See also Africa: Texts and Sources
KONKOMBAHISTORY, CULTURE, RELIGION, ECONOMY
- KONKOMBA (LIKPAKPALN, KPANKPAM, KOM KOMBA)
- [KOS <http://www.sil.org/ethnologue/lookup?KOS>] 400,000 in Ghana (1995 SIL); 50,100 in Togo (1991 L. Vanderaa CRC); 450,000 in all countries. Northeast border area around Guerin, Yendi District, and into Togo. Many groups are scattered throughout north central Ghana. 'Likpakpaln' is the self name for the language, 'Bikpakpaln' for the people. Patrilineal, patrilocal. 5% to 15% literate. Agriculturalists: yams. Traditional religion, Muslim, Christian. Bible in press (1996). NT 1977-1984. Bible portions 1969.
- Tait, David (ed Jack Goody), The Konkombas of Northern Ghana OUP 1961 (quotations and notes)
- 1 The Konkomba speak of themselves as Bekpokpam, of their language as Lekpokpam and of their country as Kekpokpam. They know the Dagomba, their neighbours to the west, as Bedagbam.
4 Of all their neighbours the Dagomba are the most important to Konkomba, since it was the Dagomba who expelled them from what is now eastern Dagomba. The story of the invasion is briefly stated by Konkomba and recited at length in the drum chants of Dagomba. I quote a Konkomba elder. "When we grew up and reached our fathers they told us that they (our forefathers) stayed in Yaa [Yendi]. The Kabre and the Bekwom were here. The Dagomba were in Tamale and Kumbungu. The Dagomba rose and mounted their horses. We saw their horses, that is why we rose up and gave the land to the Dagomba. We rose up and got here with the Bekwom. The Bekwom rose up and went across the river. . ."
. . .the Dagomba invasion . . . according to one account, occurred in the early sixteenth century in the reign of Na (Chief) Sitobu.
9 As recently as the 1920's there was sporadic fighting between Konkomba and Dagomba of adjacent villages. In this sort of fighting the Konkomba could more than hold their own and today, man to man, it is hardly too much to say that the Dagomba fears the Konkomba. But Konkomba had no form of regimental system, no co-operation of segments on a wider than tribal scale and could put nothing into the field comparable to the Dagomba cavalry. Equally, the Dagomba had no administrative system or standing army with which to control those Konkomba whom they neither absorbed nor expelled. . . Dagomba 'rule' was limited to sporadic raids to obtain the slaves needed for the annual tribute to Ashanti.
11 (A Konkomba chief) has little authority among his own people: the important men are. . . the elders.
12 Infinitely loyal to a fellow clansman, instantly aggressive to an outsider, they have preserved their own way of life to this day.
13 . . . the Oti plain is alternately a swamp and a dust-bowl. During the harmattan visibility drops to a few hundred yards; shade temperatures 110o by day dropping to 50o by night. But the Oti river is a perennial delight where it runs in its deep channel. . .
14 The hamlets stand on ridges in the plain, surrounded by compound farms on which sorghum, millet and hunger rice are grown. The yam farms and plots of rice, groundnuts and other crops are placed on ridges of high ground.
The land and the crops are the primary interests of Konkomba. Their rites are directed to making the land fruitful and the power of elders rests on their relation to the ancestors and to the land. . . Their main crop and preferred food is guinea corn (sorghum) eaten with meat or fish stews seasoned with red pepper and herbs. . . unmarried women do not eat meat.
Cattle are kept and each compound head has one or two. . . sheep, goats, fowl, guinea fowl and ducks are kept. These are used as sacrifices at shrines and to the ancestors.
15 . . .the farm is the centre of interest in rites and in labour. Supplication of the ancestors commonly takes the form of prayers for rain but they are also asked to keep away the wind. The sudden fierce storms . . . sweep over the open plain. . . break down the corn, tear the roofs off houses, batter down house walls. . . The Konkomba are always on the verge of hunger and only by frugal living can their food be made to last until a new crop is in.
23 Dagomba are of a different kind: they are the mounted invaders, the raiders, the extortioners who will not live in peace alongside their neighbours. Evicter, raider, extortioner.
26 For Dagomba the Konkomba are still the despised people their cavalry invasion swept before them 400 years ago. Dagomba fears Konkomba and avoids hand to hand fighting with him.
83 Konkomba practise the betrothal of infant girls to young men in their early twenties who thereafter offer bride service and pay bride corn to their parents-in-law, until the girl is of an age to marry.
87 Tribal face marks are cut at about 4. Girls have their body decorations cut in groups when they are almost old enough to marry. There is no ceremony in either case.
89 Nubile unmarried girls have no formal functions. Young men defend clan lands or fishing rights, carry on feuds and dance at burials. The elder provides a room for the young men to sleep in. There they keep bows and arrows, dancing headdress and some clothing.
96 Men marry at 40. From adolescence they carry on love affairs. From puberty girls are allowed full sexual freedom by their parents (within the limits of incest) until they marry. Both unmarried men and women may have up to 3 or 4 lovers at the same time. A man has to visit the girl's home and sleep with her in her mother's room. If the girl's father is there, the room is not available! Many young married women carry on love affairs by visiting their father's home. Also the guinea corn grows tall and thick. Such affairs are risky and may lead to killings and feuds. Girls are discreet about mentioning their lovers and do not speak to them in the market. A girl sends messages to her lover through his sister or her brother.
99 Many women are pregnant by a lover when they go to their husband. Contraception is not practised. The child belongs to the husband not the father.
137 Burial of a male elder. Messages are sent to kin. Drums and gunshots announce the death to neighbouring clans. Widows remain in the room of the senior wife singing dirges. The body is shaved by 'ritual partners' and is washed and dressed by them and unmarried girls of his clan. The grave is dug by ritual partners. The body is covered with cloths sent by kinsmen. The body is carried to the grave by clanswomen and held by them at the grave. The cloths are removed, the corpse's hands placed over the genitals while elders of the clan address the dead. The body is then interred naked. The grave is filled by ritual partners and clansmen. A calabash which symbolizes the spirit of the deceased is broken and the pieces pressed into the mound of the grave. The young men dance outside the compound of the dead man. The next day beer is made by the clansmen and all who helped with the burial come to drink. Some days later the eldest son makes clay and builds a tombstone decorated with cowries. He sacrifices a fowl to his father on the grave saying, 'Take your fowl and give God and give your fathers. We too are well.'
160 The compound is a cluster of round houses distributed about a central space and linked by a low wall.
161 Because of the late age of marriage few men live to see their sons marry and see their sons' sons. Thus the extended family does not occur as elsewhere in Ghana. There is no distinction between fiancée and wife. The prospective husband pays corn and services to her father over the years of the girl's growth. There is nothing that can be called a wedding. There is no possibility of confusing marriage with love affairs. All fiancées have love affairs but these are hidden, in theory, from members of the girl's household. Lovers cannot live together as man and wife.
163 A fiancée goes to her husband when she is pregnant or about 18. Women think in terms of two wives to a family. A second wife adds to the status of the first. The younger woman helps with the heavy work of fetching water and firewood.
164 The compound is divided amongst wives. Each must have her own room, kitchen, hearth. Only a woman's own children may enter her room uninvited.
170 The marriages which give rise to the closest personal relationships between spouses are marriages by inheritance which bring together a man and woman of about the same age.
173 Old women's houses are a delightful feature of Konkomba life. They are single rooms enclosed with a small compound and are always kept spotlessly clean by the old ladies, who are usually women without sons.
182 Women do not go happily to their husbands. All are reluctant to go. Most seek delay. In the end they go weeping bitterly. Husbands are delighted to receive a new wife. A woman may suffer when she first marries yet the system gives all the security and care to her and her children that the culture can offer.
183 Wives provide their own clothes by trading. Food is issued each day to each wife to cook for the household or for herself. The husband sleeps one week (6 days) in each wife's room in rotation, even if she is menstruating (when sex is forbidden.)
184 When a man marries he puts aside the things of young men: ceases to carry an axe or club, stops love affairs and stops dancing ritual dances (though he may drum).
Married women help only their potential husbands with farm work. They have a right to groundnut and pepper plots on their husband's land. From this they supply the household with a small surplus for sale.
Young men may raise cash crops for their lovers.
Unmarried girls may have a small plot of groundnut or pepper worked for them by their lovers.
203 Members of the household may enter freely only the large entry room and their own mother's room (even in her absence). Women keep to their own sides of the compound. They do not enter the young men's room. The eldest son measures out the grain for the women to cook and receives and stores payments of bride corn. No man may grow a beard during the lifetime of his father. No unmarried woman may eat meat. No man at the burial of a man and no woman at the burial of a woman may eat the flesh of burial sacrifices. Husbands keep to the large entry room by day and go to a wife's room only after dark. To speak to a household head, young members squat on their heels, and this includes young wives. A quiet voice and demeanour should be observed to the father and also to the mother.
211 Men and women cannot be friends. They may be kin, they may be lovers, they may stand in a joking relationship, otherwise they must be as strangers. Friends are of the same sex. Often a friendship may be started to facilitate a love affair in another household; the lover may be the brother or sister of the friend. All young men and women have several love affairs going on at once.
- Cardinall, Allan W., The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, London, 1920
- 9 At some time, probably towards the middle of the eighteenth century, the Ashanti power was at its zenith, and in Dr. Claridge's "History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti" the king of Ashanti, Osei Opoku, is named as the conqueror of Dagomba. At Yendi the record of the defeat is passed over, but the fact remains that there lives today at Yendi an Ashanti, a visitor to his uncle there, who, before the advent of the Germans, acted as a kind of consul and tax-gatherer. The tax, I was told, amounted to the annual payment of 2,000 slaves. In 1821 the British Consul at Kumasi, Mr. J. Dupuis, records in his "Journal of a Residence in Ashantee" that the Dagomba capital Yendi, and other large towns of the country, pay as an annual tribute five hundred slaves, two hundred cows, four hundred sheep and cloths, and that smaller towns are taxed in proportion.
The Grunshi, Busansi, Konkomba, Tchokossi, and other independent tribes were raided regularly to procure the necessary number of slaves, and when hard put to it the Na of Dagomba asked his relatives of Mossi and Mamprussi to help him in his payment.
- Der, Benedict G., The Slave Trade in Northern Ghana, Woeli Publishing Services, Accra, 1998
- 9 Dagbon
The Kitab Gbunja noted that in about February 1745, "the cursed unbeliever, Opoku, entered the town of Yendi and plundered it."
10 The Ya Na, Gariba, was taken prisoner. When he was being carried to Kumasi, his nephew, Ziblim, the Chief of Nasah, interceded and redeemed him.
11 Each succeeding Ya Na raided the Konkomba, Basari and Moba in order to obtain captives as slaves to pay the debt. . . . Armed men would descend upon a village at dawn or even during the day. If the raid was successful, they carried away men, women and children and their property like cattle, sheep and goats.
14 The annual movement of merchants and their dependants reached many thousands of people. This led to the export of large quantities of kola from Asante through Kafaba and Buipe. In exchange for kola, the Hausa and Mossi traders brought such produce as textiles, livestock, leather goods, jewellery, dried onions and natron from Sokoto and Borno. To this trade slaves were added. (Der lists eight trade routes from Kano, Katsina and Ouagadougou, all ending at Kafaba.)
