Lessons of War - Dr. Zanetor Agyeman-Rawlings

Lessons of War - Dr. Zanetor Agyeman-Rawlings

This week marks the 23rd anniversary of the Rwanda genocide and our prayers are with the people of Rwanda whose foundations were shattered and who are still healing from this terrible genocide over two decades later. 


The trigger was the assassination of the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi whose aircraft was shot down after their visit to Arusha, Tanzania to sign a treaty. An allegation was made in the media regarding who had shot down the aircraft and a call made on the airwaves for people to engage in the genocide, and so began the mass murder. 

About 800,000 people were killed in a space of 100 days in 1994. People were hacked and burned to death even when they ran into churches to take refuge. Tens of thousands of women and girls were raped before their male family members, pregnant women had their wombs cut open and babies removed and killed.  

The Rwanda genocide has left a stain on human history which has some of its roots in colonialism and internal oppression and ethnicity, power, profits etc. and is a reminder that even though it might take weeks, months or even a whole generation or more for the overt effects of conflict to manifest, a fallout becomes inevitable unless issues are properly managed.  

Intelligence reports from other countries have revealed that news of the impending tragedy was known to the intelligence community and some government leaders. The point being that there were undercurrents preceding the Rwanda genocide. It did not just occur in a country that did not have any warning signs or indicators of the risks of danger. The extent to which it went, is perhaps the thing that still horrifies us to this day plus the collective burden of guilt and responsibility as global citizens who through their leaders and representatives watched on as these atrocities occurred. 

Then of course there were those foreign interest groups who actively participated in the supply of arms or training of militant ethnic groups. I cannot do a full dissection of the genocide except to mention that when we allow prejudice or criminality to become institutionalised, we are simply setting the scene for conflict in the long run. The dangerous role of inflammatory statements especially in the media cannot be overemphasized. 



As Ghanaians, we must not take the peace we have for granted. In all the wars in recent history, there were red flags that signalled the oncoming storm. Omens that were disregarded by those who saw the cumulonimbus clouds and chose to ignore their significance. If there is one thing every pilot knows and makes it a point to avoid, it is a cumulonimbus cloud. Why? When you see a cumulonimbus cloud, you are pretty much looking at a storm. 

I have observed with concern, the unfortunate breakdown in law and order perpetuated by groups calling themselves party supporters. Surely, you must recognise that if law and order should breakdown and violent conflict occurs, you will be contributing not just to the downfall of your own government, but also the country you belong to.



In conflict and crisis management, one talks about horizon scanning as a means of ascertaining one’s risks and weakness. To give an analogy, when you fly an aircraft, it is something you do to assess the horizon for signs of danger. The danger could be a change in weather or another aircraft or other objects in the sky etc. So, horizon scanning in terms of security has the same rationale.

Horizon scanning has indicators that can be used such as social (a large number unemployed youths, internal displacement, ethnic based discrimination), political (excessive political patronage, violation of human rights, indiscipline), economic (widening gap between the socio-economic classes, worsening economic conditions) and military (emergence of armed vigilante groups).

The emergence of lawless groups within our state is a worrying trend, which if not dealt with, will cost us dearly as a people. 

One of the primary duties of the state is to ensure that its citizens are secure. To live in a state that is not at war, yet to have such levels of indiscipline and insecurity is a huge indictment on us. When we talk about good governance, one of the principles is Rule of Law. What is that about? A legal system in place that is enforced impartially, the presence of fundamental human rights (these are entrenched in our constitution), proper law enforcement, an independent judiciary and of course an incorruptible police force. In short, good governance should ensure the welfare and quality of life of our people.

Post-election violence has resulted in several conflicts across the world, and as Ghanaians we may look at other countries and think that we are not like them. All inter and intra state conflict involves human beings (directly and indirectly), so given that we are all members of the human race, we too are vulnerable to the same weaknesses that plague all of mankind. And we currently have the recipe for such situations in existence.  

We have just had an election which resulted in a massive defeat of one party, so people are still going through emotions of anger, depression, denial and everything else; 

  • Then, in the last four months, people have been assaulted, dismissed, asked to resign etc;
  • There are several groups that have taken the law into their own hands; 
  • There has been a lot of ethnic politics that is still ongoing;
  • There are armed groups who prior to the election were told that the security forces were not to be trusted, and now that the elections are over these armed groups are still in the ‘system’ and expecting to be compensated for the roles they played;
  • There is a lot of media hype around the galamsey issue and a few statements have been made on the floor of parliament (and we know that several of these people are armed and have been known to kill). 
  • An act of contempt was committed against one of our courts only a few days ago (an assault of one of the arms of government, the judiciary.)
  • There have been several inflammatory remarks made on various media platforms;
  • There has been media attention on the Legislative arm of government in the light of recent allegations and the public opinion of the legislature has been severely affected.
  • Fuel prices have fluctuated and transport fares have gone up.
  • The value of the cedi has dropped. 
  • The public has seen a record number of ministers and deputy ministers being appointed.

 In short, there is still a lot of tension in the ‘system’.  



In medical terms, we call those risk factors for a disease and the more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to get that particular disease. In other words, all these issues I have highlighted, in isolation might not mean much but the cumulative effect of all these really provide that atmosphere for a small spark that under normal circumstances would amount to naught, but in the dry grass in the blaring heat could become a bushfire.

When the Kokomba-Nanumba war began, the story that reached us was that it was an ‘akomfem’ that started it. Well, the only reason a war can be started by a small bird is when there is an underlying current; when there is tension and already some level of conflict in existence. 

So, let us learn from our fellow African nations and from our own history of internal conflicts and pay heed to the under-currents and deal with them properly in order to de-escalate the situation we currently have on our hands.

Liberia, Sierra Leone, La Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi amongst others all had a semblance of peace at some point. And all of these also had the red flags of impending danger. The reality is that we think it will never happen to us, until it does. 


First They Came by Pastor Martin Niemoller  


“First they came for the Communists, 

And I did not speak out 

Because I was not a Communist 

Then they came for the Socialists 

And I did not speak out 

Because I was not a Socialist 

Then they came for the trade unionists 

And I did not speak out 


Because I was not a trade unionist 

Then they came for the Jews 

And I did not speak out 

Because I was not a Jew 

Then they came for me 

And there was no one left To speak out for me.”


Let us not accept the current state of lawlessness that is permeating the very fabric of our society and say it is one party against the other, because when violent conflicts occur, everyone is a potential victim regardless of background, political affiliation or ideology, religion and so on. Let us not be reticent as the ‘snowball’ effect gains momentum and magnitude before our very eyes. 


It is time for the relevant state institutions to take the necessary measures to restore law and order and to protect the citizens of this dear nation of ours.

Let us stand together as a people, unified by our nationality and sense of belonging to condemn these acts of lawlessness and criminality.


- The author is a medical doctor and Member of Parliament for Klottey-Korle 


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