IS CHIEFTAINCY A RELIC OF THE PAST?
· The Debate Continues
By: Jacob Osei-Yeboah
There have been various discussions and debate in the media in recent times by prominent individuals and groups on the importance of the chieftaincy institution.
While the protagonists suggest that the institution has no relevance to the needs of the country and that it is a relic of the past; others think chieftaincy is part of the Ghanaian culture; hence its shortcomings could be reformed to meet the exigencies of modernity.
It is my opinion that a nation that does not honour its heroes is not worth dying for and in support of the institution, I am motivated by what John Ruskin, an art cic, a social thinker, poet and artist once said, “Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build forever, let it not be for the present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think as we lay stone on stone, that a time is come, when these stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them.
And that man will say as they took upon our labour and wrought substance of them. See! This our fathers did for us”.
I am in deed astounded and find it difficult to grasp the depth of intellectual capacity of those who oppose the institution and how they really understand what constitutes Ghanaians or Africans from an anthropological disposition. Again, in modeling my thoughts with my motivational quote from John Ruskin, I fail to see the rationale for the abolition of the institution in terms of what the country stands to gain.
The greatest challenge on the African continent is the ethno-linguistic fractions that have galvanised the various countries on the northern regions having 44 of these groups.
Citing from my Christian scriptures, Genesis chapter 11 records how God was unable to stop the objective of the ancient people of Babel in the building the tower of Babel, except that God divided their tongues as the alternative strategy that enabled Him, the Creator, to defeat their objective.
What an irony in Africa and no wonder the western democratic structure fails to sustain itself on the continent any time ethnicity is invoked callously in nation politicking.
It is a fact that most of the deep -seated differences in our national politics which ended up in civil wars in countries such as Cote I’voire, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Sudan, Kenyan, Somalia and Ethiopia, were due mainly to the western democratic systems which were blindly copied by our post-independence leaders.
These wars were mostly fuelled by selfish and disgruntled politicians whose aims were not necessarily in the interest of their nation’s development.
They saw politics as a means to sustain themselves in power forever and make money for themselves at the expense of the people used all the means at their disposal-ethnicity, poverty and ignorance of the masses, to achieve their parochial interest.
Divide and rule on the basis of tribe and ethnicity was the name of the game.
Their agenda was to weaken any institution that was perceived to have power on the masses and to impoverish such institutions and the masses so that they will enjoy absolute power for the chose few of their respective party cronies. We need to use our intellectual capacity to build our nation and not take advantage of the toils and labour of the masses that gave us education.
The million-dollar question that I would wish all of us try to discuss is: “Chieftaincy and Politics; which has done more harm to our nation”? Some of the arguments are for abolishing the chieftaincy institution, while others are for voting for chiefs to be enthroned and yet, others for the transformation of the chieftaincy institution and if it is for transformation, what are they suggesting we transform the institution into?
Abolishing The Chieftaincy institution? NO! There are always human beings before a nation is formed, and the anthropologists and sociologists tell us that nations show slightly different characteristics and cultures.
Does that mean one is better than the other? That is why though we are all human beings; Europeans have distinctive characteristics from Africans. The illustrious son of Ghana, and former UN Secretary-General, Dr. Kofi Annan, said, “To live is to choose. But to choose, you must know WHO YOU ARE and what you stand for, where you want to go, and why you want to get there”.
The vital questions for us to ask ourselves as a people then are: Do we want to live as a nation, and what choice of democratic systems and structures do we need to enable us to live peacefully and to develop competitively in the world? The Chieftaincy Institution is not a fertile ground for conflicts but the conflicts are symptoms of the real power struggle between political parties or people struggling for power.
Politicians are mostly behind the numerous chieftaincy conflicts in our nation from time immemorial, from Nkrumah’s time to the current NDC three –Nanumba and Kokomba, Bawku, Techiman-Tuobodom, The Ga state etc. the real problem,of the chieftaincy institution are classical disease, and troubles of the chieftaincy institution are classical politicians, from the NPP and NDC days.
Voting for Chiefs Enthronement? No! Indeed, some debaters have called for a constitutional amendment to article 277 as it contradicts the universal principle of adult suffrage and there is a clear indication that such argument is flawed.
If a debater had to consult the unconventional wisdom gathered in drafting this article, I am sure one would love to expand argument from conventional legalities.
For those who may not understand, may I suggest to you that issues of blood lineage due to covenants. This brings the sacredness of the chieftaincy institution (like the religious institutions) into play.
The bloods that flow through the veins of our chiefs are the ancestral blood of brave men and women who sacrificed their lives and established communities, which we have integrated into our beloved country, Ghana. These bloods are covenants within the jurisdiction of the respective chiefs.
