and Ethnic Conflicts in Africa: Ghana's Example
of Ghana, Legon
People are organised in their traditional milieu by their ethnicity.
Thus, in Africa and indeed, in other parts of the world, ethnic groupings
give identity to people within the context of nationalism. Factors that
have influenced ethnic behaviours have been: pride, superiority and inferiority
complexes, hatred emanating from success of the other ethnic group, discrimination
against the minorities and the question of land ownership.
The Konkomba / Nanumba / Dagomba / Gonja ethnic conflicts of
1917, 1940 and 1996 confirmed some of the factors enumerated above. The
immediate causes of the conflicts were ownership of land and complex arising
from ethnic superiority on the side of the Konkomba's opponents.
The wild Konkomba who lived in villages were supposed to pay allegiance
to the YaNa and the Dagomba sub-chiefs who were the original owners of
the land. Though the Konkomba have lived among the Dagomba for a long
time, the latter had never regarded them as owners of the land (Figs.
1 & 2). The strangers, that is, the Konkomba are not centrally organised,
therefore talking to them has always been a problem. When they take up
arms, it becomes difficult to stop them because it is not easy to talk
to a group of people who are organisationally disjointed.
The Konkomba are now being empowered to develop chiefship. This idea
is being spearheaded by the Konkomba Youth Association KOYA, while the
question of land ownership is being addressed.
The term ethnicity refers to a group of people with a common socio/cultural
identity such as: language, common worldview, religion and common cultural
traits. It is used interchangeably with the term Tribe. Unfortunately,
the early European writers used the term "tribe" to refer to a group of
uncivilised people, as if it had a different meaning from the term "ethnic
group". A European writer will refer to ethnic Albanians (because they
are Europeans and refer to the Nanumba tribe).(1)
It must, however, be stated that the main tenets associated with an ethnic
group are the same as a tribe.
In Ghana, like most parts of Africa, the colonialists encouraged factionalism
and used it to rule the people through their tribal chiefs.(2) Due
to the fact that tribalism is so rooted in Africa, it has been postulated
that it is important that ethnicity in Africa should be considered and
analysed in the context of contemporary economical and socio-political
changes. (3) This is because it plays such a significant role in both
local and national polity.
Certainly, the so-called Northern Conflict like other conflicts in Ethiopia,
Eritrea, Liberia, Nigeria and several African countries have ethnic dimensions.(4)
In the case of Northern Ghana a small area, as the map depicts, contains
about seven ethnic groups each with its district cultural traits and allegiance
to its central polity. The administrative districts created by the Central
Administration of Ghana just dumped these groups together without any
ethnic group consideration or aspirations. This manner of grouping alone
was bound to generate conflicts. (5)
of Ethnic Conflict in the North
The geographic distribution of the Konkomba ethnic groups (Fig. 2) shows
a widespread distribution of the group among the other ethnic groups.
Unfortunately, the land tenure system among the ethnic groups regard the
Konkomba groups as landless. The truth of the matter was that the Konkomba
who lived in the Togo (French) territory made a safe haven of the Gold
Coast, whenever they committed an offence in Togo. Therefore the Konkomba
of Ghana and their compatriots from Togo who were regarded as criminals
and landless(6) had lived in Ghana unhindered.
The second problem is the fact that they are a minority group among the
well established ethnic groups such as the Dagomba, the Nanumba and the
Gonja. The number of Konkomba bandits from Togo kept swelling up while
the British Colonial Administration of the Gold Coast refused to extradite
or repatriate them.(7) These landless and lawless people without
a traditional central authority appeared uncontrollable.
The Konkomba of Ghana has no central political authority. They are a people
who only have the clan heads as their leaders. Martinson (1995) observed:
"It is important to note that, according to Konkomba political theory
and practice, in any clan emergency, the clan head sends out messengers
to summon members of the clan who have broken away from the parent village.
The summons is one which may not be denied. The usual summons even today,
regrettably enough, is the call to arms" (p.49)
I think this political philosophy of the Konkomba was expedient for their
survival among people who regarded them as not only hostile but aliens.
They also have the Tindana, the Priest of the land/earth, who handles
their spiritual affairs. The religiosity of these people is so strong
that the Tindana holds such a tremendous sway on them.
Unfortunately, the Konkomba of Ghana do not consider themselves as aliens.
