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Opinions of Sunday, 11 April 2021

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

The battle against galamsey goes to the very roots of our nationhood

In the early 1960s, so many of the colonised African countries were “given” their “sovereignty” back by the European colonial powers that those new nations began to be laughed at as mere “flag-and-anthem” entities.

Even Ghana, which was one of the more genuinely independent countries, still bore the marks of colonial tutelage. My first passport, issued in September 1958, restricted me from travelling to the USSR and China. I had to make a special application to the authorities before my passport was stamped with the world “VALID FOR ALL COUNTRIES”! When I returned from my visits to the USSR and China, I was formally “interviewed”] read “interrogated!”] By the Special Branch of the Ghana Police!

In other words, the practices to which we had been subjected as colonies, were, mostly, our “default” position. They changed only when the more intelligent ex-colonials recognised them for what they were and took special steps to remove them.

But what happened when the colonial mentality was so subtly
Implanted into our society that its effects were more psychological than physical?

Take, for instance, the British use of legal instruments to transform the ancient relationship between our people and their traditional rulers. The British gave themselves the right to “recognise” or not recognise – our chiefs!

These were our chiefs; we had enstooled them according to our customs. But unless the British Governor recognised them (by publishing their names in something called the official “Gazette”, they could not function as chiefs.

We are told by historians that the British carried out “indirect rule” in the then Gold Coast, inn that: they passed, or implemented, many of the decisions they made that affected our lives, through ours. What we may not adequately comprehend is that this indirect rule organically changed the traditional balance of power between chiefs and their own people.

If a chief and his people agreed upon an edict from the colonial government (imposing say, a new tax on the populace) all well and good. But what if the people disagreed with the tax, while their chief agreed? That disagreement would reveal the chief for what he really was – an active agent of the colonialists, as against being merely someone carrying out a “theoretical” role as a “cog in the wheel” of an abstract “indirect rule”!

There were quite a few of these conflicts between the chiefs and their people, in the 1940-50s; that is, just as colonialism was facing death in the Gold Coast. The biggest cause celebre occurred over the decision of the colonial authorities to fight the swollen shoot disease that was threatening Ghana's all-important cocoa industry, by “cutting out” the diseased cocoa trees!

Now, there were very good scientific reasons for “cutting out” diseased cocoa trees. But these were not adequately explained to the people (as the British sought to do, through the chiefs, under indirect rule!) Whereas indirect rule could work to smooth out relatively minor conflicts, it could not realistically assume the mammoth task of persuading the populace that the best way of saving the cocoa that gave them their livelihood, was to cut down the trees that produced cocoa!

It was not until the colonial government decided to pay a cash compensation to the farmers for the cocoa trees cut down, that the issue was peacefully resolved. In the process, however, chiefs who had passively acquiesced in the earlier arbitrary decision of the colonialists to cut down diseased cocoa trees , found themselves exposed as traitors to their oath to safeguard the welfare of their people at all times. And for this, many were subsequently destooled by their people.

Now, the process of “destoolment” is incredibly destructive. A man has moral authority over hundreds or thousands of people one day. The next, he has become an ordinary person (again) but now carries the terrible stigma of having betrayed the trust of his people. When this happens some destooled chiefs are unable to reside in their towns and villages any longer and have to go into voluntary exile outside their home-towns.

This awareness that destoolment could turn them into paupers overnight, of course frightened many chiefs, and some sought, whilst still in power, to weaken or even destroy the mechanisms within their traditional setups that were employed to destool chiefs.

This potential for creating conflict within traditional societies was exploited to the hilt by the political parties that had been newly formed in the pre-independence years. The Convention People's Party (CPP) of Dr Kwame Nkrumah became largely known as the party that did not “like chiefs”, while the parties that coalesced into the National Liberation Movement (NLM) were supported by many chiefs.

This conflict worsened after independence, when the CPP used powers inherited from the colonialists, to reap revenge against pro-NLM chiefs. A glaring example of this arbitrary use of state power against a chief was the “local deportation” of the King of Akyem Abuakwa, (the Okyenhene) Osagyefuo Nana Ofori Atta the Second.

He was forced by the CPP in 1959 to reside outside Akyem Abuakwa, whilst a new Okyenhene was “enstooled” in his place. The chief of my own town, Asiakwa, who was the Nifahene (or right-wing chief of the Okyenhene) was similarly deported and replaced by – his own nephew!

Ghana's battle against the current destruction of her rivers, streams and other water-bodies, plus her forest resources, will never succeed unless this background is understood and its effects on our way of life is reversed. So far, we have been [pardon the cliches] “beating about the bush”, in an “exercise in futility” – over galamsey.

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