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Opinions of Sunday, 27 February 2011

Columnist: Kwawukume, Andy C. Y.

Taming The Ghanaian State: Reforming Chieftaincy.

Part 1

Taming The Ghanaian State: Reforming Chieftaincy.

INTRODUCTION: This article is an abridged and revised version of one I did under the title, “Taming the Ghanaian State, or What is Happening in Anlo,” which was posted on the closed Anlo forum, Anlosusutialawo, years back. It was an attempt to shed light on what happened in Anloga with respect to the Awoamefia succession dispute, leading to the deaths of some people on 1 November, 2007. The general rumpus being caused by chieftaincy disputes in various parts of the country have led me to hastily expand the sections of the article intended to cover the restructuring of the chieftaincy institution and the State. I cut out some specific sections touching on the intra-Anlo struggles. I posted that version on the forums Okyeame, Nkrumaistforum and GLU and the feedback even though very positive made me feel that I must add some more meat to the bone in order to support the transformational agenda I have in mind in Part 2, which has not been publicised yet. But with recent turn of events, with the impostor Patrick Agboba forcibly and illegally “installed” with the assistance of the NDC regime as Awoamefia while there is pending injunction against such a move, I was tempted to re-introduce the intra-Anlo dispute sections cut out. However, as the dogs have been let out, that topic deserves re-telling on its own in full, so I shall return to that later. There is enough in here to serve as an introduction to the Anlo dispute for those who care to know.

This piece is hampered by the developing nature of events and the restriction of being unable to cover in detail the facts of the cases; so it is work in progress. But, since a number of documents and books are already in the public sphere, which fill the gaps, and this writer is blessed with some inside knowledge as to what is happening in Anlo in particular, and a general knowledge of history and events elsewhere in Ghana, I believe I am adequately armed enough with the facts to tackle the task to an appreciable level. So far as the Anlo chieftaincy dispute and the present Techiman vrs Tuobodom and Asanteman impasse in particular and the institution of chieftaincy in general in Ghana are concerned, there is enough to draw on. The write-up therefore makes no pretension to being an academic treatise but just a sketch for a fuller study for action. But one thing I am sure of though is, it is unabashedly a political treatise intended to further a particular agenda and actions to reform the institution of chieftaincy and the State of Ghana. It is an agenda for the future all progressives MUST rally around and prosecute to fulfilment.

It is an undisputable fact that no nation has as yet developed encapsulated within semi-feudal institutional governance structures. The movement from monarchical systems to either constitutional monarchies or republican constitutions is world wide phenomena. Even in the fast developing Asian countries where it has been established that modernisation does not necessarily entail Westernisation of ones’ cultural heritage, that is, one can develop within the context of ones cultural pathos, a lot of concessions had to be made by way of abolishing vast vestiges of feudal relations from Japan to India. Nepal is the latest example where a millennia old monarchical system has been abolished. We in Africa risks going the way of civilisations which have been swamped and absorbed by other civilisations, or even made extinct, if we do not transform many aspects of the way we live and organise our societal and governmental institutional structures to become modern developmental organs. In doing this, we must transform the fury with which the continent’s conflicts are pursued into a fury of robust and transformational ideas to sweep away the old ways of doing things, while retaining what is positive and sustainable.

To begin this process, we must shed some light on events so far and put them in perspective. Charity, the sages had claimed, begins at home, so I shall begin with my on backyard, and some parts of Ghana.

ANLOS DECLARED WAR OF TRUTH, AND THE ASANTEHENE ISSUED AN ULTIMATUM: For the first time in the history of post-independent Ghana, a group of people belonging to an ethnic group rose against what was without doubt gross State abuses of their human rights and freedom to associate, involving Police harassment and brutalities leading to deaths; disrespect for their culture and traditions in an attempt to impose on them a non-qualified candidate as their supreme traditional leader, that is, the Awoamefia of Anlo. The Anlo Chiefs and Clan Heads have compiled a detailed chronicle of the said abuses in petitions to the various arms of the State and the media, so I shall not recount them here. As it were, their actions were met with a hail of abuse on the Internet from certain disgruntled and misguided elements, just as many responses to the recent ultimatum of the Asantehene, king of the traditional allies of Anlo from the conflict-ridden pre-colonial period. This marked the second incidence of a traditional authority mounting a challenge to the State in post-independence Ghana. It is only those who have not suffered the egregious actions of the State, or derive unjustifiable gains from such abusive actions, that would blindly support the State in its present rogue state and be raining uncouth and untutored abuses on the victims.

