Posted by: rumnet | June 9, 2010

WANTED: Peace in Bawku

WANTED: Peace in Bawku

By Abdallah Kassim (Published in the June 2010 edition of TheADVOCATE)

Conciliators at the Peace meeting in Kumasi: Sakande, MP for Bawku Central (left fore ground) Prof. Nyathi, UNDP and Maulvi Wahab (middle)

The stage: Bawku Township. The day is dull and overcast. Commuters and pedestrians scamper to their respective destinations in haste and uneasiness. Curfew time is drawing nigh. They must beat the curfew hour and be in their homes before sundown. This is the result of the violent conflict between the Kusasis and Manmprusis in the town.

Nde Akulubila, a motor-bike mechanic is reclined against one of the weak poles that support his ramshackle shed which he calls a shop. He is oblivious of what is going on around him. He is moody and seems to have resigned to his fate, brooding over his inability to make some income to feed his family the following morning.

Nde is one of the over two hundred motor-bike mechanics whose businesses have slumped due to the ban on the riding of motor-bikes in Bawku, as a result of the unpredictable, random violent skirmishes. Motor-bikes are the commonest means of transport in Bawku. Bikers who use their motor-bikes as taxis (Okada) are at the brink of poverty. Vulcanizers, motor bike spare-part sellers and fuel dealers are not left out of those whose financial fortunes are dwindling rapidly in Bawku.

Banks and other essential businesses that closed down in the heat of the conflict are just re-opening though; social events have diminished considerably; trading and other commercial activities have slumped and pupils and students spend less time in class. Health and medical service are carried out with anxiety. Nurses cast glances over their shoulders to guess who will interpret their humanitarian gestures as evidence of their loyalty to either of the factions.

These unpalatable experiences have become the lot of the people of Bawku and its environs as a result of the lingering violent conflict between the Kusasis and Mamprusis. These two distinct ethic groups have, over the years, harmonized their relationships through inter-marriages and coexisted in spite of themselves.

Paradoxically, the Kusasis and Mamprusis have been at each other’s throat since the late 1950s over who is the bona fide occupant of the Bawku Paramount Chieftaincy Skin. The occupant of the Skin is known as the Bawku Naba. The Skin, once vested in the Mamprusi lineage, became a major bone of contention in 1957 when the Kusasis took it over, with Abugrago Azoka I as the Bawku Naba . However, in 1966, the then National Liberation Council removed Azoka and later replaced him with a Mamprusi, Adam Zangbeo in 1968. Zangbeo died in 1981.

Subsequently, the present Bawku Naba, Abugrago II, was enskined in 1981 as the new Bawku Naba during the PNDC regime. Thence, the Bawku Skin affair assumed a subtle political hue, tinged with intermittent violence, which lulled only in 1985.

Violence erupted between the Kusasis and Mamprusis again in December 2000 when the New Patriotic Party (NPP) won the general elections. This was followed by another one in December 2001, by which time, what began as a chieftaincy conflict between two ethnic groups had degenerated into a political chess game remotely manipulated by the major political parties. In December 2007, in the wake of the political campaigns, the two ethnic groups rose up against each other again in bloody clashes that have since been followed by unpredictable fatal skirmishes.

Innocent inhabitants of Bawku are tired and sick of the fatal events that have rapidly become dreaded banalities and a part of their daily lives in the township. The hearts of parents literally sink into their stomachs, each day their wards go to school or are out to fend for the family. For, they are unable to fathom what would happen in the course of the day.

“People are not working, traders fear to go about their legitimate business. It is telling on their livelihoods,” says Shaibu Abubakar, Facilitator of the Bawku Inter-Ethnic Peace Committee. “After some time if people deplete their savings what will happen? Some people could resort to stealing, especially with the ban on motor-bikes.” The Inter-Ethnic Peace Committee is the forum through which the Kusasis and Mamprusis formally confer.

Many people in Bawku share the view that some eminent people in the town fan embers of the conflict in order to propagate their selfish interests. They say such war mongers   are quick to whip up ethnic sentiments into even purely criminal incidents as far is it involves Kusasis and Mamprusis.

It is to address fears like that of Shaibu that the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), IBIS-West Africa and the Government of Finland, organized two round table meetings in Kumasi to reconcile the chief protagonist of the Bawku conflict- Kusasis and Mamprusis.

At a round table meeting in Kumasi on 8th May, the Kusasis and Mamprusis explicitly agreed that picking up arms and other dangerous weapons against each other does not bode well for their kith and kin. Before the meeting started, it was unbelievable to behold the amity, the exchange of broad smiles and banter between the protagonists. The scene was unlike the bitter and irreconcilable stance the two ethnic groups usually present to the world in their actions back home. But this set the stage for the dialogue to ensue.

Having thrown their reservations back at themselves, having tacitly conceded their shortcomings, the two groups lunged into short exchanges of passionate clarifications and explanations which eventually culminated into mutual understanding and acquiescence by both of them. Hence, the Mamprusis announced their return to the Inter-Ethnic Peace Committee (IEPC) in Bawku, which they had earlier on boycotted.

All said and done, the two groups resolved to end violence and impunity in Bawku; they agreed to co-operate with the security agencies to identify those who commit crimes by their names, to be apprehended and prosecuted. They resolved to refer all chieftaincy issues to the appropriate institutions for redress and settlement.

They added: “We appeal to persons of influence to refrain from instigating and interfering with the process of apprehending and prosecuting those who commit crimes in Bawku, regardless of their ethnic or political affiliation. In this regard, we also appeal to the security agencies to be fair, firm and professional in the performance of their duties.”

They pledged to live up to their civic responsibilities with a high sense of sincerity and honesty and to restore confidence in the people of Bawku to enable them  move around freely and have access to their farms, markets and stalls; schools, health services and other activities. They also resolved to set aside a day for a collective prayer session by Muslims, Christians and Traditionalists to pacify the land which they had, through the violence, desecrated with the blood of their relatives, friends and acquaintances.

The groups also had misgivings about the media’s coverage of incidents in Bawku. In their view, most of the reports smacked of sensationalism and inaccuracies. They admonished the media to try to obtain statements from all sides before going to press. They said interviews by radio stations should not be with one side alone; comments should be obtained from both sides, in order not to skew stories in favour of one.

Although the round table meeting rose with high hopes, unalloyed confidence and relief written all over the faces of the conciliators who participated, the onus fell on the leadership of the two groups to make the resolution a reality.  The Kumasi meeting is not the first time the protagonists are agreeing to ensure peace and security in Bawku. In 2002, the Bawku Peace Initiative (BPI), set up by a number of NGOs in the north, succeeded in broaching peace between the two factions after the December, 2001 violence.

The BPI-brokered peace prevailed till 2007 when violence erupted again in the wake of the political campaigns. The Inter-Ethnic Peace Committee in Bawku, facilitated by Mr.  Shaibu Abubakar, is the forum through which the two ethnic groups formally interact and deliberate on issues bordering on peace and security in the area. The Committee returned home with the formidable task of moving the parley beyond that of the leadership level to the grassroots level.

It is almost past a month since the Kumasi parley and the Inter-Ethnic Peace Committee (IEPC) has made some positive moves. According to the Facilitator of the IEPC, Mr. Shaibu, the committee has mapped out strategies to consolidate the Kumasi resolution. Key among the strategies is the preparation towards the pacification of the land by Christian, Muslim and Traditional religious groups. Before then, all the religious groups would sensitize their faithful in their churches, mosques and oracles.

“Members of the committee are also to carry out ground softening activities by educating their constituents on the need for forgiveness, tolerance and peaceful coexistence; the need to prepare for a long and prosperous common destiny”, says Shaibu.



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