SURVEYS ON THE CAUSES OF CONFLICTS IN GHANA
SURVEYS ON THE CAUSES OF CONFLICTS IN GHANA
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Society in the northern part of Ghana is divided along traditional hierarchic and ethnic lines in which the tribe and the chiefs play an important role in day-to-day rural life. It is mainly the chiefs who act as the spokesmen of the various ethnic groups and who participate in local and national government. There are, however, also elected local and national politicians and youth association spokespersons are also very powerful.
People from northern Ghana, especially the rural population, identify strongly with their ethnic groups and traditions. The national government in Accra on the south coast is often regarded as very remote and of lesser importance. The distinction is reinforced by the disadvantaged economic position of the north in comparison to the rest of the country. It is difficult to say how far this division has played a role in the genesis of the conflict and, later, in the national conciliation attempts. However, it is certain that the remoteness of some conflict areas and the lack of infrastructure and communication technology has sometimes made communication between the various parties and government mediators difficult.
The roots of the conflicts in northern Ghana are complex and interwoven. Moreover accounts of the origins of conflicts vary among the different ethnic groups. The major points of contention, however, lie in disputes over land rights and political representation. Land rights are ultimately vested in the paramount chief on behalf of the ethnic group. Members of other ethnic groups who live on the land of a chief are expected to live by his or her rules and to show respect or allegiance, sometimes in the form of gifts.
Since British colonial rule, paramount chieftaincy has also been the prerequisite for a seat in the Northern and National Houses of Chiefs, and thus for significant political representation. However, only four ethnic groups, the Dagomba, Nanumba, Gonja and Mamprusi, have paramount chiefs. The other ethnic groups, such as the Konkomba, Nchumuru and Nawuri, have always been 'headless', or acephalous. The Konkomba for example, orginally came from Togo and migrated to Ghana in the early twentieth century. They are generally farmers and often move from one geographical area to another in search of fertile land. Instead of a system of paramount chieftaincy, where the community is governed by several chiefs and headed by a paramount chief, they have a non-centralised political system without secular leaders.
Nevertheless, the Konkomba and other acephalous groups have long claimed they should be entitled to the same political rights as paramount chieftaincy groups. To them, the current system is the unacceptable result of ancient rules. Since all the land belongs to chiefs, Konkomba are forced to live on 'foreign' land. Their refusal to respect the foreign chief's rule has often led to disputes. In reality, the Konkomba are not completely without political and economic representation. However, a legal recognition of their equal status would enable them to become more involved in local and national government. It would also enable them to gain access to district assembly funds which the government is currently creating to support a decentralisation programme.
Because they form a relatively large part of the population in northern Ghana, the Konkomba feel fully justified in pursuing this claim. According to 1996 figures of Minorities at Risk, the Konkomba, with 300,000 to 400,000 people, are the second largest ethnic group in the Northern Region and consequently they feel that they have the right to exercise authority over their own land. However, the land issue is particularly thorny. Fertile lands, which were once sufficient for all, are becoming increasingly scarce and thus increasingly valuable. The owners of fertile land are unwilling to surrender any part of their claim to ownership, particularly as they have the backing of the law.
The conflict over land and political power was a major source of tension among different ethnic groups but the conflict in the region also has other roots. Historically, many of the region's groups have had a good understanding with each other. In some cases, coexistence and intermarriage are common, making it difficult, on occasion, to define which ethnic group someone actually belongs.
However, mutual incomprehension and ridicule, often based on rumours, played an important role in the build up of hostility before and during the conflicts. Rumours of the alleged bellicosity and malign intentions of the other parties were widespread and were frequently fuelled by media reports. In one striking example, the Ghanaian Chronicle of January 31, 1993, contained an article predicting a terrible bloodbath in the near future, which would leave as many as 10,000 people dead. This caused such a great disturbance that in the city of Tamale, loudspeaker vans had to be used to calm down the distressed citizens.
Religious differences have also been identified as a source of division, especially over the last ten years. In general terms, Christian missionary activity has been most successful among the acephalous groups, while Islam has had a stronger influence on the chieftaincy groups. However, the Islamic influence is mainly seen among the leading families. The traditional religions still have the largest numbers of followers. At the village level, many people practice an eclectic mix of religion so religious differences are rarely a cause for conflict.
