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Opinions of Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Columnist: Asubonteng, Bernard

The elephants in the room: some Ghanaian chiefs are disgracing chieftaincy

by—Bernard Asubonteng

There are large “elephants in the room” too intimidating and scary that many Ghanaians, as we speak, are trying hard to ignore their presence out of fear or just pretending they will depart on their own. The prevailing land claiming conducts and partisan political positions of many of the traditional chiefs and their sub-chiefs in Ghana are shameful spectacle. A lot of Ghanaians see and know some of these chiefs’ disgraceful behaviors and practices, but look the other way because they can’t do much about it. These present-day chiefs are the negative proverbial “elephants in the room” no one wants to talk about or acknowledge their culpability, yet they exist.

They say and do whatever they want to do in their respective traditional areas, trampling over everything that comes their way with impunity. Many of these traditional overlords, kings, chiefs, are quick at reminding their people they’re the direct descendants/owners of the lands they survey. We don’t hear this kind of over-blown proposition from the British monarchy, although it is one of the well-established traditional overlords in the world. In Ghana, however, our chiefs have been using this line of worn-out genealogical argument since history itself was recorded to push back against any 21st century counterargument.
On that premise, these chiefs insist that without huge exchange of ransom money, they’re not giving up the lands under their so-called traditional jurisdiction for any developmental purpose. This presupposes a potential land developer in a particular area cannot get access to a land without paying colossal sum of money or some form of royalties to the chief for his “blessings.” With all these monies many of the traditional rulers are collecting in their areas, their subjects are disproportionately unemployed, struggling just to afford a day’s meal.

Of course these entrenched greediness and state-sanctioned bribery practices are the reasons many chiefs in this country own fleets of expensive cars, mansions, and other properties, and can also afford to have many wives and mistresses on the side. Clearly, the chieftaincy as a whole is fast losing its awe and respect compared to the not-too-distant past, because those bad apples within the chieftaincy are dragging the once highly-regarded national cultural institution into disrepute. As of now, many traditional areas in Ghana are either entangled in land disputes or stuck in some form of fratricidal conflicts because the wrong person has been imposed as a chief in that area. Plus, if any Ghanaian worries about the Chinese’s plunder and destruction of the nation’s water bodies and lands because of illegal mining or “galamsey,” let that person looks not far beyond the direct or indirect approval of some of the traditional rulers in that given area.
The traditional rulers in Ghanaian society are normally regarded as the paragon of the nation’s rich cultural heritage and symbol of national cohesion. Rather than sticking to their enviable customary role, a sizable number of them have metamorphosed into professional partisan sycophants. They fawningly sing high political-pitch songs in their self-serving attempts to get to the soft ears of some of the equally corrupt public officials. What is unfolding now is that some chiefs/queens try to manipulate the political leaders of the day mainly for their own personal benefits. In return, the politicians lobby the chiefs for electoral votes and support from the people in their areas.

Ghana’s Constitution bars all traditional rulers from engaging in actively partisan politics. The constitutional Clause 272 and its subsections spell out the roles and functions of the chiefs/queens through their umbrella body of the National House of Chiefs. Preceding Clause 272 is Article 270 (2) which unambiguously states that “Parliament shall have no power to enact any law which (a) confers on any person or authority the right to accord or withdraw recognition to or from a chief for any purpose whatsoever; or (b) in any way detracts or derogates from the honour and dignity of the institution of chieftaincy.”
Granted, Ghana’s parliament is bent on denigrating or dishonoring the institution of chieftaincy for any reason. If the foregoing holds true, we can make a case now that the government doesn’t have to go that route any longer, in that many of the traditional rulers are already self-destroying themselves, anyway. That is why the once-sacred institution is vulnerable today more than ever before. Through some chiefs’ egoistic behaviors and exhibition of prejudiced attitudes toward active political participation, they have dramatically compromised the honor and dignity of the institution of chieftaincy. The list of a whole bunch of chiefs/queens across the nation who are cheapening their dignified positions and responsibilities on the altar of political expediency and betrayal are well known to be rehashed here.

We understand politics permeates all humans’ lives from birth to death; and, the traditional rulers are no exceptions. But there is a compelling reason the framers of Ghana’s Constitution incorporated provisions that recognize the non-partisanship of the institution of chieftaincy and its limitations as far as the chiefs’ political involvements are concerned. Unlike the chieftaincy, politics operation is messy, highly unpredictable, biased, and corrosively prone to corruption. Many of our traditional rulers have gotten messy, insensitive, and corrupt because they keep getting burned by going too close to the political fires of the day. Indeed, they’re the metaphoric elephants in the room Ghanaians don’t want to blame for the country’s mess! Like the fake prophets, the president-elect Nana Akufo-Addo must be on his guard for some of the opportunistic chiefs who exploit every new government in Ghana.

The writer is United States-based social critic. He can be reached at: