The Kingdom of Dagbon exists within the contemporary borders of Ghana, the constitution of which enshrines the role of traditional chieftains and kings in society. The state remains the primary political unit in Ghana, with the chieftains and kings fulfilling ceremonial roles along with some duties concerning local government, development, conflict resolution, and security.1 Leadership of the Kingdom of Dagbon was historically rotated between two families, leaving plenty of scope for disputes and clashes between rival claimants to emerge. Indeed, the risk that such a dispute could trigger a wider conflict was recognised by the Government of Ghana as early as 1972. However, various investigations and legal rulings failed to resolve the crisis at the heart of the Kingdom of Dagbon and contributed to a growing sense of confusion and uncertainty over the issue of succession.2 By the 1990s, a host of unresolved disputes between the families sharing the throne had accumulated, ranging from the burial rights of deceased kings to the legitimacy of the incumbent. In 2000, these issues became conflated with politics as the rival families supported opposing platforms during elections. This situation came to a head in March 2002 amidst a dispute over a festival. An attack on a member of one royal family preceded widespread clashes over several days until, on 25 March 2002, the incumbent king was executed along with around 25 supporters in the royal palace.3 This unprecedented event threatened to escalate into a war for the throne that could have devastated northern Ghana.
The immediate threat of violence was minimised by the rapid (within hours) deployment of military and police units to the region by the Government of Ghana and the declaration of a state of emergency.4 The following month, an independent committee – the Wuaku Commission – was established to investigate the attack and recommend what action should be taken. This body was later supported by a UN committee after a request from the Ghanaian government.5 In 2003, the Government of Ghana established the Committee of Eminent Chiefs led by the Asantehene (the traditional ruler of the Ashanti) with support from the UN Development Programme to resolve the crisis. In 2006, the belligerents signed a roadmap to peace developed by this committee, allowing a regent to be appointed to the throne and some royal funerals to be held.6 Approximately 40 people were eventually arrested for the attack in 2010, limiting the risk of a conflict relapse. After no less than 60 rounds of talks, the Eminent Chiefs finally mediated a peaceful resolution to the dispute in 2018.7 This deal was presented to the Government of Ghana the following year and a new king was duly enskinned.