Inaugural Lecture - Professor Steve William Tonah

Thursday, March 30, 2017 - 17:00
Great Hall

Professor Steve William Tonah, BA, Dip-Ed. (UCC), MPhil, PhD (Bielefeld) will deliver his inaugural on the topic:


The State, Chiefs and Civil Society: A Trilateral Configuration in the Management of Social Conflicts in Ghana.


Date: March 30, 2017

Time: 5:00 pm

Venue: Great Hall, University of Ghana

Chairman: Prof. Ebenezer Oduro Owusu (Vice Chancellor)


All are cordially invited.


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Although social groups generally seek to achieve consensus and harmony, conflict is inevitable and is always present in all human societies. Ghana has had its fair share of social conflicts. Whilst many of these conflicts are resolved peacefully, quite a number of them have remained intractable, defying several attempts at a resolution.

In this lecture, I examine some of Ghana's most intractable social conflicts from a theoretical and an empirical perspective using illustrations from more than three decades of research into the phenomenon. I focus mainly on ethnic/communal, farmer-herder, land and chieftaincy conflicts that have remained protracted, examine the role of the key players involved, explain why attempts at resolving these conflicts have proven futile and provide some suggestions on how to resolve, or rather, manage social conflicts in Ghana.

The state and its agencies have for a long time been seen as primarily responsible for the maintenance of social peace and the resolution and management of social conflicts. Traditional and religious leaders such as chiefs and priests have also complemented the efforts of the state, particularly in the rural communities. However, in recent times, with the proliferation of intra-state conflicts, the limits to the ability of the state, quasi state institutions and traditional leaders to resolve many of the social conflicts have become evident. In some instances, the state and traditional leaders are themselves the sources of these conflicts or are deeply entangled in them.

This lecture examines the strengths and limitations of the Ghanaian state and its agencies as well as those of traditional and religious leaders in the management of intractable social conflicts and argues that with the increasing preponderance of asymmetrical conflicts, the state would have to collaborate more closely with civil society groups and independent conflict management experts to effectively manage such intractable social conflicts in the country.

Furthermore, I argue that while there cannot be a one-size-fits-all recommendations for conflict resolution and management and hence the need for some flexibility in dealing with Ghana's intractable social conflicts, the absence of a clear and coherent state policy and the prevarication of successive governments have been largely responsible for the often intransigent posture of the conflict parties.



Professor Steve William Tonah was born to Mr David Opa Tonah a Catechist and Alice Tonah, a Trader (both deceased) in Kumasi. He had his primary school education at the Yaa Asantewaa LA Primary School in Kumasi before moving to the Presbyterian Middle Boys School (Amanfo) at Aburi where he spent two years. Thereafter, he gained admission to St Johns School, Sekondi where he had his secondary education, completing both the GCE Ordinary and Advanced Level examinations in 1976 and 1978, respectively. He entered the University of Cape Coast in 1978 and pursued a Bachelor's degree in Economics and Sociology as well as a Diploma in Education course, which he completed in June 1982 with a Second-Class Upper Division. After successfully completing a German language examination in April 1985, he gained admission to the University of Bielefeld, Germany where he obtained his MPhil and PhD degrees in Development Sociology in 1989 and 1993, respectively. In 1991 he interrupted his PhD course, and spent two semesters reading Anthropology at Pennsylvania State University, USA.

Professor Steve Tonah returned to Ghana in 1993 soon after completing his PhD degree and took up appointment at the Development Office of the Christian Council of Ghana, Osu-Accra. He worked as a Programme Coordinator for the Christian Council from 1993 to 1998. He also worked as the Executive Director of the Ecumenical Church Loan Fund (ECLOF), Ghana Office from 1995 to 1999. In October 1999, he joined the Volta Basin Research Project (VBRP) as a Research Fellow with additional responsibility as a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology.

