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September 18, 2013

Conflict Resolution Approach, Ghana

by Admin

The Rt. Revd Matthias K. Medadues-Badohu, Anglican Bishop of Ho, reflects on conflict resolution approaches in Ghana in relation to Continuing Indaba. 

Introduction 

Life is relational.  We relate with one another to have our needs met and our desires fulfilled.  As John Donne (1572–1631) would put it, “No man is an island entire of itself”. Human nature and the human condition require that we depend on others for survival and satisfaction of our individual needs.

It is worth mentioning here, however, that every individual is unique.  We differ in our values, self-interest, priorities and in several other ways.  In our interdependent relationships, each individual ought to manage his/her differences.  Conflict arises when individuals, groups, or societies fail to manage their differences.

No wonder the Dana Mediation Institute (2005), defines conflict as, “A condition between people who are interdependent, and where one or both feel angry and find faults with each other, and use behaviours that cause a business problem”.

Conflict drains the capacity of relationships to satisfy human needs.  Workplace conflicts lead to stagnated careers, job stress, lowered productivity, lessened motivation and even sometimes lead to termination or resignation.  Chronic unresolved interpersonal conflicts cause needless emotional pain, and wastefully drain individual vitality and organisational resources.

Conflicts generally are always resolvable and have always been resolved through various conflict resolution methods, notably through the court system or through other conflict resolution methods such as mediation, negotiation and arbitration.

There are many kinds of conflicts, and conflict resolution methods require identifying and responding appropriately to conflict in its various forms.  Seeing how others have addressed conflict is one good way to develop understanding of a range of conflict types and a variety of conflict resolution strategies.

In Africa, especially in Ghana, all resolution strategies are treasured, but it is assumed that traditional “pacifications” are of greater value in the provision of tranquility within a given conflict community. Therefore, recognition and respect of culturally held belief systems shown by some of the natives within the turbulent zones are very important in conflict resolution.

This, in my view, is similar to The Social Causation Theory Concept, (a concept related to cause and effect of certain actions, and the society as a catalyst for said effect) which is therefore an acceptable perspective to our ethnic conflict. It is assumed that it provides an explanation and comfort to the people as to what is actually happening out there.  Cultural and tribal belief systems demand observation of the rules underpinning pacification of rites; by doing so, it is believed that inhabitants within the conflict zones would live together in harmony and in peace as before.

Arbitration of Conflict

A complainant goes to the traditional ruler or chief with some drinks, and lodges a complaint against the other party.  The chief then informs his elders and sends his linguist with his staff (a special walking stick) to the defendant or the accused party.  The linguist extends the staff to the accused party who then touches it to indicate that he accepts the invitation of the chief and his elders.  They later fix a date on which the case should be called for hearing and settlement.

The chief again sends his linguist with his staff to all the parties concerned to inform them of the agreed date of the meeting.

On the day of hearing and settlement, when all parties are seated, the chief then asks the complainant to narrate his grievances to the arbitrators.  Questions, if there are any, are then invited from the accused party by the arbitrators. The accused party is then asked to state his version of the charges leveled against him by the complainant.  The complainant too, is invited to ask questions if there are any.  When one party is talking, the other one is not allowed to interfere.

The arbitrators, after listening to the two parties, now ask questions one at a time.  They insist that the question should be answered politely even under oath.  After they have exhausted the examinations, the chief and the elders cross-examine the parties.  The parties are given the chance to produce their witnesses to testify on their behalf.  After hearing all the parties and their witnesses carefully, the panel members retire to the chambers to consult  ’Amegakpui or Mama Nenyewode or Abrewa / the wise one’’. (In fact there is nobody like that.  The wise one is just an imaginary person).  A select group from the arbitrators and the two parties just go to put their heads together and come out with their verdict.  This part of the settlement of the case is called ‘’adanu’’ that is ‘’jury’’.

At the jury, the jurors agree on certain points to be told the two parties.  As custom demands, the parties are told to produce some drinks and money before the verdict is announced to them.  When the juniors return, it is the linguist who tells the two parties their respective faults and rights.  The people at the arbitration are allowed to advise the two parties if anyone wants to do so.  Usually, when the case is not grievous they don’t blame anybody.  They just advise them to live with each other amicably.  On the other hand, when the case is grievous, the offender is fined accordingly.

The two parties are asked to shake hands with each other and all the people at the arbitration.  After this, they put their heads together to pacify the stool by sending food and drink to the room where the stool is kept (This is just a saying because the stool is not brought to the place where the arbitration is held). After the pacification, the parties are dispersed by the chief in joy, while the chief and his elders would still have a brief meeting before retiring to their various places.

The Humble Dawn Knock Method of Conflict Resolution

The Humble Dawn Knock is another powerful method to resolve conflicts.  This method is whereby either the aggrieved or the offending party swallows up pride and takes the initiative to visit the other party, early at dawn in a very remorseful manner, in the company of a well-respected and trusted person of the party to be visited, to seek peace through redress.  Because we can only build on peace and unity, the party taking the initiative has to search round the party to be visited to know who the latter respects and trusts, for it is that ‘respectable person’ who plans the visit.  By this method, though the party that takes the initiative to do the ‘humble dawn’ knock may be absolutely right in his conviction, he does not necessarily put that across as a subject matter, but seeks peace, unity and love.  When the trust is built once more between the two parties, naturally there follows respect for each other’s views on any subject matter.

I mentioned in the opening sentence of the paragraph above that the Humble Dawn Knock was a powerful method for conflict resolution because, even in our Christian Gospels, God took the initiative to come down to earth in a very humble way, identifying with the human situation, but with a resolve of drawing us back to himself who is the absolute truth.

In most cultures when someone perceives himself to be more knowledgeable than others within certain cultural setup (i.e. norms and practices), his message is not very much listened to, let alone that message having any meaningful impact on his target group.

The Implication of the above Conflict Resolution Methods to the Indaba Process

  1. In the Humble Knock Method of conflict resolution and many other African methods in this regard, there is the concept of authority or central control.  There is always a focal point of unity and respect without which there can be no solution.  We as Anglicans have what we call ‘Symbols of Unity’ [Instruments of Communion], and for these symbols to work to their effectiveness, respect must be given to a centre that holds all our democratic decisions together and see to their implementation.
  2. The Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13: 24-30):
  3. Another parable Jesus put before the disciples, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.  And the servants of the householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’  He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  But he said, ‘No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.  

    It may well be said that this is one of the most practical parables Jesus ever told.  In it there are several lessons, with a few of them below; if very well reflected upon, the Process of the Indaba could be seen as the practical solution to the conflicts within our beloved Communion:

  4. There is always a hostile power in the world, seeking and waiting to destroy the good seed.  Our experience is that both kinds of influence act upon our lives, the influence which helps the seed of the word to flourish and to grow, and the influence which seeks to destroy the good seed before it can produce fruit at all.  The lesson is that we must be forever on our guard.
  5. As humans, it will always be hard to distinguish between those who are in the Kingdom and those who are not.  A man may appear to be good and may in fact be bad; and a man may appear to be bad and may yet be good.  We are much too quick to classify people and label them good or bad without knowing all the facts.
  6. It is our temperament as humans to be so quick with our judgments.  If the reapers had had their way, they would have tried to tear out the darnel
  7.  and they would have torn out the wheat as well.  Judgment had to wait until the harvest came.  A man in the end will be judged, not by any single act or stage in his life, but by his whole life.  Judgment cannot come until the end.  A man may make a great mistake, and then redeem himself and, by the grace of God, atone for it by making the rest of life a lovely thing.  A man may live an honourable life and then in the end wreck it all by a sudden collapse into sin. No one who sees only part of a thing can judge the whole; and no one who knows only part of a man’s life can judge the whole man.  The only person with the right to judge is God.  It is God alone who can discern the good and the bad; it is God alone who sees all of a man and all of his life.  It is, therefore, Him alone who can judge.

Conclusion

As we all know, conflict occurs when two parties have incompatible ideas, opinions and values; conflict resolution has multiple meanings.  Since conflict is inevitable, the most important thing is to make it easier to understand, and hopefully, easier to manage.  The above is just few of the ways Ghanaians, especially the E3es, approach conflict resolution.

I pray that the measures identified above would provide solace to the entire inhabitants of noted conflict areas in general.  We must not be complacent, but remain focused in our determination to live and work together for a better future for the next generation to thrive without any barriers.  Indeed, rebuilding peace or life generally ought to be seen as a marathon not a sprint.  May God always direct us rightly in our works of conflict resolution. Amen!

 Notes

Editor’s Note:  linguist [ˈlɪŋgwɪst]:

1. (Linguistics) a person who has the capacity to learn and speak foreign languages.

2. (Linguistics) a person who studies linguistics.

3. (Business / Professions) West African, esp Ghanaian the spokesman for a chief.

Editor’s note: darnel=ryegrass.

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