Ghana: The Asafo, I Repeat, Can Save Ghana From Galamsey!


It is distressing to learn from Nsem Pii TV station, that a beautiful waterfall in Ghana has been rendered inaccessible to the local communities by galamseyers.

The criminals have used excavators to dig huge craters that have blocked the entrance. When the locals tried to find an alternative entrance, that too was quickly blocked by excavator action.

An elder of the area who was interviewed by Nsem Pii TV station stated that the galamseyers work at night, so it's impossible to find out from them why they are doing such terrible damage to a cultural site. Rumours state that the galamseyers either have a "licence" to dig in the area, or else, have "bought land" from locals who own farms near the waterfall.

I have written elsewhere that it is a mark our lack of confidence in our own nationhood that whilst looking around for a solution to the problem caused by galamsey to the survival of our country, we have not adequately explored home-made remedies that are readily at our disposal.

Our ancestors relied on a well-tried system of self-defence to create stable societies that were relatively free of heinous anti-social crimes. Other "offences" that merely affected relationships between individuals, were thought to be of less importance, in that everyone knew the customary laws from birth. So, these "offences" were largely relegated to the related unimportant status of "afisƐm".

Proper "crimes" related to relationships with the opposite sex, because, of course, they caused friction between men, whereas m,en were supposed to be united and friendly towards one another, in order to be ableto effectively co-operate in defending the nation against an invading force.

Such anti-social crimes included bɔ mmɔnaa [forcibly have sexual relations with a sleeping woman who cannot give her consent]; and sɛbe, "di ɔbaa tete ne tɔma mu" [forcibly have sexual relations with an unwilling woman, by violently tearing away the beads around her waist that held in place, the piece of cloth which protected her private parts."] Punishment for these offences were severe, for, as I have observed, they impeded co-operation between the men who were the nation's defence force.

The defence force itself was known as the Asafo, and undertook evert day social functions that enabled it to be readily and quickly transformed into a war machine, (should a war arise). There is, thus, hardly any village or town in Ghana, in which there isn't an Asafo group.

Each ethnic group in Ghana has its own system (though many overlap, in the sense that although they are similar systems with the same objectives, the systems have different nomenclatures or organisational structures.

In my own Akan society, the ASAFO was also known as the KYIREM group. Kyirem literally means "Explain it!" which suggests, of course, that apart from its military role, it acted as a brake on the functions of the Chief; i.e. it could summon the chief to a meeting to "explain publicly, why - in a particular issue - he had acted in a manner that had puzzled or offended some of his subjects.

The village or town Asafo is headed by an Asafohene, who sits at the apex of a structure evolved along military lines. The most important elements of the structure are the drummers group and the "Scouts" or intelligence-gathering group (Akwansrafoᴐ).

The main body of the Asafo is, of course, the mass of the community, each with its own family head or Opanin. This is how it deals with an emergency:The drums [twene] and gong-gong [dawuro] are beaten/sounded, and each Opanin, upon hearing the alarm,changes into battle dress and summons his family members to meet him at his house. They exchange information about what's going on, and then they all troop to the Chief's palace or Ahenfie. This process is duplicated in each and every family.

When the Asafo members are satisfied that they have the means of combating the emergency, they set out for the bush.

In one case with which I am familiar, it took them just about an hour to find the body of a woman who had been struck down by the branch of a tree, following a strong rain-storm.

They then brought the body home, amidst war songs.

Because of the role the Asafos have played in destooling unpopular Chiefs in the past, some Chiefs have disbanded them de facto, if not de jure. But right now, in the struggle against galamsey, virile Asafo groups are needed urgently in all the communities whose water-bodies and farms are being mercilessly ruined by galamsey operators.

Some Asafos have already begun to fight the galamseyers, though their work is inhibited by the scandalous way in which the Lands Commission appears to have issued licences to some miners without involving the local communities in the process.

It would be wise of the Government to vote a sum of money to the traditional authorities - through the Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs and the Houses of Chiefs - to revive the Asafo groups and allow them to defend their territory against galamseyers, in close co-operation with the soldiers of Operation Halt. They could constitute the effective "eyes and ears" of the soldiers.

Certainly, they would not allow excavators and bulldozers targeted by Operation Halt, to be removed from the prohibited sites and parked in their communities. (According to Defence Minister Nitiwul, at least 700 such machines have already been spirited away from the designated sites, to prevent them from being burnt). This has been made possible by the fact that the personnel of Operation Halt are, of course, limited in number and could not have lain in ambush to intercept excavators being driven away from galamsey sites.


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