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Opinions of Saturday, 20 January 2007

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Please Stop The Mess: Who Is In Charge Of Mother Ghana/Accra?

Some have said from time to time that chiefs have no power and must be left alone. They are banned from politics so there is no need to worry about them. If these assertions were true, some of us will sleep well. Let me say for the umpteenth time that my disagreement with chieftaincy at this stage of our development has nothing do with those who occupy these thrones, as it has to do with the institution. This is not a personality contest nor is it a tribal one. This is about our country and its chosen destiny. I did not single handedly choose democracy for Ghana. Even those who ardently genuflect to chieftaincy agree that democracy is the best way forward for a multi-ethnic arrangement like ours. Our context is unique and cannot be overlooked. Democracy has its challenges but by far, it seem to be the best human form of governance that allows a level of human decency far tolerant than any autocracy can boast of.

I post below a directive that came from the Ghana traditional council. “The Ga Traditional Council has placed a ban on all trading and commercial activities within the Ga State on Saturday, January 27, 2007 to enable it to give the late Ga Mantse, Nii Amugi II, a fitting burial. It has also placed a ban on funerals and the transportation of dead bodies within the Ga State with effect from January 22 - 28, 2007, while mortuaries are not to release dead bodies during this period, nor will funerals be allowed to take place during the period.” When I read the dictate above, I thought the abongo boys were back in power. A Ga state? So we have a state within a country? How many more states do we have in Ghana? Where are the boundaries of the Ga state? How or where on earth can a traditional council bring commercial activity to halt in the capital city of a democracy because of a dead chief? Now, let us be fair here! What the Ga traditional council did is nothing new. This is done for most paramount chiefs in Ghana. I am told that other chiefs throughout Ghana enjoy this last respect, if not honor. Did the Ga traditional council go too far this time around? Was this designed to show muscle? Does this order affect doctors or pharmacies running their clinics for profit? The import of this dictate is that it reminds us of the fangs of chieftaincy, and the abulia of our dithering leaders. It also pushes us to call for a halt to such blatant abuses and unconstitutional dictates. These dictates must not stand. We cannot continue this way in this day and age. The Ga traditional council is overreaching and it ought to be told so in no uncertain terms.

Did the NPP government approve this edict? Who authorized AMA to enforce these dictates? Does AMA report to the Ga Traditional Council? Did AMA consider the economic and social implication of this directive? Can we trust the spineless AMA to make Accra the capital that we yearn for? Who the hell is in charge of Ghana in general but Accra in particular? Add to the above, a recent ban on gossiping by a chief in the central region. As if the latter is not enough, another chief in the same region has banned the showing of breast by women. So I ask my hardcore traditionalist friends, is the bearing of breast not part of our rich and proud culture? Why ban it now instead of preserving it? Are we going to ban free range pissing too? I thought everything about our culture is supreme and good! Wonders will never end! Recently, a chief who has ruled for 50 donkey years was called upon to work toward bringing peace in his area. Fifty years and he is being asked to bring peace? How many of us will tolerate Kufour or Rawlings for 50 years? Certainly do lose sleep because his reign is fifty years and ticking. He will be diapered like a child on the throne while his people grope in the dark. Ask this chief what he has accomplished in his 50 years rule and all you’ll get is fat tales, dark stories and milestones of failure. Why do we tolerate such? BTW where are the reforms that the pro-chieftaincy crowd keeps yapping about? So not one of them is bold enough to outline reforms for us to consider? Haba! Talk about all hat but no cattle cowboys! Come out and play folks!

Let’s get back to the burial of the Ga Mantse. When some of us raised our voices against the dictates from the supreme Ga council, a friend was quick to remind me/us that when President Ford died in the US, a day of mourning was declared. So this is no different, he said gleefully. Well, a day of mourning was declared for the entire country not a tribe. Also, no tribe in Washington DC can ban commercial activity because their chief is up for burial. I can tell you that I went to work and my office was opened for business despite the day of mourning for the dead president. If you feel so passionately about President Ford and what he stood for, you can use your vacation to take a day off and go mourn. Most people were not banned from engaging in commercial activity. The latter is what democracies do! School children were not ordered to line up along the streets! Now, we are talking here about a country that can afford it. So to make this contextually relevant, let us see if Ghana can afford such edicts from unelected officials who definitely act as if they are above our constitution. Who really is running this country of ours? Where did the authority to issue this far-reaching dictates come from?

Let us assume that you are running a small factory. You’ve not been able to work your factory because electricity supply in Ghana is like Chinese firecrackers. It is consistently inconsistent! To keep it simple I won’t bring in water problem and other telling challenges facing small and large businesses in Ghana. By all means and for all intents and purposes, the 27th of January is one more day you have to chalk to the wall. Why go through all this trouble for another mortal on his way to committal? Are we not taking this chieftaincy thing too far and seriously? Is it not unconstitutional for anyone to prohibit another from earning a living? Don’t we have a lot of our people earning a living from day to day? What economic loss are we dealing with here? How can a tribe keep a dead chief for a couple of years when its own people continue to suffer poverty and debased lives? Is chieftaincy about leadership or exuberant glorification of mere mortals? How much did it cost to keep the body for two years and could the dough have been used to educate a few kids in James Town or Chokor? How did this impasse impact the Ga people? What is the social cost? Here we see Accra crumbling right before our own eyes and all these elders and so-called leaders can do is bicker and engage in unproductive activities? How can this kind of thinking and leadership move any group of people to bigger and better things?

