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Opinions of Friday, 8 December 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Chieftaincy Ands Politics II -Rejoinder

A Dare To Kofi Nyame’s Juicy Tales And Revisionism: Chieftaincy Ands Politics II

I am writing this article in direct response to Kofi Nyame’s gassy effusions, titled, Politics and Chieftaincy revisited. Let me start off by saying that I don’t really worry about the attacks on my person. I mean the toxic hate mail that some of these misguided tribalists shoot my way. I am not crying for sympathy or cringing under an avalanche of insults from these sworn tribalist and royal watchers. I am here to stay and until I see anything reasonable, I am holding my position that chieftaincy is not relevant to our current democratic experiment. So Mr. Nyame, shed no tears for me and surely bring it on. Pour it on! I mean no matter how civil you couch it. Note also buddy, that, insults are relative. So, while I may see nothing insulting about excoriating our president for sending us back into the recklessness of dark age ritual murder and irrelevant traditional contortions, you are free to consider my spiced up jazzy vibes as insults. Certainly that is your perspective and you are entitled to it. You try deceptively to project civility yet pour scorn and ridicule. The least you can do is to be forthright about it. Why am I surprised! I am happy to observe that it is only a democracy that guarantees you the right to disagree with me. Hurray for democracy! Go and try to publicly disagree with you chief and see what will befall you! Lastly, I want Mr. Nyame to note that agreeing with me on one subject will or do not guarantee that I will continue to write what you want to hear. I don’t operate that way! I write what I believe and let the chips fall where they may. Thank you for agreeing with me on the Grameen issue! Bravo! Now let us focus and the issue at hand.

As I said previously, you see chieftaincy as a religion. It must be worshipped and no amount of reason will dim your fanaticism so as to see the harm that this institution visits on our rural folks on a daily basis. As we speak, dozens are being denied their education only to serve as domestics and modern day slaves in royal palaces. One thing you cannot deny is that our rural folks are in horrible shape. Yes they are!! As someone sadly said, the chiefs are all we have and until the government comes to our aid, we have to stick with what we know. You Mr. Nyame, have escaped the tentacles of chieftaincy yet do not wish to see your tribesmen enjoy what you have today. Here is my question to you, do you think everyone in your village deserves the lifestyle that you enjoy in Surrey, Australia today? If not why? If yes, why can’ they have that in your village? If I had my way, I will send all of you hardcore traditionalists back to your chiefs. Let see if they can create jobs and a comfortable lifestyle for you. At least this way, you get to live your pompous talk. I encourage you to study carefully the system that you live in currently. Hopefully, you may learn a thing or two that will dull your knack for royalty. To split hairs about reason and thinking must be the cruelest joke of the year. I thought you were going to quote one of our great chiefs on this issue. Alas, you ended up quoting a British lord. Why don’t you hardcore traditionalists be consistent for a change!

To make things worse, Mr. Nyame fails miserably to draw out the difference. What is the difference between thinking and reason Mr. Nyame? Please tell us! As if that gaffe is not enough, he lazily moves on to tell us that we should employ passion as the basis of thinking out the institution of chieftaincy and its impact on our society. Mr. Nyame, please let us use reason not passion to justify chieftaincy in our current democratic experiment. It is ok to be passionate about chieftaincy but when the dust settles, you must be able to reasonably justify it in our current situation. Yes, we are talking about our current meritocratic democratic experiment. I thought context is/was a crucial and salient piece in this chieftaincy matter. Is it not? Mr. Nyame, be thankful that we have the freedom to express our views. I can guarantee that under the harsh and dictatorial rule of chiefs, we will not have these rights. Someone’s head may be chopped off and I know it will be mine since I am standing up to this callous and irrelevant institution. Haba!

Mr. Nyame, I came off with the feeling that you sought to deliberately misrepresent my positions again. I am not surprised because you folks have adopted a strategy of misrepresentation and distraction in response to hard boiled facts that you have no answers to. You Mr., Nyame claim to be a Christian and you come in here to tell us that the NLM was a national party? Tell me one historian that identifies the NLM as a national party? You also want us to believe that tribe was not a factor in the formation of the NLM? Baffour Akoto is perhaps the biggest unrepentant tribalist that ever lived. These are indisputable facts! Are you deliberately misleading unsuspecting readers here with your gauzy arguments? So, let me ask Mr. Nyame this, why was the avoidance of discrimination act passed to make sure that parties were really national in nature? I know the truth hurts but the NLM was nothing but a terrorist group sanctioned by the secessionists from Asanteman. Mr. Nyame, it is one thing to have legitimate claims and another to use bombs to kills little girls whose only crime was to have been chosen to present flowers to the president. If and when I watch Kufour shudder at the least chess move by Rawlings, it never ceases to amaze me that he too is from a tradition that terrorized Ghana under Nkrumah. At least he now knows what it feels to be in the hot seat.

