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19.04.2011 Feature Article

Islam, Politics and Development: Negotiating the Future of Dagbon (final)

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A Lecture delivered by Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, Lecturer, Department of Religion and Human Values, University of Cape Coast

Continued from Monday April 18, 2011 issue
'I have already shown that political solutions to the Dagbon Chieftaincy conflict have failed, right from pre-independence days to now. I have also shown that the government of President Mills is not, and cannot be an independent arbiter in the matter. In fact it is not even pretending to be independent in the m atter.'

The priority was to heal wounds and bring closure to that painful chapter in our nation's history.

The stability and growth of Ghana's Fourth Republic, which has become the model of emulation for most of Africa, have been achieved largely through the principles of restorative justice and development in freedom. The Fourth Republic is so far the most stable period in Ghana's political history and has brought about the longest enduring period for social and economic growth.

It came after a long period of human right violations. But, the nation was determined to turn a new corner; this required some painful but necessary compromises. But, we did it because we were committed to it.  I insist that we can achieve a similar success for Dagbon.

Indeed forgiveness can be the most dignified and enhanced form of justice, but that can only be possible if we are constructive and dedicated to focusing our minds and emotions on actions that serve our collective interest.

The development deficit
Northern Ghana generally and Dagbon in particular has always faced a development deficit. Way back in 1954, the northern elite came together to form a party called the Northern People's Party (NPP). Among other things, the party sought to

Fight for accelerated developments on all fields for the northern territories; to seek constitutional safeguards for the people of the northern territories and these were to include preservation of our traditions, customs and regional autonomy to decide on all development programmes and projects for the northern territories; to ensure progress in the educational programme of the north with the establishment of secondary schools, training colleges, primary and middle schools and facilities provided for university education for northerners; to ensure rapid economic and social progress in the north…1

At that time nearly all the chiefs of Dagbon supported the Northern Peoples Party. Indeed in Dagbon the Northern Peoples Party was called 'Na Party', meaning chief's party.2 If we were to accept the general thesis that the Yendi dispute has been raging since 1948, it would mean that the people of Dagbon have engaged their energies and minds in dispute over succession for 63 years now. One can only imagine the progress Dagbon would have made in 63 years if the people engaged their energies on the objectives that the Northern Peoples Party set out to achieve for the north when it was founded in 1954.

In 2008, I was on North Star radio in Tamale, talking about the need for Dagomba people to come together in unity in order to ensure development for Dagbon. During call in, a caller told me bluntly 'we don't want development; for us our priority is with chieftaincy.' Similarly, way back in 1969, a political party campaigner in Dagbon told Ladouceur that 'apart from the chieftaincy question, I can't think of any other issues in Dagomba during the election.'3 While Ladouceur's interviewee cannot think of any other issue in election in Dagbon, except chieftaincy, and while my caller-in does not want development, the development situation in Dagbon remains dire. The reality is that Dagbon cannot give hope to its teeming youth to win the respect of others if it does not make the socio-economic development of the area central to its survival.

It is to answer these development challenges that Nana Akufo-Addo proposed the establishment of the Northern Development Authority to plan and oversee the implementation of the plan for the rapid, integrtaed development of the three regions of northern Ghana. When he first mooted the idea, now Vice President, John Mahama pooh-poohed the idea, arguing that we could use $1billion dollars (which is the amount Akufo-Addo was proposing put into the fund over the first five years of its establishment) to off-set Ghana Telecom's debt for example. But on Friday the 25th of July 2008, Akufo-Addo went ahead to deliver a lecture at the Tamale Campus of the University for Development Studies titled THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE NORTH -AN AGENDA FOR CHANGE.

Then the NDC made an about turn and came up with Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA). But whether they are committed to the principles on which SADA was established is another matter. They promised to inject an initial amount of 200 million Ghana Cedis into the fund at its start and subsequently, to put in 100 million cedis annually for 20 years. In addition, they said they were going to organize a donor conference on SADA to raise an additional 200 million Ghana cedis for the fund.4 To this day, they have only injected 25million Ghana cedis. Even so, the Vice President directed that five million Ghana cedis be taken from this to rehabilitate victims of the recent floods in the north. This is against the background that the existence of the money is suspect. Now the President has declared that all that may come to a standstill until he has found the one whose finger on the trigger allegedly killed the Ya Na. So while we are still looking for the person who killed the Ya Na, 240 children die in Savelugu-Nanton, out of 1,000 live births. This far exceeds the national average of 100 to 1,000 live births. 227 die in Yendi out of 1,000 live births and 208 die in Tolon-Kumbungu.5 In Tamale, 50.8% of the population has never been to school. In Gushegu-Karaga, 84.3%, in Zabzugu, 79.6%, in Yendi, 73.7%, in Savelugu, 74.5% and in Tolon 79.9%.6 Over 72% of the people of Dagbon list their occupation as farming, but we know that there is virtually no serious agricultural activity going on. This is what has led to the massive migration of the youth to the south to become labour hands on cocoa farms and head porters.

But permit me to quote from Akufo-Addo's document to buttress the point about pursuing a comprehensive development agenda for Dagbon. Akufo-Addo states:

I believe strongly that we may seek lasting justice for old disputes by not necessarily recounting our steps in a complex effort to undo some of the old ills afflicted on either side of any conflict. Permit me, Chairperson, to submit in all humility that the best way forward to seeking justice and reconciliation is to find accommodation for opposing views, forgiveness for old wrongs and by working together to build for the collective a better, more fulfilling future.