History among the Konkomba has it that they were the first to occupy the
heartland of Dagbon, that is the Yendi area. This claim was vehemently
rejected by the account of Mr. Geofferey Parker, Acting District Commissioner,
Yendi in 1924. (8)
The point is that even if they lived in the Dagbon heartland as people
of the soil, they were easily defeated by the centrally and militarily
organised invaders. And because they could not build permanent settlements,
but rather lived on shifting cultivation basis, no body gave them the
chance as the original owners of the land. The Konkomba never had a lasting
influence on the socio-political landscape.
One major weakness among the Konkomba is their socio-political system.
Since they do not have a centralised or focal point of mobilisation for
peaceful purposes, therefore it becomes difficult to talk to them. They
only seem to come together when they see themselves threatened.
Martinson (1995) opined that "the most dangerous and destabilising
groups of the Konkombas are those who have never had the opportunity of
staying in Dagbon or Nanuung to test the conscience of the people and
their hospitality." (p.65) (9) .
The last but crucial problem has been the ownership of the territory
now called Dagbon, Gonja and Nanuum. The ethnic Konkomba think that they
were the original settlers in those areas and must be accorded such a
status. On Gonja land, C.A. Wallace, the Ag. District Commissioner in
a letter dated 19th December, 1925 at p.5 noted: "The land belongs to
Kombi Stool and it is not permitted to alienate any portion of it without
the Stool holder being consulted".(p.85) (10)
In the case of Western Dagomba, distinction is made between the
Tindana, the Earth priest, and a Chief. The earth priest did not own the
land, he only propitiated the spirits of the earth/land. While the Chief
was the of owner the land in Trust for his subjects. A. J. Cutfield, the
District Commissioner on 14th February, 1927 wrote: "For all land in Dagbon,
the People, the Community, the Stool, the Chief on behalf of the people
for the period of his occupation as representing them, is termed the owner."
Martinson, quoting the Ag. District Commissioner of Yendi mentioned the
conquest of Yendi land as a thing of the past. He wrote: As far as can
be gathered from Linguists, and Troubadours attached to Na of Yendi's
court, the conquest of what we now call Dagbon took place during the First
twenty years of the fifteenth century. That is in 1420 AD." p.88 (12)
If these are the territories the Konkomba are claiming today as theirs
then it cannot be supported by any historical fact.
These problems are the result of wars which the Konkomba have been waging
with the other ethnic groups among whom they live.
There had been several conflicts/wars between the Konkomba and other ethnic
groups such as the Dagomba and the Nanumba, for example in 1940. That
was the Zegbeli War: Konkomba vrs. Dagomba. The Konkomba were found guilty
as the aggressors. Martinson. (13)
The 1940 conflict was not the first encounter between the Konkomba and
Between 1914 and 1917, a period which coincided with the First World War,
the Konkomba were said to be "hysterically busy cleansing the Dagomba
in Northern Ghana." (p.54) (14) Also between 1940 and 1943, the
Konkomba unilaterally declared war against the Dagomba. This incidentally
was during the peak of World War II.
The Second Konkomba/Dagomba War was baptised the Cow War. Martinson clearly
explains the cause of the Konkomba attack: "... That the Chief of Zegbeli
(a Dagomba) had secretly come to an agreement with the British Veterinary
Officer to kill their cows by administering a rinderpest dose, which to
them (the Konkombas) was not proper. Hence since it was a Dagomba Chief
who led the Veterinary Officers to their Kraals, all the Dagomba, including
their Chiefs, should die as a result of the loss of Konkomba cattle."
Indeed, the Konkomba complied when the Chief of Zegbeli was killed before
the police arrived. Hence, this War was baptised the Cow War.
The third recorded Konkomba/Dagomba war lasted from 19th to 21th May,1946.
The war started when a Dagombaman was found fishing in a pond the Konkomba
claimed belonged to them. Hence the Fish War.
of the Northern Conflict
In most ethnic conflicts, while the majority use their sheer numbers to
traumatise the minority, here, it is rather the minority who employed
their aggressive attitude to start the conflict. Through their distribution,
they are scattered among the other ethnic groups, but live their isolated
lives. With the support of their kinsmen across the Ghana/Togo international
border, they were able to cause mayhem on the people amongst whom they
live. The Konkomba are feared not only as archers but also as good marksmen
when they hold the gun.
