In 1992, Rwandan politician Leon Mugesera referred to Tutsis as “Inyenzi”, meaning cockroaches. This insulting, dehumanizing language triggered a genocide, which happened in 1994 and which led to the deaths of 800,000 people largely Tutsis. In Ghana, the Kusasis and Mamprusis, embroiled in what appears to be an intractable ethnic conflict are perpetuating this same sin which has the potential to blow up. JoyNews investigations have shown that while Kusasis refer to the Mamprusis as “monkeys”, the Mamprusis also refer to the Kusasis as “pigs” on social media.
These animal labels may seem harmless but history has shown that when humans are tagged as animals, it dehumanizes them. When this is done repeatedly, people start seeing their fellow human beings as sub-human. This could lead to gruesome attacks just like the Holocaust (Nazis referred to Jews as rats) and the Rwandan Genocide.
One of the Facebook users, Spartans Bawku, who identifies as Kusasi posted on his page; “No doubt most of the monkeys don’t know how consistently you are dying in Bawku … you better sit up fool, stop the lies because it would stop us from hurting you like animals”. Spartans Bawku was reacting to a post by a known Mamprusi Facebook user, T Blow Nash that three Kusasis had been killed and 12 of them arrested at Danduri. While this conflict has not fully captured the nation’s full interest, Bawku has become a dangerous place to live. With the two ethnic groups tagging each other as animals, it is not shocking that from 2021 to date, close to 200 lives have been snuffed out. The Municipal Chief Executive of Bawku, Amadu Hamza, who revealed this to JoyNews, said “Many have died and their bodies were never given to the police”.
When Mamprusis die as a result of this ethnic conflict, the Kusasis gleefully announce that they have killed a “monkey”. For example, a Facebook user called “Man To Culture” with just 77 followers posted on the Kusasi Voice Association page which has over 84,000 followers that “three monkeys six feet at gingande, down”. This announcement was meant to tell the Kusasi group that three Mamprusis had been killed. The comment section saw other users gleefully using laughing and monkey emojis.
A Facebook user called ‘Barbaric Bond’ posted in Kusasi Voice Association on July 17 that the death of five Mamprusis called for celebration. The message was, “It is time for celebration. We have done it again. So proud of you all 5 monkeys down”. This post excited members on the page. The post was liked by 225 people and attracted 62 comments.
Another post by another Facebook user “Possum Link” with over 2,100 followers posted; “Anybody who married Kusasis pigs will give birth to pigs”. Possum further posted that it is “haram” (forbidden) to marry Kusasis. Many Kusasis and Mamprusis flood their pages with such dehumanizing metaphors.
Another user on Facebook Harry Awintis who identifies as a Kusasi posted “Anytime there are peace talks that is when they plan to attack….. The military should focus on something else. These monkeys think they are dealing with our grandfathers. We are not backing down today, we are not backing down tomorrow”. Both ethnic groups have created group pages on Facebook that aggregate hateful views from supporters. Administrators of these groups approve hateful messages that incite violence, circulate pictures, and also call on members to “defend” themselves.
In many posts, these groups announce attacks and then later celebrate deaths. Another Facebook user called Bawku Links who identifies as a Mamprusi also posted “We are still collating the last night’s death results. We will make it available for you in due time”. What followed in the comments section was not a condemnation from the users but expectant Mamprusi’s eagerness to know many people had died.
JoyNews has secured audio recordings from Mamprusis and Kusasis calling on their people to attack. Sometimes they circulate images of people who should be killed. The conflict between the two ethnic groups is about power. For decades, the groups have engaged in gun battles over who should control Bawku’s chieftaincy. Unravelling the source of the conflict is complex because Mamprusis and Kusasis swear they have the right to control the Bawku chieftaincy.
According to scholar Awedoba, the conflict between the Kusasis and the Mamprusis in the Bawku Traditional Area dates back to 1930 with the Kusasis’ claiming title over the Bawku chieftaincy. The Kusasis ethnic group insists that they were the first to settle in Bawku and all areas under the Bawku skin such as Bawku to Zawse, Pusiga, Yaragungu, Tampelungu, Sapelliga, Nyokko, Binduri, Garu, Zebilla and Tempane. Aside from being the first settlers as well as the majority ethnic group in the Bawku Traditional Area, the Kusasis feel the British colonial government denied them traditional political power by recognizing the Mamprusis as the rulers of Bawku.
The Mamprusis on the other hand, argue that the Kusasis were not original settlers but rather migrated from Burkina Faso. They trace their chiefdom over Bawku to the pre-colonial days and accuse the late President Kwame Nkrumah of meddling in chieftaincy and overseeing the installation of a Kusasi chief after independence. The Kusasis and the Mamprusis have both taken entrenched positions making the conflict protracted in the Bawku Traditional Area. This misunderstanding has led to many gun battles and other forms of violent confrontations which have led to the deaths of many people and the destruction of properties.
