Thursday, December 4, 2008


DISCLAIMER: This email has some minor vulgar language. And tons of misspellings and grammatical errors. I'm on a cruddy computer without spellcheck and typing as fast as i can to try to get it all in before the internet crashes again.

Today was quite the eventful day.

The interviews were much darker up here than in Kumasi. That may partially be because i have a local translator/guide, but i think it is more to do with the fact that there are far more problems up here. The atmosphere is very different.

The day started with interviews with five men at the NPP headquarters in Tamale. The NPP is in the minority in Tamale. They explained that two months ago there was a rally when shots were fired. The police came out and calmed everything down, but that night both the NPP headquarters and NDC headquarters were burned to the ground. They claimed that the NDC burned theirs first and they did it in a response (no, none of them were there, but 100 other people were). When I talked to NPP people later, they claimed that the NPP burned the NDC headquarters first and then set fire to their own, so it would look like the NDC did it.

When I asked the NPP why they burned the NDC's headquarters, they said that the NDC had killed several people and burned dozens of houses since 2002. They said that they "decided that when something is done, they will pay them back. We want peace, but when the NDC starts violence, we will do violence." They claimed (similar to almost everyone i talked to) that they personally didn't care about the clan divide that got co-opted by the political parties; that they only wanted development in the country.

On a personal note, i must say it was a bit disconcerting to sit outside of the NPP headquarters talking to them while they talked about NPP supporters being shot, beheaded and burned. I had my back to the street and everytime a propoganda truck came by blasting its loud speakers I was a bit jumpy. The men I was interviewing weren't jumpy though, so i took a cue from them.

We then took a 2.5 hour bus ride out to Yendi, the epicenter of the problems. The problems out there were totally different than i expected. Instead of the NDC and NPP fighting, in Yendi, the NPP was fighting a breakaway faction that had gone independent.

The very first person i talked to said there had been "a few" problems in Yendi. He then went on to show me the three places he was shot by the police after a rally 3 weeks ago (wrist, back and side, if i remember correctly). I'm not sure what a bullet wound looks like, but they looked like what i would imagine they would look like. He also had a hole in his motorcyle that he says was a bullet hole. Again, i'm not sure what a bullet hole looks like in metal, but it seemed real enough.

Interestingly, his account of how the fight started was backwards from what the other side reported. He claimed that the other faction (the break-away independents) came back from a rally and drug a man out of a mosque during prayer and started beating him. This man's group then got the women and children out of the way and started attacking. The other group reported that when they got back from their rally, that this group was ready for them and started the fight.

From most of the reports, most of the fighting starts after these rallies. I understand why now, but more on that later.

An interesting thing happened while we were talking to the man with the bullet holes. An agent from BN9 came up to see what we were doing. BN9 is their version of the FBI. I think they fashioned the name after the British MI6. When Muhammad told me there was a BN9 agent following us, I thought we ought to just go say hi. So we did and he was very nice. He was in plainclothes and very very serious. I explained what i was doing and asked if i could interview him. He politely declined, saying there were plenty of other people to talk to. Then he left us alone.

In talking to the different sides of this issue, a scary theme emerged. Both sides seemed to think that the other side couldn't possibly win without cheating, and if the other side cheated, there would "be problems." I can't see how they can possibly escape violence when neither side believes the other can win legitimately. Someone has to win, and the other side will not accept it as fair and honest.

A few people had complaints about the election commission, but they were vague and scattered.

An interesting note: very few of the accounts of violence were identical. When speaking of the same incident, one person might report 7 cars burned, several homes burned and 2 people killed; another person might report 2 homes burned and a few motorcyles and 3 people killed. Everyone speaks with conviction, but the facts seem to have been lost a while ago.

We tried to interview the head of the local election commission office, but he had a line with a dozen people waiting to see him.

Next we stumbled upon a rally for the PNC, which is not the majority or the opposition party. The party's presidential candidate was there for the rally. It was like accidentally walking into a rally for Ross Perot or Ralph Nader. They gave me a seat up front (by my estimate it was the 5'th most important seat, behind the presidential candidate and a few local officials). Many people gave speeches in Dagboni and everyone cheered. They asked if I wanted to talk, so i took the microphone, told the crowd what i was there for and told them I was hoping for peace and a free and fair election for them. Most of them didn't speak English, but they seemed thrilled that I talked anyhow.

After the rally we discovered that the last bus back to Tamale had already left. Oh crap. We took our chances hitch-hiking back and caught a truck pretty quickly. I was a little bitter that a Peace Corps truck looked right at us and kept on driving. Jerks.

When we got back to Tamale we drove right into the middle of an NDC rally. Now I know how these things are the root of all the violence. It was super-charged. There were hundreds of people dancing around and yelling. People were carrying elephant jaws and bones, waiving them in the air. Several people had their bodies painted. There were people beating drums everywhere, all to the same basic rhythm. I'll have to admit, there was so much energy, it was hard not to get caught up in the middle of it. Then energy built to a climax when the local member of parliment took the microphone and started speaking (in Dagboni) getting the crowd worked up. He got the crowd worked up and then got in his car and drove off. People went bananas, with wild dancing and loud drumming and screaming and jumping. All it would take is for one or two people to suggest violence for this crowd to lose control. Fortunately, nothing happened and the rally splintered off into different groups heading in different directions cheering.

So, I have two theories from today that apply to everywhere, not just Ghana. One: Just about everyone I have met is a rational person, but when you combine many rational people you have the potential to create a completely irrational group. Second theory: just about everyone i've ever met is a good person, but everywhere i go there are a few assholes that spoil everything.

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