Mr. President, Keep an Eye on Chieftaincy & Religious Affairs Ministry.

Tue, 14 Feb 2017 Source: Asubonteng, Bernard

By—Bernard Asubonteng

Media reports recently quoted President Akufo Addo as telling the visiting delegation of the National House of Chiefs that “Unfortunately, there are occasions, I say so with the greatest of respect, when there are chiefs who are complicit in the decisions that are taken about galamsey operations and everything.” Apparently, President Akufo Addo was rightly expressing his frustrations and lamentations, albeit in diplomatic jargon, about many of the traditional rulers’ unprogressive and self-centered behaviors toward the nation’s overall development.

There may be few Ghanaians home or abroad who may not accept that many of the traditional chiefs today are the main reason the country’s natural resources, such as the rivers, lakes, forests, and so on are fast deteriorating. Many of the chiefs are accomplices or active participants in illegal mining or galamsey in their traditional areas. The chiefs are major enablers of galamsey everywhere in Ghana. They look the other way after they have earmarked a particular area/river bank for plunder whilst waiting for monetary kick-backs from their despicable land deals. If they really are committed in their beliefs that they are custodians and protectors of their ancestral lands, their efforts would be more geared toward the conservation of their lands rather than helping to destroy them.

That is why a sizable of number of us would not have been surprised if President Akufo Addo had pushed a little bit harder without speaking in diplomatic coded terms to the chiefs to stop colluding with the Chinese and some locals from pillaging the lands/forests. As stated in one of my previous Op-eds, some of the traditional rulers are the proverbial elephant in the room everyone knows about but scared to approach let alone touch. Part of the rationale for this fear is that many of us count ourselves as the so-called royals/heirs to some traditional stools or skins somewhere in Ghana so we tend to let the chiefs have their undeserved ways. The result is the mess most of them are creating all over the place.

It is quite breathtaking in this modern times watching the traditional rulers in Ghana wielding too much power over the public lands—in most cases—for their personal aggrandizement. To be more precise, it is about time someone at the Golden Jubilee House tells the traditional chiefs/queens in ‘plain language’ that many of their self-serving actions are jeopardizing Ghana’s progress for the past decades. Imagine the traditional rulers’ forebears sold or plundered all their respective lands for their selfish interests, would there be any land left for the present-day chiefs to brag about as their bequeathed lands?

Understandably, as the one occupying the highest position in the land, the president is probably bounded by some unstated presidential etiquettes, and thus expected to convey whatever feelings which need to be expressed in non-confrontational way. Hence, perhaps President Akufo Addo did not want to go on that rough route during his meeting with some members of the National House of Chiefs at the state house in Accra last or two weeks ago. Regardless of the president’s subtle reprimand, a large segment of Ghanaian population knows that many of the traditional rulers’ actions in the areas of their jurisdiction are not only inimical to development and preservation of Ghana’s natural resources, but also they’re threat to peace and national security. Just take a quick look at the unfolding carnage in Bimbila right now? What sense does it make for some of these unelected traditional chiefs with unchecked powers turn their areas into pseudo-war zones and perpetual land disputes? We know all politics is local affairs. This presupposes that in those conflict-prone and galamsey-active areas no amount of government assistance can make any consequential difference. For starters, the residents in these localities, especially the powerful chiefs, must be willing to cooperate with the government devoid of chieftaincy and other backward intra-district tensions.

Appearing before the parliamentary Appointments Committee last week, Mr. Kofi Dzamesi, Minister-appointee for Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs, unveiled shameful statistics to the MPs that he was about to preside over a ministry that would be responsible for handling “352 chieftaincy disputes” across the nation. This is chieftaincy insanity, and we wonder why the nation is still struggling to make meaningful development. It goes to reinforce the earlier point that the chiefs are the first points of contact in their localities; so, their behaviors—positive or negative—have tremendous impact on the overall progress of Ghana. No matter what, many Ghanaians will blame either the government or spiritual forces for almost every problem they face except taking introspective assessment of their own actions and that of a good number of the self-absorbed traditional rulers. On that note, if President Akufo Addo were to ask which of the various ministries needs the most attention, the answer will be the Chieftaincy and Religious affairs.

Although there are too many ministries for a relatively small country like Ghana, this is not to say that the ministries for education, health, transportation, energy, finance, and few others should be neglected. The case we are making before the president is that given the overly-spiritualized, as well as the unique role the traditional rulers play in every district/region in Ghanaian society, the government’s efforts toward development may amount to nothing till high premium is placed on a well-funded and effective Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs Ministry.

Ghana has a lot of traditional chiefs who are masters at turning the government of the day into puppet to be manipulated with impunity. In the process, if the ruling government gets caught up in the web of some of the chiefs’ subterfuges, often the critical problems facing the localities are overlooked. And when all the chips are down, the government, not the traditional rulers, gets the blame for the under-development. Majority of Ghanaians still venerate their traditional rulers, and most of these chiefs have not only cultural but socioeconomic and political clouts. Their combined efforts can make or unmake government’s sense of direction a nightmare.

In addition to the foregoing is the highly superstitious Ghanaian culture that has created incubating terrain for fake pastors, prophets, mallams, fetish priests, and many other religious pretenders, to thrive. All these spiritual slickers have succeeded in even letting many more smart Ghanaians leave behind their critical thinking caps. They will not go to the health clinic to check their blood pressure or sugar levels because the con artist prophets/pastors say there are some evil forces causing the underlying illness. This baseless belief system does not augur well for modern development. In short, these are some of the reasons President Akufo Addo must keep an eagle eye on the Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs.

Bernard Asubonteng is United States-based writer; he can be reached: b.asubonteng@gmail.com

Columnist: Asubonteng, Bernard