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Opinions Sat, 25 Nov 2006

Politics And Chieftaincy – Revisited

Some issues refuse to go away no matter how much one tries to avoid it. It becomes the more difficult when holders of contrasting viewpoints to ones own consistently attacks without regard to ones right to hold a contrary view. It has always been the sincere and considered opinion of yours truly that every individual has the inalienable right to express a view as long as it is not illegal and to a lesser extent immoral. For this reason it is always strange to find professed believers in democracy, human rights and free speech showing high levels of intolerance towards others with contrary opinion. At a time of greater respect for diversity and tolerance towards individual rights it is strange that individuals and groups are consistently attacked for what they believe and hold dear. It is for this reason that this writer has always countered ideas not personalities. If people choose to express their views publicly they must be prepared to accept the criticisms and adulations equally. Yours truly is a firm believer in the African wise saying that: ‘wisdom does not reside in the head of one person’. That is the essence of debate and, to an extent, consensus building. It is therefore very sad when professed believers in democracy exhibit intolerance and total disregard for other peoples’ opinions. Once again this writer feels compelled to react to the writings of Nii Okunka Bannerman. It is only a few days ago that yours truly congratulated Nii Bannerman on a write-up on the applicability of Professor Yunus’ Grameen Bank experiment in Ghana. Sadly, in the very next piece, Mr. Bannerman purporting to be ‘bringing clarity’ to what he considered as ‘the blurring issues’ with the institution of chieftaincy ended up creating more confusion. In the course of his arguments he claims that the support for the institution is untenable and that its protagonists, of which this writer is proud to be one, promote ethnocentrism. From the perspective of yours truly, he rather succeeded in muddying his arguments rather than bring about any form of clarity. Nii Bannerman then proceeded to label the country as a failed state and attributed the economic hardships in the country to leadership of chiefs. For good measure he takes a dig at the Danquah-Busia tradition by proclaiming them as ‘Metemeho’ group which promotes tribalism.

Personalizing Issues in Political Debates

It is indeed laughable that Nii Bannerman of all people is complaining about being personally attacked for expressing his views. On its face value, this writer would have sympathized with anyone who is personally attacked. However, when it comes to Nii Bannerman it is difficult to show such a support. Going back to when he commenced his ‘crusade’ against the institution of chieftaincy, he chose to attack the personalities of the Asantehene and President Kufuor. By some strange coincidence he personified the institution of chieftaincy with the Asantehene and went ahead to vilify Otumfuo Osei Tutu II and the institution. In another twist he pours scorn, contempt and insults on the President for committing the crime of supporting the institution of chieftaincy. Then in subsequent pieces he chose to attack others who hold contrary views from his and labels then as ethnocentric. As the adage goes the one who carries the maggot infested ‘load’ home should not complain about the invasion of ants. Nii Bannerman has a penchant for mixing issues and attacking others when he fails to convince. He continuously refuses to acknowledge and respect other peoples’ position and considers his views as superior and sacrosanct leaving others without any right to hold contrary views. It would be helpful for him to stick to issues and not personalities then he would need not fear any personal attacks.

Chieftaincy: Challenges and Local Governance

Anyone reading Nii Bannerman and having no personal experience and direct observance of how the institution operates would believe chieftaincy is the underlying cause of all the social and economic ills of the country. Sometimes he refers to ‘reason’ as if he holds a monopoly over it. In a recent interview on British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) Radio Four, Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth stated that it is needful sometimes to employ ‘thinking’ rather than reasoning in appreciation of social concepts. This was in reaction to the understanding of the Jewish way of life. In sociological and behavioral terms people do not always behave according to reason but sometimes according to passion. It is important to employ reasoning in our way of living but for life enrichment passion must be added. Indeed our resort to religion, sport, music and other forms of life enriching activities are not borne out of reason but passion. As Nii Bannerman has rightly conceded religion abhors reason, so should he acknowledge same in many social issues of human endeavors.

