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GHANA STUDIES / Volume 14 ISSN 1536-5514 / E-ISSN 2333-7168© 2012 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 53 TAMALE: ELECTION 2008, VIOLENCE, AND “UNEMPLOYMENT”1 WYATT MACGAFFEY On 1 June 2009, the newly appointed mayor of Tamale convened a meeting of city officials and others to inaugurate his new “peace advisory council,” composed of traditional chiefs, clergy, lawyers, and other people of influence. The problem, he explained, was that Tamale’s national reputation for violence discourages investors and development, although the recent opening of five new banks indicated the economic potential of the city. The speeches of the day pointed to ignorance, unemployment, and indiscipline of young people as the root of the problem. Nobody mentioned the political leaders who sponsor groups of young men and sometimes incite them to violence. This article explores, from a local perspective, some of the factors that seem to have provoked the incidents of violence that occurred in Tamale and other parts of the Northern Region after the elections of 2008. In 2006, in the introduction to the second edition of his excellent book on the abuses of power that led to the fall of Kwame Nkrumah, Maxwell Owusu, a consultant to the committee chaired by Dr. S. K. B. Asante that drafted the Constitution of 1992, says the committee introduced several innovations intended to enhance the prospects of political stability in Ghana, especially “alternative approaches to the notion of ‘winner takes 1. I am indebted to Abdul-Somed Shahadu for help with some aspects of this article, and to many of Tamale’s leading citizens for sharing their views and experiences with me over the years. This article was completed in 2010; some details it reports are now out of date. 54 Ghana Studies • volume 14 • 2012 all’ in general elections” (Owusu 2006: 6). The problem of political instability runs through Owusu’s book and the two later essays that he added to the second edition. He argued that Ghanaians are not much interested in ideology; they are committed to achieving economic mobility. Their modernity “aspires to privilege through high-status seeking and is desirous of well-paid and materially comfortable, mostly white-collar, occupations . . . This modernist orientation has created institutionalized structural instability , making drastic political change inevitable” as political elites are seen to do very well for themselves but fail to meet popular aspirations (Owusu 2006: 272).2 After the rapid and usually violent changes that succeeded Nkrumah’s fall, the question of stability seemed urgent indeed, yet after the elections conductedsince1992underthenewConstitutionandtwopeacefulchanges of regime (from the National Democratic Congress [NDC] to the New Patriotic Party [NPP] in 2002 and the reverse in 2008), Ghana attracted praise for its apparent stability. Joanna Svanikier (2007) has argued that whereas instability can be attributed to the desire of multiple sections of the public to be represented among the elite, stability is the result of coalescence among elites and, in effect, an agreement to divide the spoils of office. This perspective received support from a founder member of the NPP, Kwame Pianim, in one of the many public discussions on constitutional reform that took place during 2010; arguing that reform was unnecessary, he said: “If the NDC wins, let it come and give contracts to its people. After four years, the NPP will also come and give the contracts to its people.”3 In fact, the goal of winning the national elections is to appropriate the almost 2. On this theme see also Nugent 1995 and Price 1974. 3. Daily Graphic, 13 May 2010. MacGaffey • Tamale: Election 2008, Violence, and “Unemployment” 55 unlimited powers of patronage at the president’s disposal (Gyimah-Boadi 2006: xv). Much of the conflict that followed the elections of 2008 arose from opinion among the lower ranks of the winning party that the distribution of presidential largesse should have been extended to them but was not. In May 2010, as incidents of protest and violence among youthful members of the NDC multiplied across the country, the Central Region Minister suggested a ban on awarding contracts in an election year. He noted that the government was not only expected to hand out contracts but was also...


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