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Confronting Our Demons; It is about Time.

Almost forty-five years ago, an event occurred in Yendi and left an indelible mark on me, an impressionable skinny, gap-toothed pre-teen; it was a gray, dull morning and the harmattan had thrown a cordon over the small sleepy town. Like other startled residents, I was jostled out of bed by the rapid sound of gunfire. The sound was loud and sustained.

There was no mistaking where the salvos came from…..the palace of the Paramount Chief of Yendi. Predictably, there was fear in the air; something had gone dreadfully wrong.  But what was it? I did not have a clue. And neither did any of the adults who were just as scared out of their wits like I was.  

Later, as snippets of information began to seep out about the morning event, we learnt deep sadness that a contingent of the Ghana Armed Forces which was brought in from Tamale to quell simmering tensions between two rival chieftaincy factions, had opened fire on a group of people and reportedly killed a number of them.  

The incident marked the beginning of a decades-long chieftaincy dispute that continues to rattle Yendi to this day. Since then other conflicts, ethnic in nature, have racked the northern region, leaving in their wake death, destruction, traumatized citizens and squandered opportunities.  

I would assume that it was against this deathly background that President John Mahama exhorted traditional Chiefs earlier this month to do rein in the twin evils of chieftaincy disputes and ethnic conflicts in the region.  He caustically observed that the region’s snail pace development was due in large part to these seemingly intractable problems.

“President Mills stood for peace and if you are able to use his death to settle all the chieftaincy disputes it will become one of the biggest legacies the late Presidents Mills administration would have left for Ghana,” Mahama told the visiting traditional leaders who were in Accra to express their condolences on the death of the President John Arthur Mills.

Who better to be the recipients of Pres. Mahama’s poignant message than traditional rulers, who despite claims to the contrary, are still repositories of power and authority? However, the fact that communal violence continues to soar in the region demonstrates the difficulties the traditional leaders face. It doubtlessly an uphill task; ancient animosities are not easily surmountable.   

Which explains why placing the onus on traditional rulers as the President did was a bit misplaced.  For all I know, it minimizes the role ordinary northerners who are always the victims of violence could play in ultimately finding solutions to chronic disputes.

I know the President forcefully made his point to the traditional leaders.  But he engaged in generalities and refrains we hear so often from politicians on the “northern problem.” These days using stats, numbers and graphs to augment a speech is the way forward. Power Point Presentation, anybody.  Time may have been truncated that day, but it would been worth while presenting stark details of the havoc violence wrecks on the north.

The inherent aesthetic value of a Power Point Presentation is enormous. Graphic images of death and destruction, however repugnant, have the added value of potentially changing the minds of those bent on causing mayhem. Take the 2008 general elections for instance. The pre-election deluge of advertisements in 2008 depicting the human carnage in Sierra Leone and Liberia during their civil wars, though graphic and deeply disconcerting, prompted Ghanaians to think long and hard about the absurdity and folly of engaging in post elections violence.

I am convinced aplenty that were he armed with facts and figures, the President would have certainly made a real deep impression on the gathered audience. Northern Ghana needs this kind of rude awakening.  A depiction of the grim realities of the violence that continues to haunt the region and makes it a caricature will jolt northerners out of their deep slumber.

There is a dearth of data on the violence in the area. Since the outbreak of communal violence nearly half a century ago, hard facts on the number of dead, IDP (internally displaced people) and the value of property and businesses destroyed is conspicuously missing have hardly been compiled for future reference.  

Each outbreak of violence is done due diligence by the local press, which splashes the blood-letting on the front pages and the evening TV and Radio broadcast. Commissions are then set up and reports and recommendations written, but the violence continues nonetheless.

It is time northerners geared up and confront head-on our raging demons; time to reevaluate our priorities and set progressive goals. We need to catch up with the rest of the country. Need we be reminded that the violence is a drag on our regions, more aptly a scourge that is relentlessly disruptive as it hobbling and not to mention the deprivation it foists on us? Sadly, the periodic bouts of mayhem that convulse our part of the world ignobly define us. There is a way out of this conundrum. We are a resilient people.

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