In the past, students and professional bodies had led the fight against arbitrary and corrupt rule in Ghana. We must also acknowledge that soldiers had joined this struggle by overthrowing governments they perceived as abusive of the rights of the people, were corrupt and not meeting their needs of survival. That these military regimes had ended up being the worst abusers of the rights of Ghanaians and/or most corrupt is a matter of public record and needs no dwelling on.

Elsewhere in Africa, in West Africa too, these struggles against the abusive, corrupt and uncaring State by civilians who have taken up arms in their defence against the State often degenerated into the bloody ethnic or religious bloodletting and destruction we are all too familiar with. So far Ghana has been spared the worst of those civil unrests, except in the northern regions of the country where the failure of the State to intermediate impartially in regional intra- or inter-ethnic disputes over chieftaincy issues has been degenerating into internecine fighting. The agenda to transform institutional control and governance in Ghana, as elsewhere in Africa, must necessarily also entail the revamping in a drastic form of the so-called modern State institutional structures. It is there failure to manage the challenges of the traditional [and informal] sector that is at the root of the problems.


Ghana from its very inception by the British colonial authorities has been a rogue and arbitrary State constituted to advance the fortunes of the colonisers at the expense of the colonised. The British therefore broached no opposition to their rule, and in the process, killed or deposed the chiefs and their subjects who were the initial resisters to their attempts to colonise present Ghana. Some who cooperated were co-opted into their ranks. The Fante Confederacy, for instance, was disbanded and the leaders arrested. The Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh I found himself and his close associates in exile in the Seychelles. I met at Woolwich, London, an elderly gentleman, a former Chief Justice of Sierra Leone, who told me his grandfather was a chief from Elmina who was exiled to Sierra Leone and was later killed in the Hut Tax War of 1898.

With Guggisberg’s Native Authority Ordinance in 1925 in force, the stage was set for the total co-optation, distortion and control of the institution of chieftaincy by the colonial authorities through the process of Indirect Rule. The colonial authority reserved the final authority to make or unmake chiefs by the mere process of “gazetting” or “de-gazetting,” involving registration as chief. Of course, the powers of some chiefs were bolstered as per what they had enjoyed under the traditional system and their rule became capricious to the extent that it often embarrassed their British protectors, as testified to by Tasjian (Tasjian, V.B., 1998: 135-150). The British officials were therefore often forced to restrain the most capricious of them by reversing their decisions. I recently read of a funny example. A white colonial official came upon a northern Ghana superior chief mercilessly beating up a sub-chief for an offence against him and tried to stop the beating by telling the chief that you do not kick a man who is down. The chief replied through the interpreter that it was the best time to beat him otherwise he’d get up and fight back! Perhaps, even with all those childhood fights behind me, it was good that I did not learn early about some of the exploits of my own grandfather as head of the Native Police under the reign of Torgbui Sri II. I would never had ventured into certain parts of Anloga, avoided or not associate myself with the children of some of the victims who just wanted to beat us up for some unexplainable reasons until years later on a visit to Ghana (in 1993) I got to know.

It was an era when non-royals dubbed as “warrant chiefs” and others not in line of succession were imposed on some sections of the country as chiefs, paving the way for some of the protracted chieftaincy conflicts we have today. It was no accident that by the time of the nationalist struggle for independence, the reputation of the institution had sunk so low that Dr Kwame Nkrumah threatened that the chiefs would run away and leave their sandals behind when the CPP came to power. And, that was coming from someone who was a bona fide heir to two chieftaincy stools in Nzema. No wonder, upon the attainment of independence, a number of chieftaincy Acts were passed, especially in 1958, which effectively limited the powers and the scope of authority and operation of chiefs in Ghana. Just like the colonial state, the CPP regime applied the laws to interfere in the institution of chieftaincy, in order to curb the activities of those opposed to it: destooled some opponents and enstooled favoured persons and thereby showed who was in control of power in Ghana.

The NLC and the Progress Party regimes which followed the overthrow of the CPP regime were no less intimidating to the institution, in spite of their claim of being allies to the institution. Chiefs installed by the CPP were removed and some removed by it were restored, sparking renewed conflicts. The worst instance of this happened in Dagbon where many lives were lost in clashes in late 1969. Of course, that conflict is still with us today, as a result of the dastardly regicide and mass killings in Yendi in 2002.

The Acheampong/Akuffo military regimes also interfered with chieftaincy, focusing on winning over the chiefs to back their obnoxious rule which turned Ghana into a pauper state, even though chiefs are supposed to be above politics in Ghana. Chiefs trooping to the Castle to pledge their support to the infamous Union Government (UNIGOV) agenda of Kutu Acheampong, against the overwhelming objection of their subjects, became one major spectacle of the period. The main chiefs from northern Ghana were rewarded with a new Decree which untraditionally vested all lands there in only the four major chiefdoms, thereby paving the way for the deadly conflicts over land there.

It was an era of very low image for the institution, particularly among students and the city elite. It is amazing how despicable some chiefs can be, grovelling for scrubs at the foot of people in the Castle, some of whose forebears were mere slaves in the realms of those chiefs. Times have indeed changed and certain things must change too. Those who have been controlling the Castle, whatever their origins, an area which French Marxists had devoted much research to in Africa, had inflicted upon us their own tendentious rule and abuses enough. The changing complex articulation of the interests of those who control state power, economic power and traditional authority to produce the rogue and egregious post-colonial states of Africa must be seriously dealt with. The national elite is now clearly bent on usurping or controlling traditional authority as their spoils of office or wealth too, and thus secure directly their own political bases to operate from, a situation which may bring ill winds.

The brief AFRC rule hunted down all perceived as involved in “kalabule.” Chiefs were not spared but this cannot be really categorised as interference with the institution of chieftaincy. After all, chiefs are not above the law and when found culpable in crimes or misdemeanour, they must be prosecuted as well. So, with the known arbitrary actions which characterised the period aside, chiefs were not specially targeted for abuse nor the institution interfered in to my knowledge.

The PNP regime can easily pass the test as the government which least interfered in chieftaincy affairs since our independence, even though like all previous regimes, Limann made attempts to gain the support of chiefs for his policies, just as he did to win power. I recall what the late Dr Yakubu Saaka, Limann’s Deputy Foreign Minister to be who was then our lecturer in Legon, told some of us close to him about how they supplicated the support of the chiefs in the North to win. I recall a publication in the BBC’s Focus on Africa Magazine on the conflict between the Dagbons and Konkombas and their respective allies in the early 1990s mentioning the powerful roles chiefs played their as gatekeepers to electoral success. This is to highlight the insidious roles chiefs who are by the constitution not expected to indulge in partisan politics indeed play. It was high time to end the charade by removing that clause.

The PNDC military regime of Rawlings came into its own in interference in the institution of chieftaincy, taking over from where the AFRC regime which he headed stopped. Not only alleged corrupt chiefs were hunted down but chiefs were treated with much disrespect and generally molested by soldiers. Some chiefs did not escape public caning and humiliation, just as ordinary citizens. One from the VR was destooled for allegedly being caned when in school many years back! One of the worst incidents privately known to some of us for years but finally revealed in public at the Truth and Reconciliation sittings was the detention at the VR Secretary’s compound in Ho and slapping of the late Awoamefia Torgbui Adeladza II of Anlo. The Aburihene Nana Ababio (Mr Bismarck, a prominent business magnate in private life) was not so lucky, having disappeared since he was picked up and allegedly taken to Gondaar barracks. It is a time we must revisit to ferret out the details.

The NDC regime of Rawlings, even though less egregious in its arbitrariness, was no less interfering in chieftaincy affairs. We may recall the attempt to influence and support the selection of the former Mayor of Kumasi as the next Asantehene. It therefore comes as no surprise when the Rawlings regime gave support to one of the three lineages of the Adzorvia Royal Family in an attempt to install one Patrick Agboba, ex-Commissioner of Police of the Volta Region, as the Awoamefia of Anlo, after Torgbui Adeladza II had passed away. The Police were used to intimidate, harassed and brutalised some opposed to the installation of someone with a questionable eligibility to the throne. It was only the defeat of the NDC party in December 2000 which stalled the process of this abuse of the traditions of the people of Anlo and saved some from the criminal libel charges against them. Even with this defeat and an injunction placed on them, they (the Agboba camp) still managed to use the Police, by virtue of their previous connections, to continue their illegalities until found guilty of contempt of court by a Ho High Court under Justice Apaloo, who was kind enough not to hand them jail sentences. A subsequent appeal at the Appeal Court failed and, once again, they were lucky to escape without heavy fines. They probably realised the folly of their actions, recoiled into their shells and calm descended upon Anlo, while the case files gathered dust (rather got missing) at the utterly moribund Volta Regional House of Chiefs under its previous President.

Then stepped in to fill the vacuum one hell of a filibuster and impostor known as Seth Lumorvi Atsitsogbui, who had changed his names several times to among others, Francis Nyonyo Agboada, in order to infiltrate into the Adzorvia Clan, whose turn it is to install the next Awoamefia. In this plot, he was actively helped by one Mr Napoleon Agboada, a relation of the recently deceased custodian of the stool, Mr Vincent Egle Agboada, who was convinced to initially support them in making Atsitsogbui a “regent”. This was of course against Anlo customs and tradition, and without consultation with the principal lineage heads of the Adzorvia Royal Family. Appropriate injunctions were taken against him and Egle (copies available). Lumorvi was a veritable conman and undoubtedly a filibuster who has made good during the PNDC/NDC era by false representation and impersonation. At one time he claimed to be a Captain from the Castle. By such name dropping and false representation, he managed to make connections to secure economic advantage for himself, which has turned him into a flourishing petroleum products tycoon, albeit with a huge indebtedness to the Agricultural Development Bank. That he is an unsurpassed charlatan is borne out in his CV, in which he falsely claimed to have attended a number of schools, including the University of Ghana. I have in my position scanned copies of responses from all those schools claiming no knowledge of him as a student!

ANLO IN TURMOIL AND A CORRUPT JUDICIARY: With the huge cash flow at his disposable, Lumorvi set out to buy the support of some chiefs, some junior members of the Adzorvia Clan, some high ranking NPP Ministers and the Police authorities up to the office of the IGP, even though he was a declared NDC supporter, according to even his own submitted profile. Like the true opportunist, he switched camp to the NPP. Raymond Okudzeto’s letter to Police Commissioner Dery did justice to that saga very aptly. He also managed to corrupt the judicial process, with one case against him going as far as the Supreme Court before the learned justices declared against him, admitting that the initial conduct of the now disgraced Denu High Court judge Mr Woanya, (who was later found guilty on a different case of stealing court funds to invest in treasury bonds), was a stain on the judiciary. It was this man, in spite of all the pending court injunctions against him and the many appeals to the NPP regime, including an open letter to President Kufuor himself published in the Chronicle by even a prominent member of the NPP, Mr Raymond Okudzeto, that the IGP’s office, with the prodding of the NPP regime, had given permission to be installed as Awoamefia of Anlo in clear breach of the laws on contempt of court. The infamous letter of the then Police Commander of the VR, Mr Dery, in support of these transgressions of the rogue State which was also put in the public domain shows the unacceptable partisanship of the State in chieftaincy disputes. The attempt to implement this criminal action subsequently led to the resistance by the youths of Anlo and the Police shoot out and killings, and the loss of life of one police man involved in the roguish and criminal actions. Subsequent imposition of a curfew on Anloga and surrounding towns, mass arrests, breaking into homes, brutalisation of the people leading to two more deaths led to the robust response of the Anlo people led by their chiefs and clan heads. Had the NPP government not balked at this unprecedented open challenge but continued to support the impostor with further intimidation, the chiefs and elders would have been unable to stop those who wanted to resist with arms too. After all, the W. African region abounds with arms, with the Police having a hard time coping with the few armed robbers who torment the citizenry. Of course, the opponents of the criminal actions of the State and the Police also have relations in the Police and the Army and so just more killing of the wrong person may unravel the united front of the Army and the Police as abusive, coercive forces of those in control of the Castle.

A popular local insurgency is a difficult thing to suppress. It takes just a couple of incidences to spread the insurgency to other parts of a country. For instance, news of security personnel from different ethnic groups killed in say Anloga or Kumasi may elicit revenge attacks on Ewes or Akans who are not even Anlos or Asantes in other regions, and before we knew it, a circle of revenge attacks by civilians would start mass movement of people and disruption of economic activities. It does not take long before the security forces disintegrate along ethnic lines and civil strife engulfs the whole country. The threat to national integrity and stability by the unfolding events is therefore real. I would support this position with reference to another revolt during the colonial era.

Indeed, Anlos were the first to revolt against the newly installed CPP regime in 1953 when it reneged on its promise to stop the introduction of the hated poll tax; a revolt which led to deaths in Anloga, a subsequent curfew and the spreading of a new opposition to the CPP to other regions in the Gold Coast. This event is referred to by Anlos as the “Buga Buga War”, in reference to the “buga buga” police who were sent to the town to curb the disturbances. Dennis Austin and George Padmore had covered these vents very well.

The eventual ramifications of the subsequent abuses which ensued and the shaping of the minds of the people of Anlo against the CPP and the eventual key roles some of their citizens played in overthrowing the CPP regime have not been examined even though those events had left a powerful impact on key opinion makers and gatekeepers of Anlo to this day. The ebullient nature of Anlos to resist what they perceive as injurious to them was to turn Anloga, a rather sleepy farming cum fishing town, into what Dennis Austin termed “the political barometer” of Ghana. This is in part due to the high number of ordinary Anlos who had secured education and form an important part of the new national elite in all the arms of government or the State and the underprivileged educated class, whose interests do not necessarily merge with their colleagues within the State sector.

This reaction or opposition to State actions is therefore also an intra-Anlo struggle with actors readily finding supporters in other ethnic groups who sympathise with their positions. And this is the case in this conflict too, and rightly so, as other ethnic groups have been subjected to, as noted already, similar State interferences over the years and more recently, under the NPP.

In the case of the Gas, some litigants claimed that someone from a female descent was imposed on them as Ga Mantse. That conflict is an ongoing one, with the installed Ga Mantse not long ago coming out to accuse the NDC government of bias against him. And, to even a more deadly extent, the people of Dagbon whose Yaa Naa or King was a victim of regicide along with over forty of his household members by a rival Gate favoured by the NPP regime while the Police stood by and did nothing to stop three days of fighting. The security agencies even denied that fighting was going on in Yendi when an FM Station in far away Accra reported the breaking news.

The covert interference of the NDC into the selection process of the Asantehene has already been mentioned. Also, the recent burst out by the Asantehene against what he perceived as government bias in the Techiman and Tuboduom dispute, even if some think it was only hot air, it was sufficient to ruffle the feathers of unconcerned state officials; and more importantly, act to curb what was potentially a serious, destabilising and conflictual situation. Taming the rogue State is therefore a matter for all Ghanaians to join hands at achieving, while reforming the institution of chieftaincy as well. The two must go together. That shall form the subject of Part 2.


Andy C.Y. Kwawukume