physically challenged persons are among the most vulnerable groups when there is violent conflict
physically challenged persons are among the most vulnerable groups when there is violent conflict

Trapped in crossfire 

Imagine being visually impaired, robbed off the gift of sight and your world already veiled in shadows. 


Now, imagine with such condition and being caught in a crossfire in the busy streets of a conflict-ridden town. 

Obviously, such a harrowing experience will be traumatising and will leave deep scars in your mind forever.

This is not a fiction but a harrowing experience of Alhassan Abugri, a 40-year-old man with visual impairment in Bawku in the Upper East Region.

On that fateful day in 2023, Mr Abugri had visited a friend at one of the suburbs with the support of his son and was returning home when he was caught up in a gunfire in a renewed chieftaincy clash.

While everybody was running helter-skelter for their lives, he said he was left stranded and had to leave his fate to God.

According to him, it took the timely intervention of some security operatives who rescued and escorted him to his house.

Narrating his ordeal to Graphic Online, he lamented that “I have lost my menial business I was doing to take care of my wife and six children due to the recurring conflict, and now things have become very hard for me, and I can’t even feed my family”.

Just like Mr Abugri, Haruna Samira, a 45-year-old physically challenged woman has also had his world turned upside down by the protracted chieftaincy conflict in Bawku.

She said in the peak of the disturbance last year, she had to close down her small shop which she was depending on for livelihood to seek refuge in the village.

“When the town became very hot, I had to run to my village for safety. Though, now it is a bit calm, and I have returned to the town, I am very scared to open the shop because it is located at one of the hotspots” she said.

Ms Haruna indicated that now the only way of survival for her was to rely on the benevolence of people.


Mr Abugri and Ms Samira are part of a number of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in the Bawku Municipality who are bearing the brunt of the conflict.

There has been recurring conflicts in the Bawku township for the past decades, resulting in the death of many people and destruction of property running into millions of Ghana cedis.

The once bustling town has now been deserted with many institutions closed down while a number of people have fled the town for safety.

While the headlines continue to focus on the violence and displacement, the community that is bearing the brunt of this strife in silence is the persons with disabilities.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one billion people globally live with a disability and that eight in 10 of these persons live in developing countries.

In Ghana, PWDs constitute about eight per cent of the total population, translating to about 2,098,138, according to the 2021 Population and Housing Census (PHC).

Specifically, there are about 300 PWDs comprising the hearing impaired, visually impaired and physically challenged in the Bawku Municipality, according to the Municipal Secretariat of the PWDs.

They contribute in diverse ways towards the development of the municipality and the nation at large. However, they are the most and first to be harmed in armed conflicts as highlighted by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).


Worsening conditions

The Bawku Municipal Vice Chairperson of the PWDs, Issah Ayishetu  in an interview with Graphic Online indicated that, two of her members have sustained gunshot wounds while a number of them have lost their source of livelihoods to the conflict.

Issah Ayishetu, Bawku Municipal Vice Chairperson  of the PWDs in her shop

Aside from that, she said some of them have been traumatised and depressed as a result of the conflict, worsening their conditions.

“Most of our members have had their businesses collapsed while those who used to go round and beg for alms for survival too can no longer go out to do so due to the persistent attacks.

"Also, we used to have our meetings every two weeks to deliberate on our welfare but now we are unable to do so” she lamented.


Ms Ayishetu  pointed out that PWDs are often left behind in all conversations around the conflict despite their vulnerability, saying “it appears nobody remembers us especially when there is an attack, we are always treated like the people who are fit”.

She, therefore, called on authorities to pay special attention to PWDs in the area to ensure their safety and improve their living condition.


Undoubtedly, armed conflict poses severe challenges and risks for persons with pre-existing impairments, thus exacerbating their conditions. 

For instance, accessing basic services like water, sanitation, food, shelter or health care, benefiting from humanitarian relief efforts, and fleeing to safety from the dangers of military operations are often more complex and riskier for persons with disabilities.


Fr. Dr Clement Aapengnuo, Security and Conflict Resolution Expert in an interview with this reporter

For the Executive Director of SWIDA-Ghana, Alimatu Sagito, the situation could worsen the inequality situation among the vulnerable persons, stressing “the people are already vulnerable, and the conflict has come to compound their situation so you can imagine what they are going through”.  

Beyond that, she said, “the emotional trauma alone will affect their mental health, so we need to really turn our attention to them”.


In 2012, Parliament of Ghana ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) to affirm its commitment to promote the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all PWDs without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability.

In spite of that, they are mostly left behind in critical national conversations about human rights issues.

For instance, the PWDs in Bawku have been left out in the mediation processes of the conflict.

The Bawku Municipal Vice President of the PWDs said “it is very unfortunate that we have been left out in the mediation process but we are the worst affected”.

She said some of their members were very knowledgeable, influential and had all its takes to contribute to the resolution of the disturbances.

Terrorists threat 

A Security and Conflict Resolution Expert, Fr. Dr Clement Aapengnuo intimated that extremists could leverage on the situation of the PWDs and radicalised them because nobody associated them with violence.

“In the case of even violent extremism, many of them are living with grief, they fill how much we neglect and discriminate against them and how they are not considered to be part of the society.

So, these are people who can easily be radicalised and it can be very dangerous because nobody associates them with violence” he said.

He explained that some of them could be very angry about how society was unjust to them and could be a target for recruitment and radicalisation by extremist groups, adding that “so imagine if the military or the police are conducting a search and they come across a PWD it won’t even cross their mind that the person can cause harm, so we neglect them at our own peril”.

Fr. Aapengnuo said although PWDs were worst affected in conflict and violent attacks in Bawku and many parts of the country, he was not aware of any scientific research that had been conducted so far to assess the impact of the situation.


For persons like Alhassan Abugri, Haruna Samira and many other PWDs in Bawku, the daily battle extends beyond physical disability.

The persistent discrimination and neglect have worsened their plight as authorities often overlooks their unique needs, leaving them to fend for themselves in the midst of the raging disturbance.

Fr. Aapengnuo advocated the initiation of deliberate interventions targeted at enhancing the wellbeing and safety of the vulnerable group.

“We need to also build their capacity with skills to make them more productive. There are a lot of trainings and workshops always, but we don’t target them, very often they will invite people and they will just add two or more people with disability which is very bad” he noted.

Achieving SDG/way forward

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 10 advocate to reduce inequality within and among countries by empowering and promoting the social, economic and political inclusion of all, including persons with disabilities.

Similarly, goal 16 seeks to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

However, achieving these goals by 2030 appears to be bleak with the glaring state of exclusion, neglect and deprivation of PWDs in Bawku and many parts of the country.

As the unending chieftaincy conflict continues to wreak havoc to the Bawku township, there is the need to prioritise the safety and protect the rights of PWDs who were already vulnerable and were bearing the brunt of the conflict.

Also, deliberate efforts must be made to address their needs while providing them with sustainable livelihood supports to improve their living conditions. 

Writer’s email:[email protected]

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