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Opinions of Tuesday, 12 September 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Why Royalty And Meritocratic Democracy Are Not Bedmates

As it stands, our country is dotted with all kinds of thrones and chiefs. This system of chieftaincy, predicated on royalty, has it principles, values and basic assumptions. I seek to question these assumptions, values and principles. These thrones are supposed to represent centers of power and leadership. Do they really? The formation of a ministry of chieftaincy or any such gilded undertaking shows that this system and the leadership that it produces is bankrupt. My question is this, why were these thrones established and who gets to occupy them? Why the thrones were established is easy to answer. Obviously it was based on the governance of tribes. Thrones are designed to enhance and protect the interest of tribes. So in effect, they are tribe driven. What has not been said is that chieftaincy has variations given what tribe you care to look at. Majority of the northern part of Ghana, for example, was not into this business of chieftaincy prior to colonialism.

Who gets to occupy a throne is based on bloodline and genetics. It is obvious that the bloodlines for these thrones are already in place. Some have even argued that these bloodlines should be codified and regulated to stop the incessant fights and pillorying that goes on when these stools become vacant. Perhaps the proponents, minions, fanatics and protagonist of chieftaincy may want to take a stab at this project. The problems that chieftaincy poses cannot be trivialized. Some of these same chiefs continue to sound the alarm bell. Why commoners must continue to diaper and sing leadership lullabies for our chiefs continue to fascinate me. I thought most, if not all, chiefs were graduates of leadership instructions from their own rancid palaces. No? So it turns out that this is also another farce!! Oh yes, if this council of elders works so well, how come these chiefs are always fighting and selling the same lands to several people? How come the council of elders cannot make our chiefs accountable? Who really has the power and therefore last laugh? If chieftaincy runs as smoothly as their protagonist and minions what us to believe, why the need to fund a ministry and royal academy? For the first time in Ghana, we have an institution based on class and not merit, which is funded with taxpayer money! Are we progressing or retrogressing? Is this precedent a good one?

I am here to make the claim that royalty in its entirety is an idea or concept that must be rejected. The idea that some carry blue blood and are created by the almighty to rule others is not steeped in fact and reality. I urge or Christian brothers and sisters to speak up on this matter virulently. The idea that some individuals, till eternity, must enjoy the fruits of their forefathers is utterly preposterous and manifestly unjustified. We owe no grandchild of a past chief any living. While we could show gratitude to the accomplishment of their forefathers, it must not shoehorn these individuals into positions of leadership and power. The reasons are fairly simple. There is no evidence that these individuals can replicate what their forefathers did. The trait theory of leadership is on its last legs. Even if they could, our circumstances have changed. We are now a country not a loose association of tribes. Society has modernized to a greater extent. The tribal insecurities and needs that made heroes of their forefathers no longer exist. The paramount reason of all is that we’ve chosen to be a democratic country. It mean our resources should be focused on this arduous task steadfastly. Building a democracy is not easy and the starting point is to get these stumbling blocks like chieftaincy out of the way. A democracy means that everyone will have a shot, so, class and bloodline will not be the basis for leadership. Everyone must earn his keeps based on his ability, knowledge and experience. We all must start on the same line.

Chieftaincy, as a concept of leadership and governance is stunting our growth as a country, especially at the local level. If the idea of leadership is to get the best person (effective results driven) in place, given a fair and limpid system, can we safely say that using the concept of royalty is the way to go? Yes, both democracy and chieftaincy does not guarantee us the best leaders but at least one is more inclusive and transparent than the other. Democracy does not limit leadership to a set of families. The brutal truth is that if we introduce the same principle of royalty into democracy, these traditionalist and royal watchers well be the very first to complain and perhaps lob a few bombs. Is it not ironic that the very people that went after Nkrumah after he made himself president for life are the same ones supporting chiefs which have no fixed term? What is different here my friends? Are we talking facts or playing our people for fools?

Given our tribal arrangements, democracy seem a better choice even though I detest our current situation where people vote along tribal lines. Yet, I see the latter as sheer growing pains in a democracy. As political maturity begin to take shape, some of these ills will diminish. To the contrary, chieftaincy feeds into these wholesale tribal voting which is not healthy for our democracy. Indeed, I suspect that, it is for this same benefit that the NPP continues to pursue it core ideology of local aristocracy. What is going on is not some new found serendipity by president Kufour. It is a key part of the core ideology of this NPP government, which, without wonderment, happens to be a birth child of the matemeho movement or tradition. Go and read our history! Don’t take my word for it.

Has royalty guaranteed us the success that we crave? Given the length of time that we’ve lived under and with chieftaincy, do we really have anything to show for it? Ghana in particular has had royalty prior to colonialism. Obviously, nothing seminal or novel came out of chieftaincy. Thank God we survived it. Chieftaincy has served its purpose in the past when the people of Ghana used to live within their tribal boundaries. This time period witnessed a series of intertribal wars, conquest and slavery. Colonialism, with all its wicked intentions changed all of that. Now we are a country thanks to the brave leadership of Nkrumah and those that came after him. The peace we enjoy now has its roots in the exemplary leadership Nkrumah provided in the area of tribal relations and management. Now, all of that may be at risk because of Kufour’s craving for class based leadership, cronyism and inaction. If the tribal slugfest at Ghana web, led by so called educated folks, is anything to go by, there is a lot to worry about. In our current experiment called country Ghana, everyone is free to live where they choose, provided they can afford it. The insecurities that made chieftaincy necessary do not exist anymore. The need to empower all to be part of the process is paramount. So why continue with this tribe inspired system? Now is the time to question the system of royalty as it relates to leadership given our lack of progress at the local levels.

Royalty did not save us from slavery or bring us progress. Indeed, some of these chiefs and their minions benefited from the stinking and illicit trade of slavery and colonialism. While stalwarts like Nkrumah fought for independence, our chiefs and their terrorist friends plotted and planned to roll back his efforts. Some even trolled the west, asking that our subjugation be continued indefinitely. Chieftaincy in Ghana has mostly been about the privileged class. The state of the masses, poverty and economic degradation, is evidence that chieftaincy has nothing to offer. All you have to do is go to the rural areas and witness the wretched lives of our fellow citizens. Life is hell in the rural areas and that is why the youth have abandoned those areas and instead, sell dog chains and condiments in the cities. I have always maintained that our development can and must be measured by what goes on in the rural areas. Majority of our folks live there so if life gets better over there then majority of our people are in good hands. To enable the masses and pave way for development, we must remove from our mindset, the concept of royalty totally. It is annoyingly convoluting the local government process. It is creating a kind of plurality that imposes duplication and undue bottlenecks. Frankly, land, a factor of production is trapped in the clenched jaws of our chiefs. This is all the chiefs are hanging on as we speak. If we can find a smart way to return these lands to the people, for whom some of these corrupt chiefs hold in trust, chieftaincy will see its last legs. The system must be phased out because it cannot survive any real reform. All you have to do is ask that it be open to all and the system will crumble like a cookie. Boom, it will be gone like a puff of powder.

To replace royalty, we must strongly embrace a system of inclusion, fairness and justice. A free and fair system where each is judged by the content of his character and ability. Just as blacks revolted against discrimination by whites, blacks must not support discrimination from their own folks. It is inherently wrong to consistently tell a majority of the population that they owe allegiance to a dime thin minority and are inferior to those that rule them. We must not seek selflish rulers who cannot be identified with their followers but instead with their privileged peers. Not too long ago, one could not even talk to a chief directly. This man is ruling you for life yet you cannot talk to him? Why? Because this mere mortal is more human than you? Come on! We have much more commonsense than this. Yes we do! Our country stands to gain the most if we create a level playing field where all Ghanaians are free to contest for any leadership position regardless of birth right or genetics. After all, we want the best not the average for life. It speaks not well of us that we continue to see as our leaders and rulers as individuals who are merely enjoying the exploits of their ancestors. Our current reality must not be tainted by the exploits of yesteryear. How does the exploits of a dead man 500 years ago influence the ability of a leader to lead his people today? How does it inform our current reality? Is it too much to ask these simple questions under Kufour’s most free country? Haba!!

