Dr. Kaderi Noagah Bukari
A Concomitant of Conflict and Consensus: Case of a Chieftaincy Succession in Ghana
Peace and Conflict Studies, vol 23, no 1, article 5, pp. 1-26 (Review by F. Kröger)
Dr. Kaderi Noagah Bukari
After the violent intra- and
inter-ethnic chieftaincy conflicts in Northern Ghana (e.g. between the Kusasi
and Mamprusi, Konkomba and Dagomba/Nanumba or between family groups ("gates") in
Dagbon), significant works about conflicts – both their prevention and solution
–were published in Ghana. An example of a work focusing on this theme is A.K.
Awedoba’s comprehensive 2009 book An Ethnographic Study of Northern Ghanaian
Conflicts: Towards a Sustainable Peace.
Bukari’s article pursues a slightly different tack. His basic question is: Why did tensions and disputes during and after Bulsa chieftaincy elections never develop into violent conflicts? In answering this question, he examines the ways in which Bulsa elections to the office of chief differ from those of other Northern Ghanaian states. Among the Dagomba, for example, the office of chief/king rotates in a fixed order through various "gates", i.e. aristocratic families. Another selection mode is based on the promotional system: "...royals become chiefs of smaller villages and then move to a higher chieftaincy position until they move on to contest the paramount chief position" (Bukari p. 15).
In contrast, chieftaincy elections among the Bulsa take place at rather a democratic level, even if only the "landlords" or home-owners (yeri-nyam) are allowed to opt for one of the candidates from the royal family. This system, however, doe not prevent disputes automatically. Bukari mentions the disputes between the elected Sandema Naab (Chief) Afoko and Ayiparuk, one of the failing contestants in 1912 as well as Amaama challenging Azantilow’s election in 1931 because of British interference. More recently, there have been conflicts over the chieftaincy in Chuchuliga (1995) and in Sandema after Azantilow’s death (2006). After some time, all of these conflicts were solved after the disputing parties were able to arrive at a general consensus.
However, the electoral system cannot serve as the sole or principal reason for a non-violent ballot. More decisive is the fact that all the candidates are usually from the same family and not from different "gates". In Sandema, for example, disputes after the elections arose between two sons of the same father or at least close relatives.
"As the consensus-based democratic chieftaincy system in the Bulsa Traditional Area has helped to hold the area together" (p. 22), the question arises whether this voting system could be a model for chieftaincy succession in other parts of Ghana (p. 22). In spite of its obvious benefits for mitigating conflicts, Bukari has some doubts as to whether universal acceptance of this model is possible because "chieftaincy is tradition that conforms to the customs of a particular area... and every traditional area is unique in its system of selecting and installing chiefs" (p. 23).
Bukari’s article is certainly an important contribution to the discussion of conflict avoidance as it is playing out in modern Ghana and has enriched the relevant literature through its description and analysis of an interesting case study. Its perusal is recommended to all who, for practical or theoretical reasons, are interested in the problem of conflict avoidance.