Vol. XIX, Issue 1 (Winter 2012): Entrepreneurship in East Africa, The Islamization of Dagbon, Letter to President Obama



Gloria Emeagwali
Chief Editor

Walton Brown-Foster
Copy Editor

Haines Brown

ISSN  1526-7822


Olayemi Akinwumi

Ayele Bekerie

Paulus Gerdes

Alfred Zack-Williams
(Sierra Leone)

Gumbo Mishack

(South Africa)



Jennifer Nicoletti
Academic Technology, CCSU

For more information on AfricaUpdate
Prof. Gloria Emeagwali
CCSU History Dept.
1615 Stanley Street
New Britain, CT 06050
Tel: 860-832-2815




Table of Contents

  • Editorial: Dr. Gloria Emeagwali
  • Dr. Ghirmai T. Kefela, DTAG - Entrepreneurship in East Africa
  • Haruna Abdallah Imam - Notes on the Islamization of Dagbon
  • Human Rights Watch Letter to President Obama


    In this issue of AfricaUpdate, we include reflections on entrepreneurship in selected African countries. Dr. Kefela makes reference to three African countries--Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. The initial segment of his article focuses on theoretical issues and general trends in developing countries in general.  He points out challenges confronting entrepreneurs, in general, and African entrepreneurs, in particular, with respect to property rights, social and physical infrastructure, entry costs and regulations and finance. Haruna Abdallah Imam shifts the focus to West Africa, with reference to the process of Islamization in Ghana. His focus is on the Dagbon Kingdom located in the north of present day Ghana. He takes us through some of the reasons why Islam was considered to be attractive to the inhabitants of the region including the perceived spiritual capabilities of some Muslim clerics, socio-economic factors, prestige and a compromising attitude to some indigenous cultural practices. In the course of discussion we are informed of some of the popular accounts related to the founding of the Dagbon Kingdom.

    AfricaUpdate celebrated the election victory of President Barack Obama on several occasions. We did so in the spring issues of 2008 and 2009.  The challenges confronting the new President were daunting and very carefully articulated by Professor Mobujaoulu Okome of Brooklyn College and Professor Paul Zeleza, in their respective contributions to AfricaUpdate. When asked to include this recent letter to President Barack Obama by Human Rights Watch, we thought it our duty to oblige. We have always welcomed various voices in this newsletter. We note also that some of the observations made by Human Rights Watch are vitally important and morally justified. Scholars may also want to pay attention to the arguments made for greater transparency in the judicial arena.  Great superpowers have responsibilities. They are invariably seen as role models for the rest of the world in the legal, economic and political arena. They must live up to expectations.

    We thank the contributors to this issue for their great insights and scholarly analyses.

    Dr. Gloria Emeagwali
    Chief Editor,

    Entrepreneurship in East Africa
    Dr. Ghirmai T. Kefela, DTAG*

    Schøtt, and Jensen, (2008), argue that developing countries are prone to implement policies that have not been proven to transfer fittingly to their economies. Many of these policies are more beneficial on paper than in reality. The pairing between entrepreneurship policy and entrepreneurship activity is hypothesized to be more problematic for developing countries than for developed countries. What had seemed like the inevitable demise of small business began to reverse itself from the 1970s onward in some regions. Loveman and Sengenberger (1991) and Acs and Audretsch (1993) carried out systematic international analyses examining small business and entrepreneurship in North America and Europe. Two major findings emerged from these studies. First, the relative importance of small business varies largely across countries, and, secondly, in most European countries and North America the importance of small business has increased since the mid-1970s.

    The most significant constraint on entrepreneurial growth is the difficulty finding and attracting “talent”—highly skilled, entrepreneurial workers. This also looms as one of the more important challenges facing the developing economy. Meeting this challenge will require major, entrepreneurially driven improvements throughout the educational system (K–12 through graduate school) so as to allow more choices for students and their families; improved schools from which to choose; accelerated learning opportunities; increased funding for college and graduate-level training; and research and development in engineering and the physical sciences. In addition, more enlightened immigration policies, designed to attract and retain highly skilled citizen workers and potential entrepreneurs to start and work for new businesses.

    Innovative entrepreneurship cannot occur unless the innovation pipeline is full and incentives for commercializing innovation are in place. The distinctions between growth - oriented entrepreneurs in developing and developed markets are rooted in the inefficiency of markets in many developing countries, but the response of entrepreneurs to these inefficiencies is often surprising and counterintuitive. The wealth and poverty of developing countries has been linked in modern times to the entrepreneurial nature of their economies. Where it has existed in plenty entrepreneurship has played an important role in economic growth, innovation, and competitiveness and it may also play a role over time in poverty alleviation (Landes 1998). Yet, entrepreneurship in developing countries is arguably the least studied significant economic and social phenomenon in the world today. Over 400 million individuals in developing countries are owners or managers of new firms (Reynolds et al. 2004). Of these, over 200 million are found in China and India alone, compared with just 18 million entrepreneurs in the United States. Yet, in one of the outstanding general books on the state of research on entrepreneurship, China is mentioned on two pages and India is not mentioned at all (Bhidé 2000). In relation to developing countries, the most rewarding future research effort in this area may be to analyze the “differences in ambiguity aversion, self-control, susceptibility to framing” (Bhidé 2000).  How these differences may vary across countries, and the underlying drivers of these differences, may help us to gain a better understanding of why some countries have more successful entrepreneurs than others.

    Opportunities for entrepreneurs in developing countries are broader in scope than in developed markets, allowing firms to pursue a portfolio approach to strategy that can efficiently manage the higher levels of business and market risk. Entrepreneurs in developing countries face a different set of circumstances than their counterparts in developed economies. These differences are rooted in the underlying economies in which they operate. It is clear that the domain of international entrepreneurship is rich in opportunity. Because the field is broad, there are many interesting research questions to be explored, and many existing theories may be beneficially employed. Consequently, the opportunity for entrepreneurship in emerging markets is pervasive. While Western entrepreneurs operate at the fringes of the economy, emerging market entrepreneurs operate closer to the core. The needs and opportunities are more widespread. Entrepreneurs in emerging markets rely very heavily on informal sources of finance to start their businesses. By 2003, these sources provided between 87% and 100% of the outside capital raised by entrepreneurs (Bygrave 2003). Other sources of financing typically targeted by development finance institutions interested in improving access to finance in the emerging markets—bank lending and venture capital—play a very limited role at present in financing entrepreneurs, at least in the startup stage.

    Inadequate access to capital and fragmented retail and distribution often require entrepreneurs to begin businesses downstream with direct access to the end customer. Starting downstream businesses reduces initial capital requirements as working capital is much reduced and access to customers and information flow is frequently lacking. Lack of access to the end customer was a primary reason for the failure of some South American businesses to move beyond commodity markets into higher value added activities in the 1990s. (Fairbanks and Lindsay 1997). Having achieved success in retail and distribution, successful entrepreneurs often leverage the domain experience, information flow, and cash flow generated,  to vertically integrate and move into upstream businesses.

    Research on the determinants of private savings in developing countries suggests that countries that have experienced economic instability are more likely to have higher rates of private saving, maintained as an insurance mechanism. Crisis represents opportunities; at least as far as forming the pools of private capital necessary for startup finance is concerned. Moreover, while successful entrepreneurship is correlated with urbanization, urbanization also results in an increase in individual consumption and a concomitant decrease in private savings. Thus, successful entrepreneurs are likely to find ways to access the greater pools of private saving in the countryside in order to start their businesses. This highlights the possible importance of well-developed family networks that span both urban and rural areas. How such private rural savings are intermediated into urban entrepreneurship is not at present well understood and almost certainly will vary by country.

    Scholars have categorized the values that shape entrepreneurial behavior into three main groups: I. Property rights; II. Contract enforcement; and, III. Entry costs and regulation. Djankov (2008) asserts that the most important effect of recent entry costs and regulation reforms in developing countries (as measured by the World Bank’s Doing Business initiative) has been increased movement of informal firms into the formal economy. Research by Malesky andTaussig (2008), using firm survey data from Vietnam finds time spent in the informal economy before registering as companies is significantly lower when property rights are stronger. We hypothesize that a less favorable regulatory environment means higher risks of doing business and therefore increases the importance of property rights in shaping entrepreneurial strategy. Improving regulatory conditions should then lower investment risks and thereby diminish the pivotal role of property rights.

    Entrepreneurship Policy and Growth
    While the increasing importance of entrepreneurship for economic growth has widely transferred into national as well as international political agendas, not all national governments have been equally successful in devising policies that have generated economic growth. Notably, developing countries have been significantly less able to stimulate national economic growth when compared to developed countries. Easterly (2001) reports, that whereas median per capita income growth in developing countries in 1960-1979 was 2.5 percent, it declined to 0.0 percent in 1980-1998 – a period that Easterly terms as “the lost decades”. The entrepreneurship policies in developing countries are less fit for the local economic and cultural contexts in which they are implemented (Meyer et al., 1997), and the coupling between policy and action is looser in developing countries than in developed countries (Drori, 2003). One of the primary determinants of growth is entrepreneurship, the ability of a nation‘s citizens to engage in building new businesses, or in restructuring existing establishments in order to adjust to changes in the economic and political environment. As suggested earlier, economic growth is aided by entrepreneurship. This symbiotic relationship makes separating cause and effect difficult. Nevertheless, economists from Schumpeter to Rostow have argued that the innovational part of entrepreneurship is crucial for economic development and growth. It is entrepreneurship that leads to higher productivity, the ability to produce more from the same amount of work: economic growth. Several analysts point out that most neo- classical economists recognize that there three primary economic factors of production: raw materials labor and capital are crucial. (Palifka, 2006).  Baumol (1987). These components have to be brought together by individuals. Some economists regard entrepreneurship as a kind of fourth factor which acts on the other three to combine them in productive ways (Kirby, 2003).

