Kpandai’s Strong Women Leaders Part 2: How Madam Francesca Is Helping To Sooth Tribal Tensions

7 Dec

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Madam Francesca was born and raised in Kpandai.   Her mother divorced her father and then eventually left her in the care of another women, who put her to work and didn’t let her out of the house much.  She describes herself as an orphan and she says that, as a result of this, she became very shy.  When she came of age, she felt like she had no other option but to get married.

Luckily she met a good man.  He is a teacher and Madam Francesca began working as a teacher’s assistant.  Over the first ten years  of their marriage, they had their first three children together.   Then she decided to go to college to get her teaching degree.  She says she made the decision because of how hard it was for their family to live on one salary, because she wanted more independence, and because she recognized that the training would make her more effective in her work.  Her husband supported her in her decision, which was crucial because the college was located four hours away and the program was four years long.

It was only shortly after she graduated and came back to begin teaching in 1990 that the conflict between the Nawuri and Gonja tribes began.  Madam Francesca is a Nawuri, as are the majority of people in Kpandai, but her husband is from the Basari tribe,  so she did not flee from town into the bush or another town when the Gonja first invaded Kpandai.  During this period, she could not leave her house and eventually a pack of Gonja men came to try and attack her, but her husband managed to convince them to leave.  After this incident, Madam Francesca fled to the town where her mother was born. 

After about 3 months, the Gonja were pushed back out of Kpandai and Madam Francesca returned.  Eventually she was able to resume her job as a teacher and life slowly went back to normal.  I asked her about tensions between the Nawuri and the Gonja now, twenty years after the fighting, and she replied that a Gonja man still cannot take land in Nawuri territory and vice versa, but they will greet each other cordially if they meet on the street.

The conflict has had many lingering effects.  One was that many of the Nawuris who fled during the conflict wound up staying in the nearby towns that they fled to, which scattered the Nawuri population.  Another unfortunate problem was that Kpandai town and the other Nawuri dominated areas remained part of the East Gonja district until a couple of years ago when Kpandai District was carved out from it, so they were being governed by the tribe with whom they had fought!  This caused many problems.  For example, initially after the conflict Madam Francesca and other Nawuri government employees couldn’t even cash their paychecks, as they would have had to travel to Salaga, the capital of East Gonja, to access their money and this was far too dangerous.

So it was good news with respect to lingering Gonja-Nawuri tensions when Kpandai finally became a district, but it ignited new Nawuri-Nawuri power sharing tensions that had roots back to the conflict.  Sensing growing tensions, Madam Francesca began speaking to women from both sides of the Nawuri-Nawuri divide and with women from other tribes.  Although she still describes herself as shy, Madam Francesca says that teaching has helped her to overcome her shyness and over the years she has quietly worked to create links between women of different tribal backgrounds  in the community, often around community events like weddings or to help various women cooperate in business.  She describes herself initially as a reluctant leader in the days when the new district was being formed and she says that it was only the support and requests of the women in the community that made her decide to assume leadership.

Today her group is one hundred women strong and includes women from several tribes.  They have expanded their focus from promoting peace to also helping develop economic opportunities for women.  They haves regular meetings and membership dues, a shared bank account with 400GHC in it (a very impressive amount), and half of their women accessed loans of 50GHC/each from a micro finance institution that most of them have nearly finished paying back.

When I first met Madam Francesca in the lead up to the first Projecting Change Kpandai screening, I asked her what support she most required and she said that she needed tactile learning toys for her children, which helped spawned by wooden blocks side project.  We are also just finishing a classroom question exchange with my sister’s class in Canada and I have connected her with our MoFA office so that we can facilitate getting sub-groups from her women’s group engaged with our Agriculture As A Business program.

I asked Madam Francesca what her biggest leadership challenges currently is, and she responded the lingering bad feelings stemming from the fact that only half of the women in the group initially received loans from the micro credit institution, which caused a bit of a rift.  

I then asked her about her biggest personal challenge in developing as a leader and she said that she still struggles with shyness and she feels like she does not have anyone to talk over issues with.  I suggested that she try engaging Madam Marta, who is another amazing leader in the community and who is more experienced as a leader.  She seemed to like this idea.

In the years since the conflict, Madam Francesca had two more children bringing the total to five, ranging from 9 to 22 years old.  Every time I have visited her at her compound it has been a hive of activity and full of positive energy.  She strike me as a very happy women, but someone who is not yet content, as she knows that there is still much work to be done.

Here’s a short video of Madam Francesca’s woman’s group letting me hear their group cheer and Madam Francesca telling me about the group’s goals.  (it’s a but dark at first until I pull out my flashlight, so hang in there).

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