You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2008 08 02Article 147669

Opinions of Saturday, 2 August 2008

Columnist: Asuama, Adu

Chieftaincy Debates - Really?

Last week, one of my American co-workers who is planning an African vacation asked me about Ghana. Before I could open my mouth, two other West Africans (a Nigerian and a Sierra Leonean) who work with me took ownership of the question. They gave such glowing account of Ghana that my head swelled to a football size. Until the Sierra Leonean said with laughter, "Oh! They still have powerful chiefs when every country has got rid of those." The Nigerian then added "that don't mean anything. Many of my country men have been made Ghanaian chiefs. I hear Ghana even has white chiefs now." At that point I jumped in because we Akans say NOBODY POINTS TO HIS MOTHER’S VILLAGE WITH THE LEFT HAND.

Even as I stood championing Ghanaian chieftaincy that faithful afternoon, I knew those two had hit the nail right on the head. The Chieftaincy Institution is indeed a 3500 year old relic that country after country has dropped. Ghanaian chiefs have also adulterated the system by crowning and outdooring many NANA FOREIGNERS AND NANA OBURONI KOKOOS these days. You would think that the TOWN CRIERS (pro-chieftaincy's self appointed vigilante writers), will jump over this adulteration of the institution and CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY.

But No! They are shamefully spiting CONVOLUTED TREATISES OF EXCUSES AND BLAME OTHERS for the inherent egregious inhumane practices of the institution on the Web and in the media. Their strategy is simple. Excuse or trivialize practices like Trokosi and ritual murders. Blame the long gone British Empire, western propaganda, Ghanaian progressives, and sometimes other tribes (never your own) for anything that ails chieftaincy.

EXCUSE PEDDLERS One TOWN CRIER has actually coined the term "CHIEFTAINCY'S ACTORS," and made that the poster child or fall guy for the institution. His answer to everything negative is - did you say something is wrong with chieftaincy? Blame it on "chieftaincy's actors" and not the institution. How convenient! EXCUSE MY IGNORANCE, without the chiefs and their support system (those you call "chieftaincy's actors") what is chieftaincy? What is Ghana without Ghanaians? And how come you TOWN CRIERS never say anything at all against the adulteration of your beloved institution? Don't you see that it is been prostituted to white folks and non-Ghanaians? Are you custodians of our heritage or PEDDLERS OF EXCUSES?

DEBATE - REALLY? The audacity of the 'TOWN CRIERS is really remarkable. They choose ambitious titles like "Chieftaincy and Democracy" or "Ghana Chieftaincy Debate” for their writings. However, these writings don't put forth any credible debatable arguments relevant to the central issue nor do they objectively challenge points raised by the progressive camp dubbed "anti-chieftaincy". Theirs are empty rhetoric echoing in space.

They even contradict each other on occasions. For example "Chieftaincy and Democracy" cites "GhanaFest annual ceremonies in Chicago, USA" and argues that Ghanaians in the diaspora have helped the chieftaincy institution to gain international recognition. Being a chief himself he takes great pride in diasporans work while Ghana Chieftaincy Debate 3 portrays diasporans and University Educated Ghanaians as presumptuous folks who think their education qualify them to manage traditional resources.

CENTRAL QUESTION In order to call the ongoing a debate, articles must focus on the two part central question. Is Chieftaincy Currently Relevant to the Daily Lives of Ghanaians and Does it Have any Future Role in our Democracy? Since this question raises a whole gamut of emotional arguments, some little deviation is understandable. However the destructing convoluted rumblings of the TOWN CRIERS as portrayed in Chieftaincy Debate 3, contributes nothing to the debate. GHANAIANS DESERVE BETTER. Let’s take a look:

ARGUMENTS RAISED IN GHANA CHIEFTAINCY DEBATE 3 (click to article) Citing Trokosi, the author writes, the practice outdates some chiefs and some chiefs are helping to get rid of it. Trokosi has a negative impact on Ghanaian the lives. Those caught up in this inhumane practice don't even have a life. They are slaves! How can the author trivialize this enormous problem by not even acknowledging it as a problem? The practice is a product of chieftaincy - EWE CHIEFTAINCY, not chieftaincy’s actors. It has no role in our current or future democracy - big smack in our nation’s face.

Does the author's claim that some chiefs are helping to get rid of the practice make any difference? NOT REALLY. If the central government was serious, it would have got rid of Trokosi. The United States government got rid of their slavery in a civil war. We would not need a war, just honest politicians, lots of education and a show of force with the police and the army. However, if Ewe Togbes need our applause to galvanize them into eradicating a canker that eats up their society, then we say: Distinguished Togbes, please call up your regional house of chiefs, declare a war on Trokosi and use your fierce WAR FORMATION cited by Mr. Dugbazah Mawuetornam, to CRUSH IT. BRAVO, GO TOGBES GO!

OTHER POINTS He claims - chiefs are elected on a meritorious system. NOT TRUE. Worldwide, chiefs including EWE ones are selected from a limited pool; royal family, first settlers etc. of the village, town or realm. The author confuses training with merit. Every willing Ewe young man of chieftaincy age in a village cannot join the chieftaincy race and compete. Ewes don't choose chiefs because they are the best among their peers in history lessons, libation pouring or customary ways as he claims.

A person undergoes training after he has been selected as the chief and not vice versa. The analogy about Ewe War formation shows that he is rooted in the ancient world. The ERA OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON HORSE BACK leading an army of his subjects to war has been long gone. That is why chieftaincy is outmoded. This is the 21st century, not the 1st, 10th or the 16th. Politicians do not lead armies to war, generals and professional soldiers do that. Democracy is all about separation of powers and specialization. Chiefs are generals, judges, parliamentarians and priests. Super humans or gods - WOW!!

