Opinions Sat, 23 Jun 2012

Investors In Landed Property In Ghana, Beware!!!


Ghanaians can continue to accept to live with the theory of convenience, downplaying the hard road to meaningful development that would lay a solid foundation for a true economic takeoff. I would willingly tighten my belt and commit myself to the cause, like the starving Cubans who understood that the revolution could go on even on an empty stomach, in Kofi Awoonor’s estimation. But if I do not see any light at the end of the tunnel, and moreover I see the comrades I was once up in arms with to fight a corrupt regime - believing there was an alternative - now veering far off from the positions we once defended, I am tempted to jump ship.

Then I read with disgust what was named “The 2009 African Union (AU) Framework and Guidelines for Land Policy in Africa.” This document was meant to direct private agricultural investment at the country level to support food security and neutralize the risks associated with “land grabbing” faced by rural African communities. Oxfam estimates about 45 million hectares of land worldwide was sold to foreign investors between October 2008 and August 2009, about the size of the African country Malawi. Two-thirds of the land grabbing is said to be currently underway in Africa, where there is more food insecurity.

As usual, especially in African politics where problems can be spotted with the speed of lightening, but solutions are as slow and incongruous as a tortoise traveling by land. With different countries, communities and societies on the continent having different land tenure systems, one wonders how a few individuals - who have probably lost touch with the communities which are to appropriate these documents as working documents - can sit at their ivory towers somewhere and prepare a document that is to solve problems of land accusation, tenure, and administration from Algeria to Zimbabwe. If it was doable that way, Zimbabwe would have been the first candidate to benefit from this document.

In 1997, I was there in Zimbabwe, when octogenarian Mugabe started his land seizures to correct a historical injustice. For over a decade now, we have seen the worst out of that situation, or perhaps the worst is yet to come! At least, being familiar with land acquisition, tenure, and administration issues in my own milieu, there is no doubt that the AU recommendation is off the mark.

If the land is vested in the chiefs, skins, and stools, and the institution of chieftaincy is in total disarray in most parts of the country and on the continent, how do you implement or enforce a policy that you sat at a table in Addis-Ababa and stipulated without taking account of the peculiar circumstances of each community, and also involving the chiefs and the traditional leaders, who in most part are at the center of confusion that has engulfed land administration across the continent?

The Daily Graphic, in a recent report, carried a story of the destoolment of two sub-chiefs by the Asantehene, Otumfou Osei Tutu II, the paramount chief of the Asantes. This story is an apt depiction of some of these chiefs and traditional leaders who have turned the once venerated institution on its head. If, their deeds are to be measured, against the acts of the high street sweet-talker with his magnetic charm, they must be worse than the high street charlatans. For they have a staff in their hands depicting a symbol of authority without question; they are clothed in majestic regalia demanding veneration of the highest order; they are notionally the epitome of virtue and justice, but their acts reprehensible.

It must have taken the two sub-chiefs - Nana Akwasi Addai and Nana Kwadwo Kwakye all of Atwima – no lesser degree of machination, comparable to a known trickster, to inveigle their victim to part with a whooping GH 30, 000 cedis, equivalent to US$20, 000, under the pretext of enstooling him a chief with another promise of six plots of state lands.

This case illustrates how in the name of communal ownership, communities are being deprived of collective communal resources by unscrupulous individuals trusted with communal resources. The time-tested selection and nomination processes were subverted for personal gains and so was the criminal attempt to dispossess the state of its property, an unambiguous case of trickery and thievery.

Unfortunately, any attempt to condemn these acts in our society would imply one has been influenced by western thinking and lack respect for the elderly and traditional authority. “The white man has made us very defensive. We end up clinging to all sorts of things that have outlived their usefulness. Polygamy. Collective land ownership.” Things that worked in their time, but have now become tools for abuse. By men. By governments. And yet, if you say these things, you have been infected by Western ideologies,” a deduction from the Audacity of Hope.

Could the law courts handle cases of this sort without conflict with ethnic loyalties? The formal political institutions, under democratic dispensation, to deal with these issues have normally shied away from exacting punishment on these chiefs and traditional leaders. The fear of losing votes within some of the traditional areas has made it convenient for politicians to turn blind eyes to these developments. This is a great challenge to the rule of law as you cannot have the rule of law and then exempt members of traditional leadership from its long arms.