Finally, the situation is further complicated by the fact that conflicts not only occur between the various groups but also within them. Conflicts between the older and more traditional generation of rulers and the younger group members with more modern views on government, sometimes cause divisions within an ethnic group. These internal divisions surface in disagreements on how to solve the problems the group faces, and can subsequently hamper the peace process.
The 1994-1995 civil war is usually said to have started on January 31, 1994, following a quarrel between Konkomba and Nanumba over the price of a guinea fowl at a market in Nakpayili near Bimbilla. The war is therefore also known as the 'Guinea Fowl War'.
Relations between the different ethnic groups had been tense all through 1993. Earlier conflicts in the region had never been resolved and there was fear of new attacks. Also, there were a growing number of rumours about Konkomba plans to seize land. From July 1993, these rumours turned into clear mistrust when Konkomba leaders sent a petition to the National House of Chiefs. In this petition, they claimed that, as they were the second largest group in the Northern Region, their most important leader, the 'chief' of Saboba, should have the same status as a paramount chief.
After the incident at Nakpayili - accounts of which vary considerably - fighting broke out between Konkomba and Nanumba and spread rapidly. On February 10, after ten days of fighting the government declared a state of emergency in the town of Tamale and several other districts. A joint Military Task Force was set up. Fighting continued for months with disastrous effect. The numbers of dead and displaced are still uncertain, however, several observers suggest that there were 2,000 deaths in 1994 alone, that 322 villages were devastated and some 178,000 people were displaced. Farms, herds and produce were destroyed, and the economy severely damaged. Social life in general as well as the interaction between the various ethnic groups was also badly affected, as were medical and educational facilities in the region.
In April 1994 a government delegation held talks with leaders of the warring factions in the capital Accra. Both sides agreed to end the conflict and the violence. On June 9, after a number of quiet, but tense, weeks, a peace treaty was signed. However, it was not until August 8 that parliament revoked the state of emergency, thereby officially ending the conflict.
Although the tensions had diminished, their causes still remained unresolved and in March and May 1995 there were renewed outbreaks of violence. This time, at least 110 people were killed. Health conditions also deteriorated due to a lack of food and clean water. Subsequently, in November, the friction between Konkombas and Dagombas was given a new, religious dimension. As tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims increased in different parts of Ghana, the relationship between the mainly Muslim Dagomba and the mainly animist Konkomba also worsened.
At the end of 1995, the situation in the conflict area grew calmer, which is widely ascribed to mediation attempts and peace talks involving all warring parties. Agreements were made to change the old structure of political representation and land rights. Consequently, the main points of contention seemed to have been tackled. By the end of 1998, the overall situation in the region looked positive. However, problems remain in the (re)building of the area's economy and infrastructure. Moreover, the area was hit by a serious food shortage in 1997. The city of Tamale is now calm but the Konkombas are still too afraid to enter the city for fear of reprisals. Isolated incidents are now and then reported in the Ghanaian press. In May 1999, for example, members of the Konkomba Youth Association in Yendi warned of the threat to peace in the region, following what they claimed as police inaction to attacks on Konkombas.
The northern Ghana conflict, being an internal and local conflict, has received little attention from large intergovernmental organisations. Consequently, official conflict management initiatives have originated mainly from within the Ghanaian government. These domestic attempts were begun in mid-1993, when a delegation of government officials twice visited the area to act as mediators. However, the situation was worsened by rumours and misunderstandings and proved difficult to resolve.
The army is generally regarded as having played an important role in the process of appeasement although its late response has often been criticised. Surprisingly, the army was very constructive in restoring the peace based on a balanced and thorough analysis of the situation. The Task Force dispatched to the conflict area helped NGOs with relief distribution. Other direct government action consisted of an agricultural relief package. However, the government found donor funding difficult to obtain. Ministerial visits to donor headquarters in Europe were unsuccessful as donors preferred to use NGOs as relief activity channels. This is said to have caused tension between the government and NGOs.
In order to negotiate peace, a Permanent Peace Negotiation Committee was set up in April 1994 to talk with the various parties involved. The meetings, some of which were set up together with the NGO Consortium discussed below, led to a Peace Treaty on June 9, 1994. At that time, however, the conflicts had yet to be resolved. Negotiation continued and finally two reconciliation ceremonies, both in the presence of President Rawlings, were held in December 1995 and in May 1996. At this stage, a lasting peace seemed to be much more certain.
