Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Ghana@50: Advancing the cause of chieftaincy
“FIFTY YEARS after independence, the chieftaincy institution is still with us, playing a vibrant role in the administration of governance and development, especially at local level”, says Professor Adjei Bekoe, chairman of the council of state.
The chieftaincy institution is one of the oldest institutions in the country and has played very important roles in the lives of particularly rural communities, overall development of the nation and in shaping values that ensure good relations among citizens irrespective of ethnic, religious and political differences.
Considering this massive role of the chieftaincy institution in Ghanaian society, various institution and individuals have at various times called for the empowerment of traditional rulers and systems to enhance their capacity to effectively contribute to the decentralization process.
This includes the need to ensure that chiefs in participate in local governance, especially at the district level and in key decision-making at the national level to accelerate Ghana’s development process.
It is in the light of this that the Nana Kobina Nketsia IV Trust and the centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organization Development (CIKOD) organized a workshop on the theme, “Ghana @ 50 – Resolving the Duality Institution” in Accra, to examine the role, failures and successes of the chieftaincy Institution in the past five decades and as well devise ways for future development.
The programme, which brought together chiefs and queens from the ten regions in Ghana and other relevant stakeholders, was sponsored by the konrad Adenaeur Foundation (KAF) that works with local and governmental institutions such as legislative bodies, security agencies, and civil society organization to promote democracy, rule of law and human rights among others.
According to Prof. Bekoe, before the arrival of the colonial government, the existing system of traditional rule was that of a centralized political system, revolving around the chief and the one without any centralized political authority organized around various lineage heads, also known as the acephalous system.
He said the former system was predominated in the Ashanti Kingdom while the other was common in the Northern Region, saying, ‘the arrival of the colonialist saw the imposition of chiefs in such acephalous societies foe their administrative convenience.’ He stated that the colonial nation-state sought to use the traditional authorities to govern at the lowest unit, being the community (indirect rule) to serve the interest of the colonial; hence in the post colonial era, traditional authorities were perceived as collaborators of the colonial oppressors and as such were not to be trusted or given major roles in the new nation-state.
The traditional authorities comprises chiefs, queen mothers, linguists, heads of asafo companies, the family, priest and priestesses who collectively and individually command lots of influence in urban and rural areas because they are considered as people with customary legitimacy in their areas of jurisdiction and stabilizing factors in local governance, Prof. Bekoe explained.
“The traditional authority system has also proved to be a very important source of mobilization of physical, human and financial resources for local development”, he noted.
He stated that chief have legislative roles whereby in the normal course of governance, they, in consultation with their elder, make rules governing social, economic and political life of the communications.
In their executive function, he said chiefs see to the daily administration or communities, plan in economic activities involving the use of environmental resources, adding, “Chiefs are the first to know when there is pollution, bushfires and environmental degradation from the use of fire chemicals, or conflicts”.
Also, they interpret rules and laws governing social, economic and political life, while giving judgment in arbitration and influencing resource management as part of their judicial roles.
Defining their spiritual role, he noted that chiefs were regarded as intermediaries between the living and the dead and together with fetish priest are seen as powerful symbols of authority that could evoke sanctions on members of their communities.
He said his nation works well in controlling social behaviors and also leads to sustainable ways of resource management, saying, “by this spiritual authority, economic authority flows and the chief can mobilize all the people for communal work”.
According to him, though this role of chiefs had changed over the years, many communities still appreciated and respected chiefs, which helps in moderating resources use and sustaining environment.
He submitted that the post-colonial perception of chiefs has resulted in the relegation of traditional authorities to the status of custodians of traditions and customs of their subjects in all the post colonial constitution, stressing,” their role in the socio-economic development of their communities is minimal since the nation-state has taken role upon itself and the corresponding authority to collect taxes”. He lamented that traditional authorities have further beer marginalized politically such that the 1992 Constitution categorically bars them from engaging in partism politics.
“1982 to 1992 saw a further erosion of the powers and space available to traditional authorities and institutions with the creation of the people’s Defence of the Revolution(CDR), which gave way to he unit committees under the government’s decentralization programme”, he added.
The Chronicle - Wednesday, March 7, 2007 Page 3