Blacksmiths rebuilding hope from the rubble in Ghana

Abukari Abdulai, a blacksmith from Ghana, is reusing weapons to create new utensils
Artisans in Ghana learned how to produce new kinds of products, including cooking tools like coal pots and utensils. Photo: UNDP Ghana

On the fringes of the once-dreaded town of Yendi – in the district of the same name in northeastern Ghana – sits middle-aged Abukari Abdulai in the shade of a rundown blacksmith’s shop. Abdulai is the Secretary of the Boriguyili Blacksmiths Association. Such artisans have long been accused of being behind the many small arms and weapons that people use in torturing others when civil conflict occurs in Yendi.

In their lean season when there is no farming, and no customers to buy the hoes, cutlasses and axes they manufacture, there is a temptation to produce small weapons in a region where there is a high demand for such arms.

Highlights

  • 250 blacksmiths were organized into trade associations
  • Blacksmiths are learning to produce new products instead of weapons, such as tools for cooking, farming, and water storage.
  • Since 2011, the UNDP has helped train 140 district leaders and elders in conflict prevention and resolution.
  • Residents in Ghana’s northeastern conflict-affected areas have seen tensions reduced and many residents return after having fled 2002 violence.

Abdulai recollects the events of March 2002 when 30 people in Yendi City were murdered in cold blood in a long-standing feud between two families. The following investigation laid most of the conflict’s blame on the warring factions’ “unfettered acquisition” of arms and weaponry, and recommended the Government take steps to retrieve all such arms as they posed a serious and ongoing threat to national security.

As a result of these finding, the UN implemented the Joint Human Security Programme in Ghana, bringing together the expertise of six UN agencies including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

UNDP’s contribution to the initiative included organizing in 2011 more than 250 blacksmiths, including Abdulai and his colleagues in the cities of Yendi, Bawku, Tamale, and Wa, into trade associations. The participating blacksmiths then received training on taking leadership roles in reducing the threat of small arms proliferation.

The blacksmith’s associations are also part of a greater effort to deter people from producing illegal weapons by providing them alternative sources of income. For example, the programme is linking up the 60 participating blacksmiths with microfinance institutions in Ghana that can help them jumpstart new businesses and livelihoods. The blacksmiths are learning how to produce new kinds of products, including cooking tools like coal pots and utensils, cans for storing water and farm tools. Additionally, since 2011, a total of 140 traditional leaders and elders from four different districts have received training from UNDP in conflict prevention and resolution.

According to a recent security survey, 85.5 percent of respondents in Ghana’s northeastern conflict-affected areas agreed they had seen a lessening of tensions between 2009 and 2011. Residents also say they have witnessed the return of more than half of the people who fled the eruption of 2002 violence in Yendi, a number in the thousands, and government officials are once again accepting postings to the District.

“Where we have gotten to, every son of Dagbon knows that peace is what we need so we can develop,” says Abudalai, who is sitting with a group of fellow blacksmiths, laughing and planning what to do next to flush out others who continue to produce weapons. “Our tragic past shows us that peace is crucial.”

by Justice Baidoo

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