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11.04.2021 Feature Article

The Battle Against Galamsey Goes To The Very Roots Of Our Nationhood

The Battle Against Galamsey Goes To The Very Roots Of Our Nationhood
LISTEN APR 11, 2021

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

Even Ghana, which was one of the more genuinely independent countries, still bore the marks of colonial tutelage. For instance: 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 words “VALID FOR ALL COUNTRIES”!

When I returned from my journalistic 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 actively took special steps to remove them.

But what happened when the colonial mentality was so subtly implanted into our society that its effects were unrecognised by the victims, being 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, in that: they passed, or implemented, many of the decisions they decreed that affected our lives, through our chiefs. What we may not adequately comprehend is that this indirect ruleorganically 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 [who was probably paid an allowance by the colonial authorities] agreed? That disagreement would reveal the chief for what he really was – an active agent of the colonialists, as against being merely someone fulfilling a “theoretical” role as a “cog in the wheel” of an abstract policy called “indirect rule”!

There were, in fact, 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 and the wielding of LOCAL power became EXTREMELY important. The biggest cause celebre occurred, at that time, over the decision of the colonial authorities to fight the swollen shootdisease (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 quite counter-intuitive and could not be adequately explained to the people (as the British sought to do) through the mostly illiterate chiefs, under indirect rule! In other words, 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! The cocoa farmers thought that this did not make sense, and in many cases, they violently chased out the workers sent by the Gold Coast Department of Agriculture to cut out diseased cocoa trees.

It was not until the colonial government had the brain-wave of deciding to pay a cash compensationto the farmers for the cocoa trees cut down, that the issue was peacefully resolved. The Gold Coast Government had set up the Cocoa Marketing Board to cream off large portions of the export receipts from cocoa , ostensibly to be used to "support" the price paid to cocoa farmers, when the world market price of cocoa became too low. They now decided to use some of these "reserves" to pay compensation to farmers whose diseased cocoa trees were cut out. They set up a very efficient, quasi-autonomous organisation called "The Cocoa Rehabilitation Department" [CR] within the Department of Agriculture, to work harmoniously with the farmers, in cutting out cocoa trees affected by swollen shoot.

The farmers quickly mastered the art of corrupting many of the CR officers -- by "inducing" them to pay the farmers more compensation than their farms merited! Thus, the cocoa-cutting-out and replanting programme became exceedingly successful! Within ten years, the Gold Coast nearly doubled its cocoa production.[In fact, in 1965, the Gold Coast produced 570,000 tons of coca -- more than in any of the years in which swollen shoot had NOT struck the industry.]

In the process of cocoa rehabilitation, however, chiefs who had passively acquiesced in the earlier arbitrary decision of the colonialists to cut out diseased cocoa trees by force (and without compensation) 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 to the society in which it occurs. 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 own people. When this happens , some destooled chiefs are, at worst, unable to reside in their towns and villages any longer and have to go into voluntary exile outside their home-towns. At best, the traditional authority that accompanies the whole institution of chieftaincy becomes undermined.

This is because the awareness that destoolment could turn them into paupers overnight, of course frightened many chiefs, and some sought, whilst still in power, to weakenor even destroy the traditional mechanisms within their social setups that were employed to destool chiefs. So, quite often, a chief and his subjects found themselves in a hypocritical relationship, in which neither side quite trusted the other but pretended to do so. I am afraid that is one of the most harmful blows that colonialism in general -- and indirect rule in particular, -- dealt to our traditional social structure, and whose deleterious effects we may never be able to eradicate fully.

The potential for creating conflict within traditional societies created by the colonial situation was exploited to the hilt by the political parties that had been newly formed in the pre-independence years and which were seeking to replace British rule at the top of Gold Coast society. The Convention People's Party (CPP) of Dr Kwame Nkrumah won this battle by becoming 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 adroitly used the 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 displaced 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 are reversed. So far, we have been [pardon the clichés] “beating about the bush”, in an “exercise in futility” – over galamsey.