Ghana has deployed 1,000 special forces to its northern border with Burkina Faso after gunmen this week shot at immigration officers in a border town, killing one. The attack has sparked fears that Islamist militants in Burkina Faso are stirring unrest to expand in the region.
The 40-year-old ethnic conflict between the Mamprusi and Kusasi people over a chieftaincy seat in Bawku — an hour drive from Burkina Faso’s border with Ghana — has escalated into a war, reportedly involving foreign combatants, leaving more than 30 people dead between December and April, according to police records.
Experts said the porous borders and smuggling routes have become major threats to the peaceful atmosphere in Ghana as Islamist militants take advantage of political instability in Ouagadougou to expand their frontiers in coastal West Africa from the Sahel region.
Amadu Hamza, the mayor of the border town of Bawku in the Upper East Region of Ghana, told VOA that the lax security situation at unmanned entry points is worrying.
“The challenge we have is that there are a lot of loopholes where there could be permanent posts,” said Hamza. “However, the government of Ghana for one or two reasons have not committed enough resources to be able to have those permanent soldiers policing those areas to prevent the Jihadists.”
Bawku victim of instability, conflict
Hamza said the internal conflict, coupled with the instability in Burkina Faso, has adversely affected the town’s once thriving economy, making the unemployment situation worse and young people more vulnerable to recruitment by Islamist militants.
“There is complete reduction in the general economy of Bawku,” said Hamza, adding that the “majority of the people can’t come in from Burkina Faso, Togo, Niger and Mali. People from Bawku cannot also cross. Only a few of them risk their lives to go. The fear is that when you go the Jihadists will kill you and unemployment is the major cause of the Jihadists for them to get you and recruit you into their camps.”
‘Access to education is key’
Mahama Ayariga, a member of parliament representing a district in Bawku and a member of the opposition National Democratic Congress, said terrorists are knocking on Ghana’s door from volatile northern frontiers and are calling on the government to channel more resources toward resolving the decades-long ethnic conflict within Bawku.
“As for this talk about terrorism, you see, we have a problem, and we are not focusing our resources on it, and we are not concerned about the lives of people in Bawku that are dying,” said Ayariga. “We are [rather] concerned about terrorists crossing over. Come on, are you saying that the Ghana Armed Forces cannot manage that small geographical space? That is my real fundamental problem.”
As the Ghanaian government increases its security presence in Bawku by sending more troops to ensure safety, Adib Saani, the executive director of the Jatikay Center for Peace Building, said officials must focus more on improving the lives of locals by providing them basic amenities.
“Access to education is key,” he said. “Access to basic necessities of life — food, water, sanitation and shelter — especially opportunities for young people who are largely unemployed and sit under trees to talk the whole day and they have guns on them.”
So far, Ghana has been spared a direct attack linked to Islamist militants in Burkina Faso. But with Bawku fast becoming the epicenter of violent attacks on citizens — especially women and children — the security agencies are pressed to up their game to protect its 144,000 inhabitants and secure the borders.
Source : VOA