With their many different activities, NGOs have played an important role in resolving this conflict. Initially, they focused mainly on relief for the many people who were displaced or had otherwise been affected by the war. As the conflict continued, some NGOs also took up an important role as mediators. Today, their work continues, and often includes conflict prevention activities.
Before the outbreak of the 1994 conflict, several NGOs had already become firmly established in the Northern Region of Ghana. These were mainly social development organisations, both local and international. At the beginning of the conflict, there was hardly any cooperation between the different organisations. Assessment missions were held by several NGOs simultaneously and the first relief aid was donated directly to the various NGOs by their international donors. About a month after the outbreak of the conflict, the first Red Cross relief aid arrived and after two months the government and the various NGO-missions were able to focus on needs assessments.
As the conflict continued, however, the need for more cooperation became apparent. An informal NGO network, the Inter-NGO Consortium, was formed. Participants were a mixture of local NGOs, such as Action Aid Ghana, Action on Disability and Development, Amaschina, Assemblies of God Development and Relief Services, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Secretariat, Council of Churches, Business Advisory Development and Consultancy Centre, Gubkatimali and Penorudas, and international NGOs such as Lifeline Denmark, Oxfam, Red Cross and World Vision. In joining forces, they hoped to obtain and distribute humanitarian aid more efficiently. The independence of the various organisations was kept intact, so that each of them bore the responsibilities for their own projects.
After the first humanitarian aid had arrived, the Consortium also started to focus on conflict transformation and reconciliation initiatives. This was mainly done in cooperation with the Nairobi Peace Initiative (NPI), an NGO which, since its foundation in 1984, has built up a lot of mediation experience in several conflicts in Africa. Needs assessment and field visits were started at the end of 1994. The NPI also participated in the Consortium's Peace Awareness Campaign. An important part of this campaign was the setting up of a series of workshops, the Kumasi workshops, in which the various parties involved in the conflict were to be brought together. The NPI and Consortium staff organised the first two Kumasi workshops in May and June 1995. Participants in these workshops included members from all ethnic groups involved, several chiefs, opinion leaders and NGO staff. In the first two workshops all parties assessed the damage the war had caused. The statements of the different parties were also heard and discussed.
Instrumental in this effort was Hizkias Assefa who based his efforts on a new philosophy 'Peace and Reconciliation as a Paradigm' which is described as a philosophy of peace and its implications for conflict, governance and economic growth in Africa. It attempts to look at the crisis with the hope of providing pointers on how to begin to change behaviour and situations. The paradigm identifies approaches to be utilised in bringing about desired changes. The paradigm also suggests roles for actors leading to the kinds of changes and transformation necessary.
A first step towards reconciliation was made when all parties admitted that mutual hostility should, for the benefit of all, make way for a mutual effort to create a lasting peace. The leaders of the ethnic groups agreed to spread these ideas to their communities so as to indirectly involve them in the peace process. However, no official agreements had been made at these first workshops. Hostility and mistrust were said to have lessened after these first two workshops, at least at the administrator's level. At village level, however, it was still clearly present. Field visits and meetings with the parties involved continued between the Kumasi Workshops, and in December 1995, a third workshop took place. Once again, all statements were heard. This time, attention was also given to the participant's ideas on how to solve the disputes.
The fourth Kumasi Workshop, in February 1996, concentrated on the composition of a draft version of a Peace Accord. This procedure was the result of more extensive talks held between the NPI and leaders of the ethnic groups, both separately and jointly. In the fifth Workshop, in March 1996, the draft version was officially signed. The main achievement of this Peace Accord was the fact that the acephalous Konkomba were to become a Paramount Chieftaincy group. Also, initiatives to establish peace awareness activities within the various communities were formulated.
Over the period in which the Kumasi Workshops were held, further peace initiatives were launched by the Consortium in cooperation with civil society representatives. Another part of the Peace Awareness Campaign, for example, was the setting up of a Peace and Reconciliation Working Group (PRWG). This working group consisted of NGO staff and was established to set up, facilitate and evaluate different reconciliation activities. Another initiative was the Peace Education Campaign (PEC). This campaign was aimed at the community level. It involved leaders of the different ethnic groups travelling from one community to the next, acting as peace builders in engaging people directly in the peace process and encouraging them to support it.
