The press conference I attended embodied the relationship between traditional customs and modern, democratic values – as well as the potential conflict between these structures. Many Ghanaians defend chief authorities, though their power has diminished over time. What happens when they meet with formal government structures? Ideally, they merge to incorporate tribal leadership and a mandate of democratic justice.
Or sometimes, they form an impetuous decision-making process that leaves a nomadic group with nowhere to go.
The Fulani are an ethnic group – a small minority in Ghana – dispersed throughout Western Africa. They are mainly nomadic pastoralists, though some lead sedentary lives and have integral roles in cattle management.
The Paramount Chief, Nana Akuoko Sarpong, had granted a fifty year lease to some Fulani herdsmen in 2006. The government can override these leases. The current system of land titling combines chiefdom authority and the British colonial practice of registering deeds.
Cattle population grew unmanageable for herdsmen and animals began escaping the allotted property. Local farmers sprayed their crops with pesticides, angering the Fulani.
“Land has traditionally been controlled according to the unique conditions pertaining to pastoral communities, which have given rise to their concept of communal property rights,” explains a report on pastoralist rights by the UNHCR. “In contrast, the Western concept of personal rights over property, which has been adopted by all states in the region, is an individual right.”
Tensions grew between these two forces, resulting in violence. There were burnt farmlands, destroyed crops, 15 cases of murder last year and one report of rape. Some crimes were committed by Agogo community members, but the Fulani are considered to be the instigators.
Demonstrations within the community effectively called for government action, a promising display of civilian power.
The regional court issued an order to “flush out all the cattle” and effectively, the Fulani people. To execute this, a committee – REGSEC – was established. They were supposed to complete an evacuation plan by February 7.
“…The Committee accomplished its task; except that it took thirteen, instead of the two weeks originally assigned to submit its Report,” Alex Dary, a member of the committee read aloud.
In February, the herdsmen were given an ultimatum: they had until April 30th to vacate the area. They didn’t.
“The failure to voluntarily vacate within the stipulated timeframe will invite forceful eviction by the security,” he continued. The press conference was wrapping up. Chiefs and regional government officials were getting prepared to sign paperwork when a question from the press was taken: when will this forceful eviction take place?
They hadn’t thought about it.
They took a five minute break to decide the time frame of an evacuation plan. Ashanti Regional Minister Dr Kwaku Agyeman Mensah returned; security personnel will be on standby to flush out the cattle and herdsmen if they do not evacuate by July 21.
Perhaps Ghana can successfully maintain its cultural roots and still operate by fair, democratic principles. However, the fact that justice has been administered by holding an entire group accountable for crimes – rather than individuals – indicates there may be room for progress.
The report mentions ‘the inability of the cattle owners and herdsmen to indicate where else they will relocate since no community is prepared to tolerate them.”
Where do they go from here? The committee hasn’t decided.