15 Some of the slaves given to Asante as tribute or in payment of the debt (Dagbon) were sold into slavery abroad. . . . it was in the mid-eighteenth century that the records of European companies on the coast began noting the presence of donkors or people of Northern origin among the slaves brought down to the forts and castles for sale. Thereafter, slaves sent to the coast from Asante invariably included men, women and children from Northern Ghana.
16 As late as the eighteenth century, Salaga was not known to the outside world. Kafaba was the best known trading place in the middle Volta.
18 Visitors to Salaga gave horrifying accounts of the treatment of slaves. The slaves were sold in the open in the slave section of the market. They were usually chained together in groups of ten to fifteen by the neck, and exposed the whole day from morning till evening in the burning sun. They were left hungry and thirsty, naked, ailing, often sick and weak and were kept standing in that condition till one after another had been sold.
29 On a conservative estimate, it can be said that over half a million people or more from Northern Ghana were sold into slavery in the period 1732 to 1897 while thousands of others died or were killed in the slave raids.
32 The main effects of the slave trade on Northern Ghana were depopulation, devastation, insecurity and loss of life and property. Agriculture and the local arts were disrupted while people lived in constant fear for their lives or of the raiders. The long term effect of the slave trade on Northern Ghana, however, was that it retarded development in the area. The roots of African-Americans and West Indians of Ghanaian origins do not end at the forts and castles on the coast, nor in the coastal states and in Asante. They can be traced further to Northern Ghana.
Froelich, JeanClaude. La tribu Konkomba du nord Togo. Dakar, IFAN. 1954.
Click here to view illustrations of the peopleand their material culture scanned from those in Froelich's book.
- Fynn J K Asante and Its Neighbours 1700-1807 Longman 1971
- Law Robin The Horse in West African History OUP 1980
14-15 The traditions of the southern offshoot of Mamprusi, the kingdom of Dagomba . . . do assert that the successful expansion of Dagomba eastwards into Konkomba country in the seventeenth century was due to their use of cavalry. (This is corroborated by the traditions of the Konkomba themselves.)
179 The military value of cavalry was perhaps less evident in confrontations between major states than in the domination of politically fragmented and horseless peoples by centralized kingdoms employing cavalry. The advantage afforded by cavalry is clearly attested, for example, in the case of the conquest of the Konkomba by the cavalry of Dagomba during the seventeenth century. As Konkomba tradition graphically records, 'The Dagomba rose and mounted their horses, that is why we rose up and gave the land to the Dagombas'.(Tait)
- Staniland, Martin, The Lions of Dagbon: Political Change in Northern Ghana, Cambridge University Press, 1975
The conquest of eastern Dagomba took place later than that of the west . . . The final settlement of this area may have occurred in the seventeenth century when the capital was moved towards present-day Yendi. The Dagomba pushed back the Konkomba and established divisional chiefs among them. The main towns . . . had the character of outposts, strategically located on the east bank of the River Oti. Despite this assertion of suzerainty, the Dagomba kingdom seems never to have exercised close control over the Konkomba: administration took the form of slave raiding and punitive expeditions. The Konkomba were by no means assimilated. Relations between them and the Dagomba were distant and hostile: there was little, if any, mixing by marriage.
Brukum, N. J. K, The Guinea Fowl, Mango and Pito Wars: Episodes in the History of Northern Ghana, 1980-1999 Ghana Universities Press, Accra, 2001.
4. . . . the Gonjas under Jakpa defeated Dagbon under Ya Na Dariziogo and compelled the latter to abandon its capital and to move it to its present site, Yendi, which was then a Konkomba town called Chare. The newcomers pushed back the Konkombas and established divisions among them. Despite the assertion of suzerainty, Dagbon seems never to have exercised close control over Konkomba: administration took the form of slave raiding and punitive expeditions.
The Guinea Fowl War (CIDCM)
It was the events which are recorded below which set me off on the journey which has led to the publication of AMA and of this web site. MH
Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM)
Shin-wha Lee, 3/95
2/17/96, Anne Pitsch
June 1999, Garth Olcese
1994 February 2: Fighting in the north near the border with Togo broke out between Konkomba and Dagomba ethnic groups. The incident began with a dispute over prices in a market, but quickly accelerated to large-scale violence. The two groups have been at loggerheads for many years because the Konkomba , who are not Ghanaian natives (My emphasis: this is a highly contentious and provocative statement - see the texts above and J. D. Fage - MH) , are denied chieftainship and land. Only 4 of 15 ethnic groups in the region have land ownership.
1994 February 10: The government issued a state of emergency in the northern region (the districts of Yendi, Nanumba, Gushiegu/Karaga, Saboba/Chereponi, East Gonjo, Zabzugu/Tatale and the town of Tamale). About 6000 Konkomba fled to Togo as a result. The government also closed four of its border posts to prevent the conflict from spreading.
1994 March 4: A grenade exploded in Accra in a Konkomba market injuring three. It is thought to be a spillover from the violence in the north between the Konkomba and Dagomba.
1994 March: The government fired on a crowd in Tamale killing 11 and wounding 18. Security forces fired on mainly Dagomba after they had attacked a group of rival Konkomba . It is difficult for the government to reach Konkomba fighters since they operate in small packets under bush cover.
Members of the Dagomba, Gonjas and Namubas (allies) turned in their arms in compliance with a government order to all warring factions.
The seven districts affected by the fighting are the breadbasket of the region and food prices have increased since the fighting broke out in February.
1994 April: An 11 member government delegation held separate talks with leaders of the warring factions in Accra. Both sides agreed to end the conflict and denounce violence as a means of ending their conflict. The three-month old conflict left over 1000 (one report suggested 6000) people dead and 150,000 displaced.
1994 June 9: A peace pact was signed among all warring factions in the north. Two main groups of disputants were involved in the fighting (Konkomba vs. Dagomba, Nanumba and Gonja) as were several smaller groups (Nawuri, Nchumri, Basari). No incidents were reported in the past several weeks, though the region remained tense.
1994 July 8: Parliament agreed to extend the state of emergency imposed on the 7 northern districts for a further month.
1994 August 8: Parliament revoked the state of emergency officially closing the conflict.
1994 October: Police seized arms bound for the north. The Tamale region is tense and the peace agreement signed in April was regarded as a dead letter. Dagomba communities, backed by the Nanumbas and Gonjas, again began buying arms. Many Konkomba have been keeping out of sight following a series of lynchings.
1995 February 16: Bushfires swept across Ghana causing extensive damage to forests and crops. At least 12 were killed.
1995 March: Renewed ethnic fighting in the north left at least 110 dead and 35 wounded. The Konkombas were largely blamed as instigators of the latest violence. The government had the situation under control by the end of the month. In Nanumba District, five arrests were made in connection to the violence. A total of 25 have been arrested since September 1994 in connection to the violence. Latest casualty figures put the number of dead at 2000 since February 1994, and 400 villages and farms have been burnt to the ground.
1995 April: The government began proving funds for the rehabilitation of displaced persons from the ethnic conflict. An estimated 200,000 have been displaced. Most health, education and water facilities were destroyed in the wake of the conflict and most personnel fled the area. Outbreaks of cerebro-spinal meningitis, polio, diphtheria, measles, tetanus and whooping cough were reported. Agriculture in the area is nowhere near its pre-conflict levels.
1995 May 3: Armed forces of Ghana and a detachment of US special forces began a joint military exercise in the northern region.
1995 May 12: Anti-government demonstrations took place in Accra. They were sponsored by the Alliance for Change and they resulted in clashes between pro- and anti-Rawlings demonstrators. Five people were killed in the clashes. (The Alliance for Change may be a mostly Ashanti organization-they were planning a similar demonstration in the Ashanti region.)
1995 June 26: President Rawlings initiated peace talks in parts of the conflict area, praising both sides for their efforts to put aside their differences. Yet, he later issues a warning against the Konkombas in particular to heed reconciliation moves.
1995 June 23: Thousands demonstrate in the sea port of Takoradi in protest over the high cost of living. Ghana has implemented World Bank sponsored austerity measures since the early 1980s and is generally thought to be in healthy financial shape compared to other African states. Yet, per capita income is low (about $450/year) and unemployment is high.
1995 November: Tensions were on the rise between Muslims and non-Muslims in areas of Ghana including in the cities of Sekondi and Kumasi. The tensions between the Dagombas and Konkomba , though essentially over land use, were exacerbated by the fact that Dagombas are mainly Muslims while the Konkomba are mainly animist.
Update June 1999
The north of Ghana is not as prosperous as the southern region and many ethnic groups must share the little wealth that does exist there. The Dagombas have traditionally dominated the area while the Konkombas, a stateless people, have survived by working for other ethnic groups on farms.
Violence broke out in 1994 over a minor trade dispute. It exploded into large-scale violence which left at least 1000 and probably 2000 people dead, 150,000 displaced, and several hundred villages and farms destroyed. Tensions eased in 1995, though the underlying causes of the dispute--access to land and local political representation--remain.
Groups other than the Konkomba and Dagomba were involved in the dispute, but their status in the region is unclear. The Mossi did not appear to be involved at all. Though the north is less prosperous than the south, the dispute was not really about this inequality.
The Rawlings government appeared to handle the conflict effectively, and abuses by the armed forces were rarely reported. His government made several attempts at peace and reconciliation and as of the end of 1995, the conflict was well under control if not fully resolved. Rawlings urged the combatants to work for the prosperity of the region and country and tried to convince them that internal conflict would only cause larger problems in the long run.
Fighting between the Konkomba people and Nchumurus almost broke out in 1997 over land disputes. Luckily President Rawlings was able to quell the situation before it got out of hand. Although large scale violence was avoided the Northern region of Ghana was still hit with terrible outbreaks of spinal meningitis and guineaworm after health workers who feared an outbreak of violence fled the region.
People in the north of the country remain at risk from the possibility of renewed fighting and from the results of the disruptions in agriculture and services caused by the conflict. Hunger and disease were reported after the conflict as late as September 1995, though the process of restoring services has begun.
The conflict requires close scrutiny and if it erupts again in 1999, it is likely the Konkomba will qualify as a new group at risk.
Emmy Toonen: Ghana: Mediating a Way out of Complex Ethnic Conflicts
European Platform for Conflict Prevention and Transformation
Searching for Peace in Africa
Ghana: Mediating a Way out of Complex Ethnic Conflicts http://www.oneworld.org/euconflict/sfp/part2/291.htm
Ethnic conflict in northern Ghana has roots which reach back to the colonial period. Heightened tensions during the early 1990s led to the outbreak of civil war in 1994 which continued to 1995. The conflict was largely unnoticed by regional and supra-national organisations, and it was the Ghanaian Government together with domestic and international NGOs who took responsibility for resolving the conflict. Their efforts proved successful and a relative peace has returned to the area, although it is considered fragile by many. As a result of their experiences, conflict prevention has become a core activity of many of the local and international organisations working in northern Ghana*.
By Emmy Toonen
Society in the northern part of Ghana is divided along traditional hierarchic and ethnic lines in which the tribe and the chiefs play an important role in day-to-day rural life. It is mainly the chiefs who act as the spokesmen of the various ethnic groups and who participate in local and national government. There are, however, also elected local and national politicians and youth association spokespersons are also very powerful.
* Several parts of this survey are based on the Oxfam-report `Building Sustainable Peace: Conflict, Conciliation and Civil Society in Northern Ghana´.
People from northern Ghana, especially the rural population, identify strongly with their ethnic groups and traditions. The national government in Accra on the south coast is often regarded as very remote and of lesser importance. The distinction is reinforced by the disadvantaged economic position of the north in comparison to the rest of the country. It is difficult to say how far this division has played a role in the genesis of the conflict and, later, in the national conciliation attempts. However, it is certain that the remoteness of some conflict areas and the lack of infrastructure and communication technology has sometimes made communication between the various parties and government mediators difficult.
The roots of the conflicts in northern Ghana are complex and interwoven. Moreover accounts of the origins of conflicts vary among the different ethnic groups. The major points of contention, however, lie in disputes over land rights and political representation. Land rights are ultimately vested in the paramount chief on behalf of the ethnic group. Members of other ethnic groups who live on the land of a chief are expected to live by his or her rules and to show respect or allegiance, sometimes in the form of gifts.
Since British colonial rule, paramount chieftaincy has also been the prerequisite for a seat in the Northern and National Houses of Chiefs, and thus for significant political representation. However, only four ethnic groups, the Dagomba, Nanumba, Gonja and Mamprusi, have paramount chiefs. The other ethnic groups, such as the Konkomba , Nchumuru and Nawuri, have always been `headless´, or acephalous. The Konkomba for example, originally came from Togo and migrated to Ghana in the early twentieth century. ( My emphasis - David Tait tells a completely different story. So does J. D.Fage MH) They are generally farmers and often move from one geographical area to another in search of fertile land. Instead of a system of paramount chieftaincy, where the community is governed by several chiefs and headed by a paramount chief, they have a non-centralised political system without secular leaders.
Nevertheless, the Konkomba and other acephalous groups have long claimed they should be entitled to the same political rights as paramount chieftaincy groups. To them, the current system is the unacceptable result of ancient rules. Since all the land belongs to chiefs, Konkomba are forced to live on `foreign´ land. Their refusal to respect the foreign chief´s rule has often led to disputes. In reality, the Konkomba are not completely without political and economic representation. However, a legal recognition of their equal status would enable them to become more involved in local and national government. It would also enable them to gain access to district assembly funds which the government is currently creating to support a decentralisation programme.
Because they form a relatively large part of the population in northern Ghana, the Konkomba feel fully justified in pursuing this claim. According to 1996 figures of Minorities at Risk, the Konkomba , with 300,000 to 400,000 people, are the second largest ethnic group in the Northern Region and consequently they feel that they have the right to exercise authority over their own land. However, the land issue is particularly thorny. Fertile lands, which were once sufficient for all, are becoming increasingly scarce and thus increasingly valuable. The owners of fertile land are unwilling to surrender any part of their claim to ownership, particularly as they have the backing of the law.
The conflict over land and political power was a major source of tension among different ethnic groups but the conflict in the region also has other roots. Historically, many of the region´s groups have had a good understanding with each other. In some cases, coexistence and intermarriage are common, making it difficult, on occasion, to define which ethnic group someone actually belongs.
However, mutual incomprehension and ridicule, often based on rumours, played an important role in the build up of hostility before and during the conflicts. Rumours of the alleged bellicosity and malign intentions of the other parties were widespread and were frequently fuelled by media reports. In one striking example, the Ghanaian Chronicle of January 31, 1993, contained an article predicting a terrible bloodbath in the near future, which would leave as many as 10,000 people dead. This caused such a great disturbance that in the city of Tamale, loudspeaker vans had to be used to calm down the distressed citizens.
Religious differences have also been identified as a source of division, especially over the last ten years. In general terms, Christian missionary activity has been most successful among the acephalous groups, while Islam has had a stronger influence on the chieftaincy groups. However, the Islamic influence is mainly seen among the leading families. The traditional religions still have the largest numbers of followers. At the village level, many people practice an eclectic mix of religion so religious differences are rarely a cause for conflict.
Finally, the situation is further complicated by the fact that conflicts not only occur between the various groups but also within them. Conflicts between the older and more traditional generation of rulers and the younger group members with more modern views on government, sometimes cause divisions within an ethnic group. These internal divisions surface in disagreements on how to solve the problems the group faces, and can subsequently hamper the peace process.
The 1994-1995 civil war is usually said to have started on January 31, 1994, following a quarrel between Konkomba and Nanumba over the price of a guinea fowl at a market in Nakpayili near Bimbilla. The war is therefore also known as the "Guinea Fowl War".
Relations between the different ethnic groups had been tense all through 1993. Earlier conflicts in the region had never been resolved and there was fear of new attacks. Also, there were a growing number of rumours about Konkomba plans to seize land. From July 1993, these rumours turned into clear mistrust when Konkomba leaders sent a petition to the National House of Chiefs. In this petition, they claimed that, as they were the second largest group in the Northern Region, their most important leader, the `chief´ of Saboba, should have the same status as a paramount chief.
After the incident at Nakpayili - accounts of which vary considerably - fighting broke out between Konkomba and Nanumba and spread rapidly. On February 10, after ten days of fighting the government declared a state of emergency in the town of Tamale and several other districts. A joint Military Task Force was set up. Fighting continued for months with disastrous effect. The numbers of dead and displaced are still uncertain, however, several observers suggest that there were 2,000 deaths in 1994 alone, that 322 villages were devastated and some 178,000 people were displaced. Farms, herds and produce were destroyed, and the economy severely damaged. Social life in general as well as the interaction between the various ethnic groups was also badly affected, as were medical and educational facilities in the region.
In April 1994 a government delegation held talks with leaders of the warring factions in the capital Accra. Both sides agreed to end the conflict and the violence. On June 9, after a number of quiet, but tense, weeks, a peace treaty was signed. However, it was not until August 8 that parliament revoked the state of emergency, thereby officially ending the conflict.
Although the tensions had diminished, their causes still remained unresolved and in March and May 1995 there were renewed outbreaks of violence. This time, at least 110 people were killed. Health conditions also deteriorated due to a lack of food and clean water. Subsequently, in November, the friction between Konkombas and Dagombas was given a new, religious dimension. As tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims increased in different parts of Ghana, the relationship between the mainly Muslim Dagomba and the mainly animist Konkomba also worsened.
At the end of 1995, the situation in the conflict area grew calmer, which is widely ascribed to mediation attempts and peace talks involving all warring parties. Agreements were made to change the old structure of political representation and land rights. Consequently, the main points of contention seemed to have been tackled. By the end of 1998, the overall situation in the region looked positive. However, problems remain in the (re)building of the area´s economy and infrastructure. Moreover, the area was hit by a serious food shortage in 1997. The city of Tamale is now calm but the Konkombas are still too afraid to enter the city for fear of reprisals. Isolated incidents are now and then reported in the Ghanaian press. In May 1999, for example, members of the Konkomba Youth Association in Yendi warned of the threat to peace in the region, following what they claimed as police inaction to attacks on Konkombas .
Official Conflict Management
The northern Ghana conflict, being an internal and local conflict, has received little attention from large intergovernmental organisations. Consequently, official conflict management initiatives have originated mainly from within the Ghanaian government. These domestic attempts were begun in mid-1993, when a delegation of government officials twice visited the area to act as mediators. However, the situation was worsened by rumours and misunderstandings and proved difficult to resolve.
The army is generally regarded as having played an important role in the process of appeasement although its late response has often been criticised. Surprisingly, the army was very constructive in restoring the peace based on a balanced and thorough analysis of the situation. The Task Force dispatched to the conflict area helped NGOs with relief distribution. Other direct government action consisted of an agricultural relief package. However, the government found donor funding difficult to obtain. Ministerial visits to donor headquarters in Europe were unsuccessful as donors preferred to use NGOs as relief activity channels. This is said to have caused tension between the government and NGOs.
In order to negotiate peace, a Permanent Peace Negotiation Committee was set up in April 1994 to talk with the various parties involved. The meetings, some of which were set up together with the NGO Consortium discussed below, led to a Peace Treaty on June 9, 1994. At that time, however, the conflicts had yet to be resolved. Negotiation continued and finally two reconciliation ceremonies, both in the presence of President Rawlings, were held in December 1995 and in May 1996. At this stage, a lasting peace seemed to be much more certain.
With their many different activities, NGOs have played an important role in resolving this conflict. Initially, they focused mainly on relief for the many people who were displaced or had otherwise been affected by the war. As the conflict continued, some NGOs also took up an important role as mediators. Today, their work continues, and often includes conflict prevention activities.
Before the outbreak of the 1994 conflict, several NGOs had already become firmly established in the Northern Region of Ghana. These were mainly social development organisations, both local and international. At the beginning of the conflict, there was hardly any cooperation between the different organisations. Assessment missions were held by several NGOs simultaneously and the first relief aid was donated directly to the various NGOs by their international donors. About a month after the outbreak of the conflict, the first Red Cross relief aid arrived and after two months the government and the various NGO-missions were able to focus on needs assessments.
As the conflict continued, however, the need for more cooperation became apparent. An informal NGO network, the Inter-NGO Consortium, was formed. Participants were a mixture of local NGOs, such as Action Aid Ghana, Action on Disability and Development, Amaschina, Assemblies of God Development and Relief Services, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Secretariat, Council of Churches, Business Advisory Development and Consultancy Centre, Gubkatimali and Penorudas, and international NGOs such as Lifeline Denmark, Oxfam, Red Cross and World Vision. In joining forces, they hoped to obtain and distribute humanitarian aid more efficiently. The independence of the various organisations was kept intact, so that each of them bore the responsibilities for their own projects.
After the first humanitarian aid had arrived, the Consortium also started to focus on conflict transformation and reconciliation initiatives. This was mainly done in cooperation with the Nairobi Peace Initiative (NPI), an NGO which, since its foundation in 1984, has built up a lot of mediation experience in several conflicts in Africa. Needs assessment and field visits were started at the end of 1994. The NPI also participated in the Consortium´s Peace Awareness Campaign. An important part of this campaign was the setting up of a series of workshops, the Kumasi workshops, in which the various parties involved in the conflict were to be brought together. The NPI and Consortium staff organised the first two Kumasi workshops in May and June 1995. Participants in these workshops included members from all ethnic groups involved, several chiefs, opinion leaders and NGO staff. In the first two workshops all parties assessed the damage the war had caused. The statements of the different parties were also heard and discussed.
Instrumental in this effort was Hizkias Assefa who based his efforts on a new philosophy `Peace and Reconciliation as a Paradigm´ which is described as a philosophy of peace and its implications for conflict, governance and economic growth in Africa. It attempts to look at the crisis with the hope of providing pointers on how to begin to change behaviour and situations. The paradigm identifies approaches to be utilised in bringing about desired changes. The paradigm also suggests roles for actors leading to the kinds of changes and transformation necessary.
A first step towards reconciliation was made when all parties admitted that mutual hostility should, for the benefit of all, make way for a mutual effort to create a lasting peace. The leaders of the ethnic groups agreed to spread these ideas to their communities so as to indirectly involve them in the peace process. However, no official agreements had been made at these first workshops. Hostility and mistrust were said to have lessened after these first two workshops, at least at the administrator´s level. At village level, however, it was still clearly present. Field visits and meetings with the parties involved continued between the Kumasi Workshops, and in December 1995, a third workshop took place. Once again, all statements were heard. This time, attention was also given to the participant´s ideas on how to solve the disputes.
The fourth Kumasi Workshop, in February 1996, concentrated on the composition of a draft version of a Peace Accord. This procedure was the result of more extensive talks held between the NPI and leaders of the ethnic groups, both separately and jointly. In the fifth Workshop, in March 1996, the draft version was officially signed. The main achievement of this Peace Accord was the fact that the acephalous Konkomba were to become a Paramount Chieftaincy group. Also, initiatives to establish peace awareness activities within the various communities were formulated.
Over the period in which the Kumasi Workshops were held, further peace initiatives were launched by the Consortium in cooperation with civil society representatives. Another part of the Peace Awareness Campaign, for example, was the setting up of a Peace and Reconciliation Working Group (PRWG). This working group consisted of NGO staff and was established to set up, facilitate and evaluate different reconciliation activities. Another initiative was the Peace Education Campaign (PEC). This campaign was aimed at the community level. It involved leaders of the different ethnic groups travelling from one community to the next, acting as peace builders in engaging people directly in the peace process and encouraging them to support it.
In response to a request by a number of local organisations, the UK-based Conciliation Resources has formed a team to consult with Ghanaians affected by inter-communal violence to provide an assessment of the conflict and possible constructive responses.
Apart from the peace initiatives taken by the Consortium as a whole, several other, usually local, projects were organised by individual NGOs. These initiatives included, for example, Action Aid Ghana´s support in the rebuilding of a school by both Konkomba and Dagomba communities. The Council of Churches, among others, focused on the coexistence of Muslim and Christian communities by organising mixed prayer sessions and other meetings. Several organisations have set up non-violence workshops, fact-finding missions and peace education programmes for teachers and community leaders. Thus, now that the actual conflict has ended, conflict prevention has become a major concern for a large number of NGOs.
In addition to official domestic and NGO initiatives, another important conflict prevention initiative has come from one of Ghanaian traditional social groups. This is the Northern Youth and Development Association (NORYDA). Youth Associations have a long tradition in northern Ghana. They are ethnically or regionally based and are formed by politically active `opinion leaders´. Though their name suggests otherwise, age does not play a role in the Youth Organisations´ membership. As a body of politically engaged people, Youth Organisations often function as representatives of their community at the national level. With the creation of NORYDA, at the suggestion of the Youth Organisations themselves, this existing model is to be used as a deliberative body on the prevention of new conflicts.
Of the various peace initiatives described above, the organisation and involvement of the Consortium is generally seen as the most influential. It has continued its work after the peace process, changing its main activities from relief, to mediation, to conflict prevention. According to the various NGOs involved, this informal cooperative network has certainly proved useful in times of conflict and humanitarian need. It has enabled the participating organisations to pool their resources and expertise and to cover the widest possible area.
However, this loose structure seems to have had less effect on peace awareness projects set up in the aftermath of the conflict. Here there were frequent complaints about a lack of commitment and means. This is seen as the main reason why larger, coordinated conflict transformation and prevention activities have been difficult to get off the ground and to maintain over a longer period of time. At the end of 1998, the activities of the Consortium and NPI have clearly decreased. Those of the Peace and Reconciliation Working Group have ceased altogether. The small, individual projects of the various NGOs, on the other hand, are reported to be meeting with success. As they are usually local projects, carried out in areas where the NGOs in question had already established themselves, they are having a direct impact in their different communities.
Finally, the future of the NORYDA organisation is generally regarded as positive. Although it faces some problems regarding the unconditional, unbiased and a-political cooperation of the various ethnic groups involved, this same ethnic diversity is also its main source of success. In contrast to the competition that existed between the various ethnic youth organisations before its creation, NORYDA tries to deal with the interests of the various ethnic groups as a whole. The development of NORYDA is currently being supported by the Consortium and various individual NGOs.
In general, the situation since 1995 has been calm. Repatriation and rebuilding activities continue. The government claims to be keeping any possible sources of violence well under control. President Rawlings has stressed on various occasions that violence will not be tolerated and that the government will suppress, with army intervention if necessary, any outbreaks of violence. This policy seems to have had its effect.
Also, the Kumasi Accord seems to have tackled the most direct causes of conflict in admitting the paramount chieftaincy rights for the Konkomba . However, this issue has formed the basis for a new dispute, and possibly for a new conflict. Chieftaincy groups have proposed the appointment of three paramount chiefs for the large group of Konkombas . The Konkombas , however, prefer to have only one. They fear that the proposal for three paramount chiefs is part of a divide and rule strategy of the chieftaincy groups. Peace in the region is always fragile as, with so many different ethnic groups and interests, new conflicts on related issues are always likely to flare up. So too, the general economic situation, which is still feeling the effects of the war and of the droughts, could play an important role in creating new tensions.
The conflict has eased, but some potential causes of future conflict remain. As international fora and separate NGOs have made little study of the situation in northern Ghana, apart from donor policies, hardly any policy and action recommendations have been formulated. The effects of the various peace initiatives, which until now have seemed very positive, will have to prove their value in the long run.
Feedback please to Monique Mekenkamp <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
Monique Mekenkamp, project coordinator
European Centre for Conflict Prevention
P.O. Box 14069
3508 SC Utrecht
tel: +31-30-253 75 28
fax: +31-30-253 7529
The Peace Process in Northern Ghana, by Ada van der Linde & Rachel Naylor. Draft report 1996, will be published in June/July 1999 as part of the series Building Sustainable Peace.
