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Feature Article of Thursday, 7 February 2013

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.

What do our chiefs value most—Tradition or expertise?

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Monday, February 4, 2013

My good friends, certain happenings strongly suggest that we cannot develop our country as expeditiously as some might be craving for.
We certainly stand out as people who are content with the status quo ante and appreciate the slow pace at which our country is developing. We do so because we appreciate mediocrity, pettiness, and superficiality.
We find it difficult to tackle problems, using the best methods available, and go for the cosmetic ones that only help us compound existing problems and, in the process, create new ones to add to them.
In this 21st century, we are happy that water and electricity continue to be rationed in our cities and towns; that our people living in the rural areas lack potable water and decent accommodation; that our open gutters are choked and sanitation remains a major cause of cholera and other health hazards; that the perennial flooding of our national capital city (Accra) is acceptable; that despite the vast tracts of arable land, we can’t feed ourselves; that we expect our politicians to give us hand-outs to be able to live our lives; that our high unemployment rate and the high crime rate are acceptable; and that we care less about what we leave behind for posterity.
It is disturbing that everybody is rushing into buying-and-selling or looking for every opportunity to leave the country for foreign lands in the hope of landing good jobs and living in decency. A mirage, it all turns out to be!!
While we do so, we create favourable conditions for foreigners, especially the Chinese, to take over our land and engage in activities such as “galamsey,” logging, and others that destroy our environment and morality.
We are more than happy to encourage the politics of nepotism, rancour, malicious lying, and thievery. We resist change and stick to unproductive norms, precepts, and injunctions if only doing so will serve our parochial interests.
Why have I gone this way, you may be wondering? I have done so just to comment on news reports that President Mahama has defended his nomination of Dr. Henry Seidu Daanaa, who is visually impaired, as the Minister of Chieftaincy and Traditional Affairs because of negative reaction of some chiefs to Dr. Daanaa’s nomination.
Does the President have to defend his decision to appoint such a person to a position of trust at all? Yet, he was forced to do so because of the extent to which some people have taken matters (Ghanaweb.com, Feb. 4, 2013).
President Mahama did so today at a meeting with the President of the National House of Chiefs, Professor John Nabilla, and members of the Standing Committee of the National House of Chiefs.
Although Professor Nabilla said members of the National House of Chiefs have confidence in the nominee and will work with him if approved by Parliament, the dust raised by those chiefs opposed to him still hangs around.
Dr. Daanaa’s appointment was publicly protested against by some chiefs in the Ashanti region and the paramount chief of the Seikwa Traditional Area in the Brong-Ahafo Region (Nana Kwaku Dwomo Ankoana II), who stated that it is an abomination for a chief to shake hands with, to make any physical contact with, or to deal with a physically-challenged person.
Tradition and custom forbid chiefs from dealing with people with physical disabilities, my good friends, and adherence to that injunction will prevent us from tapping into the expertise of those physically challenged people for our own good!!!
By implication, then, those chiefs are telling us that the President made a grievous mistake by choosing Dr. Daanaa to head that Ministry with responsibility for the chieftaincy institution.
They are not saying that Dr. Daanaa lacks the expertise needed to handle the responsibilities thrust on him. It’s all about his physical handicap, which reinforces my earlier assertions about the problems hindering our country’s progress.
I unreservedly condemn Nana Ankoana and any chief holding such opinions. These are opinions rooted in backwardness and abject ignorance. I tell them straight to their faces that they will live to rue their perspectives. They are living in a terrible time warp and deserve to be pitied—and condemned too.
How many of them eke out their livelihood from those outdated traditions and customs? How many of them have been able to develop their paramountcies to add value to their own lives and those of their people with input from those traditions and customs?
Let me tell them right-away that they are no match for Dr. Daanaa. He has risen above his physical handicap to acquire an expertise that Ghana needs.
Until his nomination, Dr. Daanaa had been the head of research at the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Culture, where he cultivated the strong character of coping with disdain of the kind that these chiefs hold for people like him.
He has already surmounted a major challenge which is rooted in the tradition and customs of some traditional areas in the country that don’t permit chiefs to shake hands with the physically challenged like him.
Dr. Daanaa holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology of Law from the London School of Economics and has worked with almost all Regional Houses of Chiefs in the country. He has described himself as “a pioneer all my life,” noting that he was the first blind person in Ghana to be called to the bar on 4th October 1987.
How many of these chiefs can boast of the credentials that Dr. Daanaa has? How many of our chiefs has his kind of expertise and experience to warrant their undermining him just because of a physical handicap that he didn’t impose on himself?
This disdain from the chiefs is deplorable and must not be encouraged at all. If those chiefs who are disparaging him think that their archaic traditions and customs will serve their needs better than Dr. Daanaa’s expertise, let them not deal with him. Let them stay away from him so he can deal productively with those who respect him for what he is and want to benefit from his expertise.
Do these chiefs not realize that their own institution of chieftaincy has virtually lost its value in this age of science and technology? To me, they deserve nothing but profound pity because, despite all that they claim they are, they are nothing but vestiges of a past that has fast lost its value in the workings of modern-day approaches to social engineering and governance.
These chiefs should ask themselves whether they are as relevant to us today as they used to be when we deferred to them as the custodians of everything that defined our peculiar cultural, political, spiritual, economic, and moral entities.
To wit, they are nothing more than showpieces on ceremonial occasions. They have been overtaken by modernity and should know how to work with the institutions and personalities spearheading such a drastic change.
Don’t get me wrong. I respect chiefs for what they are, especially those who use chieftaincy as a unifier and protector of productive values and work hard to uplift living standards. And there are thousands of them as such in the country whose names jump to people’s lips for commendation.
But there are others too who come to notice as the bad nuts giving chieftaincy a bad name to warrant its being condemned as I am doing here. Those bad nuts have used chieftaincy as a “divider” and catalyst for social strife, land disputes, and many others that have endangered life all over the country.
Those bad nuts come across as misfits in the institution and should be exposed for special condemnation. I am all set to conclude that those chiefs disparaging Dr. Daanaa and many other physically challenged compatriots are ignorant and must not be allowed to negatively influence the society.
Such chiefs lend credence to Dr. Nkrumah’s warning that those chiefs opposing his development agenda for Ghana would run away and leave their sandals behind. Those who hide behind traditions and customs to frustrate good governance should be exposed and contemned till they fall in step to support genuine efforts at making governance more meaningful and beneficial to Ghanaians.
I shall return…
• E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com
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