not have to go to Elubo to endure any hardship before they get the stories. It’s all over the newspapers. The airwaves will know no peace in the days that follow. Some political spin doctors, who are either ignorant or mischievous, will do what they are very good at – fanning the flames of disunity through recklessly malicious comments.
But I see the move as the surest way of ending seemly endless slideshow of violence and impunity in northern Ghana. That is if justice is decoupled from political vendetta and an attempt to appease a particular voter group. It does not matter which gate or political party the alleged culprits are said to belong. What matters is the peace that has eluded that part of the country like how Osama Bin Laden has eluded Americans and their intelligence agencies. It hurts when some people classify all northerners as violent. It also hurts when you tune to a radio station and hear people who should know better, deciding to read politics into everything. Others simply say, “Let’s forget about them. That’s how they are.” But how true is this?
Recently a lot of people took on Otumfuo Osei Tutu for his reaction to the kidnapping of the Tuobodomhene by a group of people who were alleged to have acted on the orders of the Techimanhene. The Asantehene is reported to have said that if nothing was done about the situation, the Techimanhene would also be kidnapped in retaliation. A lot of people descended on Otumfuo to the extent that certain individuals, in the misguided expression of their freedom of speech, insulted Otumfuo. I reacted in an article and I was not spared either. I’m not perturbed. Our elders say he who does not like greetings must not farm by the wayside. I criticize and must accept criticisms and the unsolicited insults. In bad faith! But with a leader like Otumfuo if he has achieved nothing at all, he is one of the chiefs who still give the chieftaincy institution in Africa its meaning. That was my point. I didn’t say he’s above criticisms. But let’s analyze Otumfuo’s comments in perspective.
If something so provokes such a respectable chief as Otumfuo to make such comments, then it is just right to conclude that what is happening in northern Ghana could happen anywhere in the country if the same treatment was given to the incidents in question by those in authority. The chief of Tuobodom cannot be compared to the Ya-Na in terms of jurisdiction and the size of their kingdoms. If his kidnapping alone could provoke the Asantehene to react the way he did, then is anyone justified in saying that northerners are violent by nature if the people of Dagbon did what they did when Ya-Na was murdered and the culprits went unpunished? What would not have happened if chief of Tuobodomhene was murdered?
Or would Asantes sit down unconcerned if a faction within Asanteman murdered the Asantehene and went unpunished? Would we call Asantes “violent by nature” if they reacted?
I’m not in any way in support of the violence in northern Ghana. It is a shame to all right thinking northerners. Neither am I in anyway trying to justify it. I just want to appeal to those who make rush judgement about the north and northerners in general to put themselves in the shoes of a catalogue of events that have happened in that part of the country.
Otumfuo would never have made those comments if there was a swift action by the security forces to deal with the perpetrators of that criminal act. It seemed nothing was going to be done to alleged kidnappers. It was also reported by some sections of the media that the Techimanhene had said that his government was in power and that no one could touch him. Anybody in Otumfuo’s shoes could have said what he said. He is not superhuman!
There can never be peace in the midst of injustice. The recurrent violent conflicts in Bawku, Yendi and a few trouble-spots in northern Ghana are fuelled by impunity. Anytime people commit criminal acts and are shielded by the powers that be, it calls for more of such acts to be committed. The tension that mounted in Kumasi and Techiman and subsequent comments made by Otumfuo, who is among a group of eminent chiefs working to restore peace to Dagbon, should tell us all that no one is superhuman.
The message of peace loses its bearing when tolerance is stretched to its elastic limits by injustice.
While we all hope and must work to ensure that the security forces and the judiciary handling the volatile Dagbon crisis do not throw fairness overboard, those ill-informed and mischievous social commentators and contributors to radio programmes should refrain from inflaming passions and allow the law to take its natural, unimpeded course. The people of northern Ghana are just like any other ethnic group in Ghana. The conflicts in recent times have been fuelled by injustice, which has conspired with ignorance, poverty and unemployment to give the good people of the three regions of the north a bad name. It has robbed us of dignity. Respect. Economic prospects and respect from people outside the three regions of the north.
But the situation is not helpless. Though seemingly hopeless.
If a country like Liberia has known peace, then the situation in Bawku and Dagbon is not helpless. The password is JUSTICE. Justice, as it denotes, not as it connotes in Ghanaian politics. Not the NDC and NPP justice.

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni [] Email: The writer is the SRC President of the Ghana Institute of Journalism and Press and Information Secretary of the Northern Students Union (NSU). To read more of his writings, visit