Identity, citizenship and the Fulani in Ghana

CC™ Opinion Editorial

By Osman Alhassan

Observations from Gushiegu, Donkorkrom and Dawadawa

"In spite of the efforts by the Fulani to integrate, they are often reminded that they are strangers who do not belong to the community...."

Conflicts between farmers and Fulani herders are a prominent – and growing – conflict in Northern Ghana. Although the Fulanis have been living in Ghana for generations they are still not accepted among local community groups and are thus excluded from certain areas of political life and health services. In this blog post Osman Alhassan from the University of Ghana argues why resolution of this conflict is in everyone’s interest.

Conflicts among competing land and water resource users are not new in West Africa. While some scholars attribute these rising resource use conflicts to growing scarcity of resources, others contend that it is the consequence of failed governance structures and local conflict resolution mechanisms. Our field investigations in northern Ghana in early 2019 as part of the Domestic Security Implications of Peacekeeping in Ghana (D-SIP) programme point to the fact that both resource scarcity, such as decreasing grazing land and increasingly stressed water resources, and social relations explain conflicts between local farmers and settler Fulani. A closer look at the conflicts between local community famers and settled pastoralists in the Gushiegu Municipality in the Northern Region of Ghana suggests an escalation. Although the Fulani pastoralists have lived in the Gushiegu area since the 1940s, they are increasingly experiencing tension with indigenous community groups, such as the Dagombas, Mamprusis, Konkombas, and the Bimobas.

The Fulani in Gushiegu recount that their ancestors settled in Gushiegu, and surrounding communities, as far back as in the 1930s and 1940s. They took care of cattle as well as farmed the land that was allocated to them for their food needs. Most of the Fulani are Muslims and as such joined the local population for congregational prayers on Fridays and during Eid festivities. As a guest community, the Fulani in Gushiegu and other communities made efforts to attend other local festivals and ceremonies in a bid to get closer to the local community and sustain mutual coexistence. While most Fulani children are not undertaking formal education, they attend the local Makaranta (Islamic school) with Dagomba kids where the Koran and Islam are taught. According to the Fulani in Gushiegu, there are a few inter-marriages between the Fulani and the Dagombas. However, there have been some challenges, especially during periods when cattle in the care of the Fulani destroy food crops belonging to community members or pollute community water sources.

Issues around identity and citizenship provoke strong sentiments among Ghanaians when the Fulani are discussed. It would appear that no matter how long they have been in Ghana, the Fulani cannot become Ghanaians in the eyes of certain communities and officials. A Planning officer with the District Assembly at Donkorkrom argued that everyone in Donkorkrom was a migrant, including the Fulani. So he was baffled about why they had been singled out as not belonging to Ghana, when the Hausa, Gau and other ethnic groups that were not originally Ghanaian did not face the same challenge.In spite of the efforts by the Fulani to integrate, they are often reminded that they are strangers who do not belong to the community. The Fulani are not allowed to participate in gatherings such as political campaigns, cannot easily access health services, including National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) cards, and are not allowed to vote even in district level elections. The Fulani therefore are not identified as community members though they have stayed in the area for a long time. The local community is indifferent to the younger Fulanis who have been born in the area and have no other place of origin. The Fulani in Gushiegu cited an incident in Kpatinga two years ago that claimed the lives of two Fulani men and the destruction of their properties. No Fulani had anticipated this as they had lived with the people, practiced the same religion, taken part in local festivals and ceremonies, and had a few of their kinsmen married to Dagomba.

The situation at Dawadawa was not much different. A Fulani man, Ibrahim Musah, in Dawadawa explained the discrimination he felt in Ghana. Although he demonstrated fluency in three Ghanaian languages – Dagbani, Akan, and Ewe –during the interview, Ibrahim Musah was considered by many in Dawadawa as an alien because of his Fulani origins. His credentials, though, show him to be Ghanaian. He was born in 1987 in Bawku and raised there. He lived in Bimbilla for 14 years, and in Dawadawa for the past 10 years. Before this, he had lived in other places in Ghana, including Kumasi, for many years. People were not concerned about his birth, residence, mastery of several Ghanaian languages, and his vast knowledge about many parts of Ghana. ‘I consider Bawku as my hometown. If you send me to Bawku which is in Ghana, many people can testify that I was born there because my father lived there. My father hails from Bawku though my grandfather, I am told, hails from Burkina Faso,’ he accounted. He was of the view that there are many misleading perceptions about Fulani, including those who are citizens of Ghana, and this has had an adverse impact on their livelihoods and participation in decision making. A first step towards peaceful coexistence and effective conflict resolution would be to recognize the rights of the Fulani and facilitate their participation in local mechanisms for resolving conflicts.

The conflict situations in settlements such as Gushiegu could also improve if local and national governance mechanisms emphasized education of the population about the rights of citizenship. Local and national politics have often been complicated by religion, ethnicity, and economic considerations. While Ghana’s constitution specifies who a citizen is, this is differently interpreted at local levels to suit those in power to make decisions on behalf of the community. In addition, community members must also be aware that our collective economic and security organization goes beyond individual countries. For instance, the sustained development of livestock production is an integral part of any food security or poverty reduction policy. So, it has been argued that traditional pastoral farming systems such as transhumance – moving livestock from one grazing ground to another in a seasonal cycle – contribute to socio-economic development and the growth of livestock production.

A treaty on cooperation between Member States of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) exist as a means for regulating transhumance and achieving agricultural development and food security in the sub region. The provisions of ECOWAS decisions cover issues of the free movement of persons, good and services, and mechanisms for conflict prevention, management and resolution, peacekeeping and security. Unfortunately, not many community members, or local government agencies are fully aware of these regulations which gives rights of passage across and within countries, and to grass and water resources for their cattle, to pastoralists such as the Fulani herdsmen. After all, ECOWAS was formed to commit to enhancing economic development through the free movement of people in the West African sub-region. It is about time governments realise that our diversity as a people is a major asset for development.

In some other discussions, both the Fulani and indigenous communities see the need for changing the policy and practice of pastoralism for the improvement of communities. Respondents in Gushiegu and Bimbilla agreed that logically, the more land and water employed for farming, the less land available for other livelihoods, including pastoral livelihoods, and the more competition and conflicts over land resources. Particularly if technology and population remain the way things are now. Both Fulani herdsmen and crop farmers in Gushiegu agreed that modern cattle ranching should be encouraged and capacities built to be able to exploit these opportunities. It is likely that cattle herding as is currently practiced, will survive only forty to fifty years from now because there will be no corridors for cattle passage. It is therefore critical to encourage good cattle rearing and farming practices such as development of pastures and the establishment of ranches on public-private joint management. Food security remains an integral part of human development and poverty reduction, and better livestock industrial practice will reduce the country’s meat deficits. It can also reduce the numerous conflicts over grazing land and water.