Effects Of The Wa Chieftaincy Conflict Politics Essay

Most parts of the Africa continent have been devastated by conflicts over the past two decades (Kusemi, 2006). Notable among them include the Sierra Leonean conflict, the genocide in Rwanda, and the conflict in the Niger Delta Region in the federal republic of Nigeria. Ghana has also experienced a number of violent conflicts over the past two decades, and most of them occurred in the three northern Regions of Ghana (Brukum, 2002 as cited in Kusemi, 2006). 23 violent conflicts have been fought in the area between the period of 1980 and 2002. [Brukum, 2002:1]. They include the guinea fowl conflict of 1994 (between the Konkombas and Nanumbas, Dagombas and Gonjas). Mamprusis and Kusasis also fought in 1980 and 2000, and are still fighting. Dagombas also fought among themselves at Voggu and Zabzugu (Brukum, 1999:1). Most recently the Andani and Abudu Gates in Yendi also fought in 2002 during which the overlord of Dagbon, Naa Yakubu Andani II lost his life. The four gates of the Wa chieftaincy skin have also been fighting among themselves since 1989 till now.

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Most of the conflicts in northern Ghana are chieftaincy related (Awedoba, 2009). However, studies have shown that about seventy percent of Ghanaians cherish chieftaincy (Brobbey, 2008). Chiefs play a vital role in sustaining good governance in Ghana. Due to its significance in Ghanaian socio-economic life, the chieftaincy institution has been given due recognition in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana. Chiefs are involved in mobilizing the people for the execution of development projects, sensitizing people to health hazards, promoting education, preaching discipline, encouraging various economic enterprises within the communities, inspiring respect for law and order, settling disputes, and urging them against social ills. The institution also serves as a link between the people and their ancestors. The chieftaincy institution also embodies the moral and ritual purity of the people and the chief is required to lead his people during ancestral rites and important festivals. It is common knowledge in Ghana that traditional rulers have become useful media through whom information from central government is disseminated to the populace.

Despite the above, the institution has been bedeviled by disputes and conflicts in recent years which tend to tarnish the good image of the institution. There is virtually no community in northern Ghana without chieftaincy dispute or conflict which tends to have devastating effects on communities and the nation as a whole. (Awedoba, 2009). Human life and properties are lost. Resources meant for development programmes and projects are diverted into taking care of security personnel dispatched to these areas to keep peace. For instance, the government of Ghana spent 600,000 Ghana cedis in 2002 to maintain peace in northern Ghana (Brukum, 2002). Communal spirit that is characteristic of most communities in Ghana tends to diminish. Non-Governmental Organizations and other stakeholders in development abandon conflict areas, thus resulting in low or non-development (NGPEACE, 2002).


Socio-economic activities in the Wa Municipality have been adversely affected by the chieftaincy conflict in Wa. By “socio-economic activities”, I mean social and economic activities as interactions between and among people, greetings, funerals and marriages. Economic activities on the other hand include selling, buying at the market and services.

The conflict in Wa caused injury to people and destruction of public and private property. It also resulted in the loss of livelihood support systems such as farms and businesses. Social relationships were also ruined and mutual suspicion created between individuals and communities. The conflict also compelled some people to exit from some communities, and also resulted in political instability in the Wa Municipality. The conflict also tainted the image of the chieftaincy institution in Wa.

As a result of the conflict, Central government had to deploy military personnel in 1998 to the municipality to maintain peace and restore law and order. As a result, the Municipal Assembly and Regional Coordinating Council have since been compelled to use their meager resources to cater for the up-keep of the military personnel and their logistical needs. These funds could have been used for other developmental projects but for the conflict.


Chieftaincy conflict constitutes a major threat to the rapid advancement of socio-economic activities in the Wa Municipality. This has largely been regarded as a social problem of interest by members of the public, the Regional House of Chiefs, the security agencies and central government. Referring to the subject matter, Harris (1999:15) in a study of “the cost of armed conflicts in developing countries,” indicated that violence had several economic, social and political implications for socio-economic development”. This study therefore seeks to investigate the effects of the Wa chieftaincy conflict on socio-economic activities in Wa.


What are the effects of the Wa chieftaincy conflict on socio-economic activities in the Wa Municipality?