This article does not seek to unpack which ethnic group has the right to rule in Bawku, rather it examines how unchecked incitement of hate speech on social media is flaming the conflict. Bawku has remained largely underdeveloped because of the conflict. For many months, the government imposed a curfew in the area and banned the use of motorbikes. Trading activities in Bawku have dwindled. Teachers and health workers among other public service workers refuse posting to Bawku because of the insecurity in the area. In April 2023, an Immigration Officer was shot dead and two other officers were also badly injured after unknown gunmen shot multiple times at the car they were travelling in.
In September 2023 the Electoral Commission started a limited voter registration exercise in Bawku but residents could not register because of security concerns. The biggest political parties in the country; the ruling New Patriotic Party and National Democratic Congress wanted the EC to create extra registration centres so that their supporters would register. They cited insecurity concerns in the Bawku community.
The Ghana News Agency reported that 10 people were confirmed dead in Bawku. The West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), broke down the incidents by reporting that two civilians died from military gunfire on January 31 and the next day, a similar incident by the military resulted in the death of eight other persons. Seven of the dead were from Sunga, a primarily Kusasi neighbourhood, while the other three were slain in the Bawku township, a mainly Mamprusi neighbourhood.
According to WANEP field monitors, on February 6, 2023, a man was shot and murdered by unidentified attackers on the Sabon-gari road. The same day, some criminals allegedly tried but failed to detonate an improvised explosive device on a significant Bawku bridge.
On February 7, 2023, at about 5:15 p.m., a group of men sitting at a truck park near the municipal police station were shot at by unidentified armed individuals they believed to be Mamprusis. Two people died immediately as a result of the attack.
On February 9, a Facebook user who identifies as a Mamprusi T Blow Nash posted to his supporters; “Stay calm. Walai, I swear by the gods of Mamprugu, confirmed source 7 dead pigs. Stay calm”. In fact, WANEP field monitors picked up on the incident and reported that several Kusasis homes at Kariama were set on fire and this spiraled into sporadic gunshots that claimed the lives of an additional three people.
Further reports from WANEP field monitors show that three commercial drivers—two Akans and one Bissa—who had loaded their trucks and were about to depart the Bawku township were tragically killed on the highway, while numerous of their passengers suffered varying degrees of injuries.
On Friday, February 10, 2023, it was also reported that a youngster, about the age of 12, had died. According to WANEP-Ghana field monitor reports, the military is to blame for the gunfire that occurred between military personnel and residents in Singnatin at around 12:40 p.m. The victim, who was around 12 years old, is said to have been a member of a gang that is accused of obstructing visitors to the Bawku market. Following that, further gunshots were heard in the municipality.
The Ghanaian Times reported on February 11, 2023, that a national security operative, Fatawu Nambe, and 4 civilians had been killed in renewed clashes in Bawku. One of the civilians was decapitated in the incident that took place at Zanga, near Patelmi, both suburbs of Bawku.
On 21st July, 2023 JoyNews reported that unknown gunmen shot at a Kumasi to Bawku bound bus killing one person and injuring many others at Walewale. Shockingly, the unknown men set the bus on fire right in front of the Walewale police station.
On September 21, 2023, JoyNews reported that at least 9 people had died in an attack in the Upper East region town of Pusiga in what is believed to be related to the chieftaincy conflict in neighbouring Bawku. The attack is said to have occurred that morning when heavily armed men ambushed a convoy of police personnel escorting traders from Bawku to Cinkaase in Togo.
Key pages that spread hate Both ethnic groups have group pages and individual pages that fan the conflict. From the Mamprusi side, T Blow Nash, Bawku Links and Possum Link are accounts that should be closely monitored by state security. It is as though Bawku Links and Possum Link accounts were created purposely to fan the flames of the conflict. On the Kusasi side, accounts like Harry Awintis, Kusaug Intelligence Center, and Noryinne Malis are also accounts that incite violence.
Who is T Blow Nash?
“T Blow Nash” purports to be a Mamprusi who regularly updates his fans on Facebook on the ethnic conflict. Nashiru Wuni is his real name. He calls himself a freedom fighter and so does not hide under the cloak of anonymity. He constantly shares history lessons, cautions his ethnic group about an impending attack and then punctuates his posts with a call for peace in Bawku but also threatens violence. The young man stated on a Facebook livestream that his father was “slaughtered” by Kusasis in 2008. It is therefore quite understandable why he will be neck-deep in the conflict.
On 17th July, 2023 for example, he told his 6,200 followers that he would be live on Facebook to announce “current results…” From the comments section, it was clear that he was going to announce the number of people who had died after an attack. True to his earlier post, he made a live video which attracted over 4,600 views to discredit what he termed rumours that some Mamprusis had been killed.
