"Militarizing" the Nkonya-Alavanyo conflict won't solve the fundamental problems

Wed, 14 Jan 2015 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Monday, January 12, 2015

Folks, social unrests in Ghana can be traced to two major factors: chieftaincy and land disputes. We also have conflicts resulting from ethnic or tribal differences. Anything else sparking spontaneous unrests may include politically motivated disputes, breakdown of law and order, or any other spur-of-the-moment or flash-in-the-pan occurrence.

The perennial conflict between the people of Alavanyo and Nkonya, not to mention the Tsito and Awudome one) in the Volta Region has bothered the various governments and people, but no permanent solution has so far emerged to resolve that conflict.

The Mahama-led administration is particularly noteworthy for attempting to control the situation by imposing a curfew on the two communities (Nkonya and Alavanyo), which seemed to have worked for w ahile until the chiefs and people of the affected areas kicked against it and the citizens defied such a control mechanism. The situation has defied solution.

The attempt by the government to solve the problem is taking a new dimension, especially after Vice President Amissah-Arthur recently admonished the rival factions and warned that the government won't tolerate their intransigence any more. Some measures have begun being put in place, but peace negotiation and conflict resolution efforts seem a long shot away from registering anything substantial.

All of a sudden, the government has moved a notch higher to flex muscles through the military. We have heard the news to that effect:

"The Ghana Armed Forces are moving their shooting range installation and other operation units to the Nkonya-Alavanyo area in the Volta Region. These installations, currently located at Bundanse in the Greater Accra Region, are being relocated to the conflict-prone Nkonya-Alavanyo communities to also make way for the construction of an airport.

Interior Minister, Mark Woyongo, says the move by the military is one of the surest ways of restoring peace and harmony in the two towns.

A permanent military training school will also be established between Alavanyo and Nkonya in the Biakoye District of the Volta Region by end of the year.

The two communities have been involved in bloody conflicts over a disputed land for decades. (See more at: http://www.myjoyonline.com/news/2015/January-12th/military-moves-shooting-range-installation-to-nkonya-alavanyo-communities-to-end-recurrent-conflict.php#sthash.FzslHOfY.dpuf).


Many issues arising from this new development are mind-boggling. First, the decision to move the shooting range installation and other operation units of the Ghana Armed Forces to that area suggests that the aspect of "jaw-jawing" is over and done away with. The intimidation characterized by this decision won't solve the fundamental problems. The military installation will be situated on the disputed land area; not so? Which should prevent any of the two factions from laying claim to that land space; right? What happens if a future government reverses this decision?

The point is that the Nkrumah government (or any other after it) that chose Bundase for whatever it has been all these years did so on the basis of sound judgement justified by the objective reality of the time. Has that objective reality changed today to warrant the relocation? And what happens to the Bundase land (even though there is the indication that an airport will be constructed on it)?

I hear the chiefs and people have begun agitating for their land to be given them. Or will the state still own that land space---and put it to what use for the good of the country (an airport)? I have very serious doubts about such a project ever materializing in my lifetime.

Flashback: A similar grandiose project was announced by Kojo Yankah when he was the Central Regional Minister that the government was going to construct an airport at Mempeasem, near Cape Coast; and that land had already been acquired and some level of development begun to that effect. Many years thereafter, what do we have?

Moving the military away from there leaves the land open for anything to happen there tomorrow. The seed of another conflict being sown already?

I have no qualms about the establishment of a permanent military training school anywhere in Ghana; but choosing the Alavanyo-Nkonya conflict as the springboard for such a venture raises serious issues.

Why is it difficult for us in this part of the world to resolve conflicts provoked by land and chieftaincy disputes?

Neither the local houses of chiefs, the regional nor the national ones have made any serious move to help the government control the situation. Is there no decent and civilized means to establish a reliable line of succession so the perennial unrests occurring all over the country can be stopped?

Why is it difficult for the government to enforce existing provisions on lands in Ghana as state property vested in the state and only in the various areas with the chiefs as mere custodians who shouldn't have any right to dispose of those lands as if they own them as bona fide property?

In civilized societies, every piece of land anywhere (especially virgin land) is automatically regarded as the property of the state or the local government that oversees the area. Land tenure rules and regulations are rigidly upheld and enforced such that no one can lay claim to any land space without sorting things out with the government bureaucracy.

It is not only the land but also any feature on it. For instance, there are limitations regarding how one handles any feature (including trees). One cannot just fell any tree or do anything that has an effect on the land or ecology without being taken to task. Even if the land is genuinely acquired, one has to follow regulations on developing, using, and maintaining it. The law bites deep!!

Not so in Ghana, where anything goes. We are so backward in our thinking and use of resources that our acts eventually end up destroying the system. Why are we like that?

I want to say that the decision regarding this mililtary "show-of-force" may serve transient purposes but won't help us resolve the Alavanyo-Nkonya conflict. The best solution is for those who know the real cause of the problem to be bold enough to sit down to resolve it. Then, a permanent regime can be established for these neighbours to live in peace.

My final thought or quip: There are many hotbeds or storm-centres in the country as far as conflicts bordering on chieftaincy and land disputes are concerned. Currently, the military have a presence in the Bawku area, but the conflict still rages on, even if the internecine attacks by the Mamprusis and Kusasis have subsided. The hot coal is still burning deep within the ashes of seemingly stable Bawku.

Will the government move the military around to all those hotbeds and storm-centres as a means to solve such conflict situations? How much can the military take on, even when complains are emerging that it lacks resources or that the government hasn't allocated enough funds to it? And do we think that a military solution is good for a civilian problem (land dispute) that needs hob-nobbing and not muscle-flexing?

Let us learn how to resolve conflicts without using force. In a democracy, dialogue and equanimity should be the main channels for resolving conflicts, not military force (which creates an unfortunate impression and bolsters the ego of the military—a potential for confusion, knowing very well how the military have used numerous reasons to intervene in national politics). The military shouldn’t be used to play this frontline role. The problem can be solved if the authorities put in place the appropriate mechanisms. We shouldn’t create the impression that in our democracy, the military is the first point of call. It should be the last resort, only after civilians have failed to solve problems that endanger social cohesion. My take!!

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.