Refining Chieftaincy for Progress

Thu, 10 Jan 2008 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Unlike Botswanan elites, which 31 years ago could mount the wisdom, the skills and humility to mix their traditional institutions with their ex-colonial and the global development ideals for prosperity, 50 years after freedom from colonial rule Ghanaian elites are still struggling with their developmental values – both traditional and the ex-colonial and the global - that are to be harmonized to fuel the Ghana nation-state as a development project.

The struggles to harmoniously integrate both of Ghana’s contending developmental values come in several ways. One is refining the chieftaincy institution that has been wrongly battered for decades by colonialism and some Ghanaians. As the key point-man for opening the culture for progress, Sampson Boafo, the Chieftaincy and Culture Minister, unaware of the enormous burden he is carrying for historical, structural and developmental reasons, attempts to refine the roughened chieftaincy institution by weeding out crook kingmakers that lead to numerous chieftaincy disputes. Still, Boafo’s advise to “kingmakers to prepare a list of royals who qualify to ascend thrones and skins” so as to avoid the perennial chieftaincy disputes that have undermined progress reveal another attempt to clean the polluted chieftaincy institution for development.

As Boafo and other Ghanaians elites play with their cultural values in relation to the global development ideals for progress, one of the main areas they have been contending with is the chieftaincy institution. “Rubbish! Scrap chieftaincy and get people producing food for the country. Electing mayors is a more progressive way to bring archaic traditions into line with modern day thinking,” writes one Ankonam at www.ghanaweb.com in reaction to one of the numerous chieftaincy issues. “Let the people of Ghana decide in a referendum; whether to retain this retrogressive institution or allow it to continue that will keep us in the 19th Century or dispose of it to enable Ghana climb on board the 21st Century train,” writes another.

Much of this muddled and disturbing opinions about the chieftaincy institution by some Ghanaians, who are critically supposed to know better, have come about because of long-running colonialism that exploited - good or bad - the chieftaincy institution for its indirect rule with all its attendant implications. Aware that the only way to rule Africa was to use its chieftaincy institutions, the European colonialists used chiefs as proxy for their rule and in the course of this created all kinds of problems, such as installing people who weren’t from the royal house, for the once healthy institution. Contradictorily, the European colonialists also created the perennial propaganda that African traditional institutions are “primitive” and unworthy of usage for development but yet find it useful to incorporated traditional values such as chieftaincy into the colonial administrative structure as Frederick Lugard explains in “The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa.”

Despite this muddling of one of Ghana’s/Africa’s core traditional institutions by European colonialism and the fact that before colonialism the chieftaincy institution had no such image problem and rejuvenated itself from within its traditional values, post-independent African elites, ever confused in the development process, have not thought, reflected and worked hard enough to repair the damages to the chieftaincy institution by colonialism and its consequent continuation by some Ghanaian/African elites. It is in this atmosphere that Ankonam wrongly wrote that, “Rubbish! Scrap chieftaincy and get people producing food for the country. Electing mayors is a more progressive way to bring archaic traditions into line with modern day thinking.”

It is disturbing that an institution that Ghanaians/Africans have depended on for thousands of years will suddenly be called “archaic,” “rubbish,” and “anachronistic” because European colonialists, who do not known anything about Ghana/Africa traditional values and who has treacherously used the same traditional institution for their colonial interests, will describe chieftaincy in unpalatable manner. Archaic, rubbish, or anachronistic, almost 80 percent of Ghanaians/Africans depend on their traditional institutions, as it has been during colonial rule, today for all kinds of public goods, services and inspiration. In fact, realistically, practically, productively and spiritually, Ghana/Africa revolves around its traditional chieftaincy institutions for its sustenance.

As the soul of the Ghanaian culture, for long the chieftaincy institution has been troubled, unable to resolve the mess caused by colonialism and some post-independent elites. Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah had a long-running battle with the chieftaincy institution, attempting to destroy the institution. Richard Rathbone, a professor of Modern African History at University of London, U.K, explains in “Nkrumah & the Chiefs: The Politics of Chieftaincy in Ghana, 1951-1960," Nkrumah waged sustained campaign to bring down traditional rulers in the face of his "frustrated attempts to democratize local government and the long and bitter campaigns mounted by many southern chiefs to resist their political marginalization."

This had fundamental changes not only on the history of Ghana but also the country's progress by making traditional rulers not key participants in Ghana's development process. However, Dr. Daniel Tetteh Osabu-Kle, a political scientist at Canada's Carleton University, argues that Nkrumah’s regime was confronted with intense difficult climate that was influenced by some powerful traditional rulers. "The traditional rulers became a problem so Nkrumah has to clip their wings…Nkrumah wanted to encourage the traditional rulers but they didn't allow it."

On the flip side, President Nkrumah’s actions and Dr. Osabu-Kle’s views are contentious and regrettable. Nkrumah and his associates should have drawn from immense wisdom and remarkable insights about Ghanaian traditional values and gone either the Botswanan or the Malaysian way, despite some challenges from certain traditional rulers, by creatively mixing the chieftaincy institution with the ex-colonial and the global development processes. This aside, the troubles with the chieftaincy institution are as ancient as they are modern, and will need fresh eyes and ears, remarkable re-understanding, a new re-interpretation informed by global development trends, in order to integrate it as fully as possible as the Botswanans have done since 1966.

This makes Sampson Boafo, the Culture and Chieftaincy Affairs Minister’s attempts to prepare a list of royals who qualify to ascend thrones and skins by tackling fake kingmakers so as to “avoid misunderstanding that often resulted in bloodshed, destruction of property and waste of state resources” part of the broader holistic goals to resolve the troubles that have for long afflicted the noble chieftaincy institution and make it more relevant to progress.

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

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi