Chiefs are agents of development in Ghana. Throughout the country, towns without chiefs generally, do not progress. In Berekum the absence of a chief for the last twelve years has affected all facets of life in the town. Educational standards have fallen drastically. Berekum, a town that was voted the cleanest town in Ghana in the early nineties, is full of filth and stench.
In June 2012 the Patrons of Berekum , a development oriented group of eminent citizens from Berekum, in collaboration with the Purdue University Peace Project, organized a stakeholder workshop to discuss the impact of the Berekum Chieftaincy dispute which has lasted over 12 years, since the death of Nana Yiadom Boakye II. The objective of the stakeholders’ workshop was also to develop strategies to address the dispute and ensure lasting peace and development in Berekum.
Prior to the stakeholder workshop, a two days research was conducted with various stakeholders from Berekum. The objective of the research, among others was to understand the nature of the dispute and seek input from the citizens on possible solutions end the dispute and to prevent conflict in the December 2012 Presidential and Parliamentary elections
Following the workshop, a nine member committee known as the Berekum Peace Committee (BPC) was established and mandated by the citizens of Berekum to facilitate the processes that will ensure the resolution of the Berekum Chieftaincy dispute.
The Purdue Peace Project in Berekum:
Report on data and activities, June – August 2012
The Purdue Peace Project Research Team
Dr. Stacey Connaughton
Christina Jones, MA
Agaptus Anaele, MA
Dorothy Snyder, MA
Kelly Vibber, MA
Introduction: The Purdue Peace Project
The Purdue Peace Project (PPP) was originally conceived in January of 2012 as an initiative centered upon providing encouragement and assisting local leaders to take constructive action to prevent violence in conflict-prone regions of the world. Where local groups already exist, the PPP team offers to assist them. Where such groups do not exist, PPP convenes local leaders and supports them to take action. PPP’s first operations are in West Africa. It cooperates with local, regional, and international organizations working for peace in the region. Per the objectives of the PPP, the team works to facilitate the convening of groups of local leaders in West African countries and in doing so, gives them the opportunity to voice what they believe to be most effective in averting widespread political violence.
Our Methodological Approach
The actions of PPP are significantly grounded in the culture-centered approach (Dutta-Bergman, 2003). Meanings are socially constructed via dialogue among cultural participants, and from this dialogue, meaningful solutions to existing problems can be created. Considering its theoretical foundation, PPP’s work in
The research design of PPP’s work in Berekum is qualitative in nature, focusing on understanding the Berekum conflict, including potential threats to peace in the region. Focus groups and in-depth interviewing were selected as the research tools most appropriate for gleaning information from those within the region. As such, the first data collection site visit was scheduled for June 9 – June 12, 2012, to coincide with the initial convening of stakeholders in the region where discussion was to occur regarding the nature of the conflict and what could be done.
The first data collection strategy involved a series of four focus groups with members from important stakeholder groups (Queen mothers and woman leaders, religious leaders, the youth, and the royal families) coming together to discuss their thoughts regarding the recent attempt by the Progressive Youth to settle the dispute, the chieftaincy dispute itself, how the dispute is impacting those in the region, and what could be done to prevent conflict.
Following the focus groups, data were collected from a day-long stakeholder workshop, bringing together members of the aforementioned groups with others, including the media, opinion leaders, and the Patrons of Berekum. The meeting was set forth with a goal of crafting an action plan, or a list of agreed upon activities and strategies to be taken back to their stakeholder groups for feedback and implementation. During the workshop, participants broke into groups of eight, representing the various syndicate groups. Fifty-five participants took part in the workshop.
The last component of the research design conducted during the first visit included a series of in-depth interviews with workshop attendees (10 in total), where each were asked to reflect upon their experiences in the meeting, if it met their expectations, the strategies suggested as part of the meeting, and who maintained the most power to make changes in the
Five focus groups were held, including meetings with the Queen mothers and women leaders, religious leaders, the youth, political representatives, and individuals from one of the disputing royal families. A series of themes were identified that emerged from the discussions of the four groups:
- Impact of chieftaincy dispute on Berekum development.