    From a functional perspective, elements of worldwide models are often not internally consistent, and are often poorly fitted to local practices. In addition, elements of world models are often adopted selectively and diffused at various levels. In turn these inconsistencies form the basis for a loose coupling between purpose and structure, between intentions and results, and hence disconnect between policy and activity is likely to result (Meyer et al., 1997).The availability of resources in a country not only affects the likelihood of a fit between scripts from the world models and the local practices of the country, but also affects the ability of the country to adopt such scripts for national policy, planning and activity. This means that more elaborate models exist to describe entrepreneurship in developed economies than in developing economies. Adopting entrepreneurship policy scripts from the world model toolbox may necessitate a substantial amount of resources from the local government to support local entrepreneurship. Given that less developed countries do not have such resources,  it is likely that even if scientific recommendations are included in public policies, implementation of the necessary activities may not happen accordingly. The theory is that developed countries have a tight relationship between entrepreneurship policy and activity, whereas for developing countries there will be a loose coupling between entrepreneurship policy and entrepreneurship activity. Yet, the conceptualization of tight versus loose pairing extends beyond that of interdependence between system elements. As noted by Weick (1976) loose coupling describes a situation in which elements are responsive to one another yet retain much separateness and identity. This conceptualization of loose coupling allows system elements to, on the one hand, act rationally on the technical level, while on the other, be faced with indeterminateness on the institutional level (Orton and W eick, 1990).

    The African Case
    Entrepreneurship involves a combination of innovative, proactive, and risk-seeking behaviors that cross borders, and is supposed to create value in organizations. African entrepreneurship uses relatively less technological and regulatory advances to improve the flow of information, transportation and resources. African entrepreneurship may not involve the discovery, enactment, evaluation, and exploitation of opportunities- across country borders - in order to create goods and services. Ideally the strategic role of the entrepreneur as an agent of economic transformation in society will be visible in employment and wealth generation, stimulation of indigenous entrepreneurship or promotion of entrepreneurial culture. While African countries have recently recorded remarkable performance in terms of growth, even during the global financial crisis, they still lag behind in their ability to compete in the globalized world. A key reason is the continued predominance of low-productivity activities in their economic systems. As history from regions that have achieved rapid economic growth has shown, the transition towards activities with higher value added content requires the emergence of productive entrepreneurship, which is nurtured not only by market dynamics but also by targeted policies. As earlier implied, the wealth and poverty of developing countries has been linked to the entrepreneurial nature of their economies. Where it has existed in plenty, entrepreneurship has played an important role in economic growth, innovation, and competitiveness and it may also play a role over time in poverty alleviation (Landes 1998).

    Kenya, the regional hub for trade and finance in East Africa, is hampered by corruption and reliance on several primary goods. Kenya's economy has stagnated with GDP growth failing to keep up with the rate of population growth. In 1997, the IMF suspended Kenya's Enhanced Structural Adjustment Program due to the government's failure to maintain reforms and curb corruption.
    However, women -owned businesses are making a significant contribution to the Kenyan economy. Their businesses account for about one-half (48 percent) of all micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), which contribute around 20 percent to Kenya's GDP. Of the 462,000 jobs created annually since 2000 in Kenya, 445,000 jobs have come from the informal sector, where 85 percent of women's businesses are found. Despite their potential, women-owned businesses in Kenya are smaller, and are twice as likely to be operating from home as male-owned businesses. Women-owned MSMEs report earning only 57 percent of income that male business owners earn. They also have fewer employees. The average number of employees in a woman-owned MSME in 1999 was 1.54, compared to 2.1 for a male-owned MSME. In 1999 only 4 percent of the workers in women-owned businesses were hired. The remainder consisted of family members and apprentices. Certain barriers in the business environment have a disproportionate effect on women entrepreneurs. One of the most important barriers is women's unequal access to property and land. In Kenya only 1 percent of land titles are owned by women, with 5 to 6 percent held in joint names. Unequal access to land and property means that women are unable to secure loans for their businesses (IFC, 2010).