It is worth stressing the point that the rich Western nations that many of our fellow citizens go to as their destination of choice as emigrants have more than their fair share of ancient stories of gross injustice inflicted by one group on another. Yet, their determination to modernise their societies and transform the lives of their people usually succeed in pacifying old foes. Even where advancement has not erased their memory, the comfort of prosperity has helped them to take a philosophical view of the circumstances that fed the old conflicts. Therefore the development that I seek will itself contribute to the peace that we need.7

Akufo-Addo continues, 'we have an emergency as a nation regarding the development of the north…the difference that exists today between the north and the south is not a gap, it is a chasm. It is blight on the honour of our nation that must shame and then spur us all to action.'8 A chasm it is. Mfantsipim School in Cape Coast was founded in 1876. Tamale Secondary School was founded in 1957. We have a deficit of 81 years to erase if not more, considering other indicators of development.

The way forward
I have already shown that political solutions to the Dagbon Chieftaincy conflict have failed, right from pre-independence days to now. I have also shown that the government of President Mills is not, and cannot be an independent arbiter in the matter. In fact it is not even pretending to be independent in the matter. Indeed I have shown that the NDC is heavily biased against one side of the conflict and has proceeded to label that side as villains.

My thesis therefore is that the Dagomba people themselves should realise that the best way out of their problem is talking to each other in sincerity and good faith. In 2003, when I wrote my M.Phil thesis, I dedicated it to the people of Dagbon by stating that 'to the people of Dagbon, that hopefully, they will make the Qur'an their arbiter.' For a people, who profess Islam as their religion and for a people who have a court Imam in every chief's palace, the value in Islam must count for something. The Ulama in Dagbon ought to stand up and be counted as true heirs of the Prophet Muhammad. When the Aws and the Khazraj (two feuding clans in Madina) of Madina were feuding, it took the intervention of the Prophet Muhammad to make peace between them. Subsequently, he drew up what has come to be known as the Madinan Charter, that ensured peaceful co-existence amongst the inhabitnats of Madina.9

Umar ibn Khattab, the second caliph of Islam was stabbed to death. While dying, he prayed the Muslim community never to revenge his death by killing the one who stabbed him to death Abu Lulu'a. Can we emulate this great example of Umar? Even so, I find it puzzling that people who profess Islam as their religion would draw swords against one another. Let my Dagomba brethren be reminded, of Qur'an 4:92-93. It states, 'never should a believer kill a believer; but (If it so happens) by mistake, (Compensation is due): If one (so) kills a believer, it is ordained that he should free a believing slave, and pay compensation to the deceased's family, unless they remit it freely. If the deceased belonged to a people at war with you, and he was a believer, the freeing of a believing slave (Is enough). If he belonged to a people with whom ye have treaty of Mutual alliance, compensation should be paid to his family, and a believing slave be freed. For those who find this beyond their means, (is prescribed) a fast for two months running: by way of repentance to Alla. for Allah hath all knowledge and all wisdom.   If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (For ever): And the wrath and the curse of Allah are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.'

Amr Abdallah is a lecturer at the University for Peace in San Jose, Costa Rica. He conducted his doctoral research in Rwanda in 1999. He had this to say about his experience.

While briefly in Rwanda, and for a few weeks in Burundi, I encountered a sizeable population of Muslims, who lived among majority of Christians. I was curious about the connection to those people's ethnic and religious identities. I thought for a while that, perhaps Muslims were made of ethnic groups other than Hutus and Tutsis. I was quickly corrected. Muslims too were mainly either Hutus or Tutsis. This raised the question of how they handled themselves during the ethnic war. The response I received from Muslims in Rwanda and Burundi was that because they were Muslims, they should not and could not fight each other or fight others, because of ethnic differences: Islam they said, prohibited that…in order to validate this story, I asked if they knew about that 'phenomenon.' Everyone I enquired from responded positively that it was true that the Muslim population refrained from participation in the war and that Muslim sections of Kigali and Bujumbura were safe havens during the war.10

Yes, the Qur'an urges us to seek justice. 'We have sent aforetime, our messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance of right and wrong that men may stand forth in justice.' (Q:57:25) However the Qur'an assures that we would not obtain justice if all we seek is to see people in jail irrespective of the evidence and also just because they are not of our blood. 'O ye who believe! Stand firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor. For Allah can best protect both.' (Q:4:135) Is it possible for an Abudu to come up and say that this is the truth of what happened on 27th March 2002, if it be against a fellow Abudu? Is it possible for an Andani to testify that indeed Andanis were equally culpable in the events of 27th March 2002? The Qur'an further admonishes us, 'O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety and fear Allah, for Allah is well acquainted with all that you do.' (Q:5:8) How can we profess to be Muslims, when we subourn witnesses because of our hatred for others?

We may be determined to seek vengeance for whatever wrongs that we perceive must have been done to us. But whatever vengeance we seek, will it be enough to assuage the hurt that we suffered? Or would we be able to seek equal vengeance for whatever wrong we perceive must have been done to us? Again the Qur'an points the way. 'The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree): but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah: for Allah loves not those who do wrong.' (Q:42:40)

Before I take my seat, let me appeal to the youth of Dagbon. We cannot carry into the future, the baggage of our ancestors and forebears. We are Muslims, at least the majority of us. In Islam, there is no concept of original sin, by which the fathers eat the sour grapes and set the children's teeth on urge. We cannot spend that time feuding or feeding on politicians' ego. Let's seek justice by all means. At the same time, let's seek peace and reconciliation. After all, that is why we say, Asalamu Alaikum!

Ghanaian Chronicle
Ghanaian Chronicle, © 2011

The author has 1023 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: GhanaianChronicle

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