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Bawku Conflict: How to End the Cycle of Violence

Experts and stakeholders weigh in on the root causes and possible solutions for the long-standing chieftaincy dispute in northeastern Ghana

by Victor Adetimilehin

Bawku, Ghana – The sound of gunshots and sirens has become all too familiar for the residents of Bawku, a town in the Upper East Region of Ghana. For decades, the Kusasis and the Mamprusis, two ethnic groups, have been plagued by a chieftaincy conflict that has claimed hundreds of lives and displaced thousands more.

The latest outbreak of violence occurred in January 2024, when three people were killed by soldiers who claimed they found firearms on them. The incident sparked outrage and accusations of human rights violations by the security forces, who have been deployed to maintain peace and order in the region.

The Overlord of Mamprugu, who is the kingmaker for Bawku and other parts of northeastern Ghana, reignited the chieftaincy dispute in 2024 by installing a new chief for Bawku, despite the existence of another chief from the Kusasi tribe whom the government recognizes.

The Kusasi people, who consider themselves the original inhabitants of the land, saw the move as a disregard for the authority and legitimacy of the current Bawku chief, Naba Asigri Abugrago Azoka II, and a provocation.

The government has declared the newly installed chief, Naa Bohugu Mahami Abdulai Sherigah II, as illegal and has urged the Mamprusi traditional council to respect the existing arrangements and avoid further escalation of the conflict.

But the Mamprusi traditional council has defended its action, saying it has the right to choose its chief according to its customs and traditions. It has also accused the government and some politicians of interfering in the chieftaincy matters and taking sides with the Kusasi faction.

Root Cause

According to experts and stakeholders, the chieftaincy conflict in Bawku is not only about the contest for power and prestige but also about the competition for scarce resources and opportunities in a region that is among the poorest and most marginalized in Ghana.

Dr. Emmanuel Debrah, a political science lecturer at the University of Ghana, told Al Jazeera that the lack of development and unequal distribution of resources and services in the area fuel the conflict.

“The conflict is a manifestation of the frustration and dissatisfaction of the people with the socio-economic conditions in the region. There is a perception that the government has neglected the area and has not provided adequate infrastructure, education, health, and employment opportunities for the youth,” he said.

Debrah added that the chieftaincy institution, which is a traditional form of governance and authority in Ghana, also plays a significant role in the allocation and management of land and other natural resources, such as water, minerals, and forests.

“Therefore, whoever controls the chieftaincy also controls the access and benefits of these resources, which are vital for the livelihoods and welfare of the people. This creates a lot of competition and conflict among the different groups who claim ownership and rights over the land and the resources,” he explained.

Dr. Kwesi Aning, a security analyst and director of the Faculty of Academic Affairs and Research at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, told Al Jazeera that the dynamics of ethnic identity and politics in Ghana influence the chieftaincy conflict in Bawku.

He said that the Kusasis and the Mamprusis, who belong to different linguistic and cultural groups, have a history of rivalry and mistrust that dates back to the pre-colonial and colonial periods when they fought wars and raids against each other.

He added that the post-colonial and contemporary politics in Ghana have also exacerbated the conflict, as different political parties and actors have exploited the ethnic divisions and grievances for their interests and agendas.

“The conflict is not only about the chieftaincy but also about the representation and participation of the people in the national and local politics. There is a feeling that some groups are more favored and privileged than others by the political system and the state institutions. This creates a sense of alienation and exclusion among some segments of the population, who resort to violence to express their demands and aspirations,” he said.

Conflict Resolution 

Both Debrah and Aning agreed that the resolution of the chieftaincy conflict in Bawku requires a holistic and inclusive approach that addresses the underlying causes and the immediate triggers of the violence.

They said that the government and the state institutions, such as the judiciary, the police, and the military, have a crucial role to play in ensuring the rule of law, the protection of human rights, and the enforcement of justice and accountability for the perpetrators of the violence.

They also said that the traditional authorities, the religious leaders, the civil society organizations, and the media have a vital role to play in promoting dialogue, reconciliation, and peacebuilding among the conflicting parties and the communities.

Furthermore, they stressed the development and the empowerment of the region and its people are essential for the prevention and transformation of the conflict, as they would reduce the competition and the resentment over the resources and opportunities.

They also called for the promotion of a culture of tolerance, respect, and coexistence among the different ethnic, religious, and political groups in the region, and the recognition and celebration of the diversity and richness of Ghanaian society.

Source: Modern Ghana 

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