    Uganda's Entrepreneurship Framework
    There are pressing societal needs and challenges in Uganda.  The government has introduced a number of programs (like ‘bwonabagagawale’- prosperity for all, universal primary and secondary education, cost sharing medical facilities, etc.) aimed at addressing some of the challenges. Uganda is endowed with very high rates of entrepreneurship (Walter et al., 2003), although it is characterized by not only high unemployment rates but also by the lack of social security safety nets. In order to survive, individuals who fail to find employment are pushed into entrepreneurship (Walter et al., 2003). We contend that, firstly, conventional entrepreneurship cannot solely solve all the needs of a society. Secondly, it is not possible for every person to engage in productive entrepreneurship or seek employment in order to survive, due to variations in resources and capabilities among other reasons. To fill the societal needs and challenge gap not catered for by either government or the outcomes of conventional entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship has attempted to bridge this gap. For the purpose of this study, we define social entrepreneurship as the process of applying business-like, innovative approaches to social problems to make a difference. This definition draws from the works of Alvord et al., (2004); Dees (1998);  Mair and Marti (2006).  What differentiates social entrepreneurship from the conventional entrepreneurship is the purpose. While conventional entrepreneurship is economically driven, social entrepreneurship creates social value. However, this does not mean that economic value cannot be realized from business arms of social enterprises.

    In regards to the improvement on the entrepreneurial spirit in Uganda, the current President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, has made advancements in returning the power of commerce to the peoples of Uganda. The average age of an entrepreneur in Uganda, many of who are women,  is between the ages of 30 and 40,  many of whom have only have a high school education. 59% of these people are surveyed as being in business for making a living. According to fastcompany.com, the percentage of individuals, ages 18 to 64, active in either starting up or managing a new enterprise is 29.3% in Uganda. As many as 100,000 students from across Uganda will learn from a new curriculum and take action to solve poverty, illness, and environmental degradation. This transformative experience will create a significant shift in the ability of the next generation to lead positive change. The social entrepreneurship curriculum—the first of its kind to be scaled to a national level—marks the first time that youth across a country will be taught as part of a national education system how to create initiatives that address the challenges. Students have created dozens of jobs and have lifted people out of poverty and helped prevent HIV/AIDS through awareness building and treatment. They have conserved the environment through tree planting and the sale of energy efficient stoves.

    Entrepreneurship Makeup in Ethiopia
    Over three quarters of the population of Ethiopia live in rural areas.  The economy is highly dependent on agriculture, which accounts for around 45% of GDP. Agricultural exports, notably coffee, kat and hides and skins, account for over 80% of all exports, with coffee as the country's chief foreign-exchange earner. Industry accounts for 11.1% of GDP and services 43%. The heavy dependence on agriculture makes the country extremely vulnerable to external shocks such as climatic conditions (drought) or commodity price fluctuations. A long history of poor macroeconomic policies, economic mismanagement, protracted war, internal instability and recurrent drought are the main causes of the situation the country is now in today. These coupled with a high rate of population growth of around 2.9% per annum further contribute to the economic deterioration and the overall decline in the welfare of the society at large. The structural characteristics of the Ethiopian economy manifest themselves in the predominance of subsistence activities, narrow production base, neglected informal sector, environmental degradation, lop-sided development and weak institutional capacity (World Bank. Doing Business. 2006).

    In the past, the informal sector was considered as transitional, destined to disappear quickly as more jobs become created as part of the development process. Therefore, data collection on its activities was largely ignored as development strategies were oriented towards medium and large-scale enterprises. The informal sector in Ethiopia has flourished due to economic recession, high rates of population growth and urbanization as well as structural adjustment policies. The population resorts to informal means to enhance employment and household income. It is thus not surprising that in Ethiopia, 50.6 percent of urban employed are in the informal sector. According to CSA statistics, in 1999, employment in urban informal sector was eight times higher than wage employment in the formal sector. Moreover, evidence suggests that by 2001 the informal sector activities became a source of survival for an increasing number of the urban and semi-urban population (Addis- Ababa Chamber of Commerce. 2001).Whereas the procedures to start a business are relatively low, entrepreneurs must deposit at least 1,083% of income per capita in a bank to obtain a business registration number, which is a considerable impediment to starting a business in Ethiopia. While all other indicators for Ethiopia are relatively more conducive to the creation of business compared to other African countries, the time to enforce a contract (690 days) is relatively high and needs substantial improvement. Though not directly linked, inadequacy of infrastructure (road, banking service, electricity, telecommunication and other services), and problems associated with the efficiency of the judiciary in facilitating smooth operation of private investment are serious impediments, the solution of which could have greatly facilitated the development of the formal sector and facilitated the transition from informal to formal sector activities.

