Okyenhene and the Re-Casting of Ghana

Sat, 15 Dec 2007 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

One of the attributes of Ghana’s emerging democracy is that it is allowing Ghanaians the fundamental right and the boldness to think and speak critically aloud about what is disturbing them about their progress. This is unlike the 21 years of military juntas and 6 years of one-party systems that was largely driven by long-running culture of fear and culture of silence - a violation of traditional Ghanaian norms and values that demands freedom and openness, as University of Michigan’s Maxwell Owusu would say.

It is in this atmosphere that Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin, Okyenhene (King of the Abuakwa State in Ghana’s Eastern Region), one of Ghana’s thoughtful traditional Kings, is radiating the conceptualization of the disequilibrium emanating from the creation of Ghana that still need to be further re-cast in order to balance Ghana as a development scheme. The Okyenhene’s suggestion that traditional rulers should be included in governance in Ghana’s development process as a means to balance the unevenness of Ghanaian nation-state is acknowledged by lack of adequate input of core traditional values into Ghana’s progress.

In a Ghana of long-running Machiavelli schemes – playground of ethnic tensions, ex-colonial arms twisting, autocrats, militarized bureaucratic authoritarianism, and one-party apparatchiks - Ghana, as a development venture, is under suffocation from the imbalances emanating from its ex-colonial and traditional values that have not been sorted out enough. No doubt, despite 50 years of freedom from British colonial rule in 1957, Ghana’s intended advancement is still run from the top-bottom paradigms – an ex-colonial left-over - against the traditional values/paradigms of bottom-top, which has left over 70 percent of Ghanaians not only out of the development process in terms of power and decision-making, but also the broadcast of public goods Ghana-wide.

Against this background, Dr. Y.K. Amoakoh, ex-chair of the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa, observes that Ghana/Africa is the only region in the world where its development process is dominated by foreign development paradigms to the detriment of its wealthy traditional development ideals. This makes Ghanaians/Africans not only somehow intellectually, spiritually, and morally weak in their own development domain, as the controversial British-Indian writer Salman Rashdie would say, but also it is this unevenness that informs the Okyenhene’s idea that, “If there is any sphere of our national life that requires the active participation of stools and skins it is of course local government,” reports the Accra-based Public Agenda’s.

In the Okyenhene, the ability to re-cast Ghana’s development policies and bureaucratic practices from within traditional Ghanaian values will turn upside down the controversial American scientist Dr. James Dewey Watson’s assertion that “Africans are less intelligent than Europeans because all their social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really.”

This calls for a new reflection to grasp the Ghanaian development process so as to let it reflect its authentic traditional values in relation to its ex-colonial and the global progress paradigms, as the Senegalese development expert, Mahmood Dia, in collaboration with the World Bank, argue. The Okyenhene reveals that none of the constitutional provisions on rural governance and decentralization include the participation of traditional institutions that cater for majority of Ghanaians as bulwark for greater progress in a Ghana where most of its citizens do not receive the production of the nation-state’s public goods.

These inconsistencies in the development undertakings are revealed in the absence of traditional institutions in the neo-liberal dominated local development structures in terms of decision-making. No doubt, the district assemblies, as examined by the Okyenhene, tell the unrealistic “formulation and execution of plans, programs and strategies for the effective mobilization of resources for the over all development of the districts,” where most Ghanaians live, with its inadequate public goods, created by the colonialists and carried over by post-colonial Ghanaian regimes.

This makes the current development design not only an “unconstitutional exercise of power by district assemblies over resources not belonging to the assemblies” but also the very people (poor, majority rural communities who feverishly need to be talked to in order to understand their critical needs) who are denied access to public goods. The rifts are throwback to the colonial period where natural resources and population density significantly determined the provision of public goods through centralized despotism and its attendant indirect rule, as Africanists such as Frederick Cooper, Patrick Chabal, Jeffrey Herbst, Sara Berry, George Ayittey, Maxwell Owusu, Daniel Tetteh Osabu-Kle, Crawford Young and Mahmood Mamdani explain of the health of the post-colonial African state today.