When asked to describe Berekum, a number of the group discussions evolved into conversations regarding the ways in which the chieftaincy dispute has hampered development of Berekum, speaking to problems with the educational system, public works, and economic progress. One of the representatives speaks to the impact of the dispute on both the economy and education, “Presently there is no substantive chief in Berekum and because of this dispute projects cannot be implemented. Presently there is no electricity at the public places and in the market. No project can go on in the community without the chief. For example, recently the government wanted to establish a University, but it bypassed us and went to a nearby town. We know that it is because of the chieftaincy dispute.” Another participant clearly identified the mechanism by which the lack of a chief impacts Berekum development, describing the role of the chief in making requests to the nation’s leaders for the resources necessary for the country’s progress. He notes, “When the president of the Republic of Ghana comes to the Brong Ahafo region, he does not visit Berekum Normally, the Chief would make an important request during the President’s visit, for example, , a road, for the community. Since it’s from the chief the president would do grant the request. For the past 11 years, we have not been able to ask for anything such as a school building. As a result, I can say that there’s no development from the government.”
- Challenges to mediation and resolution.
Each of the stakeholder groups identified specific challenges to be overcome when working towards the resolution of the chieftaincy dispute. A number of individuals referenced an attempt by religious leaders in 2008 to serve as mediators during a large meeting that brought together representatives from both sides of the issue. The representatives from the royal family also made reference to this attempt at mediation, noting, “Many people have attempted, some chiefs, even the patrons in Accra. They too attempted mediation to resolve the conflict but it didn’t work. Then the clergy, the priests in Berekum Methodist, Roman Catholic and Apostolic tried but could not resolve the conflict. Others also brought to light the potential role that corruption might have played in willing the House of Chiefs to sit on the issue. They noted, “For what I can see, it’s some kind of games that the judicial and other people are playing on our elders. People are not realizing that part. Any time they go to court, at every sitting, they take some money from each group.. If I’m to get money each month, you think I’m just going to let go of your case the lawyers, don’t know much about our chieftaincy issue in Berekum. They should come together as one, sit down as one people.”
- The role of tradition.
A number of individuals across groups spoke to the role that tradition and traditional rite have on the unyielding positions of each conflicting party. Many participants were clear in their perception that the conflict in its entirety boiled down to the failure of one group to follow traditional rites of passing from one leader to the next. One noted, “One of them (reasons for the conflict) is that each claim the other partner never went through the traditional rites. The other group perhaps bypassed some of the rites they should have conducted. Their position is based on traditional rites. The other side also feels that no, they didn't go through the process.” One member echoes the importance of tradition to each party; particularly as it relates to the potential ways in which giving in to the opposing side might lead to disapproval from one’s ancestors. He notes, “When it comes to our traditional system, it is supported by spirits and our ancestors, so they have the idea that if I let go of this my ancestors will punish me for that.” As described by one member of the royal family, “What happened in Berekum was a historical mistake which they are trying to ratify. What they are asking is untraditional.”
- The Influence of the House of Chiefs.
While dialogue about reasons for the existing problem was preeminent, each focus group did take time to briefly discuss their perceptions regarding potential solutions to the chieftaincy dispute, or at minimum, potential next steps to take. While a number of individuals were noted as having the power to make changes, ultimately, most individuals shared the view that the final decision would have to be made by the Regional House of Chiefs. Representatives noted, “We have a body that represents the community that is called the House of Chiefs. It is not our responsibility to settle the dispute because we don’t have the power to settle the dispute. It is the house of chiefs that can help to solve or settle the problem.” According to one youth member, “To me, now, it’s a court issue. Only the courts can decide now. So we can’t do anything. All we can do is to push the elders or to talk to them again so that they don’t prolong the issue. Apart from that I don’t think we can do anything.” The response of participants who took part in the day long stakeholder workshop seemed to echo the sentiments expressed in the stakeholder focus groups.
Following the stakeholder workshops, during the PPP team’s first visit to Berekum, ten in-depth interviews with representatives from each of the stakeholder groups were held. While a number of issues were discussed throughout the interviews, three primary themes emerged as significant, all of which related to resolution efforts.
- Taking charge: The media and the youth.
Interview participants shared their perceptions regarding who they felt was most equipped to raise awareness of the conflict and encourage public action towards its resolution. Multiple participants engaged with the potential held by the media in exposing the actualities of the conflict and thus implicitly creating an engaged public in light of their ability to distribute honest, accurate information to the public regarding the dispute. According to the interview participant representing the media, “We have to prove that we are working for the benefit of the country and the community, because outside of entertaining, informing, and educating, we're also here for development, the development of the people.” As the media brought to light the ways in which they framed their role in the Berekum conflict, they called to attention to the role of the youth in activism efforts. The youth representative spent much of his time discussing a prior demonstration effort, where the media and the youth seemed to serve complementary roles. As the youth were able to serve as the passionate voice of the effort, the media enabled circulation of the youth’s message.