6.1. In what ways does the chieftaincy conflict in Wa affect peoples’ (family) relationships?

6.2. In what ways does the chieftaincy conflict in Wa affect social events such as festivals and marriages

6.3. In what ways does the chieftaincy conflict in Wa affect selling and buying in the Wa central market?


7.1 To investigate the effects of the Wa chieftaincy conflict on socio-economic activities in the Wa Municipality.


8.1. To investigate how chieftaincy conflict in Wa affect peoples’ (family) relationships.

8.2 To investigate how the chieftaincy conflict in Wa affect social events such as festivals and marriages in the Wa Municipality

8.3. To investigate how the chieftaincy conflict in Wa affect selling and buying in the Wa central market.


Primary and secondary data sources will be used in conducting this research. Primary data will be obtained through direct interviews to fill the gaps that might be created by the secondary data. I will conduct formal interviews with the use of a flexible semi-structured interview guide to collect information from respondents. Interviewing my respondents will be the most appropriate thing to do because of the sensitive nature of the study. One will therefore require adequate information from respondents. My decision to use the above method is also informed by the fact that most of the respondents are illiterate and cannot be left on their own to complete structured questionnaires.

9.1 Sampling Procedure

Criterion purposive sampling and simple random sampling techniques will be used in gathering primary data. Criterion sampling will be used in selecting communities, namely Sing, Guli, Kperesi, and Busa mainly because they were directly involved in the Wa chieftaincy conflict and also represent the four gates to the Wa chieftaincy skin. I will use the same technique again in selecting the royal households in the above communities basically because I already know them, and they will be very useful in providing relevant information for the study (Kannae, 2004, p.53). Simple random sampling technique will then be employed in selecting ten people from each royal household within the four communities in addition to sixty randomly selected traders in the Wa central market to make a total of one hundred respondents as my sample size. Simple random sampling technique will be used in selecting my respondents in order to give each member of the royal household and traders in the market “equal and independent chance of being interviewed” (Ibid). The population for this study is Wa Municipality, and my sample frame is Sing, Guli, Kperesi, Busa communities, and Wa central market.

9. 2 Data sources
9.3 Primary Data

(i) Direct personal observation; a well thought-out observation form will be used in recording features or destruction on buildings or projects which were caused by the Wa chieftaincy conflict in the communities I intend to visit. Namely Sing, kperesi, Guli and Busa. I will be observing and recording relevant data for my study. Direct personal observation will enable me to collect data on the actual condition of buildings or projects which were affected by the conflict rather than to rely on reported information which has the tendency of being bias.

(ii) Key Informants; I will use open-ended questions contained in a semi structured questionnaire to elicit relevant information from one key informant from the conflict communities, namely Sing, Guli, Kperesi, and Busa. I intend to use Key informants because of their unique knowledge and experiences about the Wa chieftaincy conflict which I might not get from other respondents They will also help me to crosscheck certain information.

(iii) Use of semi-structured and structured questionnaires: I will also use two different questionnaires with open-ended and closed-ended questions to elicit information from the Finance Officer of the Wa Municipal Assembly, the President of the Waala Traditional Council, and the President of the Upper West Regional House of Chiefs.

9.4. Secondary Data

I intend to support my primary data with secondary data. Relevant written materials about the Wa chieftaincy conflict, reports of committees, memoranda, and conference materials will also be useful for this study. Books, newspapers, journals, and research materials by other scholars will also be consulted. The review of secondary data will expose me to different methods which could be adapted for my study. It will also help me to prepare an adequate questionnaire for primary data collection.

9.5 Data Analysis and Presentation

I intend to use both qualitative and quantitative techniques in analyzing my data. I will also use statistical diagrams, charts, tables, and graphs for illustrations where necessary. I will also describe and analyze situations encountered in the filled.

10.0 Research Limitations

10.1 I might encounter difficulties in soliciting information from some people due to the sensitive nature of the topic. In order overcome the above, I intend to visit the various communities, namely Sing, Guli, Kperesi, and Busa with a respected native (such as Assemblyman or Woman) of the community who will help allay whatever fears respondents might have.

I also intend to thoroughly explain to respondents and whoever that will help me collect the data that the purpose of this study is purely academic and also assure respondents of confidentiality. In addition, I will also contact Mr. Cliff Maasole, a Lecturer in the University for Development Studies in Wa, and The Regional Coordinator for Department of Women and Children, Mrs. Anacletta Naab among others who have conducted similar studies on the Wa chieftaincy conflict in the past for their guidance.

Mr. Maasole was among other researchers who collected primary data on the Wa chieftaincy conflict for the writing of a book “Conflicts and Development in Northern Ghana” by Professor. A.k Awedoba. Mrs. Anacletta also collected primary data on the Wa chieftaincy conflict for Sustainable Peace Initiative (SPI) which enabled them prepare a report on “the impact on women and children of violent conflict in Northern Ghana”.

10. 2 I might also encounter difficulties in trying to meet some key respondents because most of them are farmers, and the study will be conducted during this farming season. To overcome this challenge, I might have to visit some communities more than once.


Key concepts in the study such as chieftaincy, and conflict will be thoroughly reviewed in this section.

11.1 The Chieftaincy Institution

The title “chief” is generally used to refer to the head, leader or person in charge of a group or organization (Brobbey, 2008, p168). However, a chief refers to a clan or tribe head within the chieftaincy institutions (Ibid). Some participants of the 2003 Easter School in Wa also considered a chief to be somebody who is the most prominent among his peers. This definition is however debatable because one can be the most important person among a group or institution but will not be considered a chief within the chieftaincy institution because the title is conferred in accordance with a particular tradition of a people or clan. The 1992 constitution of Ghana, Act 277, p.168 defined a chief as somebody from a recognized family or lineage who has the support of his people and has been duly installed in accordance with the accepted customary traditions of the area. This definition is popular among the communities in Ghana including Wa the focus of this study.

11.2 Evolution of Chieftaincy in Ghana.

The history of chieftaincy can be traced to the Africans in the Gold Coast (Brobbey, 2008, p.2). The community head or chief was a rallying point for his people and he led them in times of war and difficulties. This point can be contested because it was not all parts of the Gold Coast that were ruled by chiefs. Some parts of northern Ghana, especially the Upper West Region and some parts of the Upper East Region were ruled and controlled by the ‘Tendaana’ or ‘earth priest’. The Africans used the chieftaincy institution to rule the people (Ibid). The advent of the colonialists changed the status of some chiefs and chieftaincy in Ghana. Chiefs were imposed on communities especially in northern Ghana where there were no chiefs at the time. It is important to state that the colonialist however used local institutions that were already in existence and prepared to cooperate with them. The European and Westminster type of government was ultimately introduced into the Gold Coast by the colonialist and made to function concurrently with the African traditional form of government (Brobbey, 2008, P.2).

11.3 Classification of Chieftaincy in Ghana.

The traditional African political system is usually categorized into centralized and non-centralized (Nukunya, 1992).

11.3.1 Centralized political system:

These are societies or communities with specific boundaries and well developed administrative and judicial institutions and have a recognized and accepted king or chief (Nukunya, 1992).

The centralized political system has hierarchies. The village chief was the lowest in rank and he had a council of heads of clans who advised him when necessary. Next in Rank was the divisional chiefs made up of village chiefs and were led by a paramount chief. The paramount chief was therefore the highest in the ranking. All the levels were decentralized in terms of their functioning (Ibid).

11.3.2 Non- Centralized political system:

These were societies that had no king or single recognized leader, formal administrative structure and judicial institutions. Social anthropologist have variously used the terms “acephalous societies” and “stateless people” (i.e. societies without rulers) to refer to those African societies which lacked government. This position is however untrue because every society have people who take decisions for the larger group.

Der (1998) argued that the terms “acephalous” and “stateless” were not applicable in the Upper East and Upper West Regions. According to him, no group of people could exist without a ruler or leader basically because it is a fact that chieftaincy was in existence before the advent of the colonialist. He argued that there was a decentralized system of administration where authority was given to few individuals. He added that the Telensi for example in the Upper East Region of Ghana had no military, king or head with supreme control over the tribe. I could not agree more with Der because every society or community of people will one way or the other have some form of leadership however disorganized it might be.


The word conflict can best be described as a cliche because of its common use in the media. Conflicts have caused severe hardship to families, homes and governments. Families lose loved ones and governments spend huge sums of monies to keep peace in conflict areas. Conflict is however inevitable because as human beings we are bound to have different interest and perspectives (Bacho, 2005, p.14). Conflict therefore occurs when differences are not resolved amicably (Ibid). I cannot agree more with Dr. Bacho because his definition and understanding of conflict perfectly fit into the Wa chieftaincy conflict.

Coser as cited by Hari et al (1999, p.208) conflict exist when people struggle to have power and control limited resources or impose their values and thoughts over others. To him, this may be achieved through the use of ways and means geared at hurting their opponents or eliminating them altogether. Coser’s view about conflict is admirable but it is important to state that not all conflicts are aimed at eliminating or destroying the opponents. Some conflicts such as that of Wa is meant to gain legitimacy to the Wa skin.

Galtung (1996) as cited by Gati 2008) considered conflict as “incompatibility of goals, or a clash of goals or ‘mere’ disagreement”. Hagan (1995) built upon Corer’s viewpoint of conflict when he said that conflicts are not always just targeted at destroying the enemy, but that it sometimes enables each opponent to assess and appreciate his or her strength level. This understanding of conflict is generally correct but not applicable to the Wa conflict in the sense that for the conflict under study one group is just being told in the face that he has no share in the chieftaincy at all.

Political scientists also view conflict to be about how to get what one desires for within a political space in time. It could be land, district among others, Ninsin 1995 as cited by Gati, 2008). To him, conflict can therefore erupt as a result of the inability of a group to get what they want from a political system within a particular period of time. Awedoba, (2009, p.10) also described conflict as a “relationship between two or more parties that centre on differences, disagreement on some issues of common interest or concern, divergence, incompatibilities, and clash of wills”.

Conflict occurs when people clash over issues of common interest and are unable to resolve their differences which may then inhibit them from achieving their personal ambitions (2003 Easter School, Wa). They also see conflict as a dynamic process whose management will depend on whether it will be violent or otherwise. According to them, conflict is inherent in every human community, and to that extent, is natural.


The structure of conflict is sub-divided into three. Namely, “people, process and problems” (Lederach 1996). “People” refers to the relational and psychological elements of conflict” (Ibid). People usually allow their emotions and feelings to cloud their reasoning and that is why it is usually not easy to resolve conflict in the short term.

“Process” refers to how decisions are arrived at and whether people appreciate them. Many conflict arbitrators do not often view decision making as a major source of disagreement. However most people do not support a decision when they are not part of the decision making. It can therefore be a source of conflict.

“Problems” refers to the actual cause of the conflict. That is, the specific issue of incompatibility, which could be values, viewpoints, interest among others. I agree with Lederich’s structure of conflict because there certainly cannot be conflict without the three components which he referred to as the structure of conflict. Other scholars called it the conflict triangle. That is, actors, action and incompatibility. Actors are the same as people as referred to by Lederich. Action is the process and incompatibility is the issue of contention. The conflict in Wa has all three components of Lederich’s conflict structure.


Conflict is dynamic because the issue of incompatibility changes with time and new ones and actors’ come in and the initial conflict expands in scope (Bacho 2005, p.15).

(A) Most conflict begins as mere disagreement, but degenerate into personal antagonism. Differences over specific issues are translated into charges against the other person and inferences about their character, intentions and motives. Instead of concentrating on the issue of common interest, people view the other person as the problem.

(b) Communication becomes is distorted and is not direct and people tend to have more contact and dialogue with their allies than opponents.

(c) People tend to react to recent responses from opponents instead of the original issue. Mistrust and miscommunication begin to increase among the people.

(d) People often become divided and align themselves with one group or the other. Those with moderate stands tend to have limited influence, while those with extreme positions have great influence.


Conflict can be categorized into inter and intra. Other specific types of conflicts include personal, ethnic, chieftaincy, land, religious, and cultural (2003 Northern Easter School). Ideological, governance, authority, racial, environmental, and identity conflict also exist (Rupesinghe, 1992).


The causes of conflicts are several and intertwined (Adams and Bradbury, 1995). Some conflicts border on identity, poverty, sovereignty, governance, and development issues (ibid. This list of conflict can be critiqued as being inexhaustive. This is because there are other conflicts which border on envy and suspicion among others. The Wa chieftaincy conflict for example border on identity to some extent because the other three gates to the Wa skin are contesting the legitimacy of one particular gate to the skin.

Adekanye (1997) also considers the burden of foreign debt and environmental and human insecurity as the causes of conflict in Africa. However, much as his ideas on the causes of conflict in Africa are brilliant and interesting it is important to state that he did not mention other important causes of conflict in Africa. Corruption and bad governance in high government institutions are also factors to consider. Corruption deprives people from basic necessities of life, while a few government appointees enrich themselves. The poor and marginalized people certainly will be forced to rebel. Disproportionate distribution of the national cake is another cause of conflict in Africa. A clear example is the conflict in the Niger Delta region in Nigeria. All these however, are not cause of the conflict in Wa.

Ethnic diversity has also been identified by Kumo, (2009) as another cause of conflict especially in Africa. This is a valid point, but it is certainly insufficient to draw an emphatic conclusion on. There are other continents with more ethnic diversity, but with less conflict as compared with African. It is therefore obvious that there must be other real causes of conflict. It is certainly not applicable to the conflict in Wa

Chieftaincy succession has also been identified as the major cause of conflict in northern Ghana, Brukum (2003). According to him, one particular gate usually wants to stay in power forever while the rest of the gates resisted that move thereby resulting in conflict. He also pointed to government interference in chieftaincy matters as another cause of conflict in the northern Ghana. All the issues raised by Brukum as the causes of conflict in northern Ghana are applicable to the Wa chieftaincy conflict in the sense that one particular gate to the Wa skin is contesting its legitimacy to the skin.

Hagan, 2003, also said that most conflicts occur in northern Ghana because some wealthy people sometime influential the king or chief makers to make them chiefs even when they do not qualify. It is important to state that even though Hagan’s view point is a truism for most conflicts in northern Ghana, it does not apply to the Wa chieftaincy conflict.

To corroborate Hagan’s viewpoint, former president Kuffuor once indicated to the National House of Chiefs that “improper installation of chiefs” was another major cause of conflict in Ghana (Daily Graphic, May, 2002). He added that dubious and distant personalities have ignored the laid down traditional rules and regulations and “condone and connive” with chief or king makers to be enskin or enstooled as chiefs. According to him, any resistance to the above resulted in serious violent conflict.

Some participants at the 2003 Easter School in Wa also indicated that the lack of a database of the royal gates or codification of a sort as a guide to chieftaincy succession was another cause of chieftaincy dispute or conflict in Ghana. This point is an excellent one because it just explains the cause of the Wa chieftaincy conflict, and I concord to it to a very large extent. I however, disagree with them when they said that there is no codification of succession in the chieftaincy institution in Ghana. The truth is that it does not exist in written form, but the people have their mode of succession preserved in oral tradition, and that is where the problem is.


Conflicts affect all levels of society, namely economic, social, and cultural Mlliar (2008). However, vulnerable groups such as children, the aged and women are more affected (Kusemi et al (2006, p.226). Conflicts have worsened the poverty situation in northern Ghana by rolling back business activities (Ibid). According to him, the strong and productive segments of society are the ones killed and maimed during conflict. Business activities are therefore affected in the long run. I agree with his arguments entirely because the situation is very similar with that of the Wa conflict. During the conflict traders could not sell their wares in the market for fear of being killed and most of the casualties in the Wa conflict were the young and middle aged men. Conflicts also result in the destruction of farms and prevent people from farming (Ibid).

Government usually spends huge sums of money to maintain law and order and to take care of security personnel who are deployed in the area to keep peace. For example the Wa Municipal Assembly spent over one hundred Ghana cedis between 2008 and 2009 alone (Municipal Assembly,Wa).

On the social front, fighters and non combatants lose their lives as a result of conflict (African Development Report, 2008). Conflicts also cause diseases which further kill people in conflict areas. There is usually insecurity during and after the conflict, and Wa is no exception. Conflicts compel people to migrate to other areas where they undergo deprivation of basic needs of live (Kusemi, 2006). For example, most people moved down south in 1994 because of the Tamale conflict. It is however instructive to state that the Wa chieftaincy conflict did not cause major migrations especially across regional borders. Few people had to relocate from one community to the other within the region.