Conflict in north could threaten elections

Ghana’s President Kufuor has demanded an immediate end to a conflict between two ethnic groups in the north of the country that has claimed at least 17 lives in the last week and which observers warn could jeopardise presidential elections later this year.

“Citizens of Ghana are being axed savagely and monies we need for development are going down the drain,” President Kufuor said in an emergency meeting with traditional leaders and members of parliament from the northeastern town Bawku. 

Bawku, which has a predominantly Muslim population of 206,000, has been under a dusk to dawn curfew since January when several days of violence starting on New Year’s Day led to four deaths and large parts of the town being burned. Further clashes between the Mamprusi and Kusasi in March left two more dead.

Kufuor said the local officials should be “ashamed” of the events in Bawku where 17 people have been murdered in a new spat between the Mamprusi and Kusasi ethnic groups in the last week that locals say started in a dispute over the theft of a horse.

Bawku has a long history as a flashpoint town in Ghana. In 2001 at least 28 people were killed there when factions clashed in another battle apparently sparked by a relatively small crime, the destruction of a small shop.

However with general elections just six months away there are fears volatility could trigger widespread violence in the run-up to polls.

The executive secretary of the West African Network for Peace Building (WANEP), Emmanuel Bombandey, said: “Political undertones of the conflict could exacerbate the bloodshed unless a solution is found now.”

The international human rights group Amnesty International has expressed concern about the lack of political will to solve the crisis. The group said in a statement that the failure to resolve the conflict stems from a “game of hurt no one in order to win all votes”.

President Kufuor has held two separate rounds of talks with leaders of the two rival ethnic factions this year.

Ghana’s electoral commission told IRIN a meeting with all the country’s political parties has been fixed for next month to discuss the situation and its implications on the elections.

“If we allow things to get out of hand then we are holding the whole of Ghana to ransom,” Kufuor said on 26 June at the meeting with local officials.

“The entire nation could be engulfed and we will no longer be able to show the outside world a positive image,” he warned.

Northern Ghana is riddled with conflicts over ethnicity as well as over who has rights to assume certain chieftaincies - local government positions. There are over 40 ethnic groups in the country.

In 2007, six people, including a policeman, died in a chieftaincy conflict in the Volta Region in the east.

em/nr/aj