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Opinions of Wednesday, 6 September 2006

Columnist: Nyame, Kofi

RE: Who Is A Better Leader: Kufuor Or Asantehene

On coming across the piece by Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman on the above, (this may be sourced from http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/features/artikel.php?ID=109535) the initial temptation was to dismiss it. Not unlike his earlier writings the piece has little if any merit and lacks focus. But for a number of reasons I felt obliged to put up this rejoinder. For a start, the article itself and the various comments it attracted illustrated a deep seated hatred, intolerance and division along tribal and political lines in the country. Further the chosen title hardly bore any significance to the contents of his piece. Although the writings of Mr Bannerman indicate that he possesses a higher level of formal education his arguments and style of presentation portrays a character flawed by a lack of intellectualism and objectivity. Again, the whole exercise is obviously a ridiculous excuse to scorn the President, the Asantehene and to a great extent chieftaincy (or monarchy) as an institution. That Mr. Bannerman holds a strong disdain for our culture and customs runs through his writing. Therefore in putting up this piece an attempt would be made to consider and respond to his viewpoints with facts and reason otherwise the stance of yours truly would be no better than his.

Who is a Better Leader?

The title compared with the entire body of the piece suggests that Mr. Bannerman could have an ulterior motive rather than any attempt at comparison of the leadership style, capabilities, qualities or success of the two people – the President and the Asantehene. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with anyone conducting a comparative assessment of any two individuals provided comparable parameters are set. But to choose such a topic and almost totally deviate from considering the leadership credentials of the two gentlemen is suggestive of a hidden purpose other than the stated objective. The introductory paragraph of his piece commences with his abhorrence with the supposed ‘obsession’ of President Kufuor with chieftaincy. Granted, Mr. Bannerman has the right to hold this view and again he has the right to express them. However he does not have a right to subject anyone wrongly to public ridicule and insults for the simple reason of disagreeing with them. I stand to be corrected, but there was nowhere in the whole piece that Mr. Bannerman made a minute attempt at a comparison of the leadership credentials of the two leaders. The closest he came to comparing them has to do with the scant reference to the mode of selection and appointment to their different offices. However, if the onus of the piece was to assess the merits or otherwise of the selection process to the two positions the gentlemen hold then Mr. Bannerman could have done his readers a world of good by stating that from the onset. Again since the proposal of the President was not for the limited training of the Asantehene the question arises as to why the almost exclusive reference to later and not to chieftaincy in general. Perhaps this is the first pointer to the real intent of the writer to attacking the person of the Asantehene and what he represents, and not an obvious revulsion for the institution of chieftaincy per se.

The President’s Crime

To Mr. Bannerman a comment attributed to the President that chieftaincy is so dear to us amounts to sacrilege. He employs some choice words to demonstrate his contempt for the President. The bottom line to his tantrums stems from his claims of ‘unfairness’ in the system of selection and appointment of chiefs. Mr. Bannerman asserts that the President is not shoring the democratic system that offered him the opportunity to lead the country but rather “he is recklessly pushing us into the messy business of chieftaincy.” His assertion implies that any support for the institution of chieftaincy must be to the detriment to the ‘fairer’ systems of democracy and universal adult suffrage he strongly advocates. But this is not necessarily so. Further he claims that the President is “a finagling foe of democracy”. This insinuates that the President is not a believer in democracy but is only employing tricks and dishonest methods to present himself as a democrat. This indictment of the President stems from his call for the establishment of a “royal college to teach global development and technologies to our chiefs”. I dare state here that in the political history of the country the only leader who could match President Kufuor in the upholding of democracy is President Hilla Limann. Mr. Bannerman refers to the concepts of democracy and universal adult suffrage as if they are without deficiencies. Certainly, as he rightly pointed out these systems seem fairer in comparison with chieftaincy. However, closely related to democracy is the principle of rule of law which in Ghana is embodied in the Fourth Republican Constitution promulgated in 1992. The constitution is the supreme law of the country and the whole of the twenty-second chapter of the document is devoted to the institution of chieftaincy and its regulation. The laws of the country bar chiefs from taking part in partisan politics. Indeed in a similar fashion in the United Kingdom, members of the Royal Family cannot register to vote and be voted for in public elections. Suffice to say that President Kufuor did not have any input in the drafting of this part of the constitution. In the wisdom of the framers of the document which ushered in democratic governance, chieftaincy was important enough to merit the devotion of a whole chapter.
President Kufuor swore to rule by this constitution on becoming the President of the country. How then should he be subjected to public ridicule and insults by Mr. Bannerman (and his like minded) for upholding the very document he swore to protect and uphold on his ascendancy to office. Again, a false picture is being created that President Kufuor is the first to appoint a minister responsible for chieftaincy. Let it be also stated that there is no dedicated ministry for the institution. The appointed minister is a minister of state responsible for the institution and he operates from the Presidency.

Nationhood, Country and Statehood

To appreciate the importance or otherwise of chieftaincy in the political and socio-economic development of the country we need to consider factors that have shaped the people of Ghana in the formation of the country as we have at present.
Nationhood denominates a group of human beings defined by major characteristics applicable to the individual members and the nation as a whole. These include shared, homogenous and exclusive characteristics. Therefore a group of people with nothing in common cannot be a nation. Further, because of the shared characteristics the general population possesses a degree of uniformity and homogeneity. Finally, some of the characteristics tend to be exclusive which further distinguish the nation from their neighbours. A country, in political geography and international politics, denotes a geographical territory and can also considered as the land of a person’s birth, residence, or citizenship; a political state or nation or its territory. The common usage of the term denotes the cultural and political entities of a people. Oftentimes the terms nation, country and state are employed interchangeably. However any implication or claims to independence from an existing state results in controversy the consequences of which could be extreme violence or wars. International law is applied in relations between states and sometimes between states on one side and individuals or legal persons on the other.

Citizenship and Colonisation

Citizenship denotes the membership of a political community, usually a state. This is a comparatively modern concept which carries with it rights to political participation and also implies the obligation on people to work for the betterment of one’s community. This could be through participation, volunteer work and efforts to improve the lives of all citizens. The concept of citizenship is of much importance in the context of Ghanaian situation. The 1992 Constitution recognises this under its third chapter. The section 6 (1) of the constitution states that: “Every person who, on the coming into force of this Constitution, is a citizen of Ghana by law shall continue to be a citizen of Ghana.” This demonstrates that all the citizenship laws preceding the constitution still hold valid. Most of us hold our citizenship because our ancestors lived or came to live in the present day geographical territory of Ghana prior to its colonisation by the Portuguese, Dutch, British or Germans. Before the arrival of the European colonisers nationhood and statehood in the country were organised around the monarchs and leaders of the communities. Indeed the monarchs held the political leadership assisted by other family heads. The family heads, regarded as sub-chiefs, held various ‘ministerial’ positions. To Mr. Bannerman the institution only served a good purpose only during the pre-colonial era of mostly agrarian societies. He claims that the institution had to rely on superstition to lead their people. Further, he opines that “the British used the chiefs to help rape the people economically and recondition them politically”. He nails the coffin with an assertion that “the chiefs were the architects of slave trade”. If indeed all these claims are wholly true and the chiefs served no other useful purpose, then Mr. Bannerman’s assertions might require a sympathetic consideration.

Chieftaincy and Development

It would be unfair to brand all the opinions of Mr. Bannerman as false or even malicious. However his penchant for exaggeration, employment of half-truths and innuendoes to run down individuals and institutions are rather uncanny. There are many problems associated with the institution of chieftaincy not unlike most human institutions. Without a doubt it has contributed its fair share to the problems of the country at the local and national levels. Significant among these is the land tenure system in the country. Again, the institution contributes to a myriad of problems including the unnecessary interference with the judicial process, and the countless cases of miscarriage of justice in the traditional courts, not to mention the occasional flaring up of violence leading to the loss of life and limb with our sad Dagbon case the biggest amplifier of such situations. These problems have continued to affect the developmental objectives of the country and it cuts across the whole country. Considering these and, of course, the ‘unfair’ selection procedure Mr. Bannerman so strongly abhors, it is not surprising to encounter opposition to the institution and in extreme cases hear calls for it abolition. However, it would amount to throwing the baby away with the dirty water.
Yours truly, unlike many anti monarchs, sees a lot of good and even greater potential for using chieftaincy to accelerate the developmental process of the country. If the opponents to the institution want to run down the institution, it must be pointed out that multi-party democracy also has its own inherent problems which deter otherwise many potentially good leadership materials from partaking. Monarchy as an institution can serve as a powerful tool for organising people in a non-partisan manner. A major credit of the 1992 Republican Constitution is the debarring of chiefs from partisan politics. This provision although claimed by some as an infringement on the rights of the chiefs have generally been found to be desirable. Many chiefs have served as catalysts for bringing together citizens and friends of their traditional areas to help in developmental projects. More resourceful and capable chiefs have undertaken foreign trips in efforts to organise citizens living in foreign countries to contribute towards local and national developmental efforts. A major development in recent times is the setting up of scholarship schemes, and other education, social and health related projects. The power of chiefs to ginger local communities to partake in ‘communal labour’ cannot be underestimated. The current Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, and many other chiefs should be recognised and praised for their projects rather than ridiculed as Mr. Bannerman is obviously seeking to achieve. It must be noted that the Asantehene is not the first traditional ruler to have started such a scheme but he has definitely popularised the concept and other progressive chiefs have followed suit. Indeed there are many chiefs who do not only set up similar schemes but have personally donated huge sums of money from their personal resources towards the development of their areas and citizens. Another traditional ruler whose activities must be acknowledged here is the Okyehene, Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin. His activities as far as environmental issues are concerned are unsurpassed. Environmental problems are not only national but global. It is the contention of yours truly that no government could have the level of political courage exhibited by the Okyehene in the fight against environmental degradation. He stands tall in facing up to the global mining conglomerates on environmental concerns in the country. These and many other progressive activities by many traditional rulers amplify the need to support the President’s intention to assist the institution by setting up a royal college to teach our traditional rulers “global development and technologies”. It remains strange to yours truly how such an obviously progressive proposal could receive the level of vitriol and venom poured by Mr. Bannerman on the President. Throwing in the Asantehene for good measure is not only bizarre but also mischievous. The President’s proposal did not seek in any way to project the Asantehene but chieftaincy in the country as a whole. Again, in our sad Dagbon problems it is obvious the Eminent Chiefs led by the Asantehene rather than our politicians and educated elites who have been more successful in brokering a semblance of peace.

