HISTORY, CULTURE, RELIGION, ECONOMY
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- 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.
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.
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.
Konkomba chief) has little authority among his own people: the important
men are. . . the elders.
loyal to a fellow clansman, instantly aggressive to an outsider, they
have preserved their own way of life to this day.
. . 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. . .
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
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
. .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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
compound is a cluster of round houses distributed about a central space
and linked by a low wall.
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.
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.
compound is divided amongst wives. Each must have her own room,
kitchen, hearth. Only a woman's own children may enter her room
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Allan W., The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, London,
- 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.
Benedict G., The Slave Trade in Northern Ghana, Woeli Publishing Services,
- 9 Dagbon
The Kitab Gbunja noted that in about February
1745, "the cursed unbeliever, Opoku, entered the town of Yendi and
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
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.
Claude. La tribu Konkomba du nord Togo. Dakar, IFAN. 1954.
Click here to view illustrations of the people
and their material culture scanned from those in Froelich's book.
- Fynn J
K Asante and Its Neighbours 1700-1807 Longman 1971
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
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,
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
The Guinea Fowl War (CIDCM)
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
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
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
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
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.
Toonen: Ghana: Mediating
a Way out of Complex Ethnic Conflicts
European Platform for Conflict Prevention and
Searching for Peace in Africa
a Way out of Complex Ethnic Conflicts http://www.oneworld.org/euconflict/sfp/part2/291.htm
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*.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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>
Mekenkamp, project coordinator
Centre for Conflict Prevention
+31-30-253 75 28
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.
Bürgerkrieg in Nordghana 1994, Artur Bogner. In: Afrika Spektrum 31
Aaku - Mediation & Change, Ghana
Abbey - Executive Director African Development Programme, Ghana
Asefa - Nairobi Peace Initiative, Kenya
Burdin Asuni - director Academic Associates Peace Works, Nigeria
Jackson - director Partners for Democratic Change, Ghana
Naylor & Ada van der Linde - Oxfam UK
Richard Osei - Action Aid Ghana
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)
(additional to the ones given in the 1998 Directory)
for Democratic Change
- * 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
- George Ayittey: Conflict Resolution in
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
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.
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.
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).
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
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
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.
Brukum, N. J. K, Ethnic Conflict in Northern
Ghana, 1980-1999: An Appraisal, Transactions of the Historical Association of
Ghana, New Series, nos. 4 & 5 (2000-2001)
Cardinall, Allan W A, West African Monolith
Man V21 1921 No 82 Pp 13 6-13 7 A Brief Account Of The Great Konkomba Fetish At
Waguli In The Yendi District. Of Northern Ghana
Allan W, Some Random Notes On The Customs Of The Konkomba, Journal of the
African Society V18 N69 Oct 1918
St. John, More Legends of Northern Ghana Longmans 1960 (also Legends of Northern
Ghana) Dagomba (includes: The Fire Festival, Moli Dagbani
Empire, Kakara - Pin Konkomba)
Labelle, Architecture in Northern Ghana a study of forms and function Berkely
Calif 1969 (includes a Konkomba hamlet, Yankezia, a Dagomba village,
Kasuliyfli, a Gonja village Larabanga)
Mary, Weed Gretchen Collected Language notes Legon Inst of African Studies
Collected field reports on the phonology of Konkomba
The political System of the Konkomba Africa vol XXII
David, Konkomba, Encyclopaedia Britannica
Benjamin A., 'Food to eat and pito to drink.' Education, local politics and
self-help initiatives in Northern Ghana, 1945-1972, Transactions of the
Historical Society of Ghana, New Series, No. 7 (2003) pp205-29. ("The efforts of
Konkomba western-educated leaders, beginning in the 1950s, to establish
political unity and development amongst Konkombas in order to achieve greater
political autonomy and viability were a continuation of the more disparate
Konkomba challenges to Dagomba authority during the 1930s and 40s." Refers
to the same author's doctoral dissertation, "Ethnic Insurgency and Social
Change: A History of the Konkomba of Northern Ghana," University of
approaches to mental health
Spirits of the Bush: a note on personal religion among the Konkomba, Universitas
VI Dec 1953
A, Medical Systems in Ghana Ghana Publishing Corp 1975. Chapter 2 The
Traditional Social system Chapter 3 Traditional Medicine