Exchanging guns for peace


A former fighter now lives in peace with his neighbours/credit: Justice Baidoo

Naa Salifu Jongara, a 56-year-old dressed in a colourful local smock, appears quite peaceful as he feeds his herd of sheep in the Upper West region.But things weren’t always this tranquil.  Naa Jongara is a member of one of the feuding factions in Wa’s long-running chieftaincy row.“I used to have five guns,” he says. “We used them in times of conflict and we were shooting and killing those who shot at us.”

After multiple violent incidents, the United Nations Development Programme and partners launched a much-needed intervention – a human security programme (HSP) aimed at getting locals in Ghana’s north to stop fighting and start farming.“In 2009, when the HSP started in Wa, I handed in my guns for five sheep,” Naa Jongara adds. “Today, I have a flock of sheep and I want to be the owner of the biggest sheep farm here.” He speaks emotionally of how ethnic strife has ravaged lives in the Upper West region, which is often noted to be the poorest part of Ghana.

“In June last year, I saw a bullet hit and kill a 15 year old boy,” he said. “The killers were targeting our chief but the gun missed him and left the innocent boy dead.” The boy was the last victim of the tussle over who has right to the cowskins on which the chieftain of Wa holds court – known as the Wala skin.

The United Nations initiative forms part of efforts to provide alternative livelihoods for parties in Ghana’s three conflict-prone regions. The objective is to rid the area of guns and other small arms to decrease the chance of violence.
Since the programme started in Wa, Naa Jongara and 35 other traditional leaders who wield considerable power in the area have been engaged in holistic conflict prevention, traditional conflict resolution mechanisms and have helped sustain peace in the area.“We are still tempted to revenge these attacks sometimes but we are gradually learning to move on and leave the past behind us,” he says.

Highlights

  • The objective of this UN in Ghana joint initiative is to rid the area off guns and other small arms to decrease the chance of violence.
  • “In 2009, I handed in my guns for five sheep,” Naa Jongara adds. “Today, I have a flock of sheep and I want to be the owner of the biggest sheep farm here.”
  • “Many of us are giving up the production of small arms because we now realize the dangers they pose to all of us and many of our group members are now handing in their guns"

BEATING SWORDS INTO PRODUCTIVE IMPLEMENTS

Turning a new leaf
For so long, they’ve been accused of being behind the many small arms here. In the dry seasons when they don’t have a market for the farming tools they produce, most of them are tempted to manufacture arms instead.As part of the HSP, about 35 blacksmiths have received technical training over a period of two years to help them produce items that contribute to positive social life.In August, 2012 the HSP brought them to the Ashanti regional capital of Kumasi for an industrial tour of the famous Suame magazine – credited as Ghana’s technology hub.Today, they are manufacturing hospital drip stands, metallic school desks and are exploring ways of producing them on a large scale in order to serve the local market.

“We are turning a new leaf now,” says Tivenaa Imoro, chairman of the blacksmiths’ group in Wa. “Many of us are giving up the production of small arms because we now realize the dangers they pose to all of us and many of our group members are now handing in their guns,”. The association he leads is now registered under Ghana’s companies’ act through UNDP support to make them attractive to microfinance firms who can support them with credit.

Partnership for peace
The Human Security Programme (HSP) is a multifaceted partnership to tackle conflicts while providing alternative livelihoods for residents in Ghana’s three northern regions. The partnership is between six UN agencies: United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Children's Fund, World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organisation, United Nations University and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation. The programme is funded by the Japanese government with the UNDP leading the implementation role.

Supt Henry Amankwaatia, the Wa Municipal Police Commander, hails the programme as a major breakthrough in helping ensure peace in the region.“As people begin to bring in their guns, then we face lesser threats,” he says. “It makes our work as a law enforcement body easier.”As the HSP folded up in May, 2012, talks have begun on how to sustain the gains made.