We Must Not Allow Accra to Burn!

Fri, 28 May 2010 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

May 26, 2010

The ongoing impasse between the Ga Mantse, Nii Tackie Tawiah III, and the government seems to be taking a different turn for the worse. Under all circumstances in contemporary times, this is the first crisis that has erupted between a Ga Mantse and the government of the day.

Obviously, the Ga Mantse’s demand for recognition and conferment of privileges on him by the government appeared to have triggered a series of unfortunate events whose next twists and turns may not be difficult to predict. With the involvement of factions opposed to him in this turbulence, I am afraid that the matter seems not ready to lend itself to easy solution.

The pronouncements by the President of the National House of Chiefs (Professor. John S. Nabila), condemning the Ga Mantse, have added another complexion to the matter. From his utterances, one can infer that the Ga Mantse risks losing support in that area too. Without the backing of his fellow chiefs, he may turn to politicians for goodwill. This move will be dangerous: politicians have interests, not permanent friends! Like the Bubonic Plague, they must be avoided in such matters.

There appears to be much politicking going on already, which will worsen matters unless the situation is handled in a more mature manner. As things stand now, there is no indication that the government will back down on its earlier position that the Ga Mantse must first absolve himself of the litigation surrounding his enstoolment and be gazetted before the government will have anything to do with him in any formal or official capacity.

On the other hand, the Ga Mantse thinks that he was properly nominated, confined, and enstooled or installed as the legitimate occupant of the Ga stool, which happened before the Mills government came to power. Under the Kufuor government, the Ga Mantse enjoyed the privileges of his status, which appeared to have vanished since the assumption of office by the NDC government. Indeed, as a matter of course, the Ga Mantse would be concerned enough to wonder why the sudden twist of fate for the worse. Thus, his demand for attention from officialdom, especially in this particular situation, where the national capital city (Accra) is what he considers as his domain. The government has dug in deeper and will not budge.

Its explanation for not according him whatever he demanded might be reasonable but it stoked the fire all the more. In response, the Ga Mantse resorted to harsh words, labeling the President’s advisors as people with a “Standard Seven” mentality. This last straw was strong enough to break the back of the camel that the government had become. And in response, it did what a desperate camel would—to kick the hardest and make the Ga Mantse squirm from the effect.

Now, other interested parties opposed to the Ga Mantse have stepped into the fray to deepen the fracas. By resorting to physical acts to divest the Ga Mantse of his status and by vandalizing property at the Ga Mantse’s Palace, these disgruntled people have poured more fuel on the fire and aggravated matters. This pure chieftaincy problem is assuming alarming proportions as a crime-prone turf.

Therein lies the crux of the tension. Accra is on the verge of “burning” and we must not sit down to let that happen.

As our national capital city, Accra is not only metropolitan but also cosmopolitan in these days. Turning it into a hotbed will adversely affect the various inhabitants and interest groups in it. Ultimately, it will destabilize national interests as well. It must be safeguarded against such a negative happening. There are already numerous pockets of mayhem in several parts of the country, the latest of which is the Nandom one that the BBC reported yesterday even before our own government knew of it or bothered to inform Ghanaians about it. These conflicts disrupt normal activities and create unwanted fear among the people.

We must be reminded that Accra is the engine-room of the country. If this impasse breaks bounds, the situation may be too explosive to contain. The government must act judiciously. In the same vein, the Ga Mantse must recognize his limits as a traditional ruler (not a politician) and rein in his temper. He needs to act in a mature manner. After all, the common saying is that respect is commanded, not demanded. In this case, it appears that he is forcibly demanding respect and may not get it.

It is likely that the problem will assume wider political implications apart from posing a national security threat. There are already indications that the Ga Mantse and the faction supporting him will continue to blame the government for their woes and begin strengthening their thumbs for the 2012 elections to show the NDC where naked power lies. Conscious of this threat, the government will need to tread carefully.

It is not to say that the government should take any desperate measure for the sake of political expediency; but considering the extent to which the impasse has degenerated so far, it will be beneficial to all if the government takes prompt measures to address the problem. It shouldn’t wait for it to explode into any communal violence before mobilizing forces and resources to attempt containing it. We are tired of all these so-called conflicts and internal peace-keeping operations that don’t help resolve all the crises dotting the various parts of the country.

This Ga crisis has many embedded hotbeds too, one of which is the Osu chieftaincy dispute. The potential for these disputes to erupt into social strife in Accra is high. This volatile situation must be defused.

The main problem, however, is the politicization of the crisis, which is primarily a chieftaincy problem. Both the NPP and the NDC have been fingered as playing a part in it. When Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, National Chairman of the NPP, led a group of NPP bigwigs to solidarize with the Ga Mantse at the beginning of his head-butting antics, the general feeling was confirmed that the Ga Mantse enjoyed the goodwill of the NPP while being spurned by the NDC government.

This is where the larger problem looms. Knowing very well the wily nature of the Ghanaian politician, it is not difficult to guess that some mischievous elements are playing a dangerous game behind-the-scene and seeking to use this problem as the launching pad for their partisan political agenda. Like hungry hyenas on the prowl, they will do all they can to snatch political points from the heart of this chieftaincy fire now burning. This desperate move must be nipped.

A dispassionate approach is needed to resolve the crisis. How can the government gain credibility in solving such a problem if it positions itself as an interested party? Certainly, public confidence in it will be punctured if nothing is done to allay fears, doubts, and suspicions that the government itself is behind these crises. It is imperative for government functionaries to conduct themselves with dignity and propriety as avenues are explored to resolve the crisis.

We know that the government wants to be neutral in chieftaincy matters but this current one should be treated as a threat at many levels. After all, the government itself is the target of the Ga Mantse’s diatribe. Thus, it should rise above the occasion to resolve the crisis in order not to box itself into a tight corner.

The authorities before whom the Ga chieftaincy dispute has been sent for settlement should also expedite action to conclude deliberations. Any verdict to either pave the way for the gazetting of Nii Tackie Tawiah or his disqualification and consequent divesting of status (if he is deemed not to have been properly installed) may give us a breather. Delaying proceedings any further will only worsen matters.

If we had strong institutions of state, they would take prompt steps to begin solving problems of this sort; but we don’t. The government has a Ministry of Chieftaincy, but the Minister hasn’t yet assured Ghanaians of what his Ministry is doing to settle matters. If this Ministry cannot tackle such chieftaincy-related issues, then, what is its value?

The glaring silence of civil society groups such as the Ga-Dangbe Association, and other important public figures as chiefs, leaders of religious groups, NGO’s, and public-spirited individuals is disheartening. Why is none of them concerned enough to make their voices heard? Are they waiting for the problem to escalate before coming out in droves to blame the government for it?

It is not too late to make conciliatory moves. But the current spate of reprisal bad-mouthing won’t help anybody. The Ga Mantse has so far been hitting hard at the government, which will not help resolve the crisis. All parties need to be guarded in any public pronouncement they make so as not to inflame passions. Meantime, those arrested by the police for their part in the disturbances at the Ga Mantse’s Palace must be dealt with according to law and prompt action taken to avert any recurrence of that riotous behaviour.

Providing personal security for the Ga Mantse should be another measure to take so that he is not physically harmed.

If this conflict drags on, it will drain our resources. None of the parties involved should expect to enjoy any sweet victory in the end. If any claims anything at all, it will be a pyrrhic victory, which will become the genesis of yet another disaster in the future!

It is unfortunate that while Ghanaians continue to languish in poverty and expect their leaders to provide the kind of leadership that will help them solve their problems, they are rather being bombarded with such chieftaincy-related conflicts and irritating inaction. We must not sit down for Accra to burn!

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.