Chieftancy: The Mess That Keeps Giving Willingly

Tue, 20 Nov 2007 Source: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

The discussion around chieftaincy is often emotional and filled with quite a bit of untruths. Varying sides have occasion to embellish their positions as a way of getting brownie points. I pray for the day when this discussion will visit the real interests that lie behind the calls to abridge or phase out the institution of chieftaincy. I know my interest has to do with effective governance coming from able leadership that will move our people from survival to progress. Let me emphasize that this is not about personalities but instead an ancient institution based on class and tribal supremacy that has outlived it usefulness. I want a merit-based system and do reject tribe-based leadership on regional or national basis. The idea of having one tribe occupy a particular portion of Ghana till infinity is not evolutionally sustainable and conducive to the growth and progress of a united Ghana. It must surely change now!

If Ghana were to be truly the tribal melting pot that I envisage, we have to move away from sanctioning tribal enclaves through royalty. The bad news for these paragons of chieftaincy is that the bouts of change sweeping across the landscape will undo all their tribal contraptions and ill-advise arrangements designed partly for political and selfish gain. It is just a matter of time. While these discussions provide titillating fun and an opportunity to spew acerbic and rancid venom for some, it is very critical and must be taken very seriously. This mental intercourse on chieftaincy must be kicked a notch higher. Hopefully, those who have opted for discursive chastity on this issue will come out and join this august fray. It is for this reason that name-calling and insults will do a great disservice to this overdue and continuing discussion. I hope that we will continue to prove Watson wrong. The debilitating impact of chieftaincy on the daily lives of Ghanaians cannot be trivialized. Do we bring relief or continue the harsh sentence of chieftaincy for life? Is time served a consideration for release? How about parole for good behavior? No breaks at all from Chieftaincy? Haba!!!

Chieftaincy is inextricably laced, if not linked to land. Land is a key and critical factor of production and its management or availability must be taken squarely seriously. Peace and effective leadership are key ingredients in the sour and biting soup of development. Obviously, there are tangible issues here and this is why what happens to chieftaincy as we galumph forward, must be vigorously discussed and some progressive action taken. Let me say that, most Ghanaians, whether they are for or against chieftaincy, are fed up with the gaffes and attendant mayhem that chieftaincy continues to foist on the good people. Most Ghanaians would rather mind their business instead of being saddled with what some privileged and snotty royals care to do or say. This is why we must bring peace and modernity to the countryside by dealing with chieftaincy firmly and in a progressive way. And if this means phasing it out or keeping it for its comic or tourist value, that is fine by me. In the end, what the people want is what we all have to grit our teeth and accept, sadly or otherwise. We must tell the people the truth though and awaken a keen awareness about the institution of chieftaincy and what it stands for. Below, I want to correct some of the popular passel of untruths and also, dismiss as well address, troubling issues that the proponents of chieftaincy continue to fatuously unleash into mainstream discussions.

Chieftaincy Does Not Equate our Entire Culture: Often when the clarion call for dealing swiftly and firmly with runaway chieftaincy is piped in, its proponents, protagonist and paragons, are quick to make the false claim that chieftaincy equates our entire culture and therefore, we will cease to exist when its ready coffin is firmly nailed down, lowered, and the first scoop of dirt is hurled on the grave seated coffin. Chieftaincy, just like a hand or toe, forms part of the body. It is part of our culture but not our entire culture. Our enduring and practical traditions will stand on its own merit. So what really is the fear? Our lives will certainly go on without chieftaincy just as one’s health will take an upward swing once a troubling tumor is removed.

Let me make my points with a few contemporary and empirical examples. The people of Anlo have been without an Awomefia for 10 years. In the course of these ten years, they’ve gone about their business and have not lost any aspect of their culture. When Prempeh 1 was shipped off to the Seychelles, the people of Asanteman survived with their culture intact and perhaps modernized for several years. This is perhaps one of the best experiments to prove that life will go on without chieftaincy. The Ga people had the dead body of their chief in the morgue for a few years and life went on in Ga land. All the harvest came in on time, festivals were celebrated and no one died because there was no chief in charge. The only problem law abiding Ga folks have to deal with lately is the threatening installation of two chiefs for the same stool. Some say there are three chiefs on the throne at the moment but I am yet to catch up with that bit of bad news. At the time of going to press, we still don’t know who the real chief is. Palpably, the evidence suggests that chieftaincy brings more hardships and headaches than benefits. Our people will not cease to exist without chieftaincy. The latter is a bald face lie and amounts to reckless conjecturing and fear mongering. Take away chieftaincy and life can only get gloriously better. No more ritual murders and multiple dipping land sales! Aren’t you fed up?

From Survival to Progress: A culture that is not receptive to change is one that operates in survival mode instead of a progressive and dynamic mode. Progress is moving from point A to point B not marking time at point A and thumbing your sore chest. For some reason, some of these agents of ossification and retrogression seem hell bent on making a case for survival. My message to them is that we have seen the light and we don’t want to squat as survivors. We would rather stand and fight than beg on our knees for pittance. So we are saying that, stop the survivalist gimmicks and pranks and opt for progress based on rationality. Survival is for those who want to keep the status quo. The status quo is not serving us well and thus the need to make surgical and tactical changes that will leapfrog us to progress and prosperity. We cannot, in the name of foolhardy and buffoonery keep everything African even when it continues to stymie our animated push for change and prosperity. Not long ago, these same people would have supported beheadings and ritual murder by this absolute system of chieftaincy. Now, we know that there is a better way. So we say no more ritual murders and outdated practices. Is this not progress? If we can make these changes, why can’t we gradually sideline the institution that addles such ghastly and retrogressive acts? Besides the starching of tribalism, what else has chieftaincy got to offer? Even if you go to bat for its cultural value, is it not true that culture never puts food on the table or provide medicine when one is sick? Why can’t we embrace what works well in our culture and ditch those aspects that continues to fetter us to the gales of failure?

Where are the changes? One thing that honestly irks me the most about the pro-chieftaincy gallery, if not phalanx, is that, they are not willing to put any meaningful change proposals on the table. If asked to propose changes that will usher their beloved institution into the 21-century, they take to the hills only to descend with tall tales, caviling gimmicks and warmed over gassy effusions. I want to let them know that we are tired of the effluvium gashing from their camp. They fail to endear themselves to all who want to see significant changes made to this throbbing headache called chieftaincy. Trust me, there are many who may consider living with and verifying the effulgence chieftaincy in the utopian grandiosity promised by its lackeys. If it can be modernized to deliver effective leadership through inclusion and merit based mechanisms there are would-be converts that await. However, we know that the institution will never be the same if the needed changes are implemented to drag it into modernity. As I have said in the past, the key change would have to open the institution up to all who care to lead and have the experience and potential. Even so, tribal leadership lost its luster, bluster and allure once the bells of independence tolled. Now, our emphasis should be more on our nationality instead of our tribe. Yes, we are born into it but there are stark choices that we can make to deemphasize tribe and promote nation.

I think royalty is a flawed and baseless idea. Indeed it is despicable if you care to know. I am not convinced that in our Ghanaian context, tribal leadership by way of bloodlines will give us the spunk that we need to move our people from the state of wretchedness and begging to a life of hope and dignity. So, if these wet nose apologists and paid agents of chieftaincy want to keep chieftaincy, they must tell us what changes we need to make the institution viable or relevant in our direct participative democracy context. This is especially critical for local governance. There is no doubt that even the most fanatical supporters of chieftaincy admit that change must come or else trouble awaits the institution. These days, the modern science of DNA and documentation of bloodlines is being offered as a way forward. Who would have thought that this backward looking institution will embrace science? Hopefully the use of DNA will not be seen as a taboo punishable by death or some kind of western cancer aimed at turning, if not purging, the hardened stomachs of these recalcitrant traditionalists.

Chieftaincy and Modernity: Recently, the Asantehene was said to have been invited by some German group to come educate them about how chieftaincy can either co-exist or actually inspire modernity? Asantehene did not waste time jumping at the throat of those who want change, by telling them that they have no confidence in their “African-ness”. From his view, those who call for change have lost faith in their own systems that continue to fail them. So, I say why not? What Asantehene fails to acknowledge is that, the confidence of the people is more linked to what their leaders do, not what they, the leaders, preach in foreign lands. The people want their leaders to lead, follow or get the hell out of the way. They are tired of this same old crap about culture. We are not the only ones on the face of this earth with a culture. Every place has culture too. Is it not ironic that we have the temerity to classify others as uncultured but turn around to beg for food and money from them? The value of culture, lies in how well it works to help you live in dignity and hope, as opposed to surviving collectively as steely beggars. Have we not begged enough from those we consider uncultured? If they followed culture as fanatically, and to the exclusion of commonsense as our leaders invoke, will they have enough to give us handouts? What these so called uncultured people do is go with what works. Culture for the sake of culture will lead to national renal failure. Frustratingly, culture is now the ruse for keeping a royal class is place, ably defended by their thieving elite friends. We must reject this nonsense now and see through this canard.

