You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2010 04 09Article 180057

Opinions of Friday, 9 April 2010

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

Asantehene Not Above Reproach but Above Insults!

“A Ghanaian journalist and blogger is at the center of a major furore over an article he wrote which has been deemed disrespectful towards the King of Ashanti.

“His critics claim that the king is above reproach but the journalist insists he is only pointing out a wrong.

“In many African countries respect for authority, either based on age or status is a key value and starts from the home to, in some instances how the country is run.

“But in an era of multi-party democracy and free speech, is respect for authority blocking accountability? Is reverence getting in the way of development? Does tradition limit free speech? Is your country better off run like a family or like a business?”

That is how the BBC Africa Have Your Say introduces one of his discussion topics “Is Authority Respected too Much?” for readers to react on its website. The Ghanaian Journalist here is Ato Kwamena Dadzie and the link to his blog is provided just below the introduction. Reading the comments, however, I came to the realisation that most people who “had their say” did not read the article before commenting. The questions are leading questions and it is not surprising that most people fell into the trap, commenting out of context.

Asantehene, like any other Ghanaian, is not above reproach. He is human and fallible. And according to Mahatma Gandhi, freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes. If the Asantehene makes mistakes – and he can make mistakes – he can be criticized. But some have mistaken insults for criticism. Ato Kwamena Dadzie could have criticized Otumfuo without using insulting words like “unwise.” It is sad that respect for authority is being demonized to appear as though it were the main bane of the backwardness of Africa. Respect for authority is nothing African. It is universal and binds all civilized beings.

Can anybody insult the Queen of England and get away with it? Who are the proponents and champions of freedom of speech in the world? Is not the Americans? Was that part of the American Constitution suspended when the nation took Representative Joe Wilson on for shouting “You lie” at President Obama? Was he not entitled to his opinion? Or could Obama not lie? Why did Jimmy Carter say it was a racist attack on the President when Joe Wilson was “just expressing his opinion” as some of us may argue?

We seem to be weeping more than the bereaved as Chinua Achebe puts it in his Things Fall Apart. Respect for authority is nothing African, as we tend to condemn whatever values that are peculiar to Africa. And freedom of speech is not a license to insult. Nobody is above the law and can therefore be above reproach. Everybody is, however, above insults.

If Asantehene really made those remarks (I did not hear them), the remarks ought to be condemned. If the Techimanhene mistakenly killed, he [Asantehene] should not mistakenly skin, as we say it. One is free to criticize him. But to go the extent saying that a paramount chief is unwise, among other derogatory remarks, is beyond the boundaries of freedom of speech.

Ato Kwamena Dadzie and others are also trying to make us understand that the chieftaincy institution has outlived its usefulness and has no place in the modern world. What they seem to have forgotten is that the British from whom we learnt democracy are still holding fast to their monarchy. The Queen of England wields more power than any other person in Britain. Why have they not abolished theirs? Are they backward? The Crown Prince of Japan was here some weeks ago and all front pages were dedicated to him? Is he wiser than Otumfuo, the Okyehene, and the Agbogbomefia of the Asogli Traditional Area or any of our traditional rulers? Why do we have to adore chieftaincy institutions elsewhere and condemn ours just because we have read an ill-informed article or two which condemn the institution of chieftaincy? Why do we fail to appreciate any good thing about us?

We all know that there are problems with the chieftaincy institutions but that doesn’t mean we should throw the baby away with the bathing water. As for ethnicity and national cohesion, we shall get there but it is definitely not today. Not very long ago, the ethnic groups that make up today’s Ghana were distinct nations. Even during colonial rule, nothing meaningful was done to unite these ethnic groups even though we were made to believe that we were one, after the Berlin Conference. The colonial policies were more divisive than their so-called attempts to build a new nation. We can’t pretend to have forgotten where we are coming from and throw everything, including our languages and ethnic values away. That is not possible and for now we should be content with unity in diversity while we strive for that day. No sensible person pulls out a bad tooth with force.

When Otumfuo Osei Tutu II celebrated his 10th Anniversary, it was an occasion that filled the entire nation with pride. Other traditional rulers are doing great and those who have access to the media will do this nation a great deal of good if we constructively scrutinize the unscrupulous ones in order to inject sanity into the institution. Our brand of democracy is threatening to split the society and, in some cases, families. Chiefs who play their roles well still stand as symbols of unity. This is undeniable and we can find evidence this during festivals.

Like any Ghanaian, a chief can be criticized. Their actions, inactions and utterance can be condemned by anybody who has reason to do that. However, for the sake of their dignity, respect for the people they lead, and national cohesion, they must be spared the insults. Such behaviours belong to ancient days and any one championing such recalcitrant attitude towards authority is a threat to the freedom we are enjoying.

Finally, what journalists and media practitioners must not forget is the fact that when it comes to subjects like chieftaincy, ethnicity and religion, people read or listen with their hearts, and not their heads. This is not peculiar to Ghana and those involved are not fools. Is it everywhere in the world. If you don’t understand this just ask yourself why someone should blow themselves up in bomb

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni [www.maxighana.com] Email: azureachebe2@yahoo.com The writer is the SRC President of the Ghana Institute of Journalism and Press and Information Secretary of the Northern Students Union (NSU). To read more of his works, visit www.maxighana.com