- Overcoming the court.
Seemingly the most well discussed issue prohibiting resolution efforts relates to the role of the court in making the final decision regarding the chieftaincy dispute. However, participants suggested that potential corruption within the court, taking place in a number of ways, might keep the dispute from reaching a peaceful end before the upcoming elections. One corruptive practice relates to the actions of the lawyers in failing to sit on the case, thereby entailing increased funds to be paid for their work. One participant noted, “I don’t think it is our elders who are dealing in the whole process. The lawyers think this is where they get their money from so if they solve this issue in 2 or 3 days, where are they going to get their money again?” Thus, it seems as though corruption within the judicial system has significantly impacted the resolution of the chieftaincy dispute.
- Dialogue as power.
When participants were questioned regarding the merits of our approach to solving the chieftaincy conflict, particularly in light of the importance of dialogue and collaboration among community members, every interviewee was hopeful and positive. Participants recognized that the time for change was now and discussed the potential of future collaboration as a way to make changes. One spoke to this possibility of a unified group in noting, “You see many times we talk of strategies and implementation and it seems to me that to implement plans and policies, we go on holding the meetings so we come in with new ideas and get things out. I think what we did yesterday, I think we can move together, as one. I think we have to tackle it.” However, despite the promise that meaningful discussion and the formation of alliances may bring, participants were also clear in noting the potential challenges associated with moving forward. Ultimately, per the passionate responses of participants, a unified public enraged by past failures and committed to ending the conflict would put pressure on the courts to rightly end its injustice.
During day one of the stakeholder workshop, participants were broken into groups, with each composed of selected representatives from each constituency. During each session, participants were asked to discuss their perspectives regarding the chieftancy dispute as well as hypothesize potential strategies for alleviating violence and permitting peaceful elections. Group discussion focused on a number of development issues, including:
- Falling educational standards
- Lawlessness among the youth
- Political polarization
- Negative media reportage
- Lack of traditional leadership
- Lack of a checks and balance system on political leaders by traditional leaders
Suggestions for dispute resolution included:
- Civil societies must assist in bringing political leaders to order, as well as the mapping out a legal chieftaincy succession plan in Berekum.
- There must be public education through media, community durbars and other social gatherings on the Chieftaincy dispute as most inhabitants don’t understand the chieftaincy dispute and therefore support factions ignorantly.
- A respected and neutral person (one who has not taken sides with any of the factions) outside Berekum must be used to start a mediation between the two opposing factions.
- Political parties should desist from meddling in the chieftaincy issue as well as from giving money to the youth to stir up violence in the community.
- Women groups must unite and demonstrate against some of the negative issues affecting Berekum’s development, involving women in actual decision making.
- Apathy towards stakeholder meetings, a lack of commitment, and a paucity of funds to organize such meetings would be a challenge, but educating stakeholders on the need to attend meetings through regular radio broadcasting and open dialogue as well as the organizations of municipal fund raising activities for donor support could combat such challenges.
After all the groups had presented their strategies, the participants agreed on the formation of a committee of not more than ten persons with representatives from all the syndicate groups to meet the next day and finalize the Action Plan. During day two of the stakeholder workshop, the steering committee finalized a set of recommendations for peaceful elections. The participants recommended that the advocacy agenda by the youth, political leaders, the Patrons, Religious leaders and civil society organizations should motivate and mount pressure on the Regional House of Chiefs to speed up their processes, thus leading to an end in the dispute in the shortest possible time. Queen Mothers and Women groups in Berekum were urged to unite to demonstrate against negative propaganda and to appeal to the royal families to end the dispute. Religious Leaders were set forth to use the pulpit as a medium to propagate peace and unity among the citizenry of Berekum, and parents were to educate their children against negative behavior such as alcoholism and drug abuse which leads to violence. The enthusiasm demonstrated by the participants during the workshop to end the chieftaincy conflict was encouraging. Some participants demonstrated this enthusiasm by pledging to support the Berekum citizenry when they need to travel to Sunyani to listen to the court hearing on the chieftaincy dispute.
Based upon the feedback from community members during the inaugural stakeholders’ forum in Berekum, the PPP initially proposed activities to run concurrently:
- The group decided to convene a second development forum with representatives of the sub-groups to articulate strategies to be used to encourage the disputing parties to accept the ruling of the Brong Ahafo Council of Chiefs. In line with PPP’s local leadership model, the strategies should be articulated by community members themselves. The second development forum was to be made up of representatives of the various stakeholder groups, and was to be held in August during the team’s second visit to Berekum.
- In relation to long-term impact, the PPP team proposed to facilitate and support the community to draft a chieftaincy succession plan, with details to be discussed during the second development forum.
Findings of the Second PPP Visit to Berekum
From August 1 – August 9, 2012 the PPP team, including Project Director Stacey Connaughton, the Project Consultant Jessica Berns and the West Africa Program Manager, Rosaline Obeng-Ofori, visited Berekum. Meetings were scheduled with the patrons and elders, as well as participation in the meeting of the steering committee. Two of those meetings were recorded, one of which involved the Berekum Patrons, and the second convening the “Steering Committee” also known as the Berekum peace Committee of representatives from the first workshop.
The meeting with the patrons of Berekum was primarily situated as an opportunity to glean feedback regarding some of the original strategies for resolution discussed during the original stakeholder workshop.
- The patrons were questioned regarding the reasons why the dispute has lasted for such a prolonged period without a solution. A discussion of the connection between the dispute and politics soon followed. One participant noted, “The chiefs want to hold to their positions, and they think that if the one (political party) they support wins (the December elections), they will retain their position.”
- However, the group seemed to agree that, due to the general exhaustion of those involved, a solution would be welcomed. One Patron suggested, “What came out of the stakeholder’s meeting is that this time, after judgment has been given, there should be no appeal. They are so tired, and nothing is going on in the town. The feeling when you get to Berekum, both sides are tired.” Another echoed this sentiment, “What everyone is waiting for is what the judicial committee will say. They are so fed up, whatever they say, whether it is for A or B, they will follow it.”
The steering committee (now known as the Peace Committee), comprised of representatives who attended the stakeholder workshop, met to review prior recommendations and provide updates related to what had been done since the PPP’s initial visit. A significant amount of discussion related to what had been done, and what needed to be done, to motivate and mount pressure on the house of chiefs to speed up the process.
- At the time of the meeting, the youth had been to court and planned to attend again on the 16th of August, the next sitting. They reported that the last sitting lasted only one hour, speaking to the failure of those in power to realize the necessity to resolve the issue promptly. However, one participant observed that, since the original workshop, the time between sittings had lessened significantly. Whereas it previously took 2 to 3 months for the group to set a new date for the next sitting, the group was now meeting every three weeks or within a month to discuss the issue. The group echoed the feelings of the patrons, suggesting the need for dialogue between both parties. One representative stated, “Either side, they are not prepared to dialogue. That is the main problem we have. When you go to the other party, to tell them that the court should decide, they are not prepared to dialogue.”
- One potential for encouraging dialogue and public participation suggested by the group was to hold a homecoming event in Berekum. As described by one participant, “We need a homecoming program, a reunion program. A program to reunite the people of Berekum. Because of this chieftaincy dispute, there’s a lack of development right now. People aren’t coming back to their hometown. We have people outside and they don’t come home because of the problems here. With this homecoming program, we will be able to share ideas.”
Since the August stakeholder forum, representatives have been in consistent communication with the PPP team, detailing the efforts in the region.
- Discussions of the need for an end to the dispute have been written by the youth and are now published in local media outlets, including both newspaper and radio (see “When will the bulls unlock horns” by David Armah Mensah).
- The Peace Committee (previously known as the “steering committee”), composed of nine members, has met intermittently to narrow down the broad strategies discussed in the August meetings.
- Media outlets in the region have seemingly unified to encourage more objective discussion of the issue.
- A Berekum “Homecoming” event has been scheduled for the end of year, hopefully to celebrate the installation of a substantive and accepted chief prior to the elections, which will bring together patrons, academics, and Berekum citizens for a festival to honor the community.
- Community members, committed to ending the conflict, have donated vehicles to be used in transporting individuals to the court to put pressure on the judicial system to end the conflict.
- The opposing factions of the youth have unified to put an end to violence surrounding the two political parties, announcing that both groups will accept the chosen chief.
From the aforesaid, it is obvious that the PPP intervention is appropriate. It is inclusive and participatory approach is in itself a conflict prevention strategy. The Berekum community is tired of the absence of a leader and will do everything within their means to get the dispute resolved. Development in Berekum has certainly stalled and this has impacted very negatively on the community and thus will have its repercussions on the nation if a substantive chief is not gazetted in the very near future. The breakdown of discipline and morality among particularly the youth of Berekum due to the lack of a Chief and a Traditional leader, is spelling future doom for the nation. All efforts must therefore be made by every person in authority to resolve the dispute.