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The Past and Present in Ghana's Ethnic Conflicts: British Colonial Policy and Konkomba Agency, 1930-1951

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This article focuses on the events surrounding the 1940 Konkomba attack on the predominantly Dagomba village of Jagbel, in what is today Ghana's Northern Region. This event demonstrates that the antagonism that became characteristic of the relationship between these two groups in the postcolonial period was a product of the political structure that the British colonial administration imposed. A central feature of this structure was indirect rule, which the British developed around "tribe" and "chieftaincy." Groups whose system of authority satisfied British definitions of tribe and chieftaincy were recognized as politically legitimate. Those that did not were largely disenfranchised. As part of indirect rule, British officials forced the historically non-centralized Konkomba clans under the political jurisdiction of Dagomba nas, or chiefs, despite little historical precedent for such a relationship. By defining the political status of groups in strict terms, the British fostered the development of politicized ethnic identities and the use of symbols that came to be associated with these identities as resources as they competed for political and natural resources. This political inequality in local society and, therefore, conflict and tension between ethnic groups persisted under Ghana's postcolonial regimes and led to more protracted violence between 1980 and 1994.


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