An analysis of conflicts in Ghana: the case of Dagbon chieftaincy.

Author:Issifu, Abdul Karim


Chieftaincy institution is founded on the principle of tradition; chieftaincy without reference to tradition seems an unimaginable concept (Nyaaba, 2009). Africans have great respect for the chieftaincy institution not because of its primordial features, but because of its contribution to community development. Chiefs before the advent of colonialism performed several functions towards not only sustainable community development, but also for security, law making, military, judicial, economic and social welfare functions. Chiefs were subservient in mobilising local people for community action. According to Odotei and Awedoba (2006), the chieftaincy institution in Africa is generally acknowledged as a pre-colonial institution of governance with judicial, legislative and executive powers. Odotei and Awedoba (2006) also reiterate that chiefs were instrumental in military, economic and religious matters in their areas of jurisdiction.

In Ghana, the chieftaincy institution has historical significance, and it also has a legal recognition, making it a formidable foundation. For example, the 1992 constitution of Ghana acknowledge the chieftaincy institution and defines who a chief is in Article 277; "chief means a person, who, hailing from the appropriate family and lineage, who has been validly nominated, elected or selected and enstooled, enskinned or installed as a chief or queen mother in accordance with the relevant customarily law and usage" (Republic of Ghana Constitution, 1992). In a similar vein, the new Chieftaincy Act, 2008 (Act 759) has outlined procedures and guidelines for kingmakers on the installation, enskinment, destoolment and deskinment of chiefs. Chiefs are important actors and in the forefront of local development initiatives; some have created educational scholarship schemes; some have used their personal resources to build health centres, schools, provide water supply systems for their communities. Chiefs, just like government officials, have thus become "development agents", (Awedoba, 2006). Also, chiefs played an important role in the struggle against colonial rule (Prah & Yeboah, 2011). Chiefs have served as traditional conflict resolution experts as well as change agents and leaders of development in their communities, and it is against these and other reasons why in Ghana, the chieftaincy institution has shown so much resilience that long after de-colonisation, it exists as a viable parallel mode of modern governance. However, despite its significance, experiences, recent studies have characterised the chieftaincy institution in Ghana as a potential source of conflict and instability.

Some scholars including Ahiave (2013) argue that the chieftaincy institution in Ghana has been bedevilled with numerous conflicts; hampering progress and for that reason, the institution is of no relevance in contemporary local government. The institution has become a causative agent for several communal conflicts, particularly those related to succession to traditional political office. Examples of such conflicts in Ghana include the: Sukusuku chieftaincy conflict, Sekondi chieftaincy conflict, Dagbon chieftaincy conflict, Cape Coast chieftaincy conflict, Bawku chieftaincy conflict, Ga Mantse succession dispute and the Anlo chieftaincy conflict (Prah & Yeboah, 2011; Kendie & Tuffour, 2014). These among other reasons are why many leaders tried to ban the chieftaincy institution. For example, Ghana's first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah saw the chieftaincy institution as impediments to modernisation and nation building and tried to curtail the role of chiefs in local government and national politics (Kyed and Buur, 2005). And whereas some of these conflicts have been successfully resolved, the Dagbon chieftaincy conflict still remains protracted. However, it could have been resolved if the Dagbon had applied local methods of conflict resolution. Hence, the best way to resolve the conflict is for the government to use Dagbon traditional methods of conflict resolution to tackle the dispute, this according to Tolon Naa, Major (Rtd.) Sulemana Abubakari (Conteh, 2015).

In the first section of the paper, I have examined the history, causes and manifestations of Dagbon chieftaincy conflict. In the second section, I canvassed the effects of the conflict on development and analysed (in the third section); previous approaches to conflict management and peacebuilding in Dagbon. The fourth section probed why Dagbon chieftaincy conflict still remains protracted. Thus, I propose in the final section that the Rwanda local Gacaca conflict resolution method is a strategy the Dagbon can learn from in order to revive their local conflict resolution methods to ensure sustainable peace.

Research Methods and Approach

Data for this paper was collected in 2013 as part of a study into conflicts in Ghana, specifically, in the northern part where the Dagbon are located. A comprehensive multi-layered method of qualitative and quantitative sources of data collection was adopted in collecting and analysing data. Hence, I observed events and conducted interviews with respondents and key informants including chiefs, students, District Assembly members and teachers in Savelugu, Yendi (1) and Tamale (2). Secondary data including journals, articles, books, internet publications, newspapers, newsletters, news files, radio reports and reviewed thesis were also analysed for this paper. And furthermore, the key step to conflict resolution is to understand the intractability nature and spatio-temporal dynamics of the conflict phenomenon. Hence, this is why research for this paper was carried out; to analyse the protracted nature of Dagbon chieftaincy conflict and then propose a suitable strategy that can help ensure sustainable peace.

Dagbon Chieftaincy Conflict

As customs and traditions of the Dagbon people evolved, it became the practice that any son of a former Ya Na (3) who occupied any of the royal gates of Mion, Savulugu and Karaga, (4) be it an Abudu or Andani (5) was qualified to be considered a Ya Na in a rotating manner (Brukum, 2004). However, the regent of Karaga gate cannot migrate to Yendi to become a Ya Na, King of Dagbon. The reason is that, Yakubu, the grandfather of Abudus and Andanis gave birth to three sons; Abudulai (Abudu), Andani and Mahami. Abudulai and Andani managed to become the Ya Na of Dagbon in Yendi. But Mahami could not make it to Yendi before dying; therefore, his children could not become a Ya Na over Dagbon since their father Mahami did not make it to the ultimate throne in Yendi as Na Ya. Nevertheless, Mahami's descendants can end and serve as a regent of Karaga because; the successor of Mahami was able to migrate from where his father ended at Kore to Karaga (Aikins, 2012). This custom existed until 1954 when Abudus tried to import a strange practice of Primogeniture; right of inheritance belonging exclusively to the eldest son into the Ya Na throne. This according to Aikins (2012) is purported to be the main source or cause of Dagbon chieftaincy conflict.

Significantly, manifestation of the conflict was seen in 1954 when Ya Na Abudulai III succeeded his father (Na Mahama Bla III). After fifteen years, Ya Na Abudulai III died and an attempt by some elders succeeded in imposing Mahamadu Abudulai IV, a regent from the Abudu gate as successor to his late father. Because of that, there were complaints that pro-Abudu strategy was adopted to protect the interest of the Abudulai family and ultimately eliminate the Andani family from the contest of the throne (Sibidow, 1970). Meanwhile, the Mion Lana Andani, a regent of Mion was the right person to succeed the late Ya Na Abudulai III as custom demands (Aikins, 2012). Later, impartial king makers from Dagbon Traditional Council had Mahamadu Abudulai IV from the Abudu gate deskinned (6) based on recommendations of the Ollenu Committee in 1974 after sufficient evidence had been adduced and found that he was illegally enskinned (Mahama and Osman, 2005) to allow the Mion Lana Andani from the Andani gate to be installed as the Ya Na.

"Indeed, if the regent, Mahamadu Abudulai had been installed, this would have been the third time since 1948 that the Abudu gate would have occupied the throne to the exclusion of the Andani gate" (Aikins, 2012: 21). The deskinment (7) of Mahamadu Abudulai IV is also one of the major sources of the conflict because, "You do not destool a Ya Na" in Dagbon (Tsikata and Seini, 2004: 33). According to Ahorsu & Gebe (2011), the Andani family called for the deskinment of Mahamadu Abudulai IV for not being properly enskinned according to Dagbon customs and traditions.

However, Mahamadu Abudulai IV and his Abudu allies did not recognise the Mion Lana Andani when he was enskinned as the Ya Na Yakubu Andani II (Tonah, 2012). After about three decades, the deskinned Mahamadu Abudulai IV died and there was the need to bury him. The Abudus wanted to perform the funeral rites of the late Mahamadu Abudulai IV just as any other legitimate Ya Na and also bury him in the Gbewaa palace. Meanwhile, to benefit from such customary burial, one must have been a legitimate Ya Na who had passed on. The Andanis prevented the Abudus from performing late Mahamadu Abudulai IV funeral rites in the Gbewaa palace because he was not a legitimate King before passing on. This brought a severe clash between the two gates and it took the intervention...

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