Ghana seats top as a peace zone in Africa and beyond. But the Bawku impasse puts a veil on this assertion. Dr. Bonaa, a security expert, describes the area as a complete war zone. Bawku has been in the limelight in the past few months over the spike in insecurity. The recent spate in the Kusasi-Mamprusi clashes can be traced back to pre-colonial times and therefore any discussion of the crisis cannot be devoid of the history of migration and settlement of the two most populated tribes in the district of Bawku. The cause of the conflict between the Kusasis and Mamprusis is one that borders on allodial ownership but different schools of thought have been torn between the root causes of the conflicts. The authors of this article are not interested in expanding the debate on the causes but to contribute to the ongoing commentaries on how best to resolve the issue for a more peaceful Ghana. However, the elucidation of a historical account helps to provide a context.
The suzerainty was the erstwhile colonial policy that empowered the Nayiri to rule over Bawku and other acephalous societies in the Upper East Region. This arrangement did not go down well with the Kusasis, and it is one of the fuels that flames the conflict to date. Under the Nkrumah regime, the Mamprusis' control was abrogated by the installation of a chief from the Kusasis tribe to minimize the traditional power of the Nayiri. The Mamprusis saw this move as a favor from the CPP government as a reward for their support in the 1957 election. On the eve of the 1966 coup, the Kusasi’s control was reversed by the Chieftaincy Amendment decree led by the NLC government. The Progress Party's reign was championed by political interference that did not resolve the conflict. Soon the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) regime ensured the Kusasis control of the chieftaincy paramountcy with the aid of the Restoration of Status of Chiefs Law. Since then, there have been several violent confrontations between these two ethnic groups. In 2009, efforts from the NDC government in partnership with the National Peace Council and other CSOs birthed the Bawku Inter-Ethnic Peace Committee. Before BIEPC, Opoku-Afari Committee also served reports on the conflicts, but that did not resolve the conflict. BIEPC is home to a myriad of ethnic groups, such as Kusasis, Mamprusis, Mosis, Busangas, and Dagombas. The committee aimed to sanitize feudal factions to find solutions from within to resolve the conflict. Soon the clash of religious and traditional practices, for instance serving the gods with an animal’s blood as an atonement of cleansing and prayer for peace made it difficult to see the committee in constant fruition.
The complexity of the Bawku conflict has defiled all interventions from stakeholders. The underpinning factor is how the conflict has worn a political mask. It is difficult to stand on any side because each faction narrates its stories to suit its quest for traditional political power. However, there has been extensive involvement of third parties to maintain peace and order. This includes the heavy deployment of the military, imposition of curfews, ban on wearing the smock, court hearings, committees of inquiry set up, and so on in the region.
Since the birth of the Bawku conflict, the military has been deployed to maintain peace in the town. The military presence helped to restore peace to the region on varied occasions, but this hasn’t tackled the underlying problem that keeps emerging from time to time. On the flip side, the volunteerism efforts from some residents in the area to report to the security agencies potential source of trouble for pre-emptive action cannot be undermined. While some youth in Bawku serve as informants to soldiers, others fall on a ‘hear-say’ which is enough black gold to stage war.
In 2022, the ever-increasing clash erupted again. This time, Interior Minister, Ambrose Derry charged the youth of Bawku to seek peace and resort to dialogue rather than the use of bullets to resolve their grievances. Following his call, a curfew was introduced, a ban on the use of tricycles, and the wearing of smocks (with the suspicion of ammunition being hidden in them). In February 2023, the renewed conflict saw the defense committee abort their trip to Bawku at Tamale after a safety call from the Ghana Armed Forces was made.
From the Appeal Court to Supreme Court, this ethnopolitical conflict hasn’t gone into exile. Different interventions from stakeholders have deepened the gap between these two factions, instead of closing its loopholes. It is a fact that none of the governments from Nkrumah’s time to the fourth republic have brought total tranquility to the “Kusasi-Mamprusi” conflict. The tension between the two factions is a living-dead eruption. When its head is hidden at night, glimpses of its tail are seen at sunrise.
Bawku shares a border with some of Sahel’s most terrorist-ridden countries. Burkina Faso, Niger, and even Benin have had jihadist insurgency conundrums which may spill over to Bawku if the conflict persists. This piece of information should make the issue more inimical and not taken for granted. The Kusasi-Mamprusi conflict should be raised above normal politics just as the Securitization theory by Ole Weaver and Barry Buzan posits. Resolving the issue is therefore pressing, however, solutions must be looked at also from the angle of the third-party stakeholders in addition to the few that focus on bringing the Kusasi and Mamprusi to the negotiating table.
- The youth of Bawku should be educated to see the gun as an enemy to bring to bed the conflict.
- The Parliamentary Select Committee on Defence and Interior and other high-profile delegations should gather enough intelligence before embarking on trips to Bawku.
- The peace dialogue involving key stakeholders to resolve the Bawku conflict should not cease.
- Underpinning political interferences should be coordinated by a presidential appointment of a sole security minister to Bawku.
EMMANUEL OSEI BONSU