    The Government recognized and paid due attention to the promotion and development of MSEs, for they were important vehicles to address the challenges of unemployment, economic growth and equity in the country. To this effect, it formulated a National MSE Development and Promotion Strategy in 1997, which suggested a systematic approach to alleviate the problems and promote the growth of MSEs. The overall objective of the strategy was to create an enabling environment for MSEs, with specific objectives to facilitate economic growth; bring equitable development; create long-term jobs; strengthen cooperation between MSEs; provide the basis for medium and large-scale enterprises; promote exports and balance preferential treatment between MSEs & bigger enterprises. Among the MSE support framework, the strategy focused on creating and implementing an enabling legal framework as well as on streamlining regulatory conditions,  by establishing a user friendly environment for the simplification and standardization of documents such as business registration and licensing; financial and loan application; purchasing and sub-contracting (tender) documents; export documentation and other commercial documents; registration of contracts with municipalities; authentication of contracts at notary public; and simplified tax declaration forms for small businesses (Addis- Ababa Chamber of Commerce. 2001).

    Other specific support areas and programs in the strategy included the facilitation of access to finance; incentive schemes; partnerships and training in entrepreneurship, skills and management; access to appropriate technology, access to market, access to information, advice and physical infrastructure, and the institutional strengthening of private sector associations and chambers. Despite the strategies such as the above mentioned and other rules and regulations, most interventionist policies regarding MSEs were inappropriate and impractical. For instance, most government policies had a tendency to over regulate and limit the growth of private sector enterprises and they were over bureaucratized and unfriendly to support small businesses. Lack of access to capital and credit, lack of adequate investment capital, lack of sufficient credit, and inefficient financial markets,  in terms of facilitating financial resources to entrepreneurs continue to be the major obstacles in doing business, particularly in the informal sector. Most micro and small enterprises are highly risky ventures involving excessive administrative costs, lack the experience in dealing with financial institutions, and do not have a track record of credit worthiness with banks. Most banking institutions are reluctant to provide small enterprises with loan and credit and MSEs are unable to secure collateral requirements. As a result of absence in financing, the creation of new enterprises and the growth and survival of existing ones will be impeded.

    Entrepreneurial activity has a direct impact on society by providing increased consumer choice; more appropriate, affordable and even indispensable services and further employment opportunities, both directly and indirectly, through suppliers. Entrepreneurial activity breeds innovation, injects competitive pressures and develops opportunities in economies. It is the foundation in many respects for broader economic development. The key role of entrepreneurship is now increasingly recognized by international policy makers as the main element in national development strategies. Entrepreneurship polices are equally important, as an engine of innovation, in developed countries as they are in developing or transition economies.

    In many countries, including African countries, the regulatory environment with which entrepreneurs find themselves faced can be both oppressive and emasculating. Entrepreneurs are often faced with an array of barriers and obstacles - such as business registration or access to workable systems of contract enforcement. In the shorter to medium term, employers’ organizations can urge governments to develop incentives to innovate, protect intellectual property rights and, perhaps most importantly, capitalize on existing technology developments. Even if countries are not inventors of technology they can still be beneficiaries through the importation of technology. This is a well traveled and proven path for many countries. Governments must genuinely aim to create the space for entrepreneurship to flourish and for a culture of innovation to take hold. A good investment climate (such as good social and physical infrastructure; environment conducive to enterprise development; good governance structures, rule of law, property rights, etc) makes it easier for firms to enter and exit markets in a process that contributes to higher productivity and faster growth. Entrepreneurs have to be creative in devising mechanisms to get around corrupt systems. Corruption undermines policies designed to encourage entrepreneurship. What is clear from the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International is that countries that rank high on the list do not have high rates of economic growth. Corruption prevents economic growth because it distorts incentives and market signals leading to misallocation of resources. The opportunities for corrupt practices lead to resources, especially human resources, being channeled into rent seeking rather than productive activities. Entrepreneurs may also find it financially more rewarding to leave the private sector and instead become corrupt public officials. As a result, growth of private sector may be reduced. We need to believe that we can conduct business in all sectors without the intervention of corruption mechanisms and that it is possible to deinstitutionalize corruption. Short term measures such as corruption campaigns serve to reduce corruption only when they are in effect. Long term measures aim at fundamentally changing the formal institutions. Policy makers, particularly in developing countries, have limited resources that must be used strategically and efficiently. Organizations that leverage their expertise and resources and pursue policies systematically are likely to have the most success in advocating polices to foster entrepreneurship.

    Dr. Ghirmai T. Kefela, Ph.D. International Business and is currently Operations Manager, DTAG Inc.

    Gtesfai@hotmail.com, Gkefela@yahoo.com


    Notes on the Islamization of Dagbon
    Haruna Abdallah Imam, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana

    There seems to be agreement among many of the historians that during the second half of the eighteenth century, majority of the inhabitants in Dagbon were Mohammadants (Muslims). When the Frenchman Binger visited Karaga in 1888, he observed that the major part of the population was Muslim, though, according to him there was no mosque in the town. Also, in 1898, Captain Mackworth noted that in Dagbon all the big ‘chiefs’ were ‘Mohammadan’ men, and have ‘Arabic’ clerks and priests.

    The Naa Zanjina Factor
    Naa Zanjina was regarded as the founder of the second kingdom of Dagbon. He was the Yaan Naa of Dagbon from 1648 to 1677. Scholars have difficulty in agreeing as to whether or not it was during the reign of Naa Zanjina that Islam was introduced into the Dagbon Kingdom. According to Weiss, Naa Zanjina was credited with having invited some Muslim traders – Mande and Hausa – to stay in Dagbon. The intention was to make Yendi an important stopping on the caravan route.1 However, Levtzion argued that the invitation of Muslim traders by Zanjina to settle in Yendi did not indicate the beginning of Muslim settlement and the subsequent introduction of Islam in Dagbon as there were traces of Mande or Wangara Muslim settlements in old Yendi (Yani Dabari) where, according to Levtzion, excavations have revealed the remnants of a rectangular-shaped building different from other buildings in the town.2

    Another version suggests the presence of a Muslim Mande trader called ‘Umar Jabaghte among the Konkomba in Eastern Dagbon long before the place was invaded by Naa Luro (ruled from 1554 to 1570). This is to support the argument that Islam pre-existed Naa Zanjina. Some informants even hold the view that Islam was introduced into Dagbon by Naa Nyagsi who ruled Dagbon from 1416 to 1432. Yet, others believe that Islam entered Dagbon during the reign of Yaan Naa Luro, but that the actual spread and expansion of the religion was under Yaan Naa Andani Sigli (ruled from 1677 to 1687).

    The possible presence of Islam in Dagbon before the reign of Zanjina is again suggested by Benzing. He recounted how Yaan Naa Dimani (ruled from 1514 to 1527) had lived in the bush with a Hausa man known as Kankang Daliya Yelkonde, who was a butcher. The tradition had it that after the death of the butcher, Dimani inherited the butcher’s knife to practice as the first Dagbamba butcher. The Hausa butcher was regarded as one of the pre-Islamic Hausa migrants in the Voltaic Basin who were credited for having introduced Islam into the Dagbon Kingdom in the sixteenth century. Consequently, the argument is that the origin of the islamization of Dagbon should be sought among the indigenes of the ‘First Kingdom’, i.e. from the era of Yaan Naa Nyagsi to Yaan Naa Gungobili (ruled from 1627 to 1648). If this stands undisputed, what it then means is that, Naa Zanjina only strengthened the establishment of Islam and the growth of Muslim authority in the court in Yendi, i.e. the ‘Second Kingdom’.

    Tamakloe says that the first thing Zanjina did to grow the relationship that had existed between the Muslim migrants and the people of Dagbon was to embrace Islam himself and encourage his elders to do so. “Naa Zanjina’s first act was to embrace Islam. His elders and himself were taught to pray five times a day and the ablution was made by Yamusa, the Imam of Sabare, a town near Napkari. The Imam Yamusa and the other Mallams, who formed his retinue, had come from Wangara and settled in this place in the previous reign.”3

     According to Wilks, Naa Zanjina had converted to Islam before he became the king of Dagbon. Therefore, Zanjina could be seen as the first Muslim to become a Yaan Naa and not the vice versa.4 However, Blair argues that Zanjina never had any cordial relations with the Muslims before he became the king,  and that it was after he was chosen as the king of Dagbon that his interest towards the activities of Muslims started. Blair contended that, in his bid to extend his influence to the Oti River, Naa Zanjina went to Sabari where he met with some Muslim scholars and subsequently built a mosque there and had his people and his children taught the Qur’an.5

    The point made by Wilks seems to have some popular support in Dagbon. The popular tradition in the kingdom is that, when Zanjina’s father, Naa Tutugri (ruled from 1570 to 1589) wanted to know who among his children would be his successor, he asked Sulaymana, a Mande Muslim to find out. According to the tradition, Sulaymana could not directly point to any of the children as the possible successor to the throne, but had shown to the King the woman who would give birth to the successor. This woman turned out to be the mother of Naa Zanjina, and as a result Zanjina was sent to Sabari to learn the Qur’an. If this legend is anything to go by then, Wilks’s argument that Zanjina was a Muslim before he was selected as the king of Dagbon is worth considering. This also means that Naa Zanjina could not have played a leading role in the introduction of Islam into the Dagbon kingdom.