This writer has in previous pieces acknowledged obvious weaknesses inherent in chieftaincy. However as stated earlier, inherent problems in a system does not necessarily imply its total rejection. It has been argued in other write-ups the positive roles chieftaincy plays in the socio-economic and political life of a great section of the populace. It is a firm belief of your truly that the institution in its present form is rather being stifled. This stems from the continuous fear the political establishment harbored about the chiefs. Indeed a leader like President Kwame Nkrumah went as far as conferring on himself the title of Osagyefo, an attribute of the King of the Akyems. Of course we need not recount the battles of the first president of the country and Dr. J.B. Danquah, the acclaimed doyen of Ghana politics and a son of Akyem Abuakwa Royal Stool. Notwithstanding the numerous impediments the institution has faced ordinary people have always shown respect, love and appreciation for the institution without the usual coercion demanded by political demagogues. Since independence we have had one system of local governance or another which generally tend to marginalize the chiefs. In our not too recent past of the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) era, we had riff-raffs, drug abusers and local bullies parading as People’s Defense Committees (PDC) or Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) lording over people at the local level without any accountability to their communities. Some chiefs have notwithstanding all these led their communities to better themselves without a single input from the central or the decentralized local government system. Provision of electricity and good source of drinking water for the ‘holy village’ of yours truly was largely achieved through the leadership of the chief and selfless ‘indigenes’ at home and abroad and the hard work of the citizens of the village. It is funny when people who have never experienced any form of rural living sit in the comfort of their homes and pretend to be fighting for the rural poor without any appreciation for their socio-economic and political needs. The present local governance system has the District Chief Executive (DCE) at the top with Assembly men (and women) and the unit committee members at the base. Critics of chieftaincy should conduct scientific research into whether the populace, especially those in rural areas, appreciate and love chieftaincy rather than assume the institution is bad for them. It is really condescending when people purport to hold answers to all questions and prescribe solutions without any appreciation of the real needs of the beneficiaries. That is the underlying cause of many system and policy failures all over the world. Crusaders should appreciate that it is not only what they believe to be right which is important but often what people need and accept to be right. Of course, periodically there is a need for rethink and evaluation of institutions and systems; and chieftaincy is no exception.

It is important to appreciate that national unity does not imply subjugation of diversity. In a country like the United States, racial groupings are not compelled to subsume their cultures in the name of unity yet the Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Chinese and all others exhibit unparalleled sense of nationalism. In Britain due respect is given to the ethnic and racial diversities of the population in addition to the distinctiveness of the Scottish, Welsh, Irish and English. The National House of Chiefs promotes greater ethnic cohesion and national unity than the political parties. It therefore defies logic to lay the blame of ethnocentricity on Chiefs. Social change as a process is best achieved as an evolution and not revolution. Therefore those who seek to bring about change must equip themselves with the right tools and strategies. Very few would dispute the need for change in the institution of chieftaincy and in the same breadth an insignificant minority would want its abolition. Yours truly does not begrudge anyone who does not accept chieftaincy; neither should the opponents of the institution hold in contempt those who uphold it. It is believed there are a lot of exaggerations and blatant falsehoods in the arguments of some opponents of the institution.

Breaking the ‘Matemeho’ Myth

It is always impossible to separate the social and political dimensions of Nii Bannerman’s arguments. Indeed, he has a penchant for mixing (or confusing) issues. Right from the word go, he blames President Kufuor and the political tradition he represents as being pro-chieftaincy. Strangely on the day of writing this piece, (15th November, 2006) a Ghana News Agency (GNA) report on parliamentary proceedings on the institution indicated a unanimous support for chieftaincy by all sides of the house. So for Nii Bannerman to claim that it is the innate character and ideology of the NPP and its antecedents to support chieftaincy defies reason. Suffice to reiterate that the NPP did not have any hand in the drafting and promulgation of the Fourth Republican Constitution. That Nii Bannerman is anti-NPP is amply pronounced in all his writings. One would want to believe that that there are no ulterior motives to his assertions. The underlying implication of his reference to ‘Matemeho’ vividly portrays his uncanny ability to twist historical facts to suit his warped line of argumentation.

The concept of ‘Matemeho’ as a political ideology of the National Liberation Movement (NLM) should not be misconstrued as secessionist. The concept should be understood both from its historical and political contexts. It must be noted that the NLM was not a tribal party but a national party which like most others had its strongholds in different parts of the country. The leadership of the party included Dr. J.B. Danquah, S.D. Dombo, S.G. Antor, Kobina Kessie, Amponsah-Dadzi, Nancy Tibo, Victor Owusu and Baafour Akoto. From a historical perspective the party emerged at a time the then Gold Coast was on the verge of becoming an independent state. The group believed that a federal form of government would best suit the diverse nature of the peoples who had been coerced by colonialism to form a single country. It is important to note that most colonized regions were compelled by the artificial creation of the colonizers to become countries and Ghana was no exception. Different political groupings believed in different ideologies. It is the height of mischief for professed democrats to deliberately present their opponents legitimate political ideology of federalism as ethnocentric.