Ask yourself this, why do some push royalty? Why do some support tribe with all their might? What do they stand to gain from the acts of a benevolent dictator in the form of a chief? What do they have to lose? To opt for a class system based on superiority is not to have confidence in your fellow human beings. These are the same folks who think their king is better than another or their tribe is the master tribe. I leave them to their own delusions. They, like Fredrick Taylor, assume that human beings must be ridden like horses to make mules out of them. They are afraid that if left on their own to compete, they will not survive. To cover their own personal weaknesses and insecurities, they invoke tribe and blindly support royalty even though they are commoners. Often, they whip up tribal frenzy and vilify others to the fascination of their beguiled tribesmen. All for what I may ask? Instead of building their confidence and esteem they mislead their kinsmen with half baked truths and justifications of yesteryear that have no bearing on progress. How is any of this putting food on the table of the man that plants your cassava or cocoyam? Why must generations continue to be poor under this oppressive system? What about the education of all Ghanaians?

Now let me address the royal peddlers and tribal mongers. When the CPP made Nkrumah president for life, the most ardent opponents were the traditionalist and selected chiefs led by the matemeho gangsters. These chiefs forgetting that they themselves were on their soggy thrones for life, had the crass and hypocritical nerve to engage in bombing and shrieking all over the place that Nkrumah is a dictator. Fast forward if you will to 2006. If we were to go by the concept or principle of royalty politically, Nkrumah’s children should be ruling Ghana as we speak. That Kufuor, gets the chance to sit where Nkrumah sat is testament to the fact that meritocratic democracy is surely the way to go. If we agree or accept the reasoning behind chieftaincy, our political royalty has already been established and no new comers are welcome. Are these straight jacket followers of chieftaincy willing to see Nkrumah and his descendants ruling Ghana for life? Will we accept Rawlings and his descendants for life? What about Busia? Where these not the same ones who asked Rawlings to hand over? Folks, leadership is leadership no matter where it occurs. Royal leadership is no different. Whether it is local or central the core principles are the same. The strategies can vary but the principles are primarily the same. All leaders must be help accountable and not worshipped or fawned to.

Let me simply end by saying that democracy is the way forward. Democracy is not easy and cheap but it offers the most progressive way forward. A meritocratic democracy has no room for class privileges and continued tribal saber rattling. Ghana is a country and our nationality should override tribe. The kingdom mentality of yesteryear must be replaced by a more forward looking mentality of progress and unity. Yes, tribe is reality but it is also a learned behavior that can be unlearned. We must not allow over zealousness with tribe to kill our desire to live in one country with the same destiny. Look, the Asantes survived when Prempeh I was exiled to the Seychelles. The Ga people survived for a considerable length of time without a chief recently. The Anglo people continue to survive without a chief (Awomefia) for 8 years. This tells us that if we wake up the next day without these chiefs, life will never come to an end. Indeed it will be a new spring that brings hope and opportunity. A spring that will nourish the down trodden commoners to come into their own.

Culture is merely a way of life. It is dynamic in nature. So as one ineffective practice gives way, a relatively effective one takes shape. Let us not be fooled by the red herring that chieftaincy is equivalent to our culture. And that its demise will end our culture or tribes as we know it. That is sheer fear mongering without any merit. The examples that I gave above is evidence that the people will match on without chieftaincy. Gradually, in a reasoned way, let us phase out or marginalize chieftaincy to make way for a healthy democracy that benefits all the children of God. In Ghana should progress, our toil in the diaspora will end. The burden of pulling the chestnut out of the fire will be lift and human dignity will be restored to our kith and kin. Yes, including the Chieftaincy mongers! And yes, we will let them speak as equals. Viva Ghana!

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