The Nandom Chieftaincy Dispute – The Other Side Of The Story
I have resisted the urge to respond to the three articles that one Mr. Christopher Tierkaar (or is it Tier-kaar, as the author was inconsistent in the spelling of his own name) has put out over the last five months. The first entitled “Re: Chieftaincy In Ghana” was a feature Article of Sunday, 10 July 2005 posted at www.ghanaweb.com. The second captioned Call Politicians to Order – Dery: Hypocrisy At Its Highest Level Feature Article of Tuesday, 6 September 2005 was also posted at www.ghanaweb.com. Finally, the third headed “Nandom: the Kakube Festival, National Security and Hunger” was also posted at www.ghanaweb.com as a “Feature Article of Monday, 10 October 2005”.
This piece is not a response to the said articles that Mr. Tierkaa put out; for they merit no such response from anyone who puts value on his or her time. It is not in defense of Mr. Ambrose Dery, for Ambrose's own record of achievements within the short time that he has been in political life adequately defends him. There is no doubt that if only the good people of the Upper West Region, and the Nandom Traditional Area for that matter knew what an internet website looks like and had the opportunity to read the misrepresentations and falsehoods in Mr. Tierkaar's article, they would have risen to defend the truth, which to all intents and purposes, would have been on the side of Mr. Dery.
The article is, therefore, written in response to a moral obligation to educate and enlighten those who may have been misled by the venomous fabrications and deliberate misrepresentation of facts and events that the above referenced articles spewed out. It is in fulfillment of a duty to posterity to set the records straight. Finally, it is written as a public responsibility to provide whoever cares about the chieftaincy question in Nandom the other side of the story so that they can make informed decisions about who really is a threat to the peace and people of the Nandom Traditional Area. So please read on.
Origin of Chiefs and the so-called Royal Families in the Nandom Traditional Area.
Every student of Ghanaian social anthropology knows that the dagara belong to the class of ethnic groups that is commonly described in the literature as acephalous or “tribes without rulers”. True to it, before the British made their way up country to what is now the Upper West Region, thanks to Ekem Ferguson, there was nothing like a dagara chief. As Ferguson himself found out and documented, when British “… signed a new treaty with the 'Dagaaba chief of Kaleo' in December 1897, thinking that this man was the 'King of all Dagaaba', [T]hey soon found out that this was a misconception too. “There is no King of all Dagaaba (in Lentz 1993: 183) . Indeed, when the British in their wisdom of indirect rule tried to promote the appointment of chiefs among the Dagara, a very passive form of resistance greeted them - ridicule. As Lentz (1993:186), quoting Chief Commissioner Wathertson of the Northern Territories notes, the fact that in this part of the country:
…villagers chose 'the village fool or most intrepid man they could possibly find' as chief was the rule rather than the exception, as Chief Commissioner Watherston cynically stated: chiefs were “selected as a rule for their incapacity to make anybody obey them, (..) the only sine qua non being that the chief should have plenty cattle, as on him falls the privilege of paying any fines that the Commissioner might impose on the town. Of course, backed by the powers of an occupier force, the British did succeed in imposing the institution of chieftaincy on the dagara. But rather than focusing on consolidating its place in the lives of the people, the earlier incumbents very rapidly undid any credibility and legitimacy that the institution could have earned for itself by acquiring a sordid history of wickedness perpetrated by members of their families under the pretext of securing forced labor for road construction during the colonial rule.
And just in case Mr. Tierkaar is not aware, the concept of chief among the dagara was so foreign was it that no dignified Dagara would accept to be a chief. The concept of royal houses in Nandom is therefore, at best, risible. For his education, I would like to recall that the post of Nandom Naa was actually an elected position in which heads of households lined up behind their preferred candidate. This system is still in use today among the Bulsas in the Upper East Region. If the people of Nandom threw the electoral system overboard with the departure of the British, that was only because no honorable persons were interested in the position. This made it possible for the families that currently want to describe themselves as royals to usurp and monopolize the accession to chiefship in the Nandom Traditional Area. And if Christopher still cares to know, there are now villages in the Nandom Traditional Area where the tengdem have repossessed the chiefships from usurpers. It may not be too long before the so-called royal households in Nandom are faced with the challenge of returning what is not theirs to their rightful owners.
To all intents and purposes then, the institution of chieftaincy among the dagara subsists in its current form only as a vestige of the colonial era, without any roots or relevance to the lives and culture of the dagara. It owes whatever image it has today to the fact that it was smuggled into the modern state system as part of attempts to create the semblance of political space in the post independence Ghana for more powerful and influential chiefdoms that have greater legitimacy among their people than chiefs in Nandom can ever dream of. Today, no one from Nandom is ever in doubt that the chieftaincy institution in that part of the country takes its semblance of legitimacy only from the constitution and laws of the modern state. And the chiefs know too well that the only facade of power they have derives from the constitution, not from any legitimizing histories, customs, and traditions as pertains in other parts of the country. Chiefs among the dagara, and for that matter the highly decentralized social groupings in the north, have never been recognized as having any legitimate power, much less authority, over their people.
Chiefs, Strangers and Politics
From the background above it is obvious that the chieftaincy institution in Nandom is a creation of politics and it is only politics that has and can sustain it and give it an appearance of legitimacy. If anyone doubts that, here are a few questions to help you think through the realities:
1. Why is that all those from the families of the Nandom chiefs, and to a lesser extent the houses of subchiefs in the traditional area tended to go to government schools when the majority of educated people of their age group went to Catholic Schools? They went there as part of the colonial government's grand plan of educating potential chiefs. Ironically, ethnic groups in the north that had established chieftaincy institutions before the advent of the British resisted this move. By contrast, those who were looking for footholds in the modern state system embraced it.
2. According to dagara culture, names given to people, and even pets are always potent with meanings and symbolisms. Now, take a quick glance at the family names of the so-called Nandom royals. What do we find? The list is replete with names like Boro, Imoro, Nanjo, Kyemogo (also spelt as Chemogo or Chemongo), Dzang, etc, all of which have no discernible meanings in the dagara language. There is nothing dagara about them. The closest one can associate these names to a linguistic original is that they are more of moshi and/or wangara names than any other dialect in dagara or any indigenous language of the Upper West Region. How can we explain this? Get to the next point.
3. Lying along one of the corridors of the north African trade routes, Nandom has become home to several “foreign' ethnic groups, who up to date, though considered as Nandomε, still maintain their ethnic identities, in the most part. But as anyone with some knowledge of the ethnic composition in the Nandom Traditional Area will readily admit, there is also a significant number of these “foreigners” who have been perfectly assimilated into the dagara culture. In some cases, their descents have even abandoned their “foreign” names and taken on real dagara ones, making them indistinguishable, to the casual observer, from the indigenes.
Could it then be that those who now call themselves royals of Nandom are actually remnants of the assimilated foreigners who seized the opportunity of the rejection of the British imposed chiefships by the tengdem (landowners) to erect themselves as chiefs? Though requiring further investigation, this is a very plausible possibility given the ample evidence that this was indeed the way in which royal houses emerged among certain ethnic groups in northern Ghana.
4. The so called chieftaincy dispute that Christopher and his patrons want the whole world to believe is a threat to the peace in Nandom dates back to 1985. One needs to ask, even at the heat of the scuffle between the contenders, how many ordinary people outside the immediate families of the contenders lined up with cudgels and sticks behind one side or the other in the dispute? In Christopher's fabricated and over-recycled story of the denuding of women at the 2004 Kakube festival, how many ordinary people from Nandom were aware of its occurrence? Why is it that no one else apart from the people from the Gbollu family, of which Christopher is undoubtedly a mouthpiece, has raised an eyebrow of surprise or a finger of protest?
To all intents and purposes, the Nandom chieftaincy with all is problems has always been “a house” matter. Why has it suddenly become such a big deal deserving of so much paper? Who is behind all this and what is the interest?
Of Kakube, legitimacies and hypocrisies
The Kakube festival is not an invention of any member, past or present of the so-called royal families of Nandom. Kakube is an age-old traditional thanksgiving service among the dagara of Nandom area, which unfortunately died out with the advent of Christianity. If the current Nandom Naa takes credit for reviving it, hasn't he every justification in doing so. But that is irrelevant to this piece.
What is important to note is that, as indicated above, the chieftaincy institution in Nandom has a great need to legitimize itself. If the restoration of Kakube provides an opportunity of sorts for some of the chiefs to gain form of legitimacy as the organizing principles behind a collective celebration, one would have thought that all those who are, or think they deserve to be chiefs now or in the future have a duty to themselves and the so called royal families to support the idea in whatever way they can, instead of indulging in a fruitless fratricidal war that threatens to further erode the only avenue they currently have to assert some legitimacy for the institution.
In deed, what Mr. Tiekaar and his patrons, who are obviously beating the imaginary war drums from afar may not be aware of, or are refusing to accept is that the elders of the feuding families have met and agreed that this age old festival must be preserved and celebrated. If within the family the issue has been discussed and resolved, why is the writer screaming about it? Finding answers to this question leads us to many other questions. For instance,
1. Kakube has been celebrated since the late 1980s. Why did the Gbollu family not challenge the authority of the Nandom Naa to preside over all the 20 odds previous celebrations before 2004? Could it be that one of their members mortgaged the right of the family to contest the choice and enskinment of the current chief for their private and selfish interests such as a political position would afford them?
2. It is well known that the Gbollu family sought to obtain a court injunction on the performance of the Kakube festival in 2004, on the grounds that whoever was organising it was not transparent and accountable to the people with the proceeds of the festival. If they were so sure that this festival was full of fraud and therefore sort to stop it, why did Rear Admiral Dzang then pitch a tent and dress up to sit in state at the same Kakube celebration presided over by the very Nandom Naa whose authority he contests?
3. Since its inception, various national political officeholders including Justice D. F Annan, Alhaji Iddrissu Mahama, and Vice President Atta Mills have been guests of honor at some of those celebrations. Why did the Gbollu family not protest the politicization of the festival in those times?
4. If the participation of past political leaders was not perceived as politicization of the Kakube celebration and/or an overt support for the claims of Puore to the Nandom skin, why will Mr. Ambrose Dery's attempts to follow the footsteps of other political leaders suddenly generate so much furor about the politicization of a traditional festival?
5. Why has Mr. Tierkaar and his patrons so suddenly become interested in inventing and using their infantile and over-recycled arguments to create an illusion of tension in Nandom when no one living or visiting Nandom today will sense any such tension?
Before we attempt finding answers to these pertinent questions, a walk through some of the logic of Mr. Tierkaar's recent article will provide some clues.
Chiefs, Royalists and Development in Nandom
The centerpiece of Mr. Tierkaar's most recent article was his fruitless attempt to link the food crisis in the Nandom area this year to the celebration of Kakube. But the raison d'etre of the article is quickly revealed when he descends into his over-used diatribe against Mr. Ambrose Dery, the Nandom Naa and the Member of Parliament for the Area, Dr. Ben Kunbuor, apparently accusing them of doing nothing to stave off the hunger. Predictably, he then moves on quickly to eulogize his idol, a navy commander whom the writer beautifully describes as a first class gentle man well versed in international law.
Well, that joins the chieftaincy debate in Nandom to the politics of development, doesn't it? So, let's delve into that. First, I am curious to know more about this navy commander. Is it the Real Admiral Dzang that we all know or there is another Dzang? If he is the same person, let me try to recollect his contribution to development in the Nandom area.
A part from being a renowned army officer he was also a politician and minister of state during the Acheampongs era, wasn't he? Now let's explore that further. Can Mr. Tierkaar point to any person one single substantive development this gentleman brought to the people of Nandom, and for that matter, the Upper West during his days in political office? Please name a few of them for the whole world to see. The issue of hunger in the Nandom is chronic and recurrent. Every kid that has live in Nandom between May and July in any year knows that. What did or has Rear Admiral Dzang done about the hunger in the area, since he was very much aware of the rainfall pattern even in the days of Operation Feed Yourself of the Acheampong regime of which he was a member? Was it not during his time in office that the Tono irrigation was built? What did he do for irrigation in the area? When, out of office, he had a stint with farming as his preferred means of earning a living, did he go to Nandom to farm? Did he attempt in any way to share his farming skills and resources with the starving people of Nandom who are farmers by profession or hobby? Instead, did he not prefer to invest in, and carry out his farming in the Northern Region, far away from the eyes and ears of the hungry people of Nandom?
Dzang and the Law: Tierkaa'r has sought to portray as a gentle, law abiding citizen. Suffice it to say that law is about rules and procedure and any lawyer worth his salt should know that. Every one knows that if you have a chieftaincy case there is a procedure. The least one can expect from a person well versed in the law would be that he is conversant with the procedures of the issue he is contesting.
Dear reader, before you think this piece is about an individual, let me point out the entire chieftaincy institution in the Nandom Traditional Area has failed its citizens when it comes to development. To put this in context, we should recall that because of their attendance in government schools and their political connections, educated sons of Nandom Naayir tended to migrate towards jobs that others trained in the church schools normally shunned. Consequently, many of them found themselves in positions of power and influence in this country by the coincidences of fortunes, as most of them served in the military and/or politics. Colonel Beni was a member of Acheampong's National Redemption Council. Rear Admiral Dzang was a member of the Supreme Military Council, later served as Ghana's High Commission to Australia under the SMC II; became Ghana's Ambassador to Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and beyond under the (P)NDC and even served as a Secretary of Defense under the PNDC. The late Nandom Naa, Polkuu Chiir was a member of the PNDC, serving as Secretary for Defense in that council. Before then, he served as the chairman of the board of one of the country's state mining companies. I could go on. But let anyone of the Nandom Naayirdem tell me one single benefit that their flirtation with politics and public offices has brought to the people of Nandom? Let them point to one single development project that they can claim they initiated or can proudly associate themselves with in the Nandom area?
A matter of envy?
We may now turn to the question why Ambrose Dery seems to have attracted the wrath of Mr. Tierkaar and his patrons. To understand this, the words of Jean Jacques Rousseau, the well known French philosopher is instructive. He once said in French the following: “Nous aimons toujours ce qui nous admirent. Mais, n'aimons pas ce que nous admirons”, which when translated means “We always like those who admire us, but we never like those we admire”. Why is this so? Well, isn't it true that those who attract our admirations usually shine brighter than us? Anyone who doubts it can do a quick comparative study, and I dare say that the report will conclude as follows: “within the short period that Ambrose has been in politics, he has contributed more to the development of the ordinary people of Nandom than any individual or group claiming to be royals of the Nandom Traditional Area. Only the very dishonest amongst us will deny him of that accolade. Is it therefore surprising that some of us would do everything to paint him black in the hope that our very dull and unfruitful lives can have some shine? Isn't it true that the faintest stars get their shine in the absence of the bright ones?
Word of Advice
A word to Ambrose and those who care for the development of the people of Nandom. Please know that the people of the Nandom traditional area, and for that matter the entire Upper West, have always known they cannot expect anything from chiefs, past, present and future ones alike. They are yearning for a new kind of leadership, of which you are an example. Let not the vituperations of the idle few disturb or distract you from the task you have set yourself. Though you may never have been a general of an army, you know too well that keeping your focus is the only way to win. Keep going and posterity will write your history in glowing words. Take consolation in the fact that the holiest of prophets were stoned and sacrificed by the selfish,.
To Mr. Tierkaar and his patrons. If after this reading this free course on the history of the chieftaincy in the Nandom area and its irrelevance to the lives of people, you may choose to continue with your fabrications and misrepresentation. But if you do not hear from me again, it is not because of want of firepower, for all you have seen is but a tip of the armoury. If you get no responsible it is simply because there are more important things to do than waste time on your psychological fixations.
To the security agencies, there is a saying that if the blind man says I will hurl a rock at you, you can be absolutely sure that he has his foot on a stone. Therefore, if the Gbollu family is crying wolf about security, I would keep them under surveillance, since, as former military officers, no one can take anything for granted. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.
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