It is for these reason that I will plead with the Andanis and the Abudus, Bawku feudalism, Techiman-Tuobodom, Anloga and currently, the Ga state to be aware of the motives of the politicians and their agenda to make the chieftaincy institution unpopular, and affirm their impression and hope that the institution is a fertile ground for conflicts.
Contextual Transformation of the Chieftaincy Institution- Yes. Theodore Bikel (actor and performer) said, “You don’t really need modernity in order to exist totally and fully. You need a mixture of modernity and tradition.” To paraphrase Dr. Nkrumah’s declaration during Ghana’s independence, The democratization of Ghana’s governance will be meaningless unless we look for a democratic structure suitable and sustainable in Ghana and respective African countries based on our positive traditions and cultures devoid of ethnocentrism and serve as unifying economic developmental agenda.”
It takes a son of Africa in the developed word such as President Obama, having reached the pinnacle of western democracy, to tell Africans the plain truth that Africans ought to search for a democracy and a democratic structure that are suitable to them. Again, he gave the promise that the United States of America will not impose any system of government. What a moment of promise in history for Ghana and Africa.
For the sake of stability of our slow-trudging democracy through sleeves of greed, corruption and politics by the NPP and NDC, the chieftaincy institution ought to be transformed into a potential source of stability of governance and national development agenda for successive governments.
Chiefs’ inputs developmental agenda towards their respective areas of jurisdiction in close collaboration with MCEs/DCEs must be properly co-ordinated and documented to form development policy for various districts.
The 21st century does not need chiefs whose ancestors were mighty warriors nor sit under mighty umbrella, nor receive praises of ancestors’ bravery in appellation. What our people and the century need are chiefs who generational thinkers and ready to boldly wage war against poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment in their areas of jurisdiction concurrently and collaboratively with the government. This form of transformation and integration of the chieftaincy institution towards national development will only strengthen the institution but will also ensure the nurturing of our own-democracy as a people towards the accelerated development of our nation.
National House of Chiefs to rise up economically? The constitutional provision and the legal mandate given to the chieftaincy institution depict the very special confidence the drafters and Ghanaian repose in our chiefs. However, this is not for traditions’ sake, but a more important quest with regard to social and economic protection. If our chiefs were to make concerted effort to communicate with the elected representatives (MPs and DCEs) in their areas, and then with one another, and support laudable ideas from one another to replicable throughout the nation, Ghana will indeed be a model of democracy in Africa and a citadel of business conglomerates.
Among the notable chiefs who have distinguished themselves in this effort are the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei- Tutu II, the Okyehene, Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin, Togbe Afede XIV of the Asogli State, just to name a few.
In the 21st century, such chiefs are symbols of deserving kings, for which other chiefs can truly emulate. Chiefs must form co-operative farming for their respective communities to justify the need for government tractor allocation than individual ministers (MPs) using their positions to acquire five or more tractors.
One very important issue is about the environmental degradation through galamsey activities which the Okyehene is warring against to save and preserve the environment for future generation to enjoy.
Such a notable cause should be supported with concerted effort and re-echoed by the national house of chiefs. Our chiefs must be seen to be proactive and rise up to the call to really justify the ancestral blood flowing through their veins to protect their communities continuously against poverty, illiteracy, diseases and environmental degradation.
As we continue to debate as individuals and as groups, such debates are laudable and worthy of recommendation but we ought to be circumspect in our line of argument on the chieftaincy institution.
An appreciation of Ghana’s myth systems is a crucial aspect of any transformation or change in the chieftaincy institution. Most of our leaders are pre-programmed and imbued with modernist ideology or paradigms, hence they are aggressive in the seeking to impose a transplanted “best practice” type mythology or what they may think is democracy. They want to jump and avoid this kind of transformation suggested in this article which, in my opinion, is suitable for Ghana.
The modernist’s mindset always asks the question: “How will we change?” but seldom asks: “How will we stay the same?” Nations and countries that forget their history or where they are coming from justify why they should not continue to exist on planet earth.
Given this realization, it may be more fruitful to attempt to work with the past rather than against it. The western societies are economically richer than most African nations, but one cannot say that they are socially in every aspect of living, since human beings are social beings.
It is indeed important as a nation that we deal with the obvious negative cultures and traditions but with much circumspection. To conclude my debate that the chieftaincy institution is a relic of the past, let me quote what Paul Johnson, a British catholic journalist, historian and author said.
“The study of history is a very powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false”.
Daily Graphic Page 10 Tuesday, May 25, 2010.