Der Bürgerkrieg in Nordghana 1994, Artur Bogner. In: Afrika Spektrum 31 (1996)
Kwesi Aaku - Mediation & Change, Ghana
Charles Abbey - Executive Director African Development Programme, Ghana
Hizkias Asefa - Nairobi Peace Initiative, Kenya
Judith Burdin Asuni - director Academic Associates Peace Works, Nigeria
Seibik-Bugri Jackson - director Partners for Democratic Change, Ghana
Rachel Naylor & Ada van der Linde - Oxfam UK
Isaac Richard Osei - Action Aid Ghana
Selected Internet Sites
www.bsos.umd.edu/cidcm (Center for International Development and Conflict Management/Minorities at Risk Programme)
www.ug.edu.gh/ (University of Ghana)
www.ghanareview.co.uk/ (Ghana Review International)
Addresses (additional to the ones given in the 1998 Directory)
African Development Programme
P.O. Box 3424
Partners for Democratic Change
P.O. Box 1211
- * Emmy Toonen is in the last year of her studies of International Relations at the University of Utrecht, where she is majoring in Human Rights. She has worked as an intern at the European Centre for Conflict Prevention.
- George Ayittey: Conflict Resolution in Traditional Africa
- The follow text has been extracted from a page on the Georgia State University web site. The URL is http://www-pals.gsu.edu/~finjws/conflict.htm
The writer, not identified there, is Prof. George Ayittey
- Conflict Resolution in Traditional Africa 1 Feb 99
In much of Africa, these structures (for the peaceful resolution of disputes) are woefully lacking. Thus, a trivial political dispute can easily escalate into a full-blown civil war that sends refugees streaming in all directions. A typical example was the February 1994 deadly ethnic conflict in northern Ghana between the Konkomba, the Nanumba, the Dagomba, and the Gonja, which claimed over 2,000 lives. The conflict was started by a simple dispute over the price of a fowl. This dispute flared up into a general conflict because there was no local institution for resolving disputes.
Tension had long been simmering among the ethnic groups. At issue was the Konkomba claim to paramountcy and a traditional council. They contended that they had their own land, their own political district, and their own culture and language. Their "land" comprised the entire Oti Basin, stretching from the northern tip of the Northern Region to the northern part of the Volta Region, which they claimed to have inhabited as far back as the seventeenth century. As such, they claimed to be entitled to a paramountcy to be sited at Saboba.
According to the Ya-Na, king of the Dagbon, "the Konkombas do not own any land in Dagbon. Rather they cohabit on Dagbon land with Dagbamba and will never be given the land they were seeking." "I can assure you that much as I am resolved never to cede a square inch of of Dagbon land, I am equally determined that all persons on Dagbon land should enjoy the protection of the law and should be free to pursue their legitimate business unhindered by any person or authority" (Ghana Drum, April 1994, 21).
Since the dispute could not be solved at the local level, the case had to be referred to Accra, the seat of government. But it took time to get the facts of the case to Accra. Even then, Accra was notoriously slow in responding. It might send government delegations or promise a commission of inquiry while people were being killed. Worse, Accra took sides in the dispute.
As many as 18 National Democratic Congress members of parliament from the Northern Region sided with the Nanumba-Dagbon. Most reprehensible were allegations by Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, MP for Bimbilla in the Nanumba District, that the Konkombas started the violence, with the backing of the government of Togo. An NDC minister without portfolio added fuel to the fire by calling upon the government to "teach the Konkombas a lesson they deserve." In cases such as this, African governments fail to act with scrupulous neutrality and thereby aggravate the conflict.
Brukum, N. J. K, The Guinea Fowl, Mango andPito Wars: Episodes in the History of Northern Ghana, 1980-1999 GhanaUniversities Press, Accra, 2001.
Brukum, N. J. K, Ethnic Conflict in NorthernGhana, 1980-1999: An Appraisal, Transactions of the Historical Association ofGhana, New Series, nos. 4 & 5 (2000-2001)
Cardinall, Allan W A, West African MonolithMan V21 1921 No 82 Pp 13 6-13 7 A Brief Account Of The Great Konkomba Fetish AtWaguli In The Yendi District. Of Northern Ghana
Cardinall,Allan W, Some Random Notes On The Customs Of The Konkomba, Journal of theAfrican Society V18 N69 Oct 1918
Parsons, DSt. John, More Legends of Northern Ghana Longmans 1960 (also Legends of NorthernGhana) Dagomba (includes: The Fire Festival, Moli DagbaniEmpire, Kakara - Pin Konkomba)
Prussin,Labelle, Architecture in Northern Ghana a study of forms and function BerkelyCalif 1969 (includes a Konkomba hamlet, Yankezia, a Dagomba village,Kasuliyfli, a Gonja village Larabanga)
Steele,Mary, Weed Gretchen Collected Language notes Legon Inst of African StudiesCollected field reports on the phonology of KonkombaTait, David,The political System of the Konkomba Africa vol XXII
Tait,David, Konkomba, Encyclopaedia Britannica
Talton,Benjamin A., 'Food to eat and pito to drink.' Education, local politics andself-help initiatives in Northern Ghana, 1945-1972, Transactions of theHistorical Society of Ghana, New Series, No. 7 (2003) pp205-29. ("The efforts ofKonkomba western-educated leaders, beginning in the 1950s, to establishpolitical unity and development amongst Konkombas in order to achieve greaterpolitical autonomy and viability were a continuation of the more disparateKonkomba challenges to Dagomba authority during the 1930s and 40s." Refersto the same author's doctoral dissertation, "Ethnic Insurgency and SocialChange: A History of the Konkomba of Northern Ghana," University ofChicago, 2003.)Konkombaapproaches to mental health
Tait, David,Spirits of the Bush: a note on personal religion among the Konkomba, UniversitasVI Dec 1953
Twumasi, PA, Medical Systems in Ghana Ghana Publishing Corp 1975. Chapter 2 TheTraditional Social system Chapter 3 Traditional Medicine