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Opinions of Saturday, 20 March 2010

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.

Brig. Nunoo Mensah, Chieftaincy, the Asantehene and Other Matters

Brigadier Nunoo Mensah, Ghana’s National Security Advisor, recently lambasted the chieftaincy institution in Ghana, calling it a “major problem in this country” and demanding that “the earlier we look[ed] at it and modernize[d] it [to] make it more useful for our development, the better it will be for all of us.” Those are very strong words from the senior security expert. I will polemicize, however, that not only the chieftaincy institution – and other traditional institutions – needs to be looked at critically, but governmental institutions must undergo a critical examination as well: while the government assumes that the chieftaincy institution is the problem, certainly some of our traditional rulers see the problem as originating from the government.

Yes, the conflict between the Asantehene and the Techimanhene – thankfully, both men have reached an amicable agreement as to how to further deal with the matter – was one reason why Nunoo Mensah uttered those strong words, but the brigadier should remember that, just as the republican and constitutional government we now have in place has promulgated laws and expects citizens to obey them, so the chiefs and few kings in our midst have subjects who are expected to swear allegiance to and territories that are expected to remain under the protection of the former, respectively.

Monarchies had existed long before republican forms of government were created, and to assume that because we now live in an age of “modernity,” chiefs no longer serve any useful purpose is akin to denying where we came from – which certainly means that we have no idea where we are going! Chiefs and a few kings had ruled the African continent long before the colonial forces ever set foot on our shores, and but for the complicity and greed of a few traditional leaders, not one slave would have been shipped out of Africa to go toil in cotton fields in America and sugar plantations elsewhere!

I am sure that Nunoo Mensah has a hometown in Ghana, which means that there is a chief, or traditional ruler, in that town. We are who we are, folks; we should not throw away our rich heritage and unique history because we have imbibed the ideas of Europeans for so long, we now think that we are European! Should we expect our chiefs to wear three-piece Italian suits to the Castle or Jubilee House the next time they are invited to an official ceremony, rather than their beautiful cloths and leather sandals? Now, let the reader not assume that I am digressing, because modernization means so many different things!

How irrelevant are chiefs to the Ghanaian society, if I may ask Nunoo Mensah? Many of our oral historians have told us that a lot of the things we know about ourselves were handed down to us via word of mouth, usually from the palaces of our chiefs: our migratory trends to our present home, Ghana; the wars we had fought and won, or lost; our systems of inheritance, whether patrilineal or matrilineal; the special dishes that we love so much; and our local systems of governance and administration, among others.

When the white man first arrived in Africa, the continent and life were not chaotic, no matter what they tell us in contemporary times: Africans were managing their own affairs, and since humans are communal by nature, irrespective of tribe or race, Africans generally had chiefs and kings to superintend the affairs of each locality. Of course, the colonial powers made sure that they disrupted this system of governance, forcing us to accept their so-called superior systems instead. As a result, the powers of our traditional leaders were taken away and a new form of republican government imposed on us, whether we were ready for it or not. And how the white man laughs at us, as we demonize our primordial systems of governance!

The Europeans we love to copy so unquestioningly still have monarchies in place! And surveys have shown that, although these monarchs no longer handle the day-to-day administrative assignments in their respective countries, the citizens of many of these nations are against abolishing the monarchies. Why? Because they understand that these monarchies are primordial institutions intimately tied to their nations’ histories – and they are not ready to throw away their histories! So, throwing away our chieftaincy institution would be tantamount to throwing away our collective identity, my fellow Ghanaians!

Yes, just as there are corrupt elected officials, so are there corrupt traditional rulers: both sets of leaders are progenies of the same consanguineous disorder: greed. What is the difference between a chief who takes money from a subject and gives him a piece of land belonging to another, and an elected official who steals from the nation’s coffers?

The Asantehene had a right to complain about the shabby treatment meted to one of his subjects, the Tuobodom chief Nana Baffour Asare II, by the Techimanhene, Oseadeeyo Akumfi Ameyaw IV. Just as the government is tasked with protecting all of its citizens, so are the Asantehene and other chiefs expected to both protect their subjects and enforce discipline in their jurisdictions.

Why did the government not react immediately when the news broke out that one chief had kidnapped another? Why did the government wait 10 days to respond to the conflict, and not until after the Asantehene had voiced his displeasure overtly? Is kidnapping not a felony in Ghana? Why are so many people angry with the Asantehene, who, by the way, has broken no laws in this matter, when the real anger should be directed against both a government that appeared to have taken sides in the matter, for political reasons; and a lawless Techimanhene who kidnapped another free citizen of Ghana? Many of us understand the genesis of the problem that pitted the Techimanhene against the Asantehene, and we also believe that political expediency was the real reason behind the problem we now have in the Brong-Ahafo Region today.

The Asantehene may be a sub-national king and not the nation’s president, but he has the right to insist on justice for a fellow citizen, whether that person is Asante, Bono, Akwapim, Ewe, Fante or a member of some other ethnic group. Of course, the Asantehene’s request to the government that both Kwadwo Nyamekye-Maafo, the Brong-Ahafo Regional Minister, and Commander Seth Oteng, the top police officer in the region, be removed from office is nothing but a request: the government may or may not choose to act on it. And I do not accept the polemic that the Asantehene’s request to have both men dismissed was an ultimatum to the government!

The Ga Mantse may have had cause to feel belittled when he was not invited to the recent presidential broadcast by John Atta Mills, and for Nunoo Mensah to make a one-sided analysis of the matter, in favor of the government, is truly regrettable. If, indeed, the assertion that King Tackie Tawiah III was not invited to the ceremony because he was not gazetted holds true, then the government has a responsibility to ensure that the brouhaha surrounding the coronation of the Ga Mantse is addressed.

Can the national government go about its daily business efficiently if Accra were in flames because of a chieftaincy dispute? The government is free to remind chiefs and the hoi polloi about the non-interference of traditional leaders in politics – but has the government, past and present, also held its end of the bargain by staying neutral, in regards to chieftaincy issues? Modernizing chieftaincy can only come from within the institution itself; it cannot be imposed on its adherents by anyone or the government!

Written and submitted March 18, 2010.

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at