If you want to talk NLM get your facts straight buddy! By current day measures, the NLM was nothing but a terrorist group just like the IRA is. This does not mean that some of us cannot support the legitimate claims that these groups may have. I am all for those who fight injustice. All it means is that I disapprove of the tactics used given the fact that Ghana was a baby then and could have easily died on arrival if Nkrumah had not stood firm. Time will tell whether violence was warranted or not! The NLM for example could have fought for decentralization, an idea that I fully endorse, without bringing the country to its knees with wanton violence over overly parochial and tribal needs. What it did, was to promote tribalism and vengefully go after Nkrumah. Hatred!! Can Mr. Nyame tell us why chiefs from Ashanti and Brong-Ahafo regions who refused to go along with the NLM program were destooled and badly treated, if not tortured? Did we not see similar tactics recently? A leopard never loses it spots! These quislings were so hell bent on killing Nkrumah that even his overtures for peace never saw the light of day. Mr. Nyame, these are hard historical facts that you cannot spin!!

Kofi Nyame, where were you when the flag of the NLM was being designed? Listen to what Jean Allman had to say about the inauguration of the NLM. “At precisely twelve o’clock, a large flag was unfurled before the huge gathering. The flag’s green symbolized the rich forests; its gold, the rich mineral deposits which lay beneath the earth; its black, the stools of Asante’s cherished ancestors. In the center of the flag stood a large cocoa tree; beneath the tree were a cocoa pod and a porcupine—symbols that could be misinterpreted by none. The cocoa pod represented the major source of wealth in Asante and the porcupine (kotoko) stood as the historic symbol of the Asante war machine. Like the needles of the porcupine, “wokum apem a, apem be ba”—“if you kill a thousand, a thousand more will come”. (Allman P. 16) Now, reasonable people can read these and come to differing conclusions. What cannot be a source of disagreement is that the NLM was a creation of the Asantes to advance their parochial causes. The NLM, Mr. Nyame, was a declaration of war on Nkrumah and his national government. As far as I am concerned, this was tribal interest versus national interest. We all know what the rest of the story is right? We know what happened on the 24th February, 1966. The NLM surely had pockets of sympathizers. These sympathizers had their own ambitions similar to what the NLM was pursuing but that does not make it a national party by any stretch of imagination. So, I say frankly and unequivocally to Kofi Nyame that the NLM was not, I reapeat, was not a national party. Your attempts to characterize it as such is absolutely misleading. I have been overly generous and kind with you on this topic., Kofi!

Now here you come, draped in partisan clothes, prancing and fawning, armed with fatuous tales, trying to defend the very quislings who disrupted our political experiment and gave us the culture of coups. I implore you to go read the history of this group carefully before engaging me. Look Mr. Nyame, the NPP and their cronies can revise history all the want. They can prop up nation wreckers as their heroes. Only the fanatics will rally around such revisionism. Go and read the Quills of the Porcupine, by Jean Allman and then come back and tell us that the NLM is a national party. Where is your shame Mr. Nyame? Also, Mr. Nyame, stop trying to ascribe to me what my politics is. You don’t know me but will learn the hard way. My politics is actually the politics of saying it as it is. If speaking the truth as far as I know it makes me an anti NPP or whatever you care to call it, then I wear your tags as a proud badge of honor! I don’t know whose water you carry but no amount of tricks and distractions will take me off message.

To support a party fanatically like you do the NPP, I would assume that you have studied its history and know exactly what you are getting yourself into. So let me help my good friend here. One of the key tenets of the NLM fiasco was “to honor, respect and be loyal to our traditional rulers and uphold the best in our culture”. (Allman p.17) Now, the fact that the NPP is an offshoot of the NLM cannot be disputed. The fact that Kufour, a foot soldier in the NLM, continues to recklessly take us back to those acrimonious days cannot also be denied. So then, how can you deny that supporting local aristocracy is a core tenet of NPP ideology? Why do you think the UGCC aristocracy broke ranks with Nkrumah? The tradition of the UP/NPP is that of local aristocracy and privileges. Most, if not all, of the founding fathers of the UP were local aristocrats as you yourself portrayed. Even my die hard NPP friends will not deny this. So why spin your wheels on this one?

It is unfortunate that Mr. Nyame implores us to show respect for chiefs but goes on to call commoners who were seeking a way out of our failed state, riff raff and drug abusers. Mr. Nyame, I was there when Rawlings tried that failed socialist experiment and can guarantee you that a sizeable swath of those that joined WDCs and PDCs were not drug abusers and riff raffs. You are free to pour your royal scorn on these tired and desperate folks. People sincerely wanted change from these lazy royal freeloaders. Of course, if the chiefs led well before and after colonialism, opportunist like Rawlings would not have made it. Perhaps Mr. Nyame was a toddler when Rawlings came on the scene. Look Mr. Nyame, I am no fan of Rawlings. However, he was able to come and stay because of the leadership decay that we had at that time. Not only did we lack leadership, our people were fed up and desperate. This does not justify a coup! No! However, given the cards that we were handed, these innocent folks thought they could take back their villages and hamlets from these royal failures! How dare you call them riff raffs and drug abusers? You see, if chieftaincy, for 200 plus years as you posit, brought progress to the people, these so called riff raffs will not be jumping and hugging Rawlings. They will be hugging their chiefs! Hopefully, you will stop being so literal and see the big picture! I find your attempt to claim that I sought to pin our failed state solely on chiefs as brazenly naughty at least. That is after I clearly stated that we shall definitely discuss the role of the elite in this mess. Why Mr. Nyame, do you try to contort, distort, flummox, misrepresent, fabricate and jettison my position with fibs and NLM style canards? The least you can do is to state my position correctly and then go on to dance around it. In the end, you are not able to debunk my points. I noticed that you mainly brushed aside the gory details of your chieftaincy mantra only to be subsumed by partisan fables. Too early to crumble buddy! You ain’t seen nothing yet!

Why Mr. Nyame, the devout and pious Christian, do you deliberately go out of your way to shift the entire load on these chiefs as a way of seeking audience for your weak arguments that fail to stand up to reason? My position is this Mr. Nyame, all politics is local. Look, the chiefs have been in charge in the rural areas for so long. Seventy percent of our people live there. So, if our chiefs are such hard working effective leaders, why haven’t we seen unfurled development there? Why are the villages not up and running? Instead what do we see in the villages? How many of these villages have clinics? What about drinking water? What about good schools? What about good road? You myopically see the advent of electricity as unbridled progress? Relatively yes, but are ambitions are bigger! And you want to question my characterization of Ghana as a failed state? Come on! Here is my challenge to you! Tell us about you village and the progress it has made under the chiefs in the past 100 years. Let us use your village as a test case. Do you mind?

Mr. Nyame, you don’t seem to either understand or appreciate how cultures are formed. To make it worse, you assume that change to any culture is an affront to the people that adore it. This is totally not the case. For years we have been waiting for the kind of changes that you profess will make chieftaincy the best form of governance for us. Where is it Mr. Nyame? Instead of focusing on telling us the kind of changes that you will personally like to see, you continue to cloy us with issues that defy reason. Of course yours is passion but I am afraid that the people have moved on from the stage of passionately accepting a practice or tradition without reasons. To accept culture, one must know and understand the basic assumptions underlying such culture. The more we look, the more we see decay! Why kingmakers for example when people can vote? Why ritual murder when there is no known benefit? Why install a chief for life when he possibly can’t be the best leader to grace the face of the earth. So what is wrong with questioning this disturbing blight?

Kofi Nyame tell me what is wrong with the following line of reasoning. I am doing this again just to help you understand what I wrote. Seventy percent of our people live in the rural areas. The rural areas have been under chiefs before and after colonialism. Be it de facto or de jure! Now, we are talking specifically about leadership at the local level. What is wrong with saying that failure at this level of leadership has contributed to migration of Ghanaians to greener pastures? Again, I dare you to go to your village and tell them that there is a ship waiting at Tema harbor to take a bulk of them to greener pastures outside the country. Try this simple experiment and report back to us. I am really not interested in World Bank drivel and all these irrelevant tales that you invoke. Kofi, note that the failure of democracy is not a caveat to continue this class based discriminatory system of chieftaincy. No one is saying that our democracy has functioned well. Indeed, this is why I called Ghana a failed state. You disagree with that assertion yet you continue to chide democracy. Your goal is to vindicate chieftaincy and blame democracy. My point to you is that both have failed. However, since we have tried democracy for only 25 years and it holds the best hope for a multi-ethnic contraption like ours, we ought to give democracy a chance. We tried chieftaincy and it did not save us from colonialism nor has it lifted us out of our doldrums. The dross from the cavernous failure of chieftaincy has crusted. It is there for all to see! No effort needed! You admit some of these weaknesses readily. Why continue repeating the same things and then cry when the results are not different? Again, reason, my friend, is what we need not foolhardy crusted in the form of passion.

On reform of chieftaincy: A bold dare!! Come out and play!!

Here is my challenge to all those who adore and want to see chieftaincy stay. Please for the last time; tell us what reforms you will make to chieftaincy to bring it to modernity. I am daring and challenging you folks out there who believe that we should toil under chiefs, to put out here on this forum, the changes that you intend to put in place. Let us shift this discussion into another gear. I am interested in issues like the term of a chief, how the chief is selected, what the qualifications are, how the institution will be funded, their role with lands, their role with funerals, sexism, how their performance will be evaluated, local government implications and what their job requirements are. Let us see what bold ideas you folks have under your wrinkled sleeves. Hahahahaha!!

These and many more are the issues that I want to discuss not these distract and misrepresent tactics. I did not just jump out of bed one day to ask that we phase out this institution. I carefully examined the institution and concluded that it cannot be reformed to adhere to the tenets of grassroots democracy and respect for individual rights. I would be the first to say that we should reform it if it had any redemptive qualities. I am afraid that it does help not, given our democratic struggle. There is nothing chieftaincy can do that a democracy cannot do. I dare you to name one positive thing that chieftaincy can do that any group of good men and women, armed with the freedom of choice, cannot do in a democracy. Yet, there are so many things a democracy can do that chieftaincy dare to conceive, let alone give birth to. As I said previously, I am not interested in cosmetic changes. I am interested in changes that will give us a good chance of effective results driven leadership. Leadership which will lift our people from poverty to a state of prosperity. Leadership that allows everyone to contribute based on their God given ability not what family they are born into. I live for the day when our people will wake up from their deep slumber and ask for the simple things in life that they deserve yet we take for granted.

Mr. Nyame, I don’t know what you refer to as “alien” system. I also don’t want to believe that because chieftaincy or any institution is indigenous to Ghana, to uproot it for lack of performance is a sin. The real sin is your continued support of a system that has and continue to suppress the mentality of our people and fail them inordinately. Don’t our brothers in the rural areas deserve better? Tell me! Your position here is very weak. Certain rights and aspirations are universal in nature. The right of any group of people to be free from oppressive and class based ineffective systems has nothing to do with this foreign and local tug canard that you invoke. If you think chieftaincy is such an ingenuous system, why not enforce it at the national level so all tribes in Ghana can live under your chief?

I worry a lot about your sense of context. Given what we have, I mean the ethnic composition, our only hope is democracy. I don’t give a damn if it comes from Jupiter or Mars. It can be alien all the way! So long as we adapt it to our realty, I am all for it. These are enough people dying over very simple stuff that I will embrace anything foreign if it is useable and will save lives. You Mr. Nyame, are more immersed in a foreign life style than you care to admit. The culture that you invoke has been bastardized more than you care to admit. As the privileged chiefs acquire more Phds and wear Calvin Kline underwear, hopefully with industrial strength condoms to match, you have no choice but to admit that the days of cultural purity, if ever there was one, is sadly over for you and gleefully welcomed by me. The next time you invoke this alien canard, take a good look at the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the cell phone you use and the language you write! You are at least still alive and the world is not coming to an end yet. It can’t be that bad! Aren’t we all human beings? Don’t we all want a good life? Does it really matter if I speak Ga, Twi, Fanti, Ewe, Hausa, English, French or Spanish? If our chiefs can wear suits and travel outside to beg, why erroneously bring in this alien canard? Try global village buddy!! Just as chieftaincy will not end now, the global village is here to stay. We are sowing the seeds for the eventual and inevitable demise of chieftaincy. This we do because we love Ghana and want to see our people rise! All the people of Ghana!! Regardless of Tribe or class! Viva Ghana!

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman
(Aka The Double edge sword)


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