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Opinions of Thursday, 26 March 2009

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

House of Chiefs as Council of State

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong The near simultaneous election and institution of members of the Council of Sate and the National House of Chiefs electing Prof. John S. Nabila, Wulugu Naba, as its new president, brings into light the tensions that as Ghana’s democracy evolves it has to attempts to integrate its traditional values and institutions into the dominant Western-style “one-fits-for-all” democracy it is currently practicing. The issue of balancing the tensions is to harmonize the two structures as a progress act, more so as confidence grower.

Constitutionally, the Council of State which operations aren’t felt openly is a tiny body of outstanding citizens deemed of established character that advises the President of Ghana on national issues. While the Council State is comparable to the Council of Elders in the traditional political sense, over the years, it hasn’t been seen to vigorously reflect that traditional sense for the greater integration of traditional institutions into Ghana’s development process. On the other hand, the National House of Chiefs advises on chieftaincy issues and “oversees, collects and reviews customary laws, and evaluates traditional customs and usages with a view to eliminating those which are outmoded and socially harmful.”

Practically, and in view of the Ghanaian make up, history and culture, the two institutions should be merged, the National House of Chiefs swallowing the Council of State, as a matter of wisdom, as an issue of the Ghanaian way, as confidence building, and broader democratic inclusiveness. At higher thinking, the refurbished National House of Chiefs will reconcile the two Ghanas – the ex-colonial British created and the authentic traditional one. This will make more Ghanaians grasp their nation-state better not by choice but out of necessity and conviction, deepening patriotism.

The anachronisms of the two Ghanas persist in respect of these observable facts. The first is Ghanaians unshakable belief in their core traditions as refuge of their existential struggles. The second is the continued discomfort between the two Ghanas that strategic majority of Ghanaian elites haven’t been able to reconcile with the dominant foreign neo-liberal paradigms and the dependable traditional. The practicalities of National House of Chiefs as Council of State as an integrative measure? Yes. The idea is to collapse the Council of State into the National House of Chiefs and, as the chair of the National Commission of Culture, George Hagan, has hinted, increase resources for the National House of Chiefs to play this role.

As the on-going democratic practices give Ghanaians a better sense of their nation-state created by the British in 1957 and largely run on the British development paradigms for the past 52 years, the challenges of nation building by rationalizing Ghana from within Ghanaian traditional values is progressively becoming a reality. Prominent Ghanaian elites talk of fully integrating traditional institutions into the on-going decentralization exercises. The prominent columnist Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe and the cultural guru George Hagan have suggested that the National House of Chiefs be turned into a Senate to give deeper and alternative views to the National Parliament, more from Ghanaian cultural angles. And this will mean abolishing the Council of State and making the National House of Chiefs assume its role.

The National House of Chiefs and the Council of State were created just in 1992, as part of Ghana’s democratic dispensation but they haven’t been openly seen critically dancing with democracy, their activities anything but, as Ghana faces cultural challenges in its development process. But the necessities of recasting Ghana’s development process, as a review of his democratic regulations, 17 years into its democratic practices, entail a broader review of the two institutions as a way establishing the Ghanaian reality in its national affairs. This will also help anatomize the ills and woes of both the neo-liberal and traditional Ghana while simultaneously advising the President of Ghana from a mixture of the two Ghanas, more so from the traditional values of the 56 ethnic groups that form Ghana that are fully and really reflected at the National House of Chiefs. This will be a balance to the dominant neo-liberal values that currently run Ghana.

A restructured National House of Chiefs, as a traditional balancer to the skewed national affairs, not necessarily to only advising the President of Ghana, will play decidedly active role in the progress of Ghana. And as Hagan has suggested, “free of party-political affiliation, they can debate issues even as they are debated in Parliament, to make alternative views known, especially” from traditional values and wisdom perspectives. Like Prof. John S. Nabila’s election as the President of the House of Chiefs indicates, Hagan argues that “with the calibre of chiefs within the system – highly educated, engaged and informed – those within it ought to be brought more fully within the national development plan.”

The reality here is that, as a colonial creation, Ghana, as a political and development authority, isn’t broadcast enough to the rest of the over 22 million Ghanaians Ghana-wide and that a re-defined National House of Chiefs will reflect fuller Ghana and its sensibilities and bring into the forefront the concerns of all Ghanaians most of whom live in the rural areas and most of whom do not feel Ghana.

For most Ghanaians to feel Ghana, the National House of Chiefs should take the functions of the Council of State as much as advisor to the President of Ghana, joggling as some sort of a Senate, as wisdom and holistic thresher, as think-tank, as national referee in a multiparty democratic playground, as balancer to the dominant neo-liberal development paradigms by bringing into the forefront traditional values, and as key rationalizer of Ghana from within Ghanaian cultural values in the development process.