Table of Contents
Causes of the Gonja-Nawuri Conflict
Compromise between the Gonja and the Nawuri
Conflict is as old as the human society or human race. People have disputed and competed against one another over scarce commodities, land, power, resources, and ideology and sometime religion.1 Conflict in teams or in groups is inevitable. This means that at any point in time people are bound to disagree over issues. There is no human ability that can predetermine the results of these conflicts. Conflict when not properly addressed may escalate to negative impacts which include civil war, better still if addressed, it can lead to positive relations geared towards development. In view of this, Awedoba2 defined conflict as a clash of ideas, wills, interests or opinions a relationship between two or more parties that center on differences, disagreements, incompatibilities. Most of these conflicts are within state as opposed to interstate and often occur between ethnic groups.3
Looking at conflict as a struggle or contest between people with opposing needs, ideas, beliefs, values, or goals, there is the need to examine the nature and type of conflict that existed at a particular place within a period of time. To this far, Corser (1956, p. 8) describes conflict as “a struggle over values, claims to status, power, and scarce resources in which the aims of the opposing parties are not only to the desired values but also to neutralize, injure, or eliminate rivals”. Most of these conflicts are ethnic in nature which makes people to see themselves as one with common interests and values thereby pushing further.
Ghana is commonly regarded as one of the most peaceful countries in Africa and has earned the name the beacon of peace in the African Continent but the Northern Region of Ghana cannot share this pride because for the past two decades, more than twenty violent ethnic conflicts occurred in the region alone defeating the pride of beacon of peace.4 These conflicts have been between the minority and the majority groups. The majority of the violent conflicts in the Northern Region reside in ethnic identification, creates a phenomenon which renders ethnicity as a terrible destructive force. Therefore, for ethnicity to become a positive rather than a destructive force, ethnic conflicts need to be managed and resolved.5
The area of focus is on the Gonja- Nawuri Conflict which assumed an alarming proportion between 1991 and 1995. The area is located in the the Kpandai district is in the Northern Region of Ghana which is made up of the Gonja, Nawuri, Konkomba, Kotokoli, Ewe, Bassare and Nchrumru ethnic groups. Recent conflicts between the two (the Gonjas and Nawuris) happened in 1991, 1992 and 1995. The conflict in this area is primarily between the Gonjas and Nawuris and it is essentially over land. However, the presence of various minority ethnic groups alongside the Gonjas and Nawuris has complicated the dynamics of the entire conflict in the area. The Nawuris are supported by other minority ethnic groups notably the Nchrumrus and Konkomba against the Gonjas.6
The Gonja and the Nawuri conflict can only be solved through compromise. The nature of the Gonja-Nawuri conflict does not only require one aspect of an arbitrary process but needs the combination of several. The Regional and National House of Chiefs as well as the Kpandai Traditional Council can match expertise together to proffer a better resolution to the seemingly unending conflict.
1. What factors accounted for the emergence, escalation and protracted nature of the dispute between the Gonjas and the Nawuris?
2. What efforts have been made to resolve the conflict and how have they been implemented?
3. Why does the conflict remain intractable notwithstanding attempts made to resolve it?
4. How can the conflict be settled for peaceful co-existence in the area?
Causes of the Gonja-Nawuri Conflict
The number one cause of the Gonja- Nawuri conflict was the British Colonial legacy of indirect rule. Some scholars such as Lentz and Nugent (2000) suggested that, most of the ethnic conflicts experienced in the Northern Region of Ghana are as the result of British colonial legacy of indirect rule. These scholars are of the view that British re-invented African states to suit their agenda that is the issue of artificial boundaries. The British constructed polices different from that of African society, politics, and culture, and this situation according to them automatically laid a solid foundation for today’s ethnic identities in the Northern Region which up to date is still lingering.
Apart from the ruled-ruler categorization, colonialism ascribed other forms of identity to the Nawuri and the Gonja. Early colonial education policy provided educational opportunities to the children of the Gonja chiefly family to the detriment of those of the Nawuri. As a result, an educated and enlightened Gonja family was established in Alfai that is the name of the place which the conflict took place in the 1930s and 1940s. Few Nawuri men such as S.G. Friko, J.K. Mbimadong and Yaw Atorsah – the first Nawuri people to be educated gained the opportunities to be educated in the late 1940s and early 1950s. By the 1970s, however, education had become pronounced among the Nawuri and the Gonja in Alfai. Nonetheless, the differences in the periods of education opportunities offered to the Nawuri and the Gonja created some notions and stereotypes. The categories “enlightened” and ‘unenlightened” or “civilized” and “uncivilized” came to be used as descriptions of the ethnic identities of the Gonja and the Nawuri, respectively.7
In the same vein, the formation of ethnic based youth associations could be blamed for the cause of ethnic conflicts. These youth associations which are mostly led by the educated elites in the communities are seen as channels of grievances. The leaders of these associations end up fermenting troubles in the communities since they are seen as ‘eye openers’ in their various communities.
The Gonja-Nawuri conflict in Kpandai in April and June 1991, was directly sparked off by the announcement of the Gonjaland Youth Association that in 1991 it wished to hold its annual convention in Kpandai, which the Nawuri regarded as having been their own land since time immemorial and in no sense a part of Gonjaland, though the area was ruled by the Gonja paramount chief. One of the youth leaders in Kpandai gave the following:
“It is high time we rise to defend our rights. We do not see the reason why different people have to come and decide things for us in our own community. We know ourselves and what we need. Besides, you cannot just come into the community to do things without permission”.8
Another youth leader had something to add to what has been said earlier. He felt that there was much more than what has been said.
“If people have stayed in a particular area for long, let us say over hundred years ... can you come and say that that place does not belong to them? No human being has created land. You see, these people also came from somewhere and settled where they are now. So, if by virtue of the fact that somebody came here earlier means that he owns the land. Then, we own this land because we are the first settlers here. Look, nobody was created with land. So how do you tell me that I am a settler and that place belongs to you? I do not think it is easy to accept this. If that is the case we settled here first why then do you say the land does not belong to us?”9
The foregoing argument invariably shows how the formation of ethnic youth associations has become a source of mobilization by ethnic groups to agitate for self-recognitions and identity. The associations were formed to assist in educating of the people and to help in development of their communities. Unfortunately, these youth associations have rather turn to be sources for organizing and launching of attacks on each other10.
Political hegemony was equally responsible for the conflict. Related to the Nawuri-Gonja dispute over ownership of lands is the controversy about political hegemony. There is a paucity of documentation on the precolonial relations between the Nawuri and the Gonja. Nonetheless, available evidence suggests that the Nawuri were an autonomous people, and that the two ethnic groups were political allies in the pre-colonial period.In its report, the Ampiah Committee explained that the Nawuri: were an indigenous people in Alfai area who had complete autonomy and lived in the friendly association with the Krachis and Nchumurus … nowhere in the evidence had it been stated that the Nawuris were at any time conquered by the Gonjas. The evidence holds that the Nawuris and the Gonjas were allies and fought together during the Asante invasion of the Area the ethnic groups existed as a loose association since they met in the now Eastern Gonja Area for common enemies like Asante and others and protecting their lands.11
1 Talton, B. A. “Politics of social Change in Ghana: The Konkomba struggle for Political equality”, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).
2 Awedoba, A. K. “An ethnographic study of northern Ghanaian conflicts: towards sustainable peace (Accra: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2009).
3 Mohammed, Tinab, “Role of traditional authorities in ethnic conflict management and resolution in the East Gonja and Kpandai Districts in the Northern Region of Ghana”. (Master’s Thesis, University of Cape Coast, Cape Coast, 2014). p.1
4 Brukum, N. J. K. “The conflicts in Northern Ghana. (Accra: University of Ghana, 2004)
5 Bombade, Emmanuel, “Conflicts civil society organizations and community peace building practices in northern Ghana” . In S. Tonah (Ed.), “Ethnicity, Conflicts and Consensus in Ghana” (Ghana: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2007). P.197
7 Cletus, M. Kwaku, Nawuri-Gonja Conflict (PhD Thesis, University of Ghana Legon 2012). p. 10.
8 Ibid, p11.
10 Ibid, p12.
11 Ibid, p80.