    Many of the drum historians or the Lunsi in the area are of the view that, Islam had already established among the royals even long before the era of Naa Zanjina as a king of the kingdom. The general belief is that the expansion of Islam in Dagbon could be attributed to the arrival of one Shaykh Sulaymana b. Abdallah Bagayugu, a Wangara teacher linked with the Western Sudanese city of Timbuktu. Members of the Bagayugu fraternity were among the early Islamic scholars (‘Ulama) in the Western Sudan Region. Sulaymana came to Yendi, the capital of the Dagbon Kingdom, in the mid-sixteenth century at the time Naa Luro was the king of Dagbon. Oral history has it that al-Shaykh Sulaymana made the decision to settle in Dagbon because of the love of Islam that the king, Naa Luro, had exhibited.

    Another manuscript written in the latter half of the nineteenth century by Naa Mole Zakariyya b. Yusuf and cited by Ferguson, suggested a pre-Zanjina Islamic presence in Dagbon. According to Mole Zakariyya, most princes in Dagbon were, during their childhood days given to kpamba (elders in Dagbani) for training to become good leaders in the future. Naa Luro was therefore given out to be trained. According to the author, Naa Luro later became a trader in golden and copper rings, and got the gold from the south and the copper from Wagadugu. It was during this period that Naa Luro came into contact with the Islamic scholar, Shaykh Sulaymana who was very rich in gold and silver. The possibility is that after the prince (Luro) had become the overlord of Dagbon, he welcomed the Shaykh to his court in Yendi and was persuading him to settle permanently in Dagbon.

    Conversion To Islam in Dagbon: Some Observations
    It is undeniable that Islam is deep rooted among the Dagbamba in northern Ghana. Considering that Islam is foreign to the indigenous Dagbamba people, the question of knowing why and how the religion is deeply rooted among the Dagbamba is normally posed. Some scholars claimed that Christian theology and morals were too complex and abstract for the African ‘Soul’ to grasp, whereas Islam was identified as being more suitable for Africans.6 The argument has been as well that the Africans were too ‘childish’ to understand the theoretical Christian dogma, whereas Islam was too simplistic - if not ‘primitive’ enough- for Africans to understand.

    My interactions with some Islamic scholars and many of the followers of the religion in Dagbon have revealed other reasons why most Dagbamba people are Muslims.  The first among these reasons, as identified by most informants, is the ability of both Islam and the indigenous religion of the Dagbamba people to adapt to each others’ contexts. Many of the Islamic scholars interviewed indicated that the Islamic Religion did not arrive on a neutral ground in Dagbon. The kingdom, prior to Islam, was marked by cultural, social and religious values different than those brought by Islam. For example, the Islamic monotheism (Tawhid) is different from the concept of God in the indigenous Dagbamba religious thought. In indigenous Dagbamba religion, God is spoken to through rocks, rivers, trees, totems, among others. God was everywhere. This is highly forbidden in Islam. But, with a greater flexibility, Islam has been able to co-exist with the indigenous practices. Again, although Islam condemns polytheism, it recognizes the existence of other spirits and the negative influence of these spirits in the life of men. The consultation of the soothsayers as discussed earlier and the practice of magic for all kinds of reasons, which was a feature of the Dagbamba religion, are given recognition by Islam. Also, polygyny is another indigenous element endorsed by Islam (Qur’an 113:1-5; 114: 1-6).7

    Another factor identified is that Islam was propagated by the Dagbamba themselves alongside the Hausa and Wangara clerics. The introduction of Islam into the Dagbon kingdom was the work of the Wangara and the Hausa tradesmen.8 But thereafter, the propagation was done by Dagbamba scholars themselves. This was very important because it removed from Islam its foreign character. Even today in Dagbon, Islam is regarded as an indigenous religion. Ali Mazrui for instance, argues among other things that Islam is an African religion because indigenous Africans carried the banner of Islam, and that unlike Christianity,   Islam has a lot of similarities with the traditional African worldview making it less difficult for Africans to convert to Islam.10 This contributed so much to the rooting of Islam in the Dagbon cultural milieu.

    Islam is also seen by the Dagbamba as a religion of transcendent power. Right from the beginning of Islam in Dagbon, and in Africa in general, the role of Muslim clerics in spiritual matters was dominating. Clarke for example, narrates a story of how a king of the ancient kingdom of Mali in the eleventh century and his peoples converted to Islam because a Muslim cleric prayed for rain when the whole empire was down with a severe drought. The rituals of the local priests could not change anything. But after the Muslim cleric prayed, there was torrential rain.9 Muslim clerics’ literacy and spiritual powers drew scores of Dagbamba to Islam. The clerics began making amulets with Qur’anic verses which came to displace indigenous talismans and medicinal packets. These amulets still feature in the design of many Dagbamba traditional artefacts. Many chiefs not only in Dagbon, but elsewhere in Africa accommodated Muslim clerics to profit from their blessings for good health, peace, success in fights against enemies, among others. These clerics wielded strong influences in court and in policy formulation. Therefore, the work of the Mallams could only facilitate the acceptance and the integration of Islam by the Dagbon people.


