Feature Article of Friday, 5 October 2007

Columnist: GNA

The Traditional Leader, An Agent of Growth and Dev't

The Ghanaian Perspective
A GNA Feature by Maxwell Awumah
Hohoe, Sept. 27 GNA - Chieftaincy is among one of the oldest institutions of civilization that has been bequeathed to mankind. It had and continues to play an indispensable role in the scheme of nation building, social stability and cohesion even in modern day nation States.

This dynamic institution needs however to be blended faster than it is happening now to enable it to prop up local government as the base of all development and governance processes in the country. Who is a chief or a queen and how does he or she fit into to the governance processes?

According to Article 277 of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, a traditional leader or "chief" is a person, who, hailing from the appropriate family and lineage, has been validly nominated, elected or selected and enstooled, enskinned or installed as a chief or queen (queenmother) in accordance with the relevant customary law and usage. Clearly, Article 275 says: A person shall not be qualified as a chief if he/she has been convicted for high treason, treason, high crime or for an offence involving the security of the State, fraud, dishonesty or moral turpitude.
Article 276 (1) states: A Chief shall not take part in active party politics; and any chief wishing to do so and seeking election to Parliament shall abdicate his/her stool or skin.
Significantly, Article 276 (2) states: Notwithstanding clause (1) of the article and paragraph (C) of clause (3) of article 94 of the Constitution, a Chief may be appointed to any public office for which he/she is otherwise qualified.
Article 94 clause 3 (C) states: A person shall not be eligible to be a Member of Parliament if he/she: (C) is a Chief. In addition to the relevant articles quoted from the Constitution, it is observed that Chieftaincy in Ghana is fully backed by the Chieftaincy ACT (ACT 370) of 1971.
Article 48 (1) of the Chieftaincy ACT defines a chief as an individual who has, in accordance with customary law, been nominated, elected and installed as a chief or as the case may be appointed and installed as such and whose name for the time being appears as a chief on the National Register of Chiefs.
Evidently, Article 49 lists the following as categories of Chiefs: Paramount Chiefs and the Asantehene, Divisional Chiefs, Sub-Divisional Chiefs, Odikro and such other chiefs not falling within any of the preceding categories as are recognized by the Regional House of Chiefs.

The Unique Chieftaincy Institution

Of course, the institution of Chieftaincy in Ghana is uniquely supported and established with the enactment of the 1992 Constitution and the Chieftaincy ACT 370 of 1971 and the setting up of the Chieftaincy Secretariat. The establishment of the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Culture headed by a Minister and assisted by a Deputy is another manifestation of the goodwill and importance the government attaches to Chieftaincy.
The National House of Chiefs, Regional Houses of Chiefs and Traditional Councils have all been set up by law to strengthen the institution. As a further boost, Councils of Elders have been established in nearly all villages and towns to assist and advise chiefs.
A traditional leader indeed, is therefore amply armed to be effective in the administration of justice, the practise of traditional and customary law, fair play and good governance at the local levels. He/she also serves as strong link between the community and the outside publics especially the District Assemblies and the Government. Undoubtedly, Chiefs/Queens are largely perceived as the soul of society, major power brokers, key factors of social stability and agents of development and progress.
In fact they are in the forefront of championing the political, economic and socio-cultural advancement of their subjects and areas contrary to the former stance where the institution was basically for the prosecution of war and defence against external enemies.
Leadership Roles of Chiefs/Queens
Leadership interestingly, is the ability to influence people or subjects towards the achievement of goals. It is also directing, inspiring and influencing and at the same time providing constructive feedback where appropriate. They set high standards; build strong sense of teamwork, purpose, group identity, delegated authority and deal effectively with people's concerns and problems.
The leadership types include charismatic, whose characteristics are visionary, opinionated with personal risk, being sensitive to the environment and follower-needs and the exhibition of extraordinary traits and behaviours. An all-round leader needed to blend directive, transactional, situational, servant and transformational leadership qualities to conceptualize its goals and aspirations for accelerated development.
Indeed, in governmental parlance as the private sector referred to as the engine of growth, the traditional leader is forth coming with this assertion and leading the crucial development milieu in their jurisdiction for an accelerated socio-economic growth but these could not be achieved in a vacuum.
Chiefdom could tackle its vision and mission through at least the establishment of running Committees such as Planning, Development, Finance, Monitoring and Evaluation and Excellence Award Committees, by appointing eminent citizens to serve on such committees or periodically seek their inputs towards a holistic execution of development plan.
The Constitutional and Traditional Role of the Queen (Queenmother) From the aforementioned definition of a traditional leader, the position and status of the queen has been constitutionally and legally recognized and guaranteed according to Article 277 but their roles still continue to evolve in the traditional setting. Though perceived as underdogs they (Queenmothers) wield a lot of power on the quiet or in camera.
Despite their limited public powers and influence the queen serves as an important agent of social stability and development, a symbol of adornment, traditional public relations officer, facilitator, succour to the chief, an embodiment of culture and customs, an institution of socialization and the transmitter of cultural and social norms, values and civilization.
The recognition and power of the queen however differs across regional and traditional boundaries. For instance, among the Ewes of Ghana, the queen does not enjoy full public recognition and power as her counterparts in the Ashanti. This is because the Akans practice matrilineal system of inheritance and governance and the queen also performs the all-important role of nominating or selecting a chief. In the past the queen was expected to do the nomination in consultation with the Kingmakers but these days, they have arrogated to themselves the sole role, thereby sometimes corrupting the chieftaincy system and bringing in its wake unending controversies, intrigues and litigations. The Ewe queen on the other hand has no such powers. This is because the Ewes practise patrilineal system of inheritance and governance. It would have been suicidal to superimpose the practice in a matrilineal monolithic system on that of a patrilineal decentralized one. Admittedly some queens are gaining more and more powers on their own personal accord, influence, financial capacity and power.
In contemporary times, some queens are alleged to have created their own "black stool", which is the embodiment of the soul of society, besides claiming equality with the chiefs and furthermore craving for membership of the Regional and National Houses of Chiefs, could be said to be alien to custom and tradition. But then in dealing with an organic and evolving society where cultural evolution is inevitable and even fashionable, perhaps one day the queen may assume and perform the functions of the chief.
What would have gone wrong if queens were members of the Houses of Chiefs? Would the complementary roles of Chiefs and queens in the House, be able to move the chieftaincy institution to the next level, which is fast becoming a factor for conflict and destabilization?

The Way forward

On hindsight, the Chieftaincy institution could be described as a paradox. It is progressive just as it is retrogressive. It is an agent of social stability and peace but could be a source of social conflict and instability. It serves as a pole for tribal cohesion and unity but could equally undermine national unity.
Despite these paradoxes chiefs and queens should be properly repositioned and integrated into the local government system for effective administration and deepening of grassroots democracy and decentralization. This immediately calls for the establishment of District Houses of Chiefs/Queens or is it Houses of Chiefs (pardon me) to serve as a platform for the conceptualization of development planning, good governance and unity.
Chiefs and Queens should be repository of tradition and custom especially language. It would be intriguing that language, which is the temple in which the soul of those who speak it is enshrined, would elude the youths and generations yet unborn. According to Walt Whitman (1819-1892), in his presentation "Slang in America", language ... is something arising out of work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground, such is the importance of a language to the people who speak it. If children and the youth cannot speak and appreciate their mother tongue, then we are about to lose our souls, identity, self-esteem and dignity.
What would the chiefs and queens pride themselves about when they preside over subjects who could not speak their own language and are subservient to other cultures? Who purges the status quo? Chieftaincy, which could be equated to politics and religion could be described as bedfellows but has been enmeshed in uncertainties as the institution needs a redefinition of its corporate roles to effectively promote its ideals in the global village.