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Opinions of Friday, 24 October 2008

Columnist: Asuama, Nana Adu

Ghana Chieftaincy Act: Dangerous Pandering and Hypocrisy

- By Nana (no title) Adu Asuama

My next door neighbor is an advertiser’s dream. He is a walking, talking and breathing billboard. Every single item of clothing he owns is splattered with one bold INSCRIPTION or another. This morning, as I sat on the porch looking at the picture of (NANA OBURONI KOKOO) the white Ghanaian village chief whose picture accompanied my July 10th Ghanaweb article, my neighbor came out in a bright blue Tee Shirt, with the inscription W.W.J.D. - What Would Jesus Do? (Picture can be found at the address below)

I looked down at the picture of Nana White Ghanaian Village Chief, lifted up my head, read the words in my neighbors shirt, looked down again at the picture but when I raised my head up to the shirt the second time, something wonderful happened. I had an epiphany and was mesmerized. The words in my neighbor’s shirt CHANGED... They read W.W.Y.A.D - WHAT WOULD YAA ASANTEWAA DO?

If the great queen mother of blessed memory, took to ARMS WHEN THE WHITE MAN BANISHED HER KING TO AN ISLAND PRISON and DEMANDED THE GOLDEN STOOL, what would she do now that village after village, town after town, across our nation is meekly handing over STOOLS and TRADITIONAL TITLES to the WHITE MAN, CLOWNING and OUTDOORING him CHIEF?

Before any reader questions my right to invoke the Queen Mother’s memory, let me repeat my position on Ghanaian chieftaincy. I am a PROGRESSIVE who respect and cherish THE HISTORICAL ROLE OF CHIEFTAINCY / MONARCHY worldwide and in Ghana. I however believe that after centuries of chiefly rule, the world has MOVED on. We Ghanaians cannot make chieftaincy outlive its usefulness. I strongly disagree with the HYPE, PANDERING and HYPOCRISY of the much chanted “DUALITY OF GOVERNANCE”in Ghana. Government of the people, by the people, for the people, where every citizen, irrespective of birth station, can rise to the position of the country’s commander in chief, is incompatible with the chiefly concept where power is handed down through select family lineages.

Advocates of the DUALITY CONCEPT simply refuse to acknowledge the inherent wrong in one person embodying all three branches of democratic governance. A chief makes local laws, then interprets and enforces them. He duplicates the law making functions of the district, local, city, town assembly or council, the law enforcement of the local police and the law interpretation of local Courts. Duality of governance portrays two parallel roads running alongside each other separated by a median. One road is democratic, the other autocratic, the separating median is Hypocrisy and Pandering. That median has become very dangerous recently with the passage of the Chieftaincy Act 759 of 2008. I am baffled by the thought processes of our law makers. Did our legislators read and ponder about the ACT or did they just pander?

I have not been privileged to read the full text of the ACT. It is not ONLINE anywhere. Although the ACT was passed in June, neither the GOVERNMENT, the MEDIA or Chieftaincy Backers like the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, deem it important enough for Ghanaians to read en masse. In contrast, manifestoes of NPP and NDC - which came out a few weeks ago - are both ONLINE. A Google search for the ACT brings up incomplete information, TIT BITS, that the Minister of Culture is dropping around the country.

From the Minister’s TIT BITS, I know that a two week notice must be given to the appropriate traditional council(s) before the installation or destoolment/de-skinment of a chief. I also know that the ACT guarantees the power of a chief in Customary Arbitration. I find the issue of a two week notice before the destoolment/de-skinment of a sitting chief troubling. It can potentiate serious un-intended consequences. Two bad scenarios that come to mind are - perpetual chiefs and blood bath. Perpetual chiefs because subjects will be too scared of retribution or too intimidated in the two week waiting period to ever attempt to remove a chief. I don’t support Coups but imagine asking Coup plotters to give notice to the Council of State that they will overthrow the government in two weeks time. Blood bath may result because humans will be human. Once in a while, some hot heads may decide to go through with a push to destool a chief, advance notice not withstanding. Since to be forewarned is to be forearmed, a bad test case of this law will make any of the chieftaincy clashes witnessed in Ghana thus far seem like a GIRL SCOUT OUTING.

The ACT brings to the forefront of public discourse, the over hyped platitude of chieftaincy’s remaining bastion of relevance in Ghanaian life - LOCAL ARBITRATION AND ORGANIZED COMMUNAL LABOR. But have we really turned the lenses of scrutiny on these claims? Is a chief essential in local arbitration or communal labor? No!! Most Ghanaians who engage in local arbitration usually don’t take their cases to chiefs because they have no money for Schnapps and other expensive white man drinks. They usually appeal to a person of mutual respect in the society e.g. family heads, church elders, civil servants etc. The only cases that go to chiefs are their own chieftaincy mess or land related disputes. If land distribution were to be turned over to professionals like forestry officers and surveyors who are capable of Mapping, Registering or Deeding land, about 99% of those litigations will be eliminated.

It is not clear how exactly the ACT guarantees the Arbitration Powers of a chief in a customary dispute. Does it mean that henceforth parties in customary disputes are obligated to have a chief as an arbitrator? What if one of the parties does not want to appear before a chief? About 75 to 90% of communal labor is performed by the youth in most communities. Since majority of young people don’t particularly care about chiefs, does it not go without saying that the youth will respond better if the call for such voluntary effort come from their peers e.g. the Local Youth Association, Town or local council / assembly?

None of the foregoing is as troubling as the sections of the ACT reportedly challenged as unconstitutional in the law suite of Mr. Ampofo. Quote “A person who being a chief assumes a position that the person is not entitled to by custom; deliberately refuses to honor a call from a chief to attend to an issue; and refuses to undertake communal labor announced by a chief without reasonable cause; commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine, or to a term of imprisonment, or to both.”

While the Constitutionality issue is best left to the Courts, we can examine the English language portion of the above quoted excerpt. In plain language, who is the subject of the law - a chief, a citizen claiming to be chief or an ordinary citizen of the community? Does it mean that any person who refuses to attend a chief’s call to communal labor can be fined or jailed? Who will try and jail the person, the local Courts or the chief’s court. Will frivolous communal labor cases not crowd out the court system? Doesn’t this negate chieftaincy supporters argument that their arbitration will free up the Courts for serious business?

We Ghanaians need to wake up. Our hypocritical politicians are selling our freedom for free foodstuffs, farm animals or some colorful durbar for their ignoble political speeches. How else does one explain this convoluted, mind bugling provision of the ACT: Jail term for absence in Communal Labor? Imagine the outrage if the president of Ghana were to jail citizens because of refusal to participate in requested public work. Such laws come into being because the hypocrites know that they will not be subjected to them. Which Ghanaian chief will dare ask a MP why he/she did not attend Communal Labor?

Granted, Yaa Asantewaa fought to protect chieftaincy and the Status Quo but her principles and strong sense of Justice is admirable across the spectrum of opinion. She made the world know her stand and she backed her words with action unlike our sneaky chiefs of today who go behind their subjects back and ask hypocritical politicians to give them powers they never had. When in history did Ghanaian chiefs have the power to jail citizens? If chiefs want their lost power back, they should ask for the power to banish subjects and to murder them in the dead of night. I take up Yaa Asantewaa’s battle cry and ask; “are there any men in the realm? Well meaning Ghanaians should stand up and stop this dangerous pandering of politicians to chiefs. Free Ghana now!!!!