Considering that chiefs are selected from the so-called royal families, or the owners of the land. Depending on each traditional dispensation, the kingmakers or the queenmothers select the chief who then goes through series of ceremonies and assessments to be accepted by the community. In very small villages, it may simply be the first son of a late chief. In other jurisdictions, for example, where paramountcies are concerned it may be more complex and time consuming. But at any rate, there is the fundamental prerequisite of satisfying a lineage requirement.

As a result of the enormous wealth and power the institution holds, it has attracted all kinds of miscreants. Considering the fact that chiefs neither account to their subjects for the ways these lands and other resources are dispensed nor how the proceeds are expended, the institution places so much community wealth at the disposal of a few.

With urbanization, intermarriages, and polygamous relationships, the institution has been engulfed with all forms of problems especially people who are remotely connected to the institution and should never under any circumstances be staking a claim to the institution are doing so. In the end, they all want one thing - community resources that are at the disposal of the institution.

I have been wondering why the regional and national houses of chiefs in collaboration with the government could not, till now, find ways to initiate projects that will codify all successions to skins and stools across the country. It would make a lot of sense, considering the confusion that has engulfed the chieftaincy institution in recent years, to ensure that those who are in line for succession to particular stools and skins are identified early enough and their names submitted to the various houses of chiefs before the demise of the substantive chief. This way, anyone who is a party to any stool or skin who feels alienated and wishes to contest the selected candidate or the nominee could do so while the substantive chief is still alive and the institutions of arbitration within the traditional setup which the substantive chief heads could resolve the challenges while the institution is still intact.

Though not in any way an enthusiast of monarchies and ascribe statuses, I think I appreciate the British monarch for its orderliness. Obviously, we do not expect to see a succession struggle within the royal family when the queen of England passes on one day. I cannot imagine Prince Charles in a fierce contest with his own sons or some relatives over who is supposed to succeed the queen when she passes on one day.

One of the absurdities I find about our democratic arrangement is the exception of chiefs and traditional leaders from participating in the political process directly. While there is nothing wrong with the traditional institutions – the chief’s arbitration and its important institutions – to function alongside the formal democratic institutions of the state, it is absurd to see politicians falling over the same chiefs - who are supposed to be nonpolitical – to use them as conduits to reach the minds and hearts of the electorates.

Readers would concur that if the idea of exempting chiefs and traditional leaders from active politics is to ensure that they maintain the high reverence that is accorded them in the various communities, then there is no doubt that that reverence has been eroded in recent times plunging the institution into disrepute. How can I treat a chief who condones with his underlings to dupe me of my hard earned savings? How can I accord respect to a chief who is seen clearly to be rooting for a particular political party, treading where he is not supposed to tread, considering the topsy-turvy nature of the body politic in our part of the world?

If someone deceives himself or herself that the problems that have engulfed the institution would naturally go away with time that must be the greatest tale of the century. The problem of land tenure or “land grabbing” would not simply go away with the AU proposal or with the do-nothing attitude of stakeholders and interest groups.

It would take efforts from the community levels; it would take education of civil society; it would take governments taking initiatives to ensure that the institution is reformed to incorporate contemporary issues into its administration. I believe this can be done. Politicians have no moral rights to push this issue to the backburner, leaving them for the generations coming after us. If it were this way, that a politician could ask me what I want as I cast my vote to elect him, I would say that I do not want you to buy a new airplane with my tax. The resource you will expend on that can reform this institution that is holding our development down. After all, when the land is free, it is when we can produce and accrue the needed financial resources to buy jet planes for the comfort of the politician.

To put it more critically, a friend I met at the UN in 2004 pointed out that buying cars and airplanes are some of the easiest tasks to undertake as an official of government; after all you would still use a consultancy. So anybody with some appreciable level of education who is given the financial resources can go out there and get those cars and airplanes for the state. What the ordinary man is crying for is the ability of government to solve some of the basic problems that confront him or her day in day out, for example, the problem of land tenure which is beyond the power of the individual to correct, but its effects he feels directly.

There is no doubt that if the question of how we have fared as a country, and not a Fante, Ewe, Ga, Ashanti, Dagomba, NDC, NPP, CPP, etc, in the administration of landed resources, we will bow our heads in shame, for we have not lived up to expectation as a people. We cannot, in this case, point fingers at any external powers for doing unto us things we easily point accusing fingers at others for doing unto us. If we do not get passionate about these issues now and take holistic steps as a nation to correct them, we may endanger the trust that is supposed to exist between our generations for failing to do what is right. It is not in the interest of the poor Ashanti to continue to vote for the NPP neither is it in the interest of the Ewe to continue to vote for the NDC if they fail to tackle the crucial issues that affect their daily lives and sustenance.

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao