Rejoinder: Bawku conflict: Truth must be told
The opinion by Rev Prof John Azumah published in two parts on March 7 and 8, 2023 editions of Daily Graphic titled “Bawku Conflict: Truth Must Be Told“.
As a native of Bawku who has witnessed various stages of the conflict (violent and restive periods) since the 80s as a child, I have always maintained that the Bawku conflict is probably the most misunderstood and misrepresented dispute in Ghana.
This, in my opinion, explains why the government and other major stakeholders are having great difficulty in finding a lasting solution to the problem.
Thus, it was refreshing to see Rev Azumah choose “telling the truth” as the title for his piece. But did he really narrate the truth? And what is the truth? These questions will be the focus of this rejoinder and to make it easier for the reader to do a comparative analysis of the issues raised by Rev Azumah and this article, I have chosen to structure this rejoinder along the same subheadings used by Rev Azumah in his opinion piece.
I believe strongly that after going through this piece, the careful reader will come to the conclusion that what has been touted by Rev Azumah as the truth is nothing but fallacies that have been propagated for several years under the famous Nazi principle “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”.
Chieftaincy, the main issue
After acknowledging the fact that chieftaincy is the root cause of the Bawku conflict, Rev Azumah proceeded to rehash false assertions that he and some Kusasis have continued to peddle for several years. He said “Mamprusis from the North-East Region claim to be rightful rulers of Bawku because their forefathers were enskinned as Bawku Naba by the chief of Nalerigu or Nayiri during colonial times.
Kusasis counter-claim that Bawku is their traditional territory and that Mamprusi chiefs were imposed on them during colonial rule in 1932”. It will interest the reader to note that this particular assertion by Rev Azumah is the main fuel and driving force that has been used by some self-proclaimed Kusasis like Dugyeli Hebi who originally is Bissa by tribe to start the Bawku crisis in 1957.
It was also the same false assertions that were reintroduced in 1979 to rekindle the Bawku conflict, whose fires have been difficult to extinguish. Thus, it is very important to show how this assertion is a fallacy so that the innocent youth who have been deceived into believing they are fighting for their “independence” as propagated, will know that they are fighting a senseless war founded on false convictions.
A key point of interest is how Rev Azumah disingenuously says “Mamprusis from North-East Region…” just to create a false sense of invasion to justify their so-called war for “independence”.
In the first place, it should be placed on record that political administrative boundaries have no place when matters of Chieftaincy and tradition are the subject of discussion.
Chieftaincy predates the introduction of modern-day administrative boundaries and long before the arrival of the colonialists, there already existed kingdoms and states in Africa of which the Mamprugu Kingdom was established in the 13th century.
The anthropologist, Captain R. S. Rattray in his book “The Tribes of the Ashanti Hinterland” categorically did not mince words when he said that “Bawku is really Mamprusi and not Kusase, founded by the ruling class”. This fact is re-echoed in all historical records, both oral and written.
The Mole-Dagbani Kingdom started right in Pusiga (8-10km from Bawku) by Naa Gbewaa. Naa Gbewaa was succeeded by his son Naa Tusugu (Tohagu), who is the father of the Mamprusis and he consolidated the territories of the Kingdom to as far as present-day Burkina Faso, present day Togo, the entire present-day Upper East and North-East Regions.
Whilst moving his capital to Gambaga, Tosugu still maintained control over the ancestral home Pusiga and its surroundings which are part of his Kingdom. In fact, J. K. G Syme in his book “The Kusasis: a short history” clearly stated how Naa Tosugu selected someone to stay and take care of their (Mamprusis, Dagombas, and Nanumbas) father’s shrine in Pusiga and how after the death of the caretaker, prospective caretakers had to travel to Naa Tosugu and subsequently his descendants (Nayiris) to appoint a new successor.
This explains why if you go to Pusiga today, the caretakers of the Gbewaa shrine swear by Tosugu after Gbewaa. Thus, the ancestral home of Pusiga and its surrounding areas which includes Bawku being under the Mamprugu Kingdom has never been in doubt.
The attempt to depict the control of the Nayiri over the ancestral home in Pusiga and Bawku as some people in the “North-East Region” claiming to control Bawku is very disingenuous.
Furthermore, the fact that the Bawku chieftaincy (skin) was started by Mamprusis has never been in doubt just as the founding of Bawku was by Mamprusis. The Bawku skin was founded by the 10th Nayiri by the name Naa Atabia who ruled from 1690 to 1740/41.
He named the place Bawku in Mamprusi because of the low-lying nature of the place when viewed from the Gambaga escarpment. Indeed, this fact has been corroborated by J. K. G Syme in his book about the history of Bawku, “The first chief of Bawku was Ali, son of Na Atabia of Mamprusi…”.
Thus, recent attempts in the 21st century claiming that Mamprusis were made chiefs of Bawku by the colonialist in 1932 is not only disingenuous, but laughable. How can the founding of a chieftaincy by Na Atabia who ruled from 1690 to the 1700s be suddenly transmogrified and described as something that was started by the colonialist in 1932?
All the records show that Bawku had chiefs who were purely Mamprusis from the lineage of Naa Atabia before 1932. In fact, as of 1932, Bawku had 10 successive chiefs who were Mamprusis. This is clearly captured and demonstrated by J. K. G Syme in his book where he showed the genealogy chart of the Bawku chieftaincy (skin) tracing the lineage of all the 10 chiefs before 1932 to Naa Atabia (1690-1740/1) who founded the skin in 1721.
And all the records show that what happened in 1931 was not the founding of the Bawku chieftaincy but rather an elevation of the skin amongst the 18 cantons. The event of 1931 deserves a whole chapter on its own but the following brief factual comments will suffice for now for the purposes of this rejoinder.
All the records as captured by the official reports show that there was no compulsion in the selection of the then Bawku Naaba (Naa Bugri Mamboda) as the head of the canton chiefs in 1931. In fact, evidence shows that it was a unanimous decision of which the rest of the cantons consisting of Mamprusi, Kusasi, Bissa, Bimoba, and Mossi chiefs willingly chose the 10th Bawku Naaba who was enskinned by the Nayiri in 1921 as their head and that is how come the status of the Bawku skin has been the head of the cantons (now divisions) up til today.
All the records capture the event as one with “scenes of enthusiasm” with the then “Kusasnaba (Ayeebo) pleased with the outcome as anyone else”.
And that the Bawku Naaba came to the 1931 conference as Bawku Naaba because he was enskinned by the Nayiri in 1921 (10 years earlier) as Bawku Naaba.
As such, the 21st-century attempt to depict this event as the beginning of the Bawku skin is a distortion at misleading unsuspecting youth. As indicated earlier, Bawku had 10 successive chiefs before the 1931 event and they were all unambiguously referred to as Bawku Naaba.
Furthermore, the attempt and misrepresentation to say choosing the Bawku Naaba as head of the canton chiefs was choosing a head chief for the Kusasis is a fallacy. They are deliberately allowing themselves to be misled by the misnomer earlier chosen by the colonialist to refer to the area as Kusasi.
However, as the colonialist themselves acknowledged and confessed in their 1931 Annual report, the Bawku area was “distinctly Mamprusi”.
Furthermore, the 18 cantons were not all Kusasi. Binduri, Worikambo, Tanga, Teshie, and Sinnebaga are also purely Mamprusi and their genealogical royal lineages have been clearly traced by J. K. G Syme in his book.
Kulungungu is Bissa, Kugri is Mossi, Kpikpira is Bimoba whereas areas like Kusanaba, Binaba, Zebilla, etc were Kusasi with each canton having it’s own chief. So the cantons were ethnically diverse all under the jurisdiction of the Nayiri and not Kusasi cantons.
But unfortunately, the bizarre narrative of “colonialism” is pushed by the likes of Rev Azumah who as a reverend minister and professor as he claims should have shown fidelity to the facts and not mislead the Kusasi youth into fighting what they wrongly believe is a struggle for independence.
A question for Rev Azumah and those on his path is that what are you telling the Bissa cantons and Bimoba cantons who you claim to enskin? Is that also colonialism since divisions like Kulungungu and Kpikpira are purely Bissa and Bimoba respectively?
It will be interesting to note that the reign of Na Atabia who founded the Bawku skin coincided with the reign of Ndewura Jakpa who founded the Gonja Kingdom as well as Otumfour Osei Tutu I who founded the first Asante state. It was also during this period that the chieftaincy and skins of places in the Upper East like Bongo and Nangode were started by two sons of the same Na Atabia. Also, it was a grandson of the same Na Atabia who started the Builsa (Sandema) skin. This is the comparative context that will help the reader understand why the agenda spearheaded by the likes of Rev Azumah is one of destruction and not peacebuilding. It is just like saying the chieftaincy, skins, and stools started during the same period as the Bawku skin be disintegrated and dismantled.
With the facts established above showing how the Bawku skin and its surrounding areas have been from the beginning part of the Mamprugu Kingdom and the falsity of the claim that some people in the North-East are crossing over to Bawku, let’s now interrogate his claim that Bawku is part of the Kusasi traditional territory. For the uninitiated, Rev Azumah’s claim which is false even on the face of it has been misrepresented severally and repeatedly to appear to be the truth. In fact, there are people who claim to be Kusasis and their first orientation is that Kusasis were created on the Bawku land.
They are very ignorant of the fact that all the historical records (oral and written) are replete with evidence that the Kusasis migrated to the Zebilla and Bawku areas from Yuiga, Biengu, Zawga, and Abugre which are all located in presented-day Burkina Faso.
This fact has been repeated severally by J. K. G Syme in his book and Addendum and has never been denied by Kusasis. In fact, in a written memorandum submitted by Cletus Avoka and Joseph Abanga on behalf of the Kusasis to the 1984 Committee to Investigate the Bawku Lands Disputes, they admitted this fact stating that Kusasis migrated from Yuiga and Biengu in present-day Burkina Faso in two large groups to settle in the Zebilla and Bawku areas. All these migrations to the Bawku area and Zebilla areas occurred after the founding of the Mamprugu Kingdom by Tosugu when he inherited his father Naa Gbewaa.
This fact is clearly stated by J. K. G Syme in his book when he acknowledged that the history of the migrations in Bawku and its surrounding areas he delved into excluded the period of the first founding of the state by Naa Gbewaa. Thus, in so far as the Nayiri’s control over the area since the 13th/14th century has been established as above, subsequent migrations by the Kusasis from present-day Burkina Faso to the Bawku area can never be described as owners of the Bawku Traditional territory. In fact, J. K. G. Syme acknowledges this fact when he narrated how the first Kusanaba after migrating from the Kusasi ancestral home in present day Burkina Faso to settle in the present-day Kusanaba had to travel to the Nayiri to pay homage.
This clearly showed that he acknowledged the authority of the Nayiri over the area and that he the Kusanaba and his people were migrants/settlers in the area. Unfortunately, these incontestable facts have been hidden by Rev Azumah whilst fallacies are spread to the youth leading them to fight a senseless war built upon false convictions.
He does not see the 21st-century usurpation attempts by people (he and his likes) who migrated from present-day Burkina Faso as a problem but pretends to see people who founded Bawku as aliens from North-East Region.
On a lighter and funny note, the question Rev Azumah should answer is, between someone from North – East Region and someone from Burkina-Faso who can claim the right of territory in Ghana?
Read also: Bawku Conflict: Truth must be told (Part 2)
The writer is a grandson of 12th Bawku Naaba, Naa Saa Wuni Bugri (1951 – 1956)