Report by Manasseh Azure Awuni, June 2012
The last question I asked Kande Karim was how she felt about the whole incident. She sighed, shook her head and answered: “When I think about the whole thing I feel ashamed.”
She wanted to continue. But when she opened her mouth, no word escaped from her lips. She choked. But what she could not say with words was clearly expressed with the tears that fell freely from her misty eyes, which could no longer contain them. Another woman, who stood with her, also burst into tears.
Beside her, three of the Muslim men, from whom we had sought permission before speaking to the women, sat speechless.
“We’re very sorry,” Joshua Tigo, my colleague reporter at The Finder, told the weeping women. But they would shed more tears before stopping to join the other women watching over the gigantic pot of rice.
Karim Kande, a forty-year-old porridge seller and mother of five, was one of the over 6000 displaced persons who fled the Hohoe Municipality in the wake of the violent clashes between the Muslim community and the indigenes of the area. In all, 22 of her family members fled Hohoe and were seeking shelter in various parts of the Jasikan District.
Like many others affected by the conflict, Kande says her family was not involved in any of the incidents that led to the violent clashes. Nevertheless, they are victims. One of her nephews, she said, had received gunshot wounds while another had a machete cuts. They had been treated at the Worawora Hospital and were continuing with herbal treatment at Mempeasem, a nearby village.
About 100 metres away from the mosque, 44-year-old Alhaji Abdul-Karim Kamarudeen was cleaning his 15-seater mini-van, together with two younger men. Like Kande, he fled Hohoe without any involvement in the clashes.
Alhaji Kamaru, as he’s popularly known in Hohoe, is the coach of Hohoe Holy Stars, a second division football club. In his days as a footballer, he played in the Togolese junior national team before moving to Saudi Arabia to ply his professional career. When he returned to Ghana, he decided to go into coaching and the development of football in Hohoe and the Volta Region at large.
“In fact, Alhaji Kamaru is everything football in Hohoe,” George Danso, a tutor at Bueman Senior High School in Jasikan, attested.
While in Jasikan, he was constantly receiving calls from parents of young footballers in Hohoe. He had organised a competition and a European had identified talents in the Hohoe area and had enlisted them for the Red Bulls Soccer Academy in Sogakofe.
But he had to flee because “in such a situation, you don’t know who hates you and will use that as an opportunity to come at you,” he said. He was both shocked and sad about what had happened.
“We have nothing against each other. They befriend and marry our women, and we also befriend and marry their women,” he said of the relationship between the Zongo Community and the Hohoe or Gbi people.
Alhaji Karimu’s father was one of the earliest settlers in Hohoe. He said his father came to Hohoe in 1938 and Hohoe has since been their home. He personally has very close ties with the indigenes of the area.
Togbega Gabusu VI, the paramount chief of the Gbi Traditional Area, was his teacher and he still has a very close relationship with him.
“I see him as my father because we’re very free. When I organised a football league in Hohoe, it was in Togbega’s house I kept all the equipment,” he said. “If anybody had ever told me that such a thing will happen in Hohoe between the Muslims and Gbi people, I would not have believed it.”
Indeed, not many people would have believed what went on in Hohoe that fateful Monday, June 11, 2012, could ever take place. It was a slideshow of events that reached its tragic climax that Monday morning when the security apparatus failed to act based on available intelligence. The nasty incident was not started by a tussle over National Health Insurance card as earlier media report had it.
The violent clashes between the Muslim community and indigenes of Hohoe were sparked by the exhumation of the body of a 120-old Imam, Alhaji Alhassan Sani.
The Gbi Traditional Council had issued an edict ordering the Muslim community to exhume the body of a 20-year-old man who had been electrocuted and henceforth stop burying their dead on Gbi land.
Togbe Agyeman, the divisional chief of Gbi Abansi and spokesperson for the Gbi Traditional Council, told me that the order to exhume the body was issued before the death of the Chief Imam. The Muslim community, he said, had defied the order of Paramount Chief of Gbi Traditional Area, Togbega Gabusu VI, to apologise to authorities of the Hohoe Municipal Hospital and pay for some damage a section of Muslim youth had caused at the hospital.
The youth were said to have assaulted some nurses and mortuary attendants when they thought the corpse which the hospital authorities were about to convey to mortuary was theirs, a practice they said was against Islam.
“There was woman who died as a result of snake bite so the mortuary attendants were coming for that woman but our youth thought it was their corpse,” Alhaji Mairiga, spokesperson for the Hohoe Muslim Community, told me. “It led to a scuffle and the mortuary attendant sustained injuries.”
“The hospital authorities went to complain to Togbega about the incident so Togbega sent word to the Zongo community that they had gone too far and needed to render an unqualified apology to the hospital and make sure they replaced all the items they had vandalised, but they refused,” Togbe Agyeman said.
He explained that the Municipal Chief Executive of Hohoe, some members of the Muslim community and other prominent persons went to plead with the Gbi traditional authorities but the discussion was not concluded.
“The Muslim community had informed Togbega that, per their tradition, they did not bury their dead after 4pm. Togbega, having this at the back of his mind, said it was even past 4:30pm so they should come the following morning for the two parties to resolve the existing problem before the burial of the Chief Imam,” Togbe Agyeman narrated.
Alhaji Mairiga admitted that there was no official permission to go ahead and bury the Imam but while the discussion was ongoing, those of them at home had signals of a possible resolution of the misunderstanding.
“We had information that there was the possibility that Togbega would allow the burial to take place. Immediately we arranged for the final prayer for the corpse,” he said.
According to him, they were still waiting for the final message from the meeting between the Muslim leaders and the traditional authorities of Gbi, but “you know the crowd and agitations. They decided to bury him. Once they said there was the possibility that it [their plea with the Togbega] would be accepted, we took that as permission and went and buried the Imam.”
He said the following morning the Muslim community discovered “to our horror” that the body of the Imam had been exhumed, stabbed and dumped on the road to Santrokofi, a town between Hohoe and Jasikan.
Togbe Agyeman said neither Togbega Gabusu nor the Gbi Traditional Council ordered the exhumation of the body. He said they also had no knowledge of who exhumed the body.
Alhaji Mairiga said they Muslim community consulted the Bla Division of Gbi, the landlords of the Muslim community, and they advised that the body be re-buried at the Imam’s residence or any mosque of their choice so that they would meet with authorities of the Gbi Traditional Council to resolve the issue.
He said they were in the process of burying the Imam at the mosque when they heard that a section of the Muslim youth had gone to the residence of Togbega Gabusu and vandalised his house and set two of his vehicles ablaze.
The indigenes also mobilised and carried out reprisal attacks. The Muslim youth had retreated but the anger was visited on shops and other businesses owned by members of the Muslim community. Three persons were killed while others sustained various degrees of injuries.
Usman Yusif, 24, saw and greeted his father early that Monday morning and again saw him briefly at the burial of the Chief Imam at the mosque. He later heard that his father, Usman Abdulai, was shot. The 60-year-old second-hand clothes dealer had gone to salvage his stock when he heard about the burning of shops. But neither he nor his property was saved. His son later saw his lifeless body at the Hohoe Municipal Hospital, where the health authorities had tried desperately to save him.
“He was shot in the head and neck,” Yusif said. He said they had to go and bury him in Kpando. Muslims in Hohoe have since been burying their dead in other districts, pending the resolution of the existing differences.
In all, 101 shops and their contents were set ablaze. A curfew was imposed but that did not stop the burning of two more houses that Monday night.
Ali Iddrisu had to be whisked into the Barclays Bank for safety when Gbi youth stormed his two shops. The traumatised trader said he lost more than GH¢100,000.
“After the first attack, some of the things did not burn so later in the day I went and selected them but when I finished and was about to send them home, they returned and burnt the rest,” he said.
The Gbi Traditional Council issued a one-week ultimatum to the Muslim community to return the regalia that were missing when the chief’s house was vandalised, but relaxed the ultimatum due to intervention from different authorities, including the visit by Vice President John Mahama. Monday was exactly two weeks and the regalia have not been returned. Togbe Agyeman said the return of the regalia was one great step to peace and reconciliation.
But even as the mystery of the missing regalia is yet to be unravelled and the victims still count the cost of the destruction, there is still a way out – forgiveness and reconciliation. The only lasting solution to the Hohoe crises is forgiveness from both sides because from the intelligence I picked before leaving Hohoe, it doesn’t seem anyone would ever return the missing regalia of Gbi State.
But the peace must be returned, for the effect of conflict is like rain. It does not fall only the roof of the rainmaker.