Refugees & Conflict Resolution In Ghana

A project sponsored by the American Public University System
refugees in their own country
How did this terrible conflict begin?
The beginnings of the Dagbon crisis can be traced to the pre-colonial period in the history of Ghana when in 1899 a conflict began over the rotation of chieftaincy power between two rival sections of the Dagbon royal family, the Abudus and Andanis. Over time, the conflict became increasingly politicized, particularly in the 1940s when some members of the educated elite, many of whom came from the disputing royal families, intervened in the conflict by setting up a selection committee for the position of the Ya-Na (Paramount Chief), rather than using the traditional Dagomba method of negotiation between elders. This led in 1960 to the Ghanaian government establishing a new framework for Ya-Na succession. Efforts to reverse this policy began immediately when Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana and hero to the aforementioned educated elite, was overthrown. This reached a crisis in September 1967 with the death of Ya-Na Abdullah. Later in 1974, more problems were created due to the non-observance of funeral rites for the late Ya-Na Abdulai IV. The latest in the violent encounters between the Andani and Abudu ruling houses in Dagbon occurred in Yendi in late March 2002, resulting in the death many people, including Ya-Na Yakubu Andani II, the king of Dagbon. The refusal by the ruling families of Adani and Abudu to hold funerals for the past two Dagbon kings, Ya-Na Abdulai IV and Ya-Na Yakubu Andani II, has created a situation in which a new Ya-Na cannot be chosen because according to Dagomba practices, the previous Ya-Na must have a funeral in Gbewaa Palace before a new Ya-Na can be seated. Due to the violence that has continued since 2002, thousands of Dagombas have fled to the southern Ghana, many escaping with nothing besides what they could carry. For more information about the history of this conflict, please read Dr. Isaac Olawale Albert's article, “From Owo Crisis to Dagbon Dispute: Lessons in the Politicization of Chieftaincy Disputes in Modern Nigeria and Ghana,” published in 2006 by the Institute for African Studies.
Ya-Na Yakubu Andani II who was beheaded in 2002 in the conflict between the Abudu and Abadi, the ruling families of Dagbon.
Ya-Na Andani III, father of Ya-Na Yakubu Andani II
Mahammadu Abdulai, son of Ya-Na Abdullah. His return to Yendi in 2002 helped precipitate the violent conflict that erupted.
Chieftaincy is a central aspect of many African cultures and particularly among the Dagbon. A tribal chief plays not only a political and social role, but he is also a central figure in many rituals, such as the Damba Festival (see below). The imposition of colonial rule and later the adoption of democracy has resulted in the increasing politicization of the Dagbon chieftaincy and has led to much violence. Traditionally, Dagbon chiefs wield great power and political leaders have learned to influence and manipulate this power to their advantage. This tension between traditional and contemporary leadership structures is complex and when political parties choose sides in traditional disputes, it often leads to intratribal disputes, which sometimes result in violence, such as found in Northern Ghana today. This intersection between modern politics and traditional tribal leadership is a great source of civil conflict that is not limited to Africa, but also is found in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Southeast Asia and parts of Latin America. To learn more about the politicization of chieftaincies and the problems this creates in cultures with traditional power structures, read "Ghana: Why is the North Blighted by Chieftaincy Disputes?," an article published in 2006 by the United Nations.
This video footage was recorded by Nico Spezzacatena, who was studying Dagomba dance drumming in Ghana at time of the Damba festival in 1999.
Ya-Na Abdullah, Dagbon king deposed in 1965.
Photos of some recent Ya-Na (Paramount Chiefs) of Dagbon taken in Ashemie where I conducted interviews with Dagomba refugees.
The full Damba video can be found at the Nada Brahma Foundation's website.
This video shows the procession of Ya-Na Yakubu Andani II at the 1999 Damba Festival in Yendi, Ghana. He was murdered in 2002 as part of the long-standing dispute between the Abdullah and Andani ruling families of the Dagomba.
While conducting my research in Ghana during the summer of 2009, I had the honor of interviewing Arubaka Al Asan and Mr. Abubakari, two Dagomba men who escaped with their families from the conflict in Northern Ghana to Ashemie located in the southern part of Ghana near Accra. In the following interview recorded on July 10, 2009 in Ashemie, they describe to me the troubles that began in 2002, discuss the adversity they face each day, and talk about their hopes for the future. I would like to express my deep appreciation to both Mr. Asan and Mr. Abubakari and to the people of Ashemie, who so generously shared their stories and hospitality. The translation for this interview was kindly provided by Sulley Imoro, a good friend and renowned Dagbon drummer, dancer and singer.
Interview with Arubaka Al Asan and Mr. Abubakari
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Arubaka Al Asan
Mr. Abubakari
This area of Ashemie depicted in these photos is home to many Dagomban refugees. There are more arriving every day. In fact, one arrived the day of the interviews and was staying with Mr. Abubakari. Lack of housing is a major issue facing the Dagomba refugees of Ashemie. The cost of a room without electricity is approximately $9 a month, but with no money or jobs, even this is out of reach for many.
Young Dagomba girls in Ashemie. Sadly, most of these refugees cannot go to school, even though government school is free, because they cannot afford the uniforms, books, transportation and meals required to attend.
Children playing in Ashemie. Many of these children's parents are well educated and suffer because they are unable to educate their children. Lack of education is a fundamental problem facing the Dagomba because the children's education is the future.
It is impossible to engage in a project like this without being moved by the heart-wrenching stories and overwhelming need for basic necessities in these communities. At the conclusion my interview with Mr. Al Asan and Mr. Abubakari, I asked what their hopes were for the future and what could be done to make life better for the community. He told me one thing that could benefit the Ashemie refugees was the purchase of livestock, such as goats and sheep, to raise and sell for a profit. The proceeds from this investment could be used by the Ashemie refugee community to buy food, obtain housing, and send children to school. The initial investment to start this type of business is about $1500 and I am currently trying to raise funds to help start this small business, which would be a wonderful and self-sustaining way to bring income and resources into the community. If you would like to support the purchase of goats and sheep for the refugees of Ashemie, please contact Any support is greatly appreciated and 100% of all money raised will be used to assist Dagomban refugees living in Ashemie.

Aapengno, Clement M. “Northern Ghana Peace.” Peace and Collaborative Development Network, 2009.

Agyekum, G. "Yendi chieftaincy trials of 1987: A clash between state and traditional norms," Accra, Ghana: Justice Trust Publications, 2002.

Albert, Dr. Isaac Olawale. “From Owo Crisis to Dagbon Dispute: Lessons in the Politicization of Chieftaincy Disputes in Modern Nigeria and Ghana.” Institute of African Studies, 2006.

Ansah-Koi, K. “Walking a Political Tightrope: Chiefs, Chieftancy and the 1996 Elections” in J. R. A. Ayee ed., The 1996 General Elections and Democratic Consolidation. Accra, Ghana: Gold-Type Ltd., 1998

ASDR AHSI-APRM Project on Peacekeeping and Security

Bombande, Emmanuel. "Five Infrastructures for Responding to Conflict." Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, 2006.

Dadzie, Ato Kwamena. “Dagbon: An Elusive Peace.” March 2, 2009. 

Ghana: Why is the North Blighted by Chieftaincy Disputes?” IRIN (Project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), February 2006.

Ghana Radio Today

Global Peacebuilders

Kwame, A. [2006], “The role of traditional rulers in Ghana’s socio-economic development.”

Kwankye, S. O., Anarfi, J. K., Tagoe, C. A., & A. Castaldo. “Independent North-South Child Migration in Ghana: The Decistion Making Process.” Sussex Centre for Migration Research, February 2009.

Northern Ghana Conflict (This site includes many links to news articles related to the Dagomba conflict in Northern Ghana.)

People Building Peace

Tsikata, Dzodzi & Wayo Seini. “Identities, Inequalities and Conflicts in Ghana.” Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity. Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford, November 2004.