THE DEATH OF OUR INSTITUTION OF CHIEFTAINCY: It Needs Atonement And Tune-Ups.
Can our aging and ‘talibanized’ chieftaincy institution be fine-tuned to salvage its reputation, responsibilities and relevance?
The world is changing fast, therefore everything we do has to be in tuned with the new reality .And, and it has to be bold and dynamic.
So can our chieftaincy institution keep tempo with the new Socio-economic world order or is it just droning and becoming a casualty of time?
To some people the introduction of modern-day technology and life amenities is making the institution of chieftaincy very irrelevant in our society .They think this aging institution is just losing its focus and role. But, the question is: can our modern-day society survive without the inputs of social institutions like, chieftaincy? And, what is its new role in the new socio-economic equation?
The positive meaningful role the institution of chieftaincy has played in our society is countless. It provided the society with public safety, judicial and other important social functions when we needed it the most. But, what went wrong? It has been ‘talibanized’ and marginalized in part by itself for lack of focus and business prowess.
These days not only has the role of chieftaincy been reduced, it has become a-pain –in –the- butt for the central government. The government doesn’t know how to fix the deficiencies and it can not get rid of it. Therefore both have a very unusual relationship with each other. Each partner exploits the weakness in the relationship to suit its own needs. During the election seasons the politicians embark on pilgrimages to every chief’s palace in the country to seek votes and their blessings while the chiefs also seek financial supports and protection from prosecution and accusations within their clans.
And, we the citizens are caught between these two competing forces. In so doing they set foundation for problems we would like to avoid. So, though everyone knows there is a problem within the chieftaincy system, we don’t expect too much change from the government. If aint broke don’t fix it!
The darkness of chieftaincy’s feuds and disputes are holding the progress of our towns and villages across the land in their clutches but, we only talk about them behind closed doors—like leprosy disease. What are we afraid of? These are some of the things few politicians or policy makers would say openly in Ghana for the fear losing votes or offending their constituencies. What are we afraid of by criticizing our oldest social institution which has given us so much hope and identity during and after colonial times?
Asuom, in the District of Kwaebibirim is a mid-sized town tucked between Anyinam and Asamankese. It’s a beautiful place where my umbilical cord lies peacefully. But it has an odor of chieftaincy feud which has put its progress on a choke-hold indefinitely; that is why it takes pains for me to write this piece.
It’s going through a lengthy time- consuming and resource-zapping dispute that has provoked considerable anxiety among the inhabitants. The town is sliding rapidly into penury state because of the disagreement within the Asona clan. It has created a bitter division and animosity among its members beyond everyone’s surprise.
According to an elderly clan member who was speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly said, there is no end in sight for the case because as long as some faction of the clan sees the current chief as “illegitimate occupier of the throne,” there will be no peace. He went on to say that a lot of the chief’s own people see him as a “cheerleader” who is masquerading as a ‘chief. That is why he has not been given the ‘Right’ to use or occupy the palace. At this point I will spare you the pain of taking you through the story behind the feud. But, the reality is no matter who is right or wrong, we’re suffering. The town’s innocent inhabitants are paying the price while the fight goes on.
That is not unique to Asuom. This story has repeated itself across the landscape of Ghana because chieftaincy has lost its bearings and goals, yet the central government is nervous even to touch it with ten-foot pole or Michael Jackson’s glove.
Does the Ghanaian chieftaincy institution give us dividends by keeping tempo with time, the new world economic order and technology? Or is it just droning and killing time like the rest of our other dormant institutions?
Arguably the Ghanaian chieftaincy system is by far the biggest and oldest institution in Ghana. But over the last two decades it has entangled itself in long, useless, time- consuming litigations and disputes and “family feud” at the expense of finding solutions to our emerging problems. Instead of finding solutions to better the living standards of its subjects it is busy fighting and fussing while the people are looking for leadership.
I’m a diehard proponent of our traditions and heritage but I think there is a need to transform and modernize the chieftaincy institution and other traditions to reflect on our everyday needs. In other words, technology, modernization, and traditions have to perform like faithful friends, if we want maximum mileage and dividend out of our chieftaincy institution.
Buried in the regional news on the Friday, July 7th 2010, was a piece captioned, “Chiefs in Eastern Region attend a day’s workshop”. A workshop which was organized and sponsored by a German Political foundation (Konard Adenaner Stiftung). According to the report they were supposed to learn how to refrain and prevent themselves from being sucked into the active politics .Duh!!
I beg your pardon! Am I the only soul on this troubled planet who can see what is wrong with that picture? Who really thinks that our archaic institution needs only one day workshop about anything for that matter? Some people will deride the effort of “one day’s workshop” as window –dressing which doesn’t change the tone and texture of how things are done in our towns and villages.
Given all the social and economic problems in our villages and townships our chiefs need more than a day’s workshop to get on with the “programs” and acquaint themselves with what is at stake in our communities . Yes they do need real government- formulated training in Public Administration, entrepreneurship and business skills in order to manage their towns and villages effectively. Getting mileage out of our dinosaur chieftaincy institution requires more than one day workshop. Are we serious or just seeing a group of chiefs congregated at a place to kill time was enough?
With no disrespect, I think every Ghanaian knows one or two chiefs in his district who do not meet the needs of their subjects, yet there is no way to get rid of them. In most cases they have become political “tools” that the politicians conveniently use to get votes or torture their opponents.
