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20.01.2006 Feature Article

Letter From The President: Trouble in the north

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Countrymen and women, loyalists and opponents, last week I was ashamed and very troubled by the clashes in Bimbilla, sparked by a chieftaincy dispute. I was ashamed because the fighting, according to reports, was sparked by a power blackout. Yes, a power blackout – blamed on an official of the power company who just happens to belong to one of the factions in the dispute. Why on earth will people fight over something like that? I was (and I still am) very troubled because the fighting in Bimbilla presents yet another security headache for me and my government to deal with. We are nowhere near resolving Yendi and now Bimbilla? Just over the weekend, I also heard about some skirmishes in Wa – over a chieftaincy dispute.
I know that many citizens of the land are asking the same questions I have been asking myself. Many Sikaman citizens are wondering “what is wrong with these people”? By these people, they mean the people of the north. People are wondering why it is so easy for the most 'trivial' issues to spark violence in communities in the north. More than ten years ago, it was the Konkomba-Nanumba conflict, reportedly ignited by a little dispute over a stray guinea foul. Then there was Dagbon. The least said about Dagbon, for now, the better. But it baffles me that Dagbon seems so intractable because the two sides of the royal family cannot agree on who should succeed the assassinated king of the kingdom. They cannot even agree on how the late king should be buried and so his dismembered remains are still being kept in a morgue – more than three years after he was gruesomely murdered.
Sometime ago, I heard about some violent clashes in Bawku which started because someone has dared to relocate his neighbour's lotto kiosk. I have also heard of a case where two families engaged in an exchange of gun fire because a man danced at a wedding ceremony with a girl to whom he was not even supposed to even say “hello”. I suppose that a lot of you might also have heard “tales” about how seemingly trivial issues get people in the north to fight and kill each other. That's why people ask “what's wrong with them”? I wish I knew what was wrong. I don't! In fact I don't think there is anything wrong with our northern brothers and sisters, which makes them inherently violent. Southerners can also be equally violent. Over the last weekend there were reports of violent clashes between Muslim and Christian youth in Jamaasi who bludgeoned each other as they fought over the right to use the town's football pitch. So violence is not a preserve of northerners. In fact, I know that there are a lot of very nice, intelligent and gentle people from the north. Northerners are just like any Sikaman citizen – nice and hospitable. I remember the first time I stepped foot in Tamale. The sun was scorching and I could even feel the heat from the grounds I stood on. But the smiles of the people made me feel so cool and I loved it. The northerners I know are pretty hardworking, honest and absolutely harmless. So there is nothing wrong with northerners even though at the superficial level, they seem to be more inclined towards violence. What is wrong is the “system”. In other words, the “system” is wrong.
There are too many inequalities in the “system”. The northern regions are the most deprived parts of the country. Go to the north and you see poverty everywhere. There is nothing there. Developments are concentrated in the south and the northerners have next to nothing. This breeds frustration and desperation. And a frustrated, desperate man will fight and kill a human being for a guinea fowl. The lack of jobs in the north means there are too many idle hands there. Lots of them are young, able-bodied people who just want to make a living for themselves by tilling the land and tending their livestock. But our failure to develop a dependable irrigation system in that part of the country often leads to crop failures and the death of livestock, leaving many with no source of livelihood. So if one such person decides to become a lotto agent and you move his kiosk from one point of town to another without his consent, he will strike you down in anger. Furthermore, a young man with no livelihood will most likely take up arms and fight if some rich pretender to a traditional title offers him cash to do so.
Amidst all the poverty, frustration and despair, I have realized that there are too many small arms in wrong hands and under too many beds in the northern parts of Sikaman. That's why it is so easy for one household to engage in a gun battle with another over things many will consider trivial such as who has the right to first use the communal toilet.
The sporadic violent clashes between chieftaincy factions and feuding households in the northern regions are a serious disgrace to our nation. Such violent clashes point to the failures of past governments and my own to ensure the equitable development of our country. They also point to the failures of our chieftaincy institutions. Instead of bringing us together, chieftaincy, these days, often forces a brother to turn against his own (not just in the north, though). That is why I say there is nothing wrong with just our brothers and sisters up north. There is something wrong with the “system” – and since we make up the system – I can say that there is something wrong with all of us. So I don't want those in the south to think that “it is their problem” and make jokes with the “northern guinea fowl wars”. One part of the country cannot develop with the other part in flames.
Let's encourage one another to use peaceful means to resolve all our disputes. Those in the north should especially realize that they have gained a reputation as a violent lot. It might be wrong to describe northerners as such because we all quarrel and conduct ourselves violently at one point or another. But right now, the perception is that “northerners like fighting too much”. I think the time has come for northerners to rededicate themselves to peace and help erase this perception.
Secondly, the security agencies should draw up new strategies for getting rid of the many weapons in wrong hands – in every part of the country, with more emphasis on the northern regions. Some very feeble attempts have been made in this direction in the past and like all feeble attempts, they failed. I want to see more serious action from the security agencies to retrieve all the illegal weapons under people's beds. I am not a security expert but I know that fewer weapons mean more peace.
Finally, I will like to encourage our kingmakers to deal honestly with all of us. Our chieftaincy institution is on the brink of extinction. Am I the only one who sees this? Chieftaincy is dying because of the dishonesty of our kingmakers, the greed and incompetence of some of our chiefs (and those pretending to be chiefs), the failure of our judicial system to settle disputes speedily and fairly and the pride which prevents losing factions from accepting defeat. I have predicted that the more we educate our people and develop, the more irrelevant chieftaincy will become. I believe by the end of this century most of our chiefdoms will die off. Only very few will survive into the next century. But as they fight for their skins and their stools, I will advise those seeking traditional authority to avoid violence and stop using young, desperate men and women to perpetuate violence for their selfish ends. Anyone who does otherwise should be dealt with according to law. I am indeed sick and tired of chieftaincy disputes and the violence associated with them – especially in the north.
Excellently yours, J. A. Fukuor Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.


J. A. Fukuor
J. A. Fukuor, © 2006

The author has 204 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: JAFukuor

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