Monarchy and Democracy

It is an undisputed fact that the system of selection in monarchies is often restricted to particular lineage and even gender which makes it discriminatory. However, there are a few monarchs who are elected for fixed terms not dissimilar to presidents. Even in Ghana, certain communities allow for the appointment of distinguished individuals to ascend to chieftaincy stools. The former Omanhene of Goaso is an example. A major bone of contention of Mr. Bannerman is that universal adult suffrage is a meritorious concept whereas chieftaincy is not. This is a debatable opinion to a great extent. For a start chieftaincy or monarchy is not the preserve of Ghana or even the less developed world. Countries like the United Kingdom, Royal Netherlands and Spain have all got constitutional monarchs. During the last United States presidential elections one of the messages put out by the President George W. Bush campaign team was his ancestry to the British royal family. The British legislature of House of Lords is a symptomatic feature of monarchy. These men and women could be hereditary peers or appointed. This system allows for competent and capable individuals who otherwise would not want to go through muddy party politicking to serve their countries at the highest level. The constitutional barring of chiefs in Ghana from partaking in partisan politics undoubtedly helps to insulate the institution from the often volatile and ‘dirty’ terrain of partisan politics. The institution further provides the role of the proverbial old woman who is consulted in times where wise counsel, objectivity and level-headedness are required.

Ethnic Bashing

I sincerely hope that the purpose of Mr. Bannerman’s piece was not to insult the Asantehene and effect Asantes. Unfortunately comments following the publication of the piece only served to incite the ethnocentric bigots on all sides to demonstrate their darker sides. God forbid that any misfortune occurs in our country. However that was precisely what some individuals were proclaiming! Whenever I read or listen to anyone on issues bordering on ethnocentricity the question I ask is whether whatever they write or say serves to foster national unity or breeds hatred for our fellow nationals. Mr. Bannerman may not have set out to display his hatred for any section of the society. However he succeeded in creating a forum for the ethnocentric among us to display their prejudice and chauvinism. I have always contended, and for once my internet friend Odurose may agree with me that such acts breed disunity, hatred and contempt. The net effect of such advocacy is what is happening in some of our neighbouring countries and other parts of our continent. What opponents of the government tend to forget is that there will come a time when the New Patriotic Party (NPP) will go out of power. President Kufuor will definitely leave the presidency after the next election. For now he has the mandate according to the expressed will of the people of Ghana to put in place policies, programmes and projects that will move this country forward. If he fails the good people of the country will vote his party power out at the next election. It often saddens me that the sadistic views expressed against each other on the internet emanate from the relatively educated, privileged and sophisticated. A good majority of these contributors live in Europe and North America. If such calibre of the citizenry of the country can preach hatred and even wish wars on the country for no reason other than ethnocentricity and political differences then it should be a great source of worry to all progressive minded in the society. I hope such individuals possess a modicum of conscience to tinge them about the danger and ill they wish on their fellows. They may not wield the guns and machetes that will kill others but they are no better than the Nazis, Forday Sankohs, Charles Taylors, and all the heartless individuals who committed atrocities against innocent women, children, aged and the sick on the altar of ethnic wars. He who preaches hatred and ill is no better than the murderer. It saddens me also that the owners of the Ghanaweb.com and other websites continuously fail to exercise editorial controls to weed out obvious ethnocentric rants and raves.

Conclusion

Our chiefs remain a focal point of our cultural identity. Notwithstanding the obvious problems the institution provides a great potential source for social and economic development. Chiefs provide leadership and serve as embodiment of our culture, traditions and customs. The institution goes to the heart of what distinguishes us as a people from others. It portrays our uniqueness as a country, nation and statehood. Nurtured properly the institution can serve as a medium for national development and the fostering of greater national unity. It is even common for settler communities to appoint from among themselves leaders they call chiefs.
Of course, the likes of Mr. Bannerman, notwithstanding carrying the title “Nii” (a suggestion of royalty) might have been oriented to believe everything about our culture and customs are bad and that the foreign way of life, particularly the Western system, is better. They believe our traditions are outmoded, bad and undesirable hence should be thrown away. Some of the obscene displays and practices including pornography and sexual deviance witnessed in western cultures should never be desired by any people. I am proud of my Ghanaian and ethnic heritage and identity. I am proud of the friends and acquaintances from all over the country, and indeed all over the world, I have made in school, university, and work and residential places. My national, ethnic, educational, cultural, and of course religious orientation, enables me to see individuals and love them for what they are but not hate them for the mythically created situation of differences which only breeds hatred and condescension. The President may not be doing some things right but certainly this proposal can never constitute a failure.
God bless Ghana.

Kofi Nyame
Thornton Heath,
Surrey.


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