In 2005 Professor Tonah was relieved of his duties at the VBRP and worked exclusively for the Sociology Department. He was promoted to the rank of Senior Lecturer in 2003, Associate Professor in 2007 and Professor in 2013. He was Head of the Department of Sociology between 2007 and 2009 and served on several Boards and Management Committees of the School of Social Studies and the University of Ghana. He has held several visiting scholar positions and research affiliations with institutions abroad. These include the Max Planck Institute of Social Anthropology, the Sociology of Development Research Centre (ZEF) of the University of Bonn, as well as his alma mater, the University of Bielefeld, all in Germany; He has also collaborated with scholars at the University of Leiden, the LASDEL (Laboratoire d’étude et de recherche sur les dynamiques sociales et le développement local) in Parakou/Benin; University of Bamako, Mali and the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.

Professor Tonah has received several grants and awards in recognition of his research and scholarly works including the World Bank award for his PhD work (1990), the Nordrhein Westfalen Fellowship for post-doctoral research (1993) and the Best Researcher Award in the School of Social Sciences, University of Ghana (2009). His scholarly interests span the fields of rural and urban development, social conflicts and consensus, pastoralism, farmer-herder relations, chieftaincy and land disputes. He has conducted ethnographic studies among the Kassena-Nankana in Ghana and Burkina Faso, the Mamprusi of Northern Ghana, the Fulani in Ghana and neighbouring states in West Africa and the Ga-Dangme in Greater Accra Region.

Prof Tonah has taught several courses in the Departments of Sociology, Social Work and the Centre for Migration Studies. He has supervised over 425 BA theses, 95 MA/MPhil theses and 25 PhD theses in the University of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, and the University of Cape Coast. He has served as External Examiner to universities in Ghana, The Netherlands, Germany and Norway.

He is currently involved in a number of research projects such as Migrant Chiefs in Accra; The Challenge of Fulani Pastoralism in Ghana; The History and Development of Sociology in Ghana; Politics and Chieftaincy Conflicts in Ga-Mashie, Accra; and more recently on Changing Marriage, Family Systems and Forms of Partnership in Ghana. He has participated and presented papers at major conferences including the Ghana Sociological Association, World Congress of Sociology, African Studies Association, and the German Anthropological Association.

Professor Steve Tonah has served as Editor of the Legon Journal of Sociology for over a decade and as a referee for many academic journals including Africa, African Affairs, Canadian Journal of African Studies, Afrika Spectrum, Ghana Social Science Journal, KNUST Journal of Science and Technology, Journal of Development Studies, and Nature.

He has written 7 books (including 5 edited volumes), 2 unpublished monographs and has over 148 academic publications including 30 journal articles, 30 book chapters, 30 technical/consultancy reports, 2 encyclopaedia entries, 45 conference papers and 20 book reviews to his credit. He has also conducted more than 25 training workshops and seminars for local and international organizations including the German Development Service, German Technical Cooperation, UNICEF, FAO, Christian Council of Ghana, Association of Road Contractors of Ghana and the Association of Church Development Projects in the areas of Human Resource Development, Project Planning and Evaluation, Participatory Rural Appraisal and Organizational Self-Assessment.

His scientific publications have appeared in journals such as Africa, Journal of Modern African Studies, Canadian Journal of African Studies, Ethnologie, Afrika Spectrum, Anthropos, Journal of Asian and African Studies, Ibadan Journal of the Social Sciences, Journal of Education Research in Africa, Journal of Development Studies, Universitas, African Journal of Migration, Legon Journal of Sociology, Chieftaincy Bulletin, Ghana Journal of Geography, Ghana Social Science Journal, to mention only a few.

He has served as a Tutor in Mensah Sarbah Hall and on the Management Committee of the Senior Common Room (Loggia) of Sarbah Hall.

Professor Steve Tonah is a member of the Saint Thomas Aquinas Parish, Legon. He is married to Dr. Gabi Waibel and has three children. He enjoys jogging, watching soccer matches and playing table tennis.