Traditional Legal Playground: The Manhyia Palace, Kumasi
The much trumpeted African Renaissance process, which seeks an open awakening of the African culture for progress, will come in multifaceted ways. Nowhere is it seen more than the opening of African traditional laws within the structures of the dominant neo-liberal penal legal codes. Recently, as we were about to depart Ghana to Canada after a six-month training of the Ghanaian media in human rights reporting and development, a 27-year-old white Canadian female asked me, “So, Mr. Kofi, Ghanaians don’t have indigenous laws before the Europeans came here?” I responded that, “We have.” Then she asked again, then why is Ghana ruled by Western laws? I replied that, “Actually, Ghana is not 100% ruled Western laws…It is governed pretty much by Ghanaian traditional laws because most Ghanaians access traditional laws, especially in the rural areas where most Ghanaians live...The problems is that our elites are not good in terms of appropriating the very environment they are operating in for Ghana’s progress.”
It is in such remembrance of Ghanaian traditional laws and the dominant neo-liberal ones that I read an inspiring report published by Ghanaweb/Kessben FM (20 July 2007) that the Asantehene (King of the Asante ethnic group), Otumfuo Osei Tutu, has removed the Asomfohene (head of the Asante King’s domestic services, an equivalent of the Department of Public Works or Services), Nana Osei Kwabena, for contravening the authority of the Great Oath (one of the higher laws of the Asante ethnic group). Nana Osei Kwabena had violated the Great Oath by selling his peoples’ swathes of lands, a serious crime that borders on the very foundations of the livelihood of the ethnic group. This demonstrates the increasing challenges facing traditional laws in the face of development pressures. The restorative, reconciliatory and developmental nature of Asante (and African) traditional laws is at the centre of the Asante King’s application of the Great Oath to redeem the lands wrongfully sold. It demonstrates a King, driven by traditional moral reasoning and his new developmental doctrine, rising to one of the serious developmental challenges that impinge on the Asantes’ and Ghana’s ultimate progress.
Like all credible laws anywhere in the world, driven by inclusiveness and fairness, according to Ghanaweb/Kessben FM, the Asantehene’s suspension of Nana Osei Kwabena is for balanced inquiry into the lands affairs to be establish in order to resolve one of the most serious developmental challenges facing not only the Asante ethnic group but also the entire Ghana – how to use ancestral lands, as property for loans, for progress a la Peruvian economist Dr. Hernando de Soto opinions. Author of “El Otro Sendero (“The Other Path”) and “The Mystery of Capital,” de Soto, and the growing international development thinking, argues that ancestral lands, most times under the clutches of inhibiting traditional values, could be freed, and appropriated, for progress by poor individuals, poor families and poor clans by using it as collateral for loans from financial institutions for development.
Dr. de Soto’s opinion, which reflects Ghana’s on-going democratic dispensation, mired in its traditional values, extols property rights as foundation for progress, more the skillful use of traditional lands, in the country’s progress. This is seen in de Soto’s interview with Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw in “The Commanding Heights: The Battle for The World’s Economy” (2002). “It’s about building capital and loans on property rights. And what we’ve forgotten, because we’ve never examined the poor – we’ve sort of thought that the poor were a cultural problem – is that the poor don’t have property rights. And when you don’t have the rights, you don’t have a piece of paper with which to go to market.”
Dr. de Soto’s analysis reflects the challenges of the rural, indigenous poor, like those the subject between Asante ethnic group’s clan of Asomfo Stool and Atwima Agogo, whose lands’ troubles, under the clutches of some hindering traditional values, the Asante King is trying to resolve. Somehow the Asante King’s traditional judicial concerns about the selling of his poor subjects’ lands in violation of Asante traditional laws is equally the subject of reviews internationally to re-think existing traditional land practices within the development processes of developing societies and create institutional foundations for the new rules, drawn from the societies’ norm, values and traditions. This is the challenge and opportunity for the Ghanaian government and traditional rulers/institutions as they search for new ways to take Ghanaians to a higher level of progress.