Nandom, Ghana, May 2016

PPP Director Stacey Connaughton and graduate research assistant Jasmine Linabary recently returned from peace work in Nandom, Ghana.

On May 4, a bus full of young men in uniforms pulled up honking, singing, and laughing, and piled off the bus to warmly greet the paramount chief before heading to the football field. Such a sight would have been highly unlikely even six months prior.

The youth were Dagara men from Nandom, a district in the Upper West Region of Ghana, and they had come to play a friendly football match with the young Sisaala men of Lambussie, a neighboring district. The chief they greeted was the Lambussie paramount chief, the traditional leader within the district. The football match was the third friendly inter-ethnic and inter-community match held between the youth of the two districts.

Friendly football matches emerged as an activity for peace during a set of meetings with participants from the two districts convened by the Purdue Peace Project (PPP) in collaboration with Nandom Youth for Peace and Development (NYPAD) in November 2015. This activity was part of a larger strategy that NYPAD developed: if given opportunities to engage face-to-face, members of disputing communities can reduce their tensions and build a culture of understanding and mutual respect. Such an approach is in line with the PPP’s belief that dialogue can lead to effective action toward preventing violence and that those local to the conflict can and should lead peacebuilding efforts.

These meetings provided an opportunity for community members to discuss the longstanding inter-ethnic and inter-community conflicts between the Dagara and Sisaala people and to identify strategies to prevent violence and build peace. Inter-ethnic conflict in the region has contributed to land disputes, and, according to residents, led to injury and death, destruction of properties, food insecurity, lack of development, and poor inter-community and inter-ethnic relations.

The football matches, an activity people participate in together, seek to build positive relations among the youth, who are often mobilized to enact violence. The Nandom youth greeting the Lambussie paramount chief was only one of many signs of improved relations we witnessed during our May visit to the Upper West Region.

The May 4th match took place in Lambussie. The matches have alternated back and forth between the two districts during the past six months in an effort to encourage more free movement and social interaction between them, something that was not encouraged before, or when it happened had the potential for conflict and violence. Prior to the match, the Lambussie chief addressed the players and encouraged them to “know each other as brothers.”

Before, during, and after the match, the male youth from the two teams were seen joking with one another, sharing water, helping each other up, and mingling during breaks. NYPAD members noted that the style of play during the match illustrated the improved relations and friendly nature of the interaction. The youth played a fair game and did not unnecessarily tackle, push or insult one another. Lambussie won the match1-0 on a penalty kick, and afterwards the players sat together and shared refreshments.

Following the match, the Lambussie district chief executive and the Upper West deputy regional minister along with other officials came to greet the players and to hear about their efforts to build more peaceful relations. They commended the efforts to enhance peace in the region. The district chief executive donated a full set of jerseys to each team and a ball to the team that won the match. In an impoverished region of the country, the jerseys are more than symbolic. 

Interviews that we did with NYPAD members and community members indicate that the football matches have contributed to improved relations between the two districts. In particular, people reported that residents have been moving freely between the two districts without conflict, which hadn’t happened in some time; attending each other’s weddings and funerals; and building friendships that extend beyond the football field.  We saw firsthand the respect that community members – youth and elders, men and women – give NYPAD. These young people have come to be seen as peacebuilders within the Nandom and Lambussie districts.

NYPAD, with support from the PPP, plans to move from playing a few friendly matches to organizing a larger inter-ethnic football tournament between male youth in the two districts in the coming months. The tournament is an effort to expand their efforts to improve inter-ethnic relations prior to the 2016 presidential election, a time that is prone to violence particularly among the youth. 

-Author Jasmine Linabary is a graduate research assistant with the PPP.

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