In the last conflict, in 1995, people wondered how they came by the sophisticated
AK47 assault guns and communication equipment.
With the scenario painted about the Konkomba, any time they get any flimsy
excuse they may take up arms again. In view of this, the government has
set up a permanent Review Committee as well as Police Peace Keeping Service
in the affected areas in the Northern Region, just to contain the Konkomba.
In addition to the above arrangement, consideration may be given to a
Ten-point Peace Plan put forth by Prof. Martinson: (15)
A total ban of firearms (including bows and arrows) in the Northern Region
of Ghana for an unspecified time.
Note: The people of the North use bows and arrows for hunting purposes.
2. A non-aggression pact to be signed by the warring factions and
witnessed by the UN.
Note: The Konkomba genocide, unlike the other ethnic conflicts,
had not attracted the attention of United Nations or the International
3. All those found liable for the genocide in the North (burning
down of houses, villages, killing of children, women and old men) should
be tried by special tribunals.
4. Compensation for life and property lost in this 'Konkomba War'
should either be paid by the aggressors or from the donations by
Note: I do not see how foreign donors should come in. Since the Konkomba
have taken to arms with very flimsy excuses they should be made to pay
for the damages they cause on otherwise peaceful ethnic groups.
5. Regional Assemblies should be created in all the 10 Regional
Capitals, starting from the Northern and Volta Regions, because of the
Note: This will mean an amendment in the country's Constitution.
Our Constitution has persistently stood against regionalism which eventually
leads into Federalism. Ghana voted against this system of governance,
as far back as 1954 and 1956.
6. Creation of Regional Vigilantes, as well as District and local Vigilantes
to be "watchdogs" of National Security to be supervised by traditional
7. Identification and registration of the Diasporan Konkomba that is the
Togo Konkomba from the indigenous Konkomba from Ghana (Nafeba, Gbimba
8. Ghanaians should be told through a Gazette the true owners of the lands
on which lived the Dagbon, the Nanuum and the Gonja. This may discourage
future incursions of aggressors into lands of peaceful a people.
9. The presence of military (bases) in Yendi, Bimbilla, Salaga and Kpandai.
A permanent Air Force base at Chereponi or Karaga and Airborne at Saboba
Geostrategically, this is very commendable, since around this area, we
can oversee what Togo is doing.
10. A proper appraisal of military accoutrements: especially the AK47s.
Who supplied the warring factions with this type of weapon, since this
is the bona fide property of the Armed Forces?
we must emphasise the peculiarity of the Northern conflict. It rather
emanates from the fierce ethnic Konkomba who are in minority but who are
materially rich because of their hard work, mainly as yam farmers. The
wealth they had amassed had given them a false sense of superiority over
the other ethnic groups amongst whom they lived. For the establishment
of peaceful coexistence they have been allowed to have a chief but the
chief has to be enthroned by the Yana whose overlordship is now not in
doubt. Now there is absolutely no cause for any Konkomba uprising in the
Northern Region of Ghana. But news filtering through indicate that the
Konkomba are still not happy with their status as aliens and landless,
a status which is very difficult to obliterate so quickly.
term tribe has a derogatory characteristic
(2). Mike Oquaye, 1995 ed "Politics, Society and conflict in Africa An
Overview" in Democracy and Conflict Resolution in Ghana ed. Oquaye, Accra
Old type Publication Ltd.
(3). Ibrahim J. and Pereira C., 1993 On Dividing and Uniting Ethnicity
Reaction and Nationalism in Africa, Dakar, CODIC, CODESRIA.
(4). Oquaye, 1993 Op.cit
(5). Oquaye, 1993 Ibid.
(6). Martinson, H.B., 1992 The Hidden History of Konkomba Wars.
(7). Ref. No. 2433/1928 of 19th November, 1943 Signed, Chief Commissioner,
P. O. Box 25, Tamale quoted by Martinson.
(8). Parker's letter dated 21st August, 1924, quoted by Martinson, op.cit.,
(10). Matinson quoting: Chief Commissioner's letter No.CS310, Tamale NT,
17th September, 1940.
(11). Ibid. p.87
(12). Ibid. p.88
(14). Ibid. p.54
The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author
and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO.
Les idées et opinions exprimées dans cette article sont
celles de l'auteur
et n’engagent pas la responsabilité de l´UNESCO.