Feature Article of Saturday, 16 June 2012

Columnist: Gumah, Bernard

The Emerging Conflicts, Lessons And The Way Forward

In the past weeks there have been reports of one form of violence or the other in various parts of the country which calls for a collective effort and increase concerns on conflict management and peace building in Ghana. There seems to be increased impunity in Ghana painting a scenario of lawlessness thus compelling citizens to resort to self protection when there is a perceived threat. In all the violence in the past weeks, I identify mainly failure of security establishments as well as institutional failure.
Failure of security establishments: A lot of Ghanaians do not feel secured in their neighborhoods and homes because our security agencies do not seem to be proactive in their efforts to protect citizens. It is because people do not feel save that they build high walls around their homes and include guards, barbed wires and electric fences. Security is not a one man business; every Ghanaian has the responsibility of assisting the security agencies to fight crime by informing the relevant authorities on security threats. In recent times we have noticed an increase in communities collaborating with the police to fight crime. Informants provide adequate information for the apprehension of criminals e.g. the weapons intercepted in Kumasi. The security agencies that are endowed with the constitutional obligation of protecting citizens do not seem to be doing much. Security intelligence (National security and the BNI) do not seem to be taking cues and warning signs that emerge before, during and after conflicts. People are either not arrested for masterminding violence or they are arrested and released subsequently. I remember the former was the case in Bawku which demoralized the military who were keeping peace in the troubled area. Informants will not be encouraged to give information on criminal activities when such criminals are eventually let loose because the law has not been able to find them culpable. In a nutshell, if we want to preserve the peace that the country enjoys at the moment, we have to ensure that criminals in the society and people who want to be lawless are isolated. As elections draw near we will be confronted with similar situations and if a stern action is not taken opponents will revert to self defense. The Chereponi incident is a practical example, where a ‘purported security operative’ was caught on camera shooting indiscriminately into a crowd without any known action being taken. Intelligence gathering must be improved as a significant part of conflict management and foiling unrest in the country. The military and police have always acted swiftly to maintain law and order so that other state institutions will assist bring about sustainable peace.
Institutional failure: There are several state institutions that play a key role in maintaining the supreme peace and security of Ghana. To improve national cohesion and prevent conflict, state institutions such as the Judiciary, the national house of chiefs, the media, parliament and the executive have to be proactive.
The judiciary in interpreting the law and adjudicating cases has failed citizens in several instances. Most often perpetrators of communal violence have been given bail and subsequently discharged for one flimsy reason or the other. These criminal elements find their way back to their communities to continue with their criminal activities. Several contentious cases are still in court and there seem to be no end to such legal matters because of several adjournments among others.
The national house of chiefs is also an institution that has not performed creditably in utilizing its constitutional powers. The constitution provides the house of chiefs the responsibility to mediate and settle any chieftaincy related disputes or all disputes that concern tradition. However, none of the chieftaincy disputes have been successfully settled. Mediation stalls at one point or the other and the house of chiefs become handicapped. There are several powers that the house of chiefs can activate to compel feuding factions abide by the terms of any mediation. The chiefs as custodians of the peoples’ lands have enormous power to prevent subjects from fighting over land but what exist is that some chiefs are the primary cause of these conflicts because of their dealings in land issues. The houses of chiefs therefore need to enforce their mandate and prove that they really deserve the right to be entrusted with leadership roles in their communities.
The media has not being helpful in promoting peace in the country. Media houses select controversial subjects or choose phrases out of their context to make news to sell their products without evaluating the final effects of such publications. Recently (13/06/2012), a private radio station its report on the violence in Hohoe, mentioned that the clashes were between Muslims and Christians. This is very unfortunate and can trigger other forms of violence across the country. The media becomes interested when the news breaks out but does not follow up on criminal investigations and court cases, they are only interested in cases that involve high profile personalities neglecting the activities of persons that has resulted in the death of several people and the destruction of property worth millions of cedis. My suggestion to the media houses is that they should set up a desk to follow up on criminal cases so that they do not loose track of the case at a certain point just as they do for the case on Woyome and narcotics. Their choice of words should not be explicit to give the impression that they have drawn a conclusion.
Parliament has to be proactive by calling for a probe into conflicts and to invite the minister for the interior and defense to answer questions on specific operation that have ‘failed or succeeded’. The lessons learnt will guide law makers when enacting specific laws on security. Any action that is considered unacceptable should be questioned and the appropriate authority sanctioned.
A lot of criticisms have come along with the inability of the president to visit these troubled spots or console victims of these unfortunate events. I remember the former president Kufour was in Kenya as a peace mediator when there was serious exchange of gunfire in certain parts of the country. Although the minister for the interior and other members of cabinet have passed one comment or the other as regards the situation in Hohoe, Ekumfi or Nakpanduri, every Ghanaian will expect the father of the nation to make a pronouncement on ensuring that authorities work harder to ensure and sustain peace especially in troubled areas to restore the confidence of citizens in this election year.
In conclusion, I recommended the establishment of an independent and autonomous body that will be responsible for resolving conflicts in Ghana. This body will have departments responsible for specific types of conflicts. They will advice government on specific policy interventions and also alert the security agencies on warning signs for a professional and decisive action to be taken to curtail any emerging conflict. The idea of a National Peace Council is therefore vital and efforts must be made to empower them and provide them with the resources to manage these conflicts and with the cooperation of peace loving Ghanaians, Ghana will be much more peaceful. Ghana is a peaceful nation with ethnic and religious tolerance which we have to work at preserving so that not even political divisions can separate or cause us to rise in arms against one another.