Elsewhere in a write up, I made it abundantly clear that chieftaincy cannot co-exist with or stay potted in a democracy. Perhaps this is what Mr Pianim authenticates when he issued a warning that, "Chiefs cannot be contained in politics." In a multi-ethnic arrangement likes ours, where tribes claim statehood/nation status, we face a daunting challenge with the promotion of chieftaincy, a system which forces these chiefs to act like potentates, running a nation at will. It appears as if our constitution does not bring clarity to the role of chiefs vis-à-vis our democratically elected central government. If the current moves by the NPP, with support from the feckless NDC opposition prevail, we will have on our hands, a government ran by dictatorial chiefs. So why even bother with democracy then? When I said some of Kufuor’s activities undermine democracy, some were in arms. This reintroduction of wholesale chieftaincy is nuts! We are heading in the wrong direction and somebody better stop this train before it leaves the port. I mean if queen mothers can teach our kids morality why worry about being parents? Our chieftaincy/constitutional problem would not have been this scalding until the NPP decided to make chieftaincy of all burdens its burden to carry. When was the last time a chief put food on your table instead of taking what little you have? In an effort to give legitimacy to a moribund system, a can of worms has been uncorked. I maintain that chieftaincy in our current situation is nothing but a code word for tribal politics. Keep the chiefs happy and you will get the votes. Look, if chiefs are basically glorified tribal heads, why would politicians be interested in propping them up? Votes I say!

If as some allege, chiefs are toothless bulldogs, why give them a set of fresh legs? The thinking that to get to the people, you must go through their chief is an old NLM/NPP tactic and they are not about to let it go. To assume that people cannot think independently and must march lockstep with a chief who knows best in not only insulting to our people but a sad chapter to read. The sad truth is that country Ghana will suffer for this Stone Age style politics. This is a clear case of an agenda for a party and its main opposition, which is inimical to the interest of our country. The NDC and NPP are both at the forefront of our tribal woes. Whatever happened to discussing the real issues instead of stroking tribal sentiments as a way of winning political power? Tribal politics is a cancer that keeps drawing us back and must be rejected. It is the 1000 lb elephant in the room that most of our leaders do not want to discuss, especially, if it serves their interest. We must force these politicians to discuss the issues instead of using tribe in their calculations. What does it say of a party that assumes that its world bank is in one region? Not long ago the minister of chieftaincy was urging chiefs to define what roles they want to play and go for it. Then we have other chiefs urging their kind to be assertive and do what the current government has failed to do. If this is not a slap in the face then I don’t know what is. Ghanaians go to the polls to elect their leaders because they want to give meritocratic democracy a chance and all their elected leaders can do is recommit them to chieftaincy? Did Ghanaians vote for the rule of chiefs or a competent constitutional government?

Chieftaincy is an institution that subscribes to absolute power. It is dictatorial in nature and in the past those who stood up to it had either their heads sliced off or shipped off as slaves. Chieftaincy is not a system under which individual rights are protected. This is the naked truth. Just look at the sweeping decree from the supreme traditional council!! Even under a democracy, these chiefs and their henchmen, some of them “educated” with advance academic degrees, continue to behave like teacup tyrants. These chiefs fail to realize that no matter how well intentioned they are, one cannot curb the rights of citizens under the constitution by issuing stomach churning edicts. They fail to admit that the constitution is supreme. They assume that since these politicians are their subjects, they must be above the constitution. After all, whom do we entrust the enforcement of our constitution to? The politicians, right? Chiefs assume that they live above or cannot live under the constitution. Who said one can be banned from gossiping under a democracy? The asininity and indeed laughable aspect of this ill-conceived ban is that it is not even enforceable. Who decides what gossip is? My brothers and sisters, chieftaincy is a system that was designed to govern tribes. Unless we resign to the sick notion that we will live only within geographically demarcated tribal enclaves, we must not continue to waste our time with this institution that promotes bald face tribalism. We must act like a country made up of different tribes instead of individual tribal states.

The NPP came to power through democratic elections. It is only fair to honor the system that continues to keep them in power. The alternative is to bring back lawlessness, military rule or autocracy by these confused chiefs. The way forward is to shore up our fledging democracy. In our case, democracy cannot be a luxury. It is the only way to keep a multi-ethnic arrangement like ours intact. We play with fire and brimstone by engaging in activities that undermine this democratic experiment. This may yet be our last chance to keep this whole intact. The alternative is not pretty. The NPP is guilty in two regards. The first relates to the reintroduction of chiefs into politics and the second, a lack of management/control of these chiefs. Sitting back and watching these chiefs toy with our democracy is just as guilty and dangerous as the backroom orchestrations that the NPP continues to engage in as it props up local aristocracy. The other troubling factor is that the feckless NDC acquiesces to these arrangements without raising a finger. I urge my brothers and sisters in the NPP to work from within the party to stop the madness. We need the youth within the NPP and NDC to stand up against this move by Kufour’s generation that can only retard our democratic progress. These other minority parties must also take a stand for democracy or face extinction. More importantly, Ghanaians must wake up and support our democracy or risk living with a situation where chiefs define what they can or cannot do. I know one thing I will surely do if I were in Ghana at the moment. I will flout the dictates of the Ga traditional council and definitely see them in court. To paraphrase Jimmy Cliff, I would rather die a free man in my grave than be a slave walking alive. Let others who have their dead to bury do so. Let those who live in Accra be free to earn a living. For Christ sake, bury Nii Amugi without further rancor! Is enough not enough? Why can’t we keep our eyes on the prize?

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman
(Also known as the double edge sword)

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.