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DATE: 11TH APRIL, 2011.
TIME: 5:00pm


Part One


I have chosen the topic, Islam, Politics and Development: Negotiating the Future of Dagbon for good reason. Islam, since its introduction into Dagbon in 1700 through the conversion of Na Zangina, has exerted great influence on the Dagomba people. Dagomba customs and traditions are inextricably interwoven with Islamic ones. Naming, marriage and funeral ceremonies all show considerable Islamic influences. Even the most important festival of the Dagomba people, Damba, is celebrated to commemorate or coincide with Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. As far back as 1820, Joseph Dupuis, the British Consul to Ghana, on the testimony of Yendi traders, classified Dagbon among “governments which are either purely Moslem, or countries where the Koranic law had been received and serves for the civil code of the believer and infidel.”

Indeed, to this day, Dagombas themselves, hardly refer to one of their own as chefira, a corruption of the Arabic word, kafir, which means unbeliever. Thus Dagombas distinguish three levels of commitment to Islam. First, afanema, that is those who have literacy in Islam and Arabic and therefore preside over birth, marriage and funeral ceremonies. Secondly, those who say the Muslim ritual prayer, called jing puhriba, meaning “those who pray.” Lastly, Dagbang dabba that is, those who are nominal Muslims and who also actively participate in traditional rituals. The 2000 Population and Housing Census of Ghana also put the Muslim population of Dagbon at 79%.

According to C.R Gaba, religion for the African, is a twenty-four hour-a-day affair. “Wherever the African is, there is his religion.” Scott Appleby also has this to say about the role of religion in people’s lives.
Indeed, literally millions of people structure their daily routines around the spiritual practices enjoined by a religious tradition, and they often do so quite ‘publicly’. Dress, eating habits, gender relations, negotiations of time, space, and social calendar-all unfold beneath a sacred canopy. Around much of the world, politics and civil society are suffused with religion.

If this is the case, then we cannot be discussing the Dagomba people without their religion and that religion is Islam. What makes the inclusion of religion even more significant is the fact that Dagbon is in crisis; curable crisis. According to H.O Anyanwu, “humans interact with the supernatural in order to cope up with life’s crisis.” Indeed Pargament argues that most religious traditions developed out of crisis situations.

The teachings of Confucius, with their emphasis on a social and cosmic order, developed out of a time of social anarchy when warring armies massacred populations in the tens of thousands…It is an ultimate crisis, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which set the stage for his triumphant resurrection. The revelations of Muhammad took place against the backdrop of a brawling chaotic society as well as the tragic deaths of his parents in childhood.

Crises situations give birth to stress. And when stress situations occur, they ought to be alleviated. Y.S Agyeman avers that;
“Stress situations are periods in the life of the individual when anticipated goals are not realized…they also refer to situations when uncontrollable and unpredictable accidents occur in the life of the individual and society.”

There is no doubt that the people of Dagbon are under stress. So religion or, for that matter Islam, becomes vital in finding peace in Dagbon and also helping the people to cope with their stress situation. Politics (as defined by the chieftancy institution) was the basis of the crisis. Contemporary politics also has a lot to do with the crisis in Dagbon. Since Ghana’s self-rule, political parties have sought to feed on the royal divisions for partisan support and advantage. A recent example was how the National Democratic Congress (NDC) made the death of the Ya-Na a major plank of their 2008 campaign. Beyond that, Aristotle states that “humans are by nature political.” Neil Omerod also states that “all human activities have a political dimension.” Indeed every government, from Nkrumah to Mills, has had to deal with the Dagbon chieftaincy crisis in one way or the other.

Development is the goal of every human society, even though states would differ from one another in terms of the ingredients of development and the benchmarks of development. In fact Na Zangina converted to Islam, because he perceived Muslim clerics as having the power to induce development for the Dagbon state. According to Ivor Wilks, the cleric who converted Na Zangina to Islam made Dagbon prosperous with the aid of the Qur’an. Na Zangina is reported to have uttered the following prayer at his conversion: “I pray to God to build my kingdom as compact as clay…I pray to God to allow travelers in this area to have safe journeys to their destinations’. Ivor Wilks writes that following this prayer which was performed in the nature of the Muslim ritual prayer of Salat, ‘the roads opened and many traveled by them…’
In this lecture, I shall be navigating these concepts as they relate to the Dagbon crisis. But ultimately, my aim is to point to a future in which justice, peace and sanity shall prevail in Dagbon for the roads to development to be opened for all to travel by them, regardless of your Gate and which party may be in power. That future will not come through belligerence, intransigence and exclusivism. That future will not come through the beating of war drums. That future will not come through dividing Dagombas into victims and villains, devils and saints, just and unjust. That future will come through sacrifice, compromise, negotiation and development. I do not pretend to have the answers but I share the view of those who see the answers in wider appreciation of justice, peace, reconciliation and development. Like I stated at the beginning of this lecture, I am a humble citizen of the Dagbon state, who presumes to contribute my quota to the resolution of a decades old conflict. But I do not have access to the boardrooms where these negotiations take place or would take place. I belong in the public sphere. And it is in this public sphere that I make my contribution.



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