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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Columnist: Nana Kwasi

Why Traditional Rule is in Trouble: The Case of Bompata, Asante-Akyem

There has been a spate of articles on the issue of Chieftaincy ever since the Deputy Speaker of Parliament called for its abolition, because of excessive conflicts and sometimes civil strife it has brought to the people. Some of these articles have been for the institution and others cannot wait a minute for it to be abolished.

What I gleaned from these articles was the sense that most of these individuals who took the time to opine on this had mostly been raised in large cities where the influence of the institution is minimal. For those who grew up or spent any considerable amount of time in smaller towns, the chieftaincy institution is all that holds the civil society together. Every thing that happens in the community revolves around it. Hardly does a major conflict or occasion get resolved without it going through the chief’s palace. So, for those who are not exposed to these matters, the institution is archaic and useless. But for those who live with it , it is the next best thing to good governance.

So why is such a useful institution falling apart? Let us use the case of a small town to illustrate what has gone wrong with the institution. The town is Bompata, Asante-Akyem. This town is situated about three miles off the Kumasi –Accra road near Asankare. Like so many other small towns and villages which have fallen victim to looking up too high for intellectual fire power to boost their town’s image and prospects, 30 years ago, the town’s kingmakers chose an aspiring foreign affairs officer, Nana Effa Apenteng, to be its chief.. He is a former Ambassador to the UN in New York,. They had high hopes for him and ditched all others who, in hind sight, were more capable and willing to work, but did not have the perceived “educational laurels” of modern times.

Thus, began a 30 year conflict. This individual who was remotely connected to the throne has made a mockery of the institution. For, prior to his installation as chief, he hardly missed a big occasion in town even though he lived and worked in Accra, 120 miles away. Right after he was installed, he parlayed his new status in Accra into all the brownie points he could get from his job and relationships and forgot about the town that needed him most.

For 30 years, Nana Effa Apenteng has spent not more than three continuous days in Bompata. He always sends representatives on most big occasions in town with the excuse that his “high foreign affairs” position will not allow him to leave Accra during those periods. The town has virtually become an after-thought for him. Yet again, he never fails to let those he meets in private and professional capacities know his status as a chief. One would think that as a proud chief, he would also add some accomplishments to go with such high-faluting talk. None. For he has not chalked up any. I guess he has subconsciously come to believe that he needed the title only to further his social status and career; and damn the villagers.

The town’s people have used all means possible to persuade him to gracefully descend from the throne but all to no avail. And for the last 25 years it has been one conflict after another in attempts to destool him. This is gradually bubbling up to the surface and like a powder keg may eventually explode. What is puzzling is that his overseers, from the Adumhene to ultimately the Otumfuo, seem to always give him a second chance because of his status as a top foreign affairs official, to mend his ways and he has failed every time.

I am of the opinion that the root cause of most of these conflicts is the absentee chiefs and kings, directly and indirectly. On the direct side, some of these chieftaincy positions demand that the individual give it his or her full time commitment. But most of the well educated who are elevated to such positions mostly tend to look at it as a hobby. They will only lift an arm when nothing else in their private and professional lives is pressing. They forget the high hopes and the level of involvement those who crowned them were looking for.

On the indirect side, you have these well-to-do individuals who have the time and energy to meddle in their hometowns’ chieftaincies all because somehow they are connected to the throne and believe that their gate has been wronged in the past. And now that they have money, power and influence it is time to correct the injustice. Or sometimes they just attempt to buy their way to the throne either for themselves or a close relative because they can. They equate their success in officialdom or in business to the ability to be a chief. As the late US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding." The missing element in such quests is the passion to see things through once they get there. They lose interest quickly after the “chase” is over. The lack of understanding of the consequences of their actions also lead them to eventually bring calamities to their hometowns as we have all witnessed in recent times.

I tend to lean toward reforming this great institution and have it, over time, act as the custodian of our culture. I really appreciated a recent article on the web about some members of the National House of Chiefs protesting the pictures of scantily-clad girls in a daily newspaper. There are effective means in the constitutions of this institution that could correct all that is wrong with it if those in charge of it will execute their duties with diligence.

By Nana Kwasi