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Conflict in Bawku …the truth must be told (1)

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Bawku has been in the news since November 2021 and events have taken a violent and unpredictable turn in the past few weeks. Many Ghanaians, unfortunately including some individual state, government and opposition officials, have literally ignored the violence taking place far up north or avoided commenting publicly on the issue because it is “too sensitive” or “too complicated”. Some media houses and personnel have been largely hidden and intimidated by the parties to the conflict to do objective journalistic work to educate Ghanaians on the issue. So-called security experts who know next to nothing about the geography, demographics and history of Bawk line up on national TV stations to promote misinformation and offer flimsy academic opinions.

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First, the conflict is supposed to be between Kusasis and Mamprusis (two different ethnic groups) over the chieftainship of Bawku. It is not a battle between two rival royal gates. Bawku is NOT Dagbong. The Mamprusis of the North Eastern region claim to be the rightful rulers of Bawku because their ancestors were flayed as Bawku Nabas by Chief of Nalerig or Nayiri during colonial times. The Kusasis’ counter-claim that Bawku is their traditional territory and that the Mamprusi chiefs were imposed on them during colonial rule in 1932.
When the conflict first erupted in the 1950s, the colonial government set up a commission of inquiry to investigate. A three-member committee consisting of S. D. Opoku-Afari (Chairman), Nana Yaw Agyeman Badu I – Dormaa Hene (Member) and Lure Kanton III – Tumu Koro (Member). After a visit to the area and extensive interviews with key figures from both sides, the committee recommended the following:
“The committee is satisfied that the old way of appointing a chief to go to Bawku and rule Kusasi is greatly resented by Kusasi. We felt it was undemocratic because it is dictatorial for Nayiri, who claims to be the nominal owner of the land, to send one of his Mamprusi subordinates to rule the Kusasis as their chief. We believe that the Kusasis would develop better politically, socially and economically under their own chief than under an imported chief whom they resent.’

The government of the day issued a white paper declaring the Kusasi Bawku owners and the first Kusasi Bawku Nabo, Abugrag Asigri Azoku I, elected by the Kusasis, as the rightful chief. The Mamprusis contested the findings at the Court of Appeal, which ruled in 1958 that the Bawku belonged to the Kusasis and that Abugrago Asigri Azoka I was the rightful Bawku Naba.


Azoka I ruled from 1956 to 1966, when the Military Junta passed the Chief Change Decree, NLCD 112, which destroyed and removed all chiefs who were considered sympathetic to the CPP government. So the Bawku chief was handed back to the Mamprusians. The Kusasis took up the case under the Acheampong regime in 1972, and in response the Secretary of the Supreme Military Council, G. B. Boahene, stated:
“My investigation into your allegations revealed that the area in question is called Bawku District Council and not Mamprusi District Council. This alone is proof that this area belongs to the Kusasis. Be that as it may, you may have realized that for some time there has been such a complete fusion of tribes in this area that it is difficult to distinguish between the Mamprusis and the Kusasis. It is observed that very few of the 18 cantonment chiefs in the district are Mamprusis. And when nearly all the 18 canton chiefs are Kusasi and properly skinned, it is the wish of this office to let the sleeping dogs lie.’

It is important to note that Bawku’s status as traditional land of Kusasi is reaffirmed. The only reason or excuse for the military authorities not to act at the time was the “complete fusion of the tribes” and the fact that “almost all the 18 cantonment chiefs are Kusasis”. Both conclusions are factually correct, except that although the Mamprusi settlers in Bawko have intermarried with Kusasis, Moshiys, Bisas, Hausas, etc. over the generations, and few of them today hardly speak Mampuli, they insist on their Mampuli origin and they continue to claim to be Mamprusis.
The attitude of successive military governments was the same: “let sleeping dogs lie”. But the Kusasis did not let the sleeping dogs lie and finally got a positive hearing during the PNDC regime of Jerry John Rawlings in 1983 with the passage of PNDCL 75 which reversed NLCD 112 and restored the status quo of 1957/58. The same decree posthumously described the Mamprusi Bawku Nabo, Adam Azangbe, who died in 1981, posthumously restored the late Kusasi Bawku Nabo, Abugrago Azoku I, who died in 1983, to the status of Bawku Nabo and installed his son Abugrago Asigri Azoku II as Bawku Nabo in April 1984.


In April 2003, the Mamprusis, led by Alhaji Ibrahim Adam Zangbee, filed a suit at the Supreme Court against Abugrago Asigri Azoka II, challenging the latter’s legitimacy as Bawku Naba. During the course of the case, the Mamprusis realized that their claim had no legal merit and went to court to stop the case, which had the following ruling on April 29, 2003:
The application for a stay is granted, but with no power to apply under PNDCL 75 and Articles 270 and 277 of the 1992 Constitution.Costs to the plaintiff in the amount of 10,000,000.00.
This decision was signed by Supreme Court Justices G.K. Acquah, T.K. Adzoe, S.A. Brobbey, S.G. Baddoo and DR. S. Twum. The decision meant that Azoka II’s position as Bawku Naba remained unquestioned and unassailable, and he had been the published Bawku Naba for the past thirty-nine years. Despite the Supreme Court decision, the Mamprusis refused to recognize Azoka II and at the end of 2021 decided to carry out the burial of Adam Azangbe who died in 1981 to pave the way for the withdrawal of the Mamprusi Bawku Naba Nayiri. This was clearly a provocation by Kusasis and a test for the government.

To be continued

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