In response to a request by a number of local organisations, the UK-based Conciliation Resources has formed a team to consult with Ghanaians affected by inter-communal violence to provide an assessment of the conflict and possible constructive responses.
Apart from the peace initiatives taken by the Consortium as a whole, several other, usually local, projects were organised by individual NGOs. These initiatives included, for example, Action Aid Ghana's support in the rebuilding of a school by both Konkomba and Dagomba communities. The Council of Churches, among others, focused on the coexistence of Muslim and Christian communities by organising mixed prayer sessions and other meetings. Several organisations have set up non-violence workshops, fact-finding missions and peace education programmes for teachers and community leaders. Thus, now that the actual conflict has ended, conflict prevention has become a major concern for a large number of NGOs.
In addition to official domestic and NGO initiatives, another important conflict prevention initiative has come from one of Ghanaian traditional social groups. This is the Northern Youth and Development Association (NORYDA). Youth Associations have a long tradition in northern Ghana. They are ethnically or regionally based and are formed by politically active 'opinion leaders'. Though their name suggests otherwise, age does not play a role in the Youth Organisations' membership. As a body of politically engaged people, Youth Organisations often function as representatives of their community at the national level. With the creation of NORYDA, at the suggestion of the Youth Organisations themselves, this existing model is to be used as a deliberative body on the prevention of new conflicts.
Of the various peace initiatives described above, the organisation and involvement of the Consortium is generally seen as the most influential. It has continued its work after the peace process, changing its main activities from relief, to mediation, to conflict prevention. According to the various NGOs involved, this informal cooperative network has certainly proved useful in times of conflict and humanitarian need. It has enabled the participating organisations to pool their resources and expertise and to cover the widest possible area.
However, this loose structure seems to have had less effect on peace awareness projects set up in the aftermath of the conflict. Here there were frequent complaints about a lack of commitment and means. This is seen as the main reason why larger, coordinated conflict transformation and prevention activities have been difficult to get off the ground and to maintain over a longer period of time. At the end of 1998, the activities of the Consortium and NPI have clearly decreased. Those of the Peace and Reconciliation Working Group have ceased altogether. The small, individual projects of the various NGOs, on the other hand, are reported to be meeting with success. As they are usually local projects, carried out in areas where the NGOs in question had already established themselves, they are having a direct impact in their different communities.
Finally, the future of the NORYDA organisation is generally regarded as positive. Although it faces some problems regarding the unconditional, unbiased and a-political cooperation of the various ethnic groups involved, this same ethnic diversity is also its main source of success. In contrast to the competition that existed between the various ethnic youth organisations before its creation, NORYDA tries to deal with the interests of the various ethnic groups as a whole. The development of NORYDA is currently being supported by the Consortium and various individual NGOs.
In general, the situation since 1995 has been calm. Repatriation and rebuilding activities continue. The government claims to be keeping any possible sources of violence well under control. President Rawlings has stressed on various occasions that violence will not be tolerated and that the government will suppress, with army intervention if necessary, any outbreaks of violence. This policy seems to have had its effect.
Also, the Kumasi Accord seems to have tackled the most direct causes of conflict in admitting the paramount chieftaincy rights for the Konkomba. However, this issue has formed the basis for a new dispute, and possibly for a new conflict. Chieftaincy groups have proposed the appointment of three paramount chiefs for the large group of Konkombas. The Konkombas, however, prefer to have only one. They fear that the proposal for three paramount chiefs is part of a divide and rule strategy of the chieftaincy groups. Peace in the region is always fragile as, with so many different ethnic groups and interests, new conflicts on related issues are always likely to flare up. So too, the general economic situation, which is still feeling the effects of the war and of the droughts, could play an important role in creating new tensions.
The conflict has eased, but some potential causes of future conflict remain. As international fora and separate NGOs have made little study of the situation in northern Ghana, apart from donor policies, hardly any policy and action recommendations have been formulated. The effects of the various peace initiatives, which until now have seemed very positive, will have to prove their value in the long run. 1 Several parts of this survey are based on the Oxfam-report 'Building Sustainable Peace: Conflict, Conciliation and Civil Society in Northern Ghana'.