    Human Rights Watch
    Letter to President Obama

    December 16, 2011

    Dear President Obama:

    We previously wrote to you on December 7, 2010, to express our concerns regarding the US targeted killing program.  We made recommendations that would minimize harm to civilians and ensure US policies and practices were in line with the country’s international legal obligations.  Since then, the use by the United States of Unmanned Combat Aircraft Systems (drones) to conduct targeted killings has expanded rapidly in Pakistan and other countries. Yet, your administration has taken few steps to provide greater transparency and accountability in conducting targeted killings, intensifying concerns both in the US and abroad about the lawfulness of these attacks

    Human Rights Watch recognizes that the US government has a responsibility to address threats to national security. The deliberate use of lethal force against a specific target can be legal in operations against a combatant on a genuine battlefield, or in a law enforcement situation in which there is an imminent threat to life and there is no reasonable alternative. We also recognize the challenges faced in trying to address potential threats that are not in a traditional conflict zone yet are also beyond the reach of any law enforcement.

    We have read the statements from administration officials – most recently the September talk at Harvard University by counterterrorism advisor John Brennan – which posit the legal basis for the overall use of force but do not clearly provide one for conducting specific targeted killings and the legal limits on such strikes.  Among the questions raised are:

    • Where does your administration draw the line between lawful and unlawful targeted killings? Are international human rights law considerations taken into account?
    • John Brennan has argued for a more flexible definition of “imminence” to justify the use of force.  Is this in the context of self-defense as provided under the United Nations Charter or in the law enforcement context, which requires an imminent threat to life for lethal force to be used?
    • The administration suggests that targeted killings can be conducted without geographic limits, making the entire world a battlefield.  What is different about the US government rationale for targeted killings that would not apply to other countries, such as Russia or China, which assert threats from terrorists?


    The US government should clarify fully and publicly its legal rationale for conducting targeted killings and the legal limits on such strikes. Your administration has yet to explain clearly where it draws the line between lawful and unlawful targeted killings.  The government should also explain why it believes that its attacks are in conformity with international law and make public information, including video footage, on how particular attacks comply with that standard. To ensure compliance with international law, the United States should conduct investigations of targeted killings where there is credible evidence of wrongdoing, provide compensation to all victims of illegal strikes, and discipline or prosecute as appropriate those responsible for conducting or ordering unlawful attacks.

    We are particularly concerned about the expanded involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the targeted killings program. International humanitarian law does not prohibit intelligence agencies from participating in combat operations during armed conflicts. However, parties to an armed conflict have obligations to investigate credible allegations of war crimes and provide redress for victims. Because the US government routinely neither confirms nor denies the CIA’s well-known participation in targeted killings in northern Pakistan and elsewhere, there is no transparency in its operations.  In 2009, then-CIA chief Leon Panetta unusually acknowledged the US airstrikes against al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan as being “very effective” because they are “very precise” and “very limited in terms of collateral damage.”  However, he also said he would not provide more details, highlighting the government’s unwillingness to divulge information about CIA operations.

    The CIA, like all US government agencies, is bound by international human rights and humanitarian law. Unlike the US armed forces, the CIA provides little or no information regarding the training and composition of its drone teams, or the procedures and rules it follows in conducting targeted killings. Nor has the government provided information as to whether the CIA has conducted any investigations into possible international law violations and their outcomes.  As a result there is no basis for determining whether the US government is actually meeting its international legal obligations with respect to its targeting operations or providing redress for victims of unlawful attacks.  Repeated assertions by senior officials within your administration that all US agencies are operating in compliance with international law – without providing information that would corroborate such claims – are wholly inadequate.

    Human Rights Watch believes that so long as the US government cannot demonstrate a readiness to hold the CIA to international legal requirements for accountability and redress, the use of drones in targeted killings should be exclusively within the command responsibility of the US armed forces. This would be consistent with the findings of the independent 9/11 Commission, which in 2004 specifically recommended that “[l]ead responsibility for directing and executing paramilitary operations, whether clandestine or covert, should shift to the Defense Department.” Such a recommendation has been made more recently by former director of national intelligence Dennis Blair, among others.  At the same time, while the US military has a more transparent chain of command and operational procedures, it too needs to ensure compliance with the laws of war, and provide accountability of redress when violations occur.

    We again ask you to consider these concerns in light of your own words when you accepted the Nobel Peace Prize: "Even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war,” stating, “that is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is the source of our strength."  We respectfully urge that you provide the legal framework to uphold these words.

    We have enclosed our December 2010 letter and a recent Q&A addressing these issues.  Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

    Kenneth Roth
    Executive Director

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
    Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta
    CIA Director David Petraeus

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