Some of the things missing today in some of our leaders and chiefs are: real –life experience, vision and ability to put their towns and villages’ interests and well -beings above theirs. Sadly, some of our community leaders (chiefs and elders) are gradually straying from the aspirations which are enshrined in our history and destiny.I know the collateral damages of litigation, family- feud and under- performance of chiefs are very hard to quantify. But they are very high and deadly. My home town, Asuom is a classic example of that .Before things degenerated chieftaincy spearheaded a lot of developmental projects such as pipe- bone water, self-help electrification project; among others. But, right now no communal labor is organized and we’re literally surrounded by trash that even ZOOMLION can not contain.
There is practically a leadership vacuum because one side of the town sees the chief as a cheerleader masquerading as a” chief” who has no footing in the town. It’s pathetic and unfortunate. The ultimate victims are the children and the elderly who are vulnerable and have to depend on the sound judgment of those in charge of the town for their survival. This has been going on over two and a half years and no one knows when it will ever end. All effort to mediate the dispute yielded no progress. So we the inhabitants have become hapless and hopeless spectators while the mountainous trash keeps polluting our rivers.
Are you feeling disappointed yet? I do!!
You may ask, why am I so worked up about the role of the chieftaincy institution being reduced to ceremonial duties? Well it’s because in our part of the world chieftaincy is supposed to play an important part of our lives and society by being the vehicle to transport government’s ` policies and programs to the grassroots level. The chieftaincy institution still has more direct influence and can productively affect communities more than the District Assemblies resourced by the government. If you carefully consider the marvelous works of some chiefs, e.g. the Okyehene of Kyebi with his forestation initiative and Asantehene’s educational foundation, then their relevance cannot be over emphasized. We thank them for those efforts—and similar initiatives by other chiefs across the land.
Our chiefs are more or less equivalent to our modern -day mayors or executive branch of the government. So if they don’t perform their responsibilities effectively or just droning in bitter disputes, then their towns and villages become stagnant.
There are many, many problems that have infected chieftaincy like a virus. But the major problem is its inability to change with time to suit the needs of the society and the people it affects. For example, take the formal training level of our chiefs. Most Ghanaian chiefs do not have any formal Public Administration skills .As a result most of them are just there at the expense of the towns’ own progress. It’s high time the government realized the need to offer them with appropriate training to enable them serve their communities well ,in the current political landscape.
The second problem is the –‘chief –for- life’ mentality which has been enshrined into the clans’ unwritten constitution. With that kind of clause it gives the occupier of the throne a life time access to the chieftaincy without any opposition .Unfortunately, our chiefs sometimes cling to power even if their health or political inclination or social rating compel them to retreat. They try to maintain an ironclad grip over the idea of holding on to power even if it’s no more relevant. That is where things begin to slide downward.
In Ghana many public officials (including chiefs and political appointees) hold onto power until they die and that cheapens the currency of the office’s dignity. And, we all know that once you hold onto power long after your career or the love from your subjects or constituency has dissipated you lose not only your respect or dignity but the ability to do anything constructive that is beneficial to your town or constituency or the people who put you there. It is always dignifying to leave an office or career on a high note if you want to maintain your respect and love. Look at Mandela if you need a role model.
Where do we go from here?
1) As a matter of urgency the government through parliament should task the national House of Chiefs (NHC) to demand a chief succession plan from every town.
2) A Committee from the NHC, Regional HC and other reputable persons such as history scholars and religious leaders should be constituted to mediate chieftaincy conflicts.
3) A non—partisan debate to discuss chieftaincy, e.g.:
-a need for written constitution
-a mechanism for resourcing the institution, and accountability to NHC
4) A clear demarcation of administrative rights and responsibilities, particularly land ownership, sale and compensation.
An introduction and institutionalization of in-service Public Administration training which is designed for all our chiefs and their elders could be a step- in- the- right - direction. We would also need to design a system which will democratize the chieftaincy institution and weed out the undesirable candidates with questionable character, from ascending to the throne.
In case this robs you a little, it’s important to note that the chieftaincy institution has offered valuable leadership in the past: building up and strengthening communities, organizing and administering various projects and programs; as well as fighting enemies and oppressive rule .In spite of the reputation crisis surrounding some chiefs, the chieftaincy situation is very relevant in this modern time in attracting and administering resources to supplement (but not substitute for) the role of the District Assemblies.
The state should therefore champion the continuous existence of the institution by addressing the problems that are dragging down chieftaincy head -on because they are holding back local governance, peace and developments.
For better or worse, our chieftaincy institution is here to stay. So we have to find ways and means to make it accountable, responsible, viable and manageable .Above all, it should be very sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the people it is institutionalized to serve—not the government, not the politicians and obviously not the those who tone its morning melody.
Unfortunately, government after government has created a system which pits chieftaincy against communities and clans against chiefs, so it is not going to be easy to repair the damage. But, ultimately, it’s what the chieftaincy institution does within our communities, villages, towns and cities that would determine how fast it can redeem and atone itself and reclaim its role in the national development arena.
I’m sure there are other remedies and suggestions we can use to fix things in order to make our chieftaincy institution viable and responsive to our needs and aspirations. But, I’m afraid no one listens and no one cares, especially when the political campaign season is not gaining momentum .
Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi (Voice Of Reason)
* The author is a social commentator and founder of The Adu-Gyamfi Disadvantaged Youth Empowerment foundation of Asuom.