History has perhaps proven the NLM right as we continue to grapple with a decentralized system which does not improve the lot of our brothers and sisters who live in the rural areas. To put the blame of the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness in local governance on chiefs should be the most bizarre assessment ever made. If the blame game must be played then it should be traceable to the fashioning of the system even at the time of independence to always suit the whims and personal egos of the head of state. Federalism advocates a system whereby real political power is divided between the sub-units and the centre. The centre in general exercises the final authority over defense and foreign affairs. Leadership at the local (or decentralized) level is more accountable creating a greater sense of responsibility. This is what the mythical ‘matemeho’ concept was all about.

Bafour Akoto, a leading figure of the NLM and the famous seven who were at the forefront for the realization of this political concept were branded a threat to the state. They were tried and imprisoned for their political belief in a classic case of miscarriage of justice and executive interference in the judicial process. Re: Akoto, now serves as a test case in constitutional law. It is no wonder that the law students association in Ghana have instituted lectures in the memory of Okyeame Akoto and the others who fought gallantly to establish constitutional rule in the country.

Failed Statehood and Economic Migration

Two strange propositions of Nii Bannerman is his assertion that Ghana is a failed state and that chiefs are the principal cause of the economic woes in the country leading to the continuous emigration of many of our citizenry to other countries with better economic outlook. This further illustrates his bizarre style of argumentation. Indeed it sounds like a classic case of giving a dog a bad name and hanging it. This writer sincerely wonders whether Nii Bannerman understands some issues he vociferously purports to champion.

Oftentimes he exhibits tendencies of extreme exaggeration and one would want to believe that it is his sense of overzealousness rather than mischief which misleads him. The heart of this writer bleeds when people who proclaim to be patriots tags the country as failed. Of course, there are numerous economic, social and political difficulties in the country; so are there in even the most developed economies like the United States, Britain and Germany. Although the definition of a failed state remains controversial it is accepted to denote a situation of a weakened state whereby the central government has little practical control over much of its territory. The success of a state is generally measured by its ability to maintain a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within its borders. To put the whole debate in perspective let us refer to the Failed State Index 2006 published by The Fund for Peace. Ghana ranks 106 out of 146 countries with the worst being Sudan at the first place with Norway ranked the best at 146th position. It is noteworthy that The Fund for Peace employs scientific parameters in assessing failed statehood. The 12 parameters they employ include social, economic and political indicators. To concede Ghana’s worst score comes under human flight particularly in the area of brain drain of its professionals and intellectuals, and the voluntary emigration of the productive segments of the population. It is significant to note that even under this indicator the country does not have any political dissidents fleeing the country. All those who for whatever reasons claim the country to be failed are dared to produce their indicators for their assumptions.

Nii Bannerman’s analysis of the causes of migration of Ghanaians to other countries betrays his lack of understanding or a deliberate simplistic appreciation of a common phenomenon with all countries. It is estimated that 55 million Europeans migrated to the Americas and Australasia between 1850 and 1914. World Bank reports indicate that migrants living outside their country of origin rose from 120 million in 1990 to 160 million in 2002. Granted economic conditions in the country of origin migrants significantly influence their decisions several other factors come into focus. There are also important social and political considerations including globalization, civil strife, persecution and environmental mishaps. To blame chiefs for any of these factors remain a mystery this writer would appreciate knowledgeable insight. Eastern Europeans, Chinese, Indians and many Asians are migrating in droves to Britain and other Western countries. These are countries without the institution of chieftaincy. It would be obliging for Nii Bannerman to help us understand the underlying cause to this phenomenon vis-à-vis our own situation. It would be instructive to note that migration is not wholly a negative issue. As much as a majority of our citizens living abroad may want to return home, they play important roles in the socio-economic development of the country.

The institution of chieftaincy is not going to disappear because of the crusades by Nii Bannerman. Of course, he is perfectly entitled to his views. He may choose not to give regard to any chief. What he seems to forgetting is that unity is not an artificial creation. Any quest to foist an ‘alien’ system on the country would rather worsen the national unity so necessary for development. What seems to be missing out of the whole debate is diversity. Even the most advanced economies are recognizing racial and ethnic diversity. Laws are passed, commissions are formed and researches are conducted, all with the aim of fostering social cohesion through the recognition of diversity. It is strange those who live in multi ethnic and racial societies are the ones preaching unity without taking cognizance for the need for the preservation of customs, usages and traditions.

God bless Ghana.

Kofi Nyame
Thornton Heath,
Surrey.


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

Columnist: Nyame, Kofi