Citing September 11th 2001, he writes Western governments also engage in ritual murder. This assertion does not only require a giant leap of blind faith, it also requires ship loads of delusion tethering on insanity for credence. I won't insult the reader's intelligence further. Mr. Dugbazah, Mawuetornam, please look up the definition of the word "ritual" ok? And if we should assume for the sake argument that your fabrication is true - what is the point? That both the USA and Ghana Chieftaincy engage in ritual murder! Two mistakes do not make one right. Ritual murder whether practiced in Akan land, Ewe land or what land, is barbaric and unacceptable. We Ghanaians can never condone ritual killings of our precious countrymen.

He claims - chiefs can manage lands, educated Ghanaians cannot as evidenced by the announcement by a former minister that 3 national parks were EARMARKED FOR PRIVATIZATION. Big deal!!! Traditional stool lands are okay so long as chiefs allow the operation of their most efficient land management strategy. THE LAND JUST LIES UNTOUCHED and thus manages itself. Trouble brews as soon as chiefs put their greedy fingers in and try to parcel land out. Please read my April 20th article (click here) do so. Chiefs do not receive any special training on how to parcel out lands. How many years of training does a chief receive between his final selection and coronation?

In years gone by, there were so much land that folks were just taken to a spot and instructed to go to work. Chop down trees and shrubs and farm. Land Management simply meant how much an individual or family could curve out for themselves. Land everywhere is leased for a time period and never sold outright. Presently national parks are managed by the government. If the government privatizes them, they will be managed by company employees instead of civil servants. The land will still belong to the government.

Citing the IFC Loan fiasco, he writes chiefs are better discerners and judges of character than politicians. I cannot find any record of a Ghanaian chief negotiating with a foreign entity for a loan on behalf of his people. Can any TOWN CRIER please supply details of that transaction? What all Ghanaians and I know is that our discerning chiefs got a bad deal from the colonial powers. A boat full of white men took over vast forest resources, pots of gold, human slaves as well as our very nation in exchange for some mirrors, brass ware, guns and GIN. Our SEER kings and chiefs were probably drunk. A TRIBUTE TO GREAT DISCERNMENT FROM SPIRITUAL TRAINING! It took the SPIRITUALLY UNTRAINED politician to wrestle our independence from the white man.

ANSWERS TO POSED QUESTIONS What qualifies a University educated Surveyor or formally prepared Forestry officer to be a better land manager than a chief whose training comprises of a few weeks of folk tales, mysterious rituals at fetishes and the so called spiritual preparation? Simple! The ability to put down acuate measurements of a parcel of land, implant demarcation pillars, record proper coordinates on an area map and register the land against useless ligation. There is no biological gene trait for Land management. That skill is acquired through training. It is not be passed from parent to child. Royal or first settler children don’t receive it with a stool.

Why should local folks trust their educated, well traveled sons and daughters who don't understand the customs and ways of their parents? For starters most of us progressives know and understand the ways of our parents. We appreciate their sacrifices and the various adjustments they have made. We however know the limitations of our system and want to bring our folks abreast with changing times. The world has or is fast moving away from the 3500 year old system of government called chieftaincy. We want our parents to know that. They can trust us because the spawned and trained us into the men and women we are today.

CRUST OF DEBATE Those of us in the progressive camp are not a homogenous group. Our view of chieftaincy spans a broad spectrum. Some of us respect the institution, appreciate its contribution to our culture/history. We understand that the 3500 year old system is incompatible with modern democracy. We know that the world has moved on and nobody can turn back the hands of time. Although I have spent time discussing points raised in Chieftaincy Debate 3, I find none of it relevant to the general debate. Most progressives and I say:

Historically - We Ghanaians did not invent chieftaincy, we adapted it; chieftaincy is part of our culture - way of life - not our culture; the system is over 3500 years old; Ghana is only 800 to 900 years old, with a 51 year old democracy punctuated by 30 years of military rule; chieftaincy has helped us over the years but is also responsible for some of our failures and inhumane practices - e.g. slavery / trokosi; although chiefs are still relevant in rural Ghana, they have little of no influence in cities and large urban centers.

Politically - chieftaincy is incompatible with democracy, democracy separates power among branches of government, chieftaincy concentrates too much power in one person; chieftaincy is sectoral or divisional, our democracy is unitary; our various constitutions have failed to effectively define the power and role of chiefs; chiefs wield informal political power; chieftaincy's continual existence is a testimony to Ghana's failure to fully implement democracy; local, district and regional branches of the government should have absolved the chief’s political power; Ghanaian politicians depend on chieftaincy for cheap political rallies and propaganda although they (the politicians) don't submit themselves to the institution.

Socially - Ghana's independent external family structure can function without chiefs, and can seamlessly incorporate into modern local government e.g. town councils; chiefs don't qualify to make laws in a democracy; chiefs don't qualify to interpret laws; chiefs are drawn from a small pool and are not elected to power on merit; they are mostly unaccountable to their subjects; they operate under vague ritualistic laws; have no well defined rules and tend to escalate or put a bandage on a problem rather than solve it; folks who need arbitration outside the courts usually defer to persons of repute in their community and not to chiefs; currently many Ghanaian communities are doing very well without chiefs.

If the TOWN CRIERS WANT TO SERIOUSLY DEBATE CHIEFTAINCY, let them present opposing viewpoints on the issues that we progressives are raising and stop using emotional or abusive language to hop, jump and spin about nothing. We Ghanaians are tired of the same old empty rhetoric. They can read my two articles on the issue published on Ghanaweb “Pro Chieftaincy Arguments: Much Ado About nothing” and “The Inevitable Demise of Chieftaincy: How Prepared is Our Nation” or stand by for my next serious article coming soon. Let the real debate begin.

By Nana (just first name not a title) Adu Asuama