03.02.2005 Feature Article

Good, the bad and the ugly in the Dagbon crisis

Good, the bad and the ugly in the Dagbon crisis
03.02.2005 LISTEN

Amanfuo, life is precious. Peace is an invaluable asset and maybe the core of our humanity. It is also the vehicle for the resolution of conflicts. Where the pillars of peace are deliberately compromised through events like chieftaincy squabbles, whole societies and generations suffer. Chieftaincy disputes are not the monopoly of any one area in Ghana, but the one in Dagbon stands out as the mother of all disputes. It is an area that has known no peace for a better part of the last century and this one.

Amanfuo, my piece is about exploring what I consider to be an explosive, sensitive and a very divisive subject. It is not unusual for anyone commenting on the Dagbon problem to be classified as a "for or against" entity, depending on how it is interpreted. However, I believe the time has come for everyone involved to say, "enough is enough". It is time to talk peace and consign this monster of a conflict to the history books.

Amanfuo, it is sad to say that one of the worst tragedies of all times has just taken place in Dagbon. Most critics, and there has been many – some in Tamale, USA, Canada, Greenland and even Antarctica – (including a pastor !!!!!) for whatever reasons have levelled all sorts of allegations and insults against the ruling NPP for the Dagbon problems or it's handling of it, but there are certain critical issues, which needs to be put into perspective.

Amanfuo, I am no political animal and do not intend to hold brief for the NPP people (they have their big communicators who can talk big to win boom arguments), but believes some of the charges have been unfairly targeted, as my analysis will show later.

Amanfuo, before I go on let us signal by show of hands Ghanaians who are tired of the Dagbon conflict? Do I see a million, two, three, fifteen, twenty, twenty-three and half million? That was quite a number. What shall we do about it then? Amanfuo, the Northern region is a land of contrast. On one hand it is viewed as one of the most under-developed areas in Ghana. Yet it is endowed with fertile land, a beautiful culture, hard working and intelligent people and a place with the potential to become one of the hottest tourist sites in the land.

Factional fighting and mindless violence has stifled the potentials of this region. Huge resources have been poured into the land over the years, but hold your breathe for a minute. No, a better chunk of the resources have not gone into development projects. No. They have been spent on maintaining the peace. Amanfuo, a serious case in point has been the over 1.7 billion cedis spent on the work of the Wuaku commission alone. Money that could have upgraded all the secondary institutions in the region with up-to-date facilities and also immunise all the babies against the killer but preventable diseases for over a year.

Amanfuo to describe this conflict properly is to look at it from a historical angle. I will be very brief as the history is a very, very long one – over 800 years as some last quoted.

Brief history:

Amanfuo, the tension in Dagbon is as a result of the old age problem of chieftaincy disputes. A scenario of Siamese twins fighting over food, which may end up in, the same stomach anyway. This problem has outlived nearly every government, head of state, president (s) known in the history of the country, except the current administration, yet the problems are no where near being solved.

Amanfuo, many people may ask the question – “who is he that is talking about Dagbon?” Amanfuo, I do not intend to add to an already tense situation by claiming a “gate”, but it transpires that part of my ancestry can be traced to Dagbon and if circumstances had not altered the course of history, I would have ended up as Kimkim Naa.

Amanfuo, how can we sit still and not talk about a conflict that has costs over a thousand innocent lives, wrecked destruction on an elephant scale on a region so underdeveloped and crying out for the peace and tranquillity it needs in order to progress.

I know that at the end of my article I would be “getting up the backsides” of many people but I believe reason will prevail. May I also add that I stand for correction, should any shortcomings be identified in my analysis or historical account (not my opinion).

Amanfuo let us look briefly at the history of this conflict and try to draw out the heart of the matter. I may from time to time go off tangent but that is all done in good faith.

Amanfuo, before the colonialist descended on our rich soil, we had our own organised way of conducting our socio-cultural affairs. I am not too sure how it all started but the institution of chieftaincy is an old one, especially the one in Dagbon. It did well to evolve over the years into something of a unifying and edifying force.

Amanfuo, with time the Dagombas developed their own comprehensive and solid way of selecting their kings to their skins – The Ya Naas / Yani. Amanfuo, inheritance is paternally routed, so when the chief died, the kin makers will elect the most qualified candidate (of the Yanabihi – sons of the Ya Na) through a generally acceptable and strict customary process which involved testimonies of soothsayers, the performance of certain rituals, before enskinment took place. “Deskinning” a Ya Naa was very very rare. The system was not foolproof or without imperfections but it worked.

Like all kinship titles, this post was usually for life. The difficulty with any inheritance system is that it comes a time when the accessors to a throne increase in number over time. The real squabble for the top job increases in intensity and sometimes ends on a very sour note. In all this, the composition and character of the kingmakers or selection committees becomes very crucial. One mistake, and you set whole generations beards on fire. This is the cross junction where Dagbon has reached.

Amanfuo, reading through the developments that have taken place in Dagbon, it is hard to phantom why this canker has been allowed to fester for all these years.

Chain of events:

But for the negatives, Dagbon's chieftaincy record has been intriguing and rich and could be harvested into an educational and development tool. Amanfuo, to simplify matters, I will effectively slice the history of the Yani to the reign of Ya Na Abdulai II. He gave birth to Andani and Abdulai (separate mothers), which will later become known as the Andani and Abudu gates. According to the narration, he had asked that the Yani skin rotated between the two families after his death. This plan would have worked well for the Kingdom, but for the interference it suffered as the years went by.

Amanfuo, in all this, there is also a dark side to the Dagbon question, which needs to be addressed with all the seriousness that it deserves. The historians tell us that the change or transition from one kinship period to another since time immemorial has not always been peaceful. There has always been brutality, murder, arson etc. In fact, 2002 was not the first time that a ruling Ya Naa had been murdered. History has it that Ya Naa Suman Zoli (1778 to 1799) was murdered. As late as September 1969 there was what I will refer to as mass murder committed at the palace.

As I indicated earlier, Ya Naa Yakubu (1799 – 1839) was the father of both Naa Abdulai (Abudu gate) and Naa Andani (Andani gate). There were serious squabbles after his death but the dust eventually settled and allowed his son Ya Naa Abdulai I (Abudu) to ascend the skin. Then after him came Naa Andani, brother of Naa Abdulai I and also son of Ya Naa Yakubu. This perking order appeared to work well.

Around 1899 the Europeans (British and Germans) stepped in, signing treaties to partition the Dagbon land and everything in it and completely dismantled the age-old customary selection and rotation system, introducing a completely alien voting system. Amanfuo, the product of introducing chaos into a stable environment is total disaster. This was what was bequeathed to Dagbon. Amanfuo, they did not stop there. After around 1920 shortly after the war, Dagbon was re-united by the British again, and who then introduced a new set of kinship selection system and even had the nerve to introduce what has been referred to as “probationary periods” for the Ya Naas. So a chief could be “removed” from the skin if they were seen to be “performing below standard”. Hmmm heaven help us !!!!!!

In 1930 there was a big Dagbon conference organised by the “overlords” at which the composition of the selection committee and eligibility criteria for Yani was revisited, including the succession routes and functions of the Ya Naa defined.

Amanfuo, again in 1948 the selection process and committee underwent a shake up again. So by 1953 the whole Yani selection system was in big trouble. Ingredients of war:

Amanfuo, prior to the regicide of 2002, all the ingredients for war making was in place. Some will argue that this was not a war, to which I disagree. The definition of war according to my “Collins dictionary” is “an open armed conflict between two or more combatants”. The sophistication and types of weaponry, the efficiency of the execution of the deadly schemes all pointed to war making.

Amanfuo, from the pre-colonial days to date, weapons proliferation has been a headache in this part of Ghana. This probably got worse during the revolutionary days when most of these dangerous ammunitions fell into the hands of dangerous people.

Amanfuo, accompanying that was the various acts of provocation, the willing agents, especially young men ready to fight for the various factions, the protracted legal challenges, the near breakdown of law and order, There is also the koliko effect where the big shots sit outside and direct the conflicts, and the deadly “revenge and must win at all costs” mindset. The good news has been the failure of the conflict to spread across to the other ethnic boundaries, which would have been catastrophic for the nation.

Keeping the peace:

Amanfuo, the threat of death and destruction has always hung over Yendi for sometime. In 1954, the security forces had to intervene in what would have resulted in serious blood letting involving the Abudu and Andani gates. There were protests and petitions. Nkrumah's government eventually instituted L.I 59, which basically re-invented the rotation system. Of course this did not satisfy everyone as. The disagreements were largely in part about which of the selection systems were legitimate - the one before the Europeans came, the one during which they were here, the one after they left or the one after that one. Very confusing isn't it?

Amanfuo, this was a very complex, mind-taxing and energy-sapping project on a monstrous scale. It was in the midst of sorting out these problems that Nkrumah was overthrown in 1966. One of the factions sought to have Legislative instrument 59 revoked. The tension continued. Then new NLC government revokes the LI 59, reverses it and revokes it again. Later the NLC appoints the Mate Korle committee to hear the outstanding grievances. It was during the committee's work that the ruling Ya Naa Anadani III died. General Ankrah is removed from office, Afrifa organises elections and Busia's party wins. It has the task of bringing out the findings of the Korle report. The revelation even throws Dagbon into a state of confusion as the enskinment of a kin who had passed away is annulled. Again security forces had to intervene to calm the ensuing crisis.

In 1969 a Ya Naa was enskinned amid tight security. Amanfuo, 13th Feb 1972 and Busia's government is overthrown by Gen. Acheampong. The Andani Yili petitions and the Ollenu committee is set up to look into this boiling matter. It basically reverses the findings of the Mate Korle group. Amanfuo, what a palaver. This will declare one kin deskinned and another enskinned. This was in 1974. This was the time when I first saw and tasted the rough side of the conflict.

Amanfuo, Acheampong was overthrown and Akuffo took over. The SMC2 government was pertitioned but before anyone could say “hey” it was also overthrown. In came Limann's regime. The Abudu gate appealed in 1981 and their wishes were granted. Then the Andani Yili also counter appealed to the Supreme Court in February 1985. In 1986 the Supreme Court set aside the lower court's ruling in favour of the Andani gate. That year Ya Naa Yakubu II proceeded to Yendi surrounded by the usual tension. So the former became the present and the present the former. This shaky status quo will remain until the sad events of March 27 2002.

Amanfuo, I have read about people questioning aloud, and unjustifiably in some instances, the role played by the security services in the recent disturbances. Now Amanfuo, the life of the peacekeeper or law agents in Dagbon is a very risky one. The loud mouths are those who sit in the comfort of their homes in Tamale, Accra and overseas and pull the strings of war, then later turn round to criticise. THESE ARE MOSTLY PEOPLE WHO HAVE NEVER SEEN A SHOT OR BOW AND ARROW FIRED IN ANGER. Well I have. Maintaining the peace in Dagbon can be an unfamiliar, dangerous and exhausting business. It is not the time for the average soldier or police who is already underpaid and poorly equipped to talk bravery. You are dealing with highly spiritual and physical insurgency, if I may put it that way. THEY HAVE THEIR FAULTS BUT I FEEL THE SOLDIERS AND POLICEMEN / WOMEN MUST BE COMMENDED FOR RISKING THEIR PRECIOUS LIVES AND NOT CONDEMNED.

In Yendi, it is not unusual to find young and old men boasting about their manly instincts and their “war” exploits about how many policemen, or soldiers they were able to beat, kill or jujufy (if there is a word like that) during a conflict. Certainly in the 1980's, I witnessed the beheading of an inspector of police during one of the many fights. Amanfuo, many people hell bent on revenge, destruction etc have little regard for the lives of law enforcement officers during these wars. The question is “is it necessary for innocent fathers to be killed and their wives and children widowed because of someone's quest for power?” Sometimes to enter Yendi, law enforcers had to hide in disguised VALCO trucks during these flash times.

Has the NPP government failed Dagbon?

Unfortunately the destiny of Dagbon appears to be inextricably linked rightly or wrongly to the political happenings in Ghana. When the governmental system sneezes, Dagbon catches a cold. This period in the nations history is no exception. Amanfuo, President Kuffour may not be a stranger to the Dagbon conflict. After all, he was a high-ranking government official during Busia's regime, which presided over the then Mote Korle commission findings. Amanfuo, I am convinced that deep down his heart, if he had a quick way of resolving the crisis, he would have done so already, as that would have left him with a hefty sum of political capital and an enviable legacy in history terms. Unfortunately, the solution to this problem of problems has by accident or design proved elusive. Appointing the Wuaku commission, I think was a wise move except that it did not meet the expectations of a section of the people. Amanfuo, if we are truthful with ourselves, we will find it hard recognising the last time in the history of the nation when the “true” perpetrators of political or chieftaincy murders were properly apprehended and sentenced. Not even the murder of the judges and an army officer were fully and satisfactorily resolved.

If it was in the revolutionary days, force could have been used to arrest all the real and imagined accomplices. But we now live under democratic conditions, which give everyone the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty by the law courts, and I believe this is what people are finding difficult to grapple with. I am by no means suggesting the complicity or innocence of the current administration in the murder of the Ya Naa and his subjects but I remain to be convinced about what motives or gains contemplating this dastardly act would have yielded.

With the situation as it stands at Yendi, it would have been extremely difficult to even catch an offending guinea fowl. We need to forgive and move on for the sake of Dagbon. I still believe though that the NPP administration can redeem some capital and face, if it can find a lasting solution to the crisis in a way that is peaceful, all embracing and everlasting. The Wuaku commission:

Traditionally and unfortunately, this has been the route which most solutions, albeit shortsighted, to the Dagbon crisis has followed. The forerunners were the Korle Mote (1969) and Ollenu (1974) commissions. Amanfuo, yen gyina nkrane mu ntiti nkranii. You don't start interviewing and asking people questions when everyone's tankwa is ascending the anger ladder. However, there is a catch 22 situation here. If you intervene as a government, they will claim partiality and subjectivity and if stay away you will be accused of insensitivity. SO WHAT WE GO DO? As one of my friends will say.

The commission in all fairness undertook an extremely difficult job and laid out a number of serious charges against certain individuals. I noted an article which mentioned the apprehension of only two people, but a thorough scanning of the Wuaku report reveals the implication of a whole number of people as instigators or accessories to the war and also recommends what sanctions be applied.

Amanfuo my grandmother use to say that too many cooks spoils the broth. Interference from the law professions, northern contractors, educationists, chieftaincy contractors, politicians etc have made a complicated case messy. Amanfuo, if we can take out the political heat, the provocative talk, the weapon availability question out of the Dagbon equation, Dagbon will be able to elect their leaders peacefully and get back on it's feet. Where do we go from here:

There is an urgent need, as recognised by the Wuaku Commission for the apprehension of all those who beat the drums of death, war, destruction. Amanfuo, yinyaa zuro nyaba (every mad man fears his / her uncle) as they say in Dagbon. If we cannot restrain the madmen and women of war, let us adopt tough strategies with which we can influence the “uncles” in order to control the situation.

The carriers of criticisms must refocus their energies in peace projects and efforts, which will galvanise the energies of the people for prosperity. The burden is a near impossible one, complicated by history, outside interference and all the ambivalence that the quest for power unlashes on a people. Dagbon urgently needs a big Peace conference organised by peace-loving people. Amanfuo, the war and troubles are costing Ghana heavily in resource and reputation terms. Resources, which could be judiciously invested elsewhere to yield benefits for the greater good. There are still places where children attend classes under trees, most people lack good drinking water and the guinea worm infestation is still high. The level of unemployment is astronomical. Breaking the cycle can be done, but it will take the collective will of everyone. It smacks of cynicism and irresponsible posturing for any politician from within or outside Dagbon to criticise others on the Dagbon question. The Dagbon conflict has many hypocritical, self-seeking, greedy and populist-seeking sympathisers. There are few genuine, morally upright and peace-loving brokers within the conflict. Majority of the people who have ever dealt with the Dagbon question are blameworthy. Politicians from all walks of life have fuelled or contributed to the ignition of the conflict in one way or the other. Please stop the ugly talk, finger –pointing and let's get Dagbon back to work. There are difficult days ahead.

God bless Dagbon, Gob bless Ghana.