Stephen Yakubu (middle), Upper East Regional Minister, flanked by other REGSEC members at the palace of the Bawku Naba
Stephen Yakubu (middle), Upper East Regional Minister, flanked by other REGSEC members at the palace of the Bawku Naba

Bawku Conflict: Truth must be told (Part 2)

The widespread (mis)perception is that the Mamprusis in Bawku are NPP or UP tradition party members while the Kusasis are CPP/NDC party faithful.

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However, out of 15 parliamentary seats in Upper East, the NPP won one seat and that seat is in the Kusasi area and the winner is a 100 per cent Kusasi. The Upper East Regional Minister and a Deputy Minister of information are Kusasis.

It is nevertheless an established fact the Mamprusis always start agitation when the NPP is in power in the hope that “their party” will intervene and restore the Bawku chieftaincy to them.

But on two occasions, during the John Agyekum Kuffuor and Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo administrations, to their credit the NPP refused to interfere.

In fact, President Akufo-Addo has publicly declared that Azoka II is the legitimate Bawku Naba.

The Ministers of Religious and Chieftaincy Affairs,  the Interior and Defence have all said so publicly.

These pronouncements have been reassuring to the Kusasis and infuriating to the Mamprusis.

The opposition NDC party has up until the recent killings by the military in Bawku, been conspicuously silent on the Bawku issue.

Possible reasons being that even though the NDC has substantial following in the Kusasi Traditional Area, it equally has a sizeable following in Mamprusi area in the North East Region.

In fact, the NDC currently holds the seat of Bawku Central and Nalerigu Constituencies, the Traditional Capitals of Kusasi and Mamprusi respectively.

The two political parties are, therefore, very wary of their political fortunes in both the Kusasi and Mamprusi areas and so are treading cautiously on the Bawku chieftaincy matter.

This caution and inaction are what is partly fuelling the conflict.

Issues

The first issue at stake is that the Bawku conflict is not between two royal gates over succession to the Bawku Skin. It is about two ethnic groups, the Mamprusis and Kusasis, seeking to impose their legitimacy.

Kusasis are the largest ethnic group in all of the Upper East and arguably the second largest after Dagombas in the five Northern regions.

From Bawku one has to go through several Kusasi villages and towns to get to Mamprusi area on the Gambaga scarp in the North East Region. This geographical and demographic fact is at the heart of the conflict.

Mamprusis insist on referring to the area made up of six administrative districts (Bawku Municipal, Zebilla, Binduri, Pusiga, Garu and Tempane) as “Bawku Traditional Area” while Kusasis consistently refer to the area as “Kusaug Traditional Area”.

For the Kusasis, referring to the area as Bawku Traditional Area is like saying “Accra Traditional Area” or “Nalerigu Traditional Area” which are complete misnomers.

Mamprusis have their own traditional area made of Mamprusi West and Mamprusi East in the North East Region.

Yet, when Kusasis refer to their six administrative districts as Kusasi Traditional Area or Kusaug the Mamprusis claim such a designation is discriminatory against other ethnic groups.

Meanwhile, it is not discriminatory to have Asanteman, Akuapem, Ga or even Mamprugu traditional councils/area, all of which have several other ethnic groups living alongside the indigenes.

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This leads us to the second issue at stake which is that when the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, says rightly that Bawku has a legitimate Chief in the person of Abugrago Asigri Azoka II, he is only stating half of the truth.

The other half is that Kusasis are the indigenes of Bawku.

This was the finding of the Committee of Inquiry and the ruling of the Appeals Court back in 1957/58.

The issue is, therefore, not so much as to who is the legitimate Bawku Naba currently, but whose traditional homeland is Bawku.

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Kusasis are the tendanas (land owners) in all of the six administrative districts.

Only Kusasis sacrifice to the land gods of the area.

There is not a single Mamprusi tendana, and Mamprusis do not offer sacrifice to any land god in the area.

How can you rule over a land that you don’t own and can’t sacrifice to the gods? The word for that is colonialism or imperialism.

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The third issue at stake is that the Mamprusis want the whole world to believe they are fighting over Bawku and not Pusiga, Zebilla, Garu, Timpane, Binduri, etc.

The problem with that claim is that all of these areas are under Bawku which is the commercial and traditional capital or paramount seat of the Kusasi people.

So, what the Mamprusis are saying in effect is that they are fighting to become chiefs of Bawku so that they can enskin chiefs for Pusiga, Zebilla, Garu etc., and rule over the whole area.

The traditional area has a total of 25 Divisional Chiefs all enskinned by the Bawku Naba and owing allegiance to him.

Not a single one of the Divisional Chiefs is a Mamprusi.

To impose a Mamprusi on the Bawku Skin to rule over such an area is purely and simply colonialist.

The conflict is, therefore, not just about Bawku.

It is in actual fact a conflict over the six administrative districts of Bawku Municipal, Zebilla, Pusiga, Binduri, Garu and Tempane.

The Mamprusis say they are fighting for Bawku.

The Kusasis say they are fighting against Mamprusis colonialism and for the liberation of the whole of their traditional area.

At stake

These are the issues at stake that many politicians of both political parties, security officials and journalists know and admit privately but are reluctant to state publicly.

For those who don’t know, the 1957 Committee of Inquiry report is available as public document. All the court rulings are available as public records.

Any journalist or interested party can go on the ground and study the geography and demography for themselves.

The lack of political will on the part of the two main political parties to state the facts publicly and enforce the law, is what is fuelling the conflict in Bawku, costing lives on daily basis and wasting millions of tax-payers monies.

The writer is the Executive Director, The Sanneh Institute and Visiting Professor of Yale University.

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