Indeed, the so-called African leader in general, is notorious for preaching virtue and practicing vice. Lets respectfully take a look at Asantehene by way of his actions. Asantehene is known to play golf avidly. He is also known to wear suits. I bet he has a cell phone and all the modern frills befitting his status. It is even rumored that his wife was in the US recently to give birth to a royal child. And yes, she bypassed the great Okomfo Anokye Hospital on her way up here. Now, I say these things not because of disrespect or a delight in exposing our own hypocrisy. I say this because leadership is not so much what we say but how we act. Don’t you think that the people of Kumasi, looking on, will notice that it is safer to have your kids in overseas hospitals? Is the Asantehene above Okomfo Anokye hospital? A hospital named after a renowned citizen of Asanteman? How do you expect the people then to believe in their own institutions? And you think institutions are not a reflection of culture? Why do we show such poor understanding of culture? Culture has more to do with actions than words. Let the preachers live the culture and traditions they espouse and we the lost ones will certainly go for what works.

Look at Kufour’s behavior, for example, and tell me how he exudes confidence in everything Ghanaian. Is he not the man giving contracts to the Chinese and Indians? Is he not the one who did not find it wise to dress Ghanaian at the ill fated and divisive Ghana@50? When confronted, what did he tell us? Did he not wax global village? If global village in good for him why not us? Who is in bed with the Norwegians aka Ghacem? How do these people expect Ghanaians to build and nurse confidence in their own systems/culture if they live outside the local system? Would Ga Mantse or Asantehene take Akpeteshie for libation instead of schnapps? I am yet to hear the ban for everything European coming from the palaces. These days, even Asante royals are born as American citizens. God forbid that they take over the palace and start spewing Ebonics. Asem beba!! Take healthcare for example, why do we have our leaders getting their healthcare outside Ghana while mothers hold on to their dying babies in our ill-equipped hospitals? Then we tack on a VIP section in our hospitals too? I can go on and on to prove that the rhetoric of these chiefs and leaders about “Africanness” does not match their lives expressed in action. The sweetness of the pudding lies in eating. Let them show by the actions and we consider following them.

Tourism and Comic Value If some want to keep chieftaincy for its comic or tourist value, that is fine by me. If that happens to be the case, chieftaincy must steer clear of politics as required by the constitution. It is frustrating to observe that, the attempt by our constitution to separate chieftaincy from politics is not working. This is because the politicians need chiefs for votes and the chiefs need the politicians for validation as both continue their torture of the good people of Ghana. In the end, the people are left holding the bag. Interference by some meddling chiefs must be curtailed. Send the chiefs back to their dingy palaces so that we can go on with the business of building the nation. My problem with chieftaincy is that it is creating turmoil in the local areas and interfering with the efforts to build participative democracy. If Ghanaians have adopted a constitution that envisions democracy pillared by universal human values, then we must put our resources in this experiment and make it work. In our multi-ethnic environment, democracy may be our last hope. The idea of one tribe dominating and making slaves of us all belongs to the archives. We risk losing this whole by addling this nonsense about tribe and chieftaincy at a time when we should be championing democracy at both the national and by all means, local level. We must elect our DCEs and Council members at the local level. Trying to blur the line between chieftaincy and democracy is silly but should we turn it into this absurd quagmire of conflict and mayhem?

If we believe that our hope and aspiration lies in chieftaincy, lets surely mess around with it. I don’t think that chieftaincy has a place at the table of democracy. It is not an institution designed to promote mass direct participation, freedom of the individual and meritocracy. We cannot possibly govern a country of 20+ million, an amalgam of different tribes, with the institution of chieftaincy. Which tribe will dominate the rest? Which chief will rule the other tribes? Indeed it is the overly parochial tribal nature of chieftaincy and the colonial arrangements of present day Ghana that forces us to embrace direct participative democracy as the surest way out. If we don’t gum together to marginalize chieftaincy and addle democracy, we may well have created the very toxic mixture that will surely foment trouble and visit untold hardship on all freedom loving Ghanaians. Let us act now to clean up this mess. The current Anlo meltdown should be a dour reminder that all is not well with chieftaincy. Many more places continue to witness numerous chieftaincy disputes that continue to stagnate productive activities and disturb the much need peace. Also, problems like what we see in Anlo should be considered national instead of sectional. It affects all of us and the security that we seek. I live for that day when the impact of chieftaincy will be reduced to that of a sparrow’s fart in a category 5 hurricane. Take chieftaincy out of the equation!!

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Also known as the double edge sword)

NB: I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it is hell. By Harry Truman

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka