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16.05.2008 Feature Article

The Man From Bawku

An enterprising black magician called Abomsam appeared on a morning programme on Ghana Television last Friday, conjuring 24-carat gold watches straight from the air, and turning scraps of plain paper into hard cash, some of which he donated to charity, much to the delight of television viewers.

I scrounged up from the news, more stories about the smartest fellows around, the idea being to figure out what makes them tick, so that I could try and get smart too, see?

There was this other fellow, who does not possess even a ward assistant's work experience testimonial, but who travelled abroad and presented academic and professional papers on the advancement of medicine in Ghana at international conference attended by global medical big wigs.

He got to eat big conference banquets and stuffed his wallet with conference per diems, see?
Back at home, he undertook surgical operations of some of his patients, and pocketed more good money.
Now the chap is in trouble with the law, but hey, has he not proved the point that there is a lot more raw gumption in the skull than in books?

As for the magician, the sooner the authorities lay hands on him before he does a disappearing act, as magicians are often wont to do the better, Jomo.
We need him to change warehouses full of plain paper into every international currency with a name, before poverty and economic hardship exterminate our good people. 

My regret was that I could not locate in any of the stories, the kind of smart guy with the expertise to help us resolve the conflict in my home town Bawku.

I have been distressed by some of the commentary on the conflict. It is not fair that anyone, should after swallowing big lumps of fufu and bush meat, proceed to belch all manner of gases along with his own poorly informed opinions about the conflict area and its people.

In times of armed conflicts like this, we need the opinions of experts in conflict prevention and resolution, cross-ethnic psychologists and anthropologists who have taken a hard and careful look at the problem on hand, and not anyone at all who fancies a rant.

How could anyone hold up the spontaneous and reflexive behaviour of people in a situation of armed conflict, to the standards of normal human conduct and then proceed to pole-vault to the unscientific conclusion that the people of such an area are numbskulls or genetically disposed to violence? 

I heard one bloke say on radio the other day, “We are fed up with them. Let them fight till they are all killed or get tired of fighting.” There are some aspects of the Bawku conflict that should make smart people like that do some sober thinking about the implications for their own security.

You should see television and newspaper pictures of the type of weapons being used in the Bawku conflict. The average bloke cannot grab one of those heavy, unconventional and ugly-looking military weapons, and begin to fire away without blowing off his own skull to kingdom come.

 The use of these weapons require special training outside the conventional weapon training curriculum of even police personnel. Where do you reckon the combatants got the training?
Once in a while you hear unsubstantiated rumuors about Bawku being a reservoir for the recruitment of mercenaries, but you are inclined to dismiss them because mercenaries have become extinct in wars these days, or have they?

What if unemployed people able to use these weapons spill over into an area where such a reckless commentator is “chilling out” in his perceived comfort zone of presumed peace and security?

Anyone who wants to have a fundamental understanding of the causes of the Bawku conflict and why it has recurred unrelentingly, needs to pore through a colossal amount of  information:

The reports of various committees of enquiry into the conflict since the 1950s, the various court rulings and judgements, newspaper clippings on the conflict through the years, minutes of various meetings related to the conflict and the undistorted testimonies of trustworthy individuals.

Bawku is not just a densely populated geographical area buried far away in the centre of the jugged horn jutting out of the very north-eastern tip of Ghana's map.
Bawku is one long, rumbling anthropological poem with complex and unending stanzas.

The stanzas are about the contradictions of our colonial heritage, the complicated dynamics of cross-ethnic relations, the African psychological and cultural obsession with ethnic identity and the difficult-to-prove manipulations of meddling politicians in pursuit of political power.

What many see as an ethnic and chieftaincy conflict has tended to recur when there is a change of government or in an election year.

Do you remember what happened at Bawku during the 2000 elections? There was sudden chaos and bloodshed in Bawku which saw more than a hundred people killed in a matter of days.
It is time to admit that the Bawku conflict is complex ethno-political one, requiring official support if it is to be permanently resolved.

The guys at the Centre for Development and Democracy wrote up a report on the 2000 blood bath.
It concluded that “the factor of politics, and especially electoral politics, is central to an analysis and understanding of the Bawku conflict.”

Between the two ethnic groups, the critical arguments regarding the original causes of the conflict and the reasons for its unending recurrence are played back and forth between the Kusasis and Mamprusis like a ping pong ball, but the buck must stop somewhere.
From the point of view of the rule of law, the buck must stop with the judicial judgement on the conflict, yes?

To reject the rule of law is to condemn Bawku to systematic destruction until it is no more. Already Bawku is a phantom of the town we knew in the 1960s and 70s.
At the peak of its commercial boom, Bawku was one of the government's highest sources of local council revenue.

The commercial bustle within the town was surrounded by vigorous farming activity. There was a time when long caravans of push carts transported sugar cane from my village of Zawse to the Bawku market on market days.
 From a valley at the foot of the Agolle Hills at Zawse, also came cassava, sweet potatoes and fresh water crabs. That sounds like a fairy tale today, but it is true.

As the years have gone by, Bawku has gallantly absorbed the environmentally devastating impact of the advancing Sahel. Now the ecology can barely support agricultural production.
Smuggling, an alternative illegitimate commercial activity which made some locals rich, is no longer lucrative.

In the mean time the population density of Bawku is now about 200 people per square kilometre, a figure which is way above the national average of 92 people square kilometre.

The net result? An increasingly impoverished population and a huge army of unemployed, despondent and secretly armed youth trapped in an over populated conflict area.

Let any social psychologist go and find out for himself: There appears to be nothing tangible to life, that the youth can look forward to and this is extremely dangerous.

George Sydney Abugri
George Sydney Abugri, © 2008

This author has authored 23 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: GeorgeSydneyAbugri

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