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Opinions of Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Obed Asamoah and Chieftaincy

Part of the complications of Ghana’s development is that its elites who are normally expected to know better, from within Ghana’s traditional values, and use their knowledge to drive development appear wanting.

Normally, it is when they are out of power, as former President Jerry Rawlings will tell you, that they release that they didn’t either think well or contemplated well or didn’t understand basically what they were doing or didn’t use their power to drive effectively all-inclusive policies that would have opened up all values, both traditional and neo-liberal, for progress.

That’s what comes to mind when Dr Obed Asamoah, a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General and currently patron of the newly Democratic Freedom Party, stated at various parts of Ghana’s Upper East Region that traditional chieftaincy institutions be incorporated into the local government system to aid progress.

Heavily part of the almost 20-year-old various regimes of Jerry Rawlings regimes, both military and civilian, effective decentralization of the Ghanaian development process started with them. Partisan politics aside, incumbent President John Kufour does recognize this. But if what Asamoah said at Upper East is anything to go by, as the Accra-based Daily Graphic reported, then by failing to effectively blend the decentralization program with Ghana’s traditional chieftaincy institutions, as the Ghanaian reality wisely calls for, Asamoah and his associates thought very poorly in relation to Ghana’s progress.

The World Bank will tell them that despite the hype of the global decentralization architecture, proper decentralization should be informed by one’s history and culture – and in Ghana, one cannot forget about traditional chieftaincy institutions as key component.

But Asamoah and his associates didn’t do that. Today, hear Asamoah, thought to be one of the brains of the Rawlings’ long-running regimes: “This practice is necessary because the government does not have representatives in every community and if chiefs are adopted as local representatives of the government, it would enhance the implementation of polices and programmes in every community.”

While shocking to hear Asamoah say this today, and not 20 years ago, and that bare the general deficiency of Ghanaian elites thinking in relation to Ghana’s progress. Accra isn’t only the government. The reality is that all Ghanaians are the government. The communities are the government. The traditional chiefs and their institutions are the government. The government isn’t any leviathan object that “does not have representatives in every community.” That’s practically not true. The government is everywhere.

The challenge is how to empower the communities though their traditional institutions via local governance and decentralization as a development fodder.

At the centre of this isn’t only too much of Western book knowledge (as Asamoah is fame for), the issue is immense knowledge of Ghanaian cultural traditions, the issue borders on wisdom, humility and understanding of one’s environment in midwifing development policies, especially one as critical as decentralization, as a local governance issue, that affects majority of Ghanaians’ bread-and-butter as the Botswanans will tell their Ghanaian folks.

And that’s why Botswana has been able to combine their chieftaincy institutions (or general traditional resources) into their local government system to facilitate their long-running growth and prosperity nation-wide, and Ghana hasn’t, because of minds like Asamoah prowling the Ghana development scene for almost 20 years.

Email: kasarpon@hotmail.com