While for good or bad the British colonialist used traditional Chiefs to govern the Gold Coast, post-colonial Ghana hasn’t seen the creative appropriation of traditional Chiefs in Ghana’s development process, particularly “in the development planning agenda,” as the Okyenhene observes. “It is noteworthy that, during the colonial period as well as post independence era, politicians using state machinery sought through all means to curtail and usurp the powers of traditional authorities based on erroneous perception that traditional authorities constituted a threat to the state,” the Okyenhene said, revealing the poor understanding of Ghanaian elites of Ghana, as development activity, compared to Botswana where its elites, comprehensible of its traditional institutions and ex-colonial attributes, have been able to creatively appropriate its traditional institutions and the global neo-liberal values for its progress in the past 20 years.

In the Okyenhene, Ghana isn’t thought-out holistically enough despite the glaring misconception by earlier elites such as Kwame Nkrumah, Kofi Busia, Edward Akuffo-Addo, and Hilla Limman as a development project from within itself but overwhelmingly so from outside foreign development values. Nowhere is Ghana as a contentious development issues more noticeable than traditional land issues in relation to the stability of the nation-state, as Sara Berry, in “Hegemony on a Shoestring: Indirect Rule and Access to Agricultural Land,” would examine. And the Okyenhene adroitly addresses this, citing provisions in Ghana’s Constitution and tensions from traditional land jurisdiction, by questioning “why the office of the administrator” of traditional lands is not located in a place that suggests that it is accountable to traditional institutions and its communities but solely to national and regional authorities who lack of input of traditional sensibilities have inhibited attempts to let the rural poor appropriate their lands for development, as the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, of “The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else” fame would suggest.

In this sense, at the centre of the resolution of the tensions coming from traditional land issues, as a development issue, is how to balance traditional values and the heavily neo-liberally-driven national authority. It is when such balances are affected that where land, as a progress issue, will triumph and not fail, as de Soto suggests, informed by Ghanaian traditional values, and, as the Okyenhene brilliantly suggested, “an integral legal framework should be put together to help manage land resources and allow revenue of land and its resources to be used for the needed economic and social development.”

Whether re-thinking traditional lands as development venture or the inadequacies intrinsic in the Ghana development undertaking, in viewing the re-casting of Ghana through the emerging consciousness where Ghana’s traditional values also are considered as drivers of fundamental policy-making and bureaucratization, the Okyenhene’s development thinking, informed by traditional insights, reveal the attempts to re-conceptualize Ghana developmentally. The Okyenhene demonstrates that after all development thinking have been done, how well Ghana will be re-tooled from within its traditional values and the neo-liberal ones is pinned on the decentralization of the nation-state. “Decentralization scheme should be remodeled in a manner which would enable traditional rulers to participate fully in the development of their communities,” the Okyenhene envisioned in a Ghana that is yet to know and understand itself developmentally.

At this juncture, it is important to acknowledge that the legendary Okomfo Anokye, who created the Asante Empire, fashioned it as a decentralization venture, from disparaging families, clans, tribes, ethnic groups, and ex-slaves, as a means of spreading public goods throughout the new Asante state as broadly as practicable. Certainly, the Asante Empire spread from some parts of present Ghana to some parts of present Cote d’Ivoire till the advent of colonialism.

From the colonial period to post-independent Ghana, decentralization, particularly through traditional authorities and the neo-liberal structures, as the main motor to deliver public goods to Gold Coasters/Ghanaians, have exercised the minds of development planners. In Mahmood Mamdani’s “Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism” and Scott Kloeck-Jensen and Harry West’s “Betwixt and Between: ‘Traditional Authority’ and Democratic Decentralization in Post-War Mozambique,” either through centralized or decentralized despotism, depending on the tribal or geographic situation, the struggle to decentralize, as a development enterprise, though dictated by natural resources, colonial settlers and population density, saw traditional authorities and colonial administrators tango, sometimes heatedly, informed more or less by mode of domination and economic factors. That made decentralization pretty much unAfrican, since African traditional values and real needs didn’t inform it’s making, and tells the Okyenhene’s realization that the “decentralization scheme,” in today’s Ghana, “should be re-modeled in a manner which would enable traditional rulers to participate fully in the development of their communities.”

Ghana, as development mission, will be fully known, completely understood, and made attuned to itself and the global neo-liberal development process by re-moldering it in such a way that Ghanaian traditional norms and values, as Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin thinks, will be of considerable developmental fact in making polices and bureaucratization as the Southeast Asians and others who are doing well have done.

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

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi