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Feature Article of Sunday, 18 November 2012

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Who else is politicizing chieftaincy (Part II)

Who else is politicizing chieftaincy but the chiefs themselves? (Part II)

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We have identified the refusal by traditional rulers to respect the constitutional ban on them as very troubling because of the threat it poses to our democracy.

Left on their own, the chiefs can’t profit from the politicking going on around them. They know how to play their cards when the politicians fall into their trap by paying courtesy calls on them. One clear instance occurred recently when President John Mahama paid a courtesy call on the overlord of Tamale, Gulkpe Naa Alhassan Ziblim, to begin a campaign tour of the Tamale Metropolis.

News reports had it that the president thanked the Gulkpe Naa for praying for victory for the NDC and added that he is certain of victory after the chief’s blessings. Through his spokesperson, the Gulkpe Naa assured the President that he has the full support of the community people in this year’s elections. He said President John Mahama’s “ascension to the presidency is not by chance. It is ordained by the Almighty Allah. So whatever God has sown no amount of drought can wither it. It is God who has planted the president.” The Gulkpe Naa said he was praying to the Almighty Allah to give the NDC victory in the election, adding that President Mahama will bear fruit for all Ghanaians to benefit from.

We won’t miss the heavy political bias on display here—and it is not for its own sake!

Two theories may be advanced to explain why chiefs continue to flout the Constitutional provision. First, chiefs have always participated in national politics. They were doing so before the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution and find it difficult to break away from the past.

Second, there are many loopholes that the constitutional provision isn’t taking care of. The Constitution doesn’t preclude any interaction between politicians and chiefs/queenmothers, which is nothing strange. After all, as traditional rulers, the chiefs are not a-political.

Additionally, some of them have ever been politicians before ascending to the stool or skin that has turned them into traditional rulers, but they can’t shed the love for politics. They are the embodiment of the values of their people; and these values include the political elements. The chiefs are political authorities in their domains and carry out functions that, even though threatened by the modern system of governance under which the local government (District, Municipal, and Metropolitan Assemblies) has whittled away their powers (especially of adjudication and arrest or trial by ordeal of culprits), they still wield enormous powers.

Take the Paramount Chiefs, for instance, or the Asantehene as a clear example of a powerful chieftain. All those regarded as subjects of the Asantehene dare not impugn his integrity and hope to live their lives in peace, safe and sound. Will we so soon forget the Asantehene’s snarling at Paramount chiefs under him whom he accused of not fighting for him when his name was being dragged in the mud following the theft of stool regalia in Oslo? He is strong enough to defy modern-day political influences that threaten chieftaincy.

We all saw what happened under Kufuor when the Asantehene was the cynosure of all eyes, receiving all foreign dignitaries visiting the country on official business with the government and being favoured by Kufuor’s support to collect millions of dollars from the World Bank in the name of development projects for the Ashanti Region.

Again we saw what happened at the initial stages of the Mills administration when Togbe Afede Asor IV, the Agbogbomefia of Ho Asogli, was appointed to positions that disregarded the Constitutional ban against chiefs’ involvement in partisan politics.

Like these two chiefs, there are many others, especially in Northern Ghana, who are politically active and have their subjects under their armpits to dictate to. Such chiefs sway the electorate and can go a long way to determine the fate of Presidential and Parliamentary Candidates at the polls.

Another loophole is that the Constitution doesn’t prescribe any punishment for a chief who flouts that stipulation. It is left open—either for an individual to drag a deviant chief to court or nothing happens at all. The latter is the norm, which emboldens the chiefs to take sides cost-what-may. Should we attribute this dare-devil conduct to indiscipline or plain disregard for the Constitution?

There seems to be imbalance in this constitutional injunction. It is one-sided in debarring only the traditional rulers. They are not the only identifiable public figures whose status warrants the restriction. Members of the clergy or leaders of the religious bodies too (e.g., Chief Imam or the head of the Ahmadiyya Movement, among others) also command a large following but are left off the hook.

Why should it not be binding on them to refrain from partisan politics and be subject to a constitutional provision as such?

With impunity, some have acted in one way or the other and even made pronouncements to betray their political biases. But the emphasis has been on only the traditional rulers all this while.

Although we haven’t yet witnessed any open confrontation between a chief indulging in partisan politics and his subjects opposed to his political persuasion, we can’t just sit back unconcerned. It is in this regard that the constitutional provision seeks to streamline matters to save the chiefs’ reputation, particularly, and to curb any communal violence likely to be caused by the chiefs’ involvement in partisan politics to the chagrin of their subjects who may toe a different political line.

If the chiefs themselves have defied this Constitutional provision and are hiding behind “semantics” to push their agenda through, there must be cause for concern as WANEP has alerted us to, and which we have noticed all these years as part of the major problems confronting our democracy.

Solving it calls for discipline. Clearly, it is difficult for the chiefs to remain neutral or non-partisan. Why is it so? Of course, they are political animals too and can’t sit down unconcerned for others to impose their will on them.

In effect, then, the institution of chieftaincy has all along been politicized and ridding it of that complexion isn’t easy. It can’t be done because the chiefs themselves have dug in and the politicians are smart enough to know how to hit hard while the iron is hot.

We must find better means to handle the matter so that the Constitution can serve the purposes for which it was promulgated. So far, it seems we are only whitewashing the filth that has tainted our national politics, wasting precious time and resources running around in circles. In any case, what has become of the Constitutional Review Commission’s work?

After wasting more than 6 million Dollars and producing a report whose contents were cherry-picked for endorsement by the late President Mills, everything about the CRC’s work has ground to a painful halt. What is being implemented to make any difference at all?

Ultimately, our constitution will remain a paper tiger for as long as it is violated with impunity without the culprits being punished to curtail deviant behaviour. How will we ever make any progress this way?

• E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

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