In the live video captioned “8 Kusasis yesterday, 4 today”, he informed his audience that some Kusasis had rather been killed. He warned, “If anything happened to the car that had been stopped at PWD, I will personally invite unknown gunmen”. He added that even though he does not know the “unknown gunmen”, he will invite them by writing on his Facebook wall.
What prompted this live update was that the Kusasis had earlier posted on the 17th of July that 5 Mamprusis had been killed in a gun battle. So going live was to assure his fan base that Kusasis were also being killed. T Blow Nash responded by saying that the Kusasis had not informed their supporters that Kusasis also died in the gun battle. A day after this announcement, he posted that the situation in Bawku had become so dire that you either kill or be killed. On July 22, he warned the police that any attempt to arrest anyone linked to an attack that happened on the highway in the North-East region would be resisted. He boldly attached a picture of a faceless human with fresh wounds.
T Blow Nash sometimes predicts violence and warns his people about impending Kusasi attacks.
On August 12, some buses travelling to Bawku were attacked at a Total filling station. This caught the attention of the media. The DCE for Bawku told JoyNews that one person had been killed and two injured in the attack. T blow Nash had warned on his page that people travelling to Bawku should not travel without police escort because of an imminent attack. He posted on August 10 that “no car moving from Bolga to Bawku should move without escort today”. When the attack happened, he announced that he had warned of the attack. Surprisingly, these brazen displays of information, threats and incitement have not caught the attention of national security personnel.
On 21st September 2023, 9 traders were killed including traders in a bus at Cinkaase a community close to Togo. A few minutes after the attack, T Blow Nash posted that he warned about the attack the previous day. Facebook user Possum Link, also posted on his wall that that since women are now part of the “game” Kusasi market will also be attacked at any moment. Such a strong threat but it appears the account may not have caught the attention of state security agencies as well as Facebook.
Who is Harry Awintis?
On the Kusasi side is Harry Awintis, another user who virtually dedicates almost every post to the ethnic conflict on his page. Unlike T Blow Nash, Harry operates a faceless account. The account calls on his people to attack Mamprusi and excitedly announces deaths. On August 28th Awintis posted; “We can confirm 7 dead Monkeys in Bazua…” The post which was approved on the wall of the Kusasi Voice Association group page with over 13, 000 members, said “no monkey Mamprusi will remain in the Binduri district”.
He also boldly posted in the Kusasi Voice Association that he had secured rifles for his “boys”. The post stated, “I finally got free 5 M16s for my boys…” It is however surprising that national security has not hauled this user in for questioning. Although Harry Awintis has a low number of followers, his posts can reach a high number of people because he posts on the Kusasi Voice Association group page which has a wider reach.
The two groups post images of dead people on their timelines and they brag about it. “Kusasi Links” for instance consistently posts images of dead people and brags about it. Other users post emojis of pigs and laughter emojis. “Kusasi Links” posted a picture of a corpse and added, “Another Mamprusi Bandit from the Patilmi family should come for identification”. To prove that the two ethnic groups are murdering each other, they post dead bodies and bullet wounds on faceless bodies to show that they are winning the ethnic war.
Kusaug Intelligence Centre and Noryinne Malis are faceless accounts that fan the flames of the conflict. Kusaug Intelligence Centre has over 3,800 followers while Noryinne Malis has 966 friends. These pages boldly post images of supposed Mamprusis and call on followers to harm them.
Joynews has gathered that the people behind faceless accounts do not live in the precincts of Bawku. Rather they receive pictures and information of attackers and circulate to show they are winning the ethnic war.
In 2022 the National Media Commission warned that it will close down radio stations that fuel the Bawku conflict. Media managers were told to submit plans to show that they would not stoke the flames of the conflict. This warning seems to have deterred radio stations from inciting violence. This may have encouraged troublemakers in Bawku to use hate speech on Facebook and other social platforms.
Social media democratises information flow and gives voices to those who have none. Unfortunately, Facebook is being used to sustain this deadly conflict that has claimed over 200 lives according to official figures.
Facebook has failed to regulate such inflammatory content that is heightening the Bawku conflict. In 2018, the UN criticised Facebook as being the conduit for the promotion of conflict in Myanmar. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Yanghee stated; “I am afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast and not what it originally intended”.
Facebook has also come under heavy criticism for poor moderation in Ethiopia leading to severe consequences.
Just like what happened in Ethiopia Tigray violence, in Ghana, faceless and known people are instructing people to stir up and commit violence. This article is only aiming at sounding alarm bells to Facebook to heighten moderation in Ghana and monitor the Bawku accounts closely. And then to our National Security agencies and operatives, that the ball is being played right in our courts, assuming they are yet to awake to these developments which have dire consequences for national development and cohesion.