Mon, 13 Mar 2023 Letter

Open Letter to the incoming Yagbonwura

By Dr Sheriff A. Idriss-Yahya
Open Letter to the incoming Yagbonwura

As we prepare to celebrate your ascension to the venerable skins of Yagbon, permit me to congratulate you first, and to outline some to-dos I think you ought to attend to urgently to stencil your place in the progressive world we are in.

Tackling Indiscipline
Jirah, there is no denying the fact that the Kigbanye chalice is getting poisoned by the invisible hands of Ghana’s party politics. You only need to follow discussions on social media platforms to see for yourself how we have allowed Kigbanye to be divided by politics. So thorny is this issue to the point where we (Ngbanye) are unable to hold reasoned discussions about issues that affect us without the discourse degenerating into insults. While I remain an ardent advocate of open dialogue, my conservative upbringing reminds me that hierarchies ought to be respected even where we try to uphold the tenets of ‘democracy’. The truth is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a relatively junior member of a group disagreeing with a senior. But there is a way dissenting views can be expressed without offending: respect, and decorum. My observation is that these ingredients are now missing among the youth. And this sad situation is largely explained by the fact that opinions are no longer evaluated on their own merits but by the political pigmentation of the person who expresses such opinions: is he an NDC or NPP man? While this is largely a national issue in Ghana, it will appear that Gonjas have allowed this cancerous mole to grow and permeate every part of the Gonja body.

The result is that several years into the creation of the Savannah Region, well- intentioned groups have been created with prominent Gonjas in them and yet virtually nothing has, arguably, come out of these groups. This is because those human resource capacities like the Dr Abu Sakaras, while sitting on these groups, are probably too cautious to express their opinions on critical Gonjaland issues for fear of being attacked by “babies with venomous teeth” who go scouting for the any opportunity to vent their spleen.

Jirah, it will be too much to ask you to whip these “babies with sharp teeth” into line. However, there is an angle you can address this level of indiscipline from – whip your chiefs into line first. My creed is that “seek ye the discipline of your chiefs first, and all others shall fall in place”. That a chief (paramount, divisional, or sub) can mount a podium and openly declare his support for a political party is utterly repugnant and out of harmony with our customs and Article 276(1) of the Ghanaian constitution. And yet, over the years, our chiefs, have not only allowed politicians to sit on our skins to project their calumnious and malicious propagandas, they have been the voices of politicians in projecting same. And that, Your Royal Highness, is the indiscipline I pray you to nip in the bud.

Management of Resources
The second to-do relates to the management of our natural resources: trees, gold, and land [among others]. The fact is that land (and everything embedded in and on it) is an important resource. Infact, it is THE most important resource at our disposal and that is why we have lost lives protecting its “territorial integrity”. This presupposes that there is every reason for us to begin thinking about ways to make the best use of this resource for the benefit of present and future generations. A corollary question then is: How might we do this? Finding answers to this question can be the basis of a broad stakeholder engagement process in Gonjaland. But to kickstart the process, here is what we can do for starters:

  • Employ the services of a professional cartographer to make a map that clearly defines and delineates the boundaries of Gonjaland. Admittedly, this is a huge project that will require working with our neighbours with whom we share borders.
  • Within this map, the cartographer must also clearly delineate the areas assigned to each of your divisional areas such as Bole, and Tuluwe. That way, everyone knows who is in charge of where.
  • The Yagbonwura’s Palace must create an office to oversee the management of all resources in each of the divisional areas. Let’s call that Yagbon Resource Secretariat. This office shall be the apex body responsible for the management of every resource in Gonjaland and your (Jirah) voice and word shall be the finalis and ultimus in all matters relating to Gonjaland resources. To have any legal grounding, any resource divested in each of the divisional areas shall require your seal – a seal that will be guarded by you personally, and by all Ngbanye.
  • For each jurisdictional area, what I call a Gonjaland Development Council must be constituted. The remit of the GDCs will be to articulate visions of the future for each jurisdictional area. For example, where do we want Wasipe to in the next 20, 30, or 40 years: roads, hospitals, schools, rail lines, etc.
  • Members of this GDC shall be drawn from Gonjaland Youth Association, representatives from the Local Authority, relevant stakeholder groups, representatives from the Yagbon Resource Secretariat, and representatives from the palaces of each of the divisional areas. The head of each of these Councils shall be the paramount chief of each divisional area and he shall have the final word in all matters affecting land and other resources in his jurisdiction.
  • Proceeds from the divestiture of all natural resources must be divided into 3: One portion goes to the office of the Yagbonwura; the second portion goes to the paramount chief and the third portion goes into a sinking pot for the divisional area. The proceeds from all sinking pots from each divisional area can then be used for the development of Yagbon. I believe this is a more equitable and sustainable manner of managing our resources for current and future generations.

My intention is not to be prescriptive about the suggestions above but to help galvanize a more nuanced discussion about the institutional structures we can put in place to manage our resources. There are many benefits to be had from these structures once done. First, you, Jirah, will have a more effective involvement in the management of your kingdom and resources. My understanding is that past Yagbonwuras have had very little or no involvement in the sale and management of

Gonjaland resources. That cannot be right given that the land belongs to you. The second benefit is that, the Palace of the Overlord of Gonjaland will have a regular or near-regular flow of income. This can be used to run Yagbon. A third benefit is that the whole institution of (Gonjaland) chieftaincy will be able to stand on its own financial feet devoid of the whims and caprices of politicians whose incursions into our palaces is beginning to gnaw away the powers of our chiefs. A fourth benefit is

that the youth will get more involved in “imagineering” the future they want to live in. Recent youth unrests in Gonjaland suggest a hunger in them to be involved in the decisions that affect their future. That hunger is consistent with calls for democracy and a departure from opportunistic authoritarianism. It therefore makes sense to involve them in decision-making in the spirit of true partnership, delegation, and control.

Rebuild Nyange
The need to rebuild Nyange cannot be overemphasized. Your Highness, let’s face it, Damongo is not really the seat of Yagbon. By continuing to live in Damongo, it feels like you have effectively become a ‘tenant’ in your own house and that cannot be right. And that is why kegbanye needs to focus on rebuilding Nyange. Of course, I will be the last to suggest that the business of building a city tabula rassa is cheap. It is tremendously expensive and will take a lot of time. reBuilding a city such as Nyange will require organic momentum and sustained investments. But we will have to start from somewhere. For me, the starting point will be for us to have a discussion about what type of city we want Nyange to be. That is, we ought to start by articulating a well-defined vision of the proposed city. I have seen an artist’s impression of the proposed palace of the Yagbonwura to be built in Nyange. But a key question for me relates to where the palace sits in the grand scheme of place- making - roads, rail lines, and housing developments among other things. It is well and good to have a rendition of what our palace will look like. But it is even more important to establish a set of guiding principles for the new city: what are our aspirations for Nyange? What urban strategies might we deploy to actualise these aspirations? What features might Nyange incorporate? For example, in keeping with the modern sustainability ethos, we might aspire to build a Nyange that piques the interests of environmentalists and social justice advocates while being an economic powerhouse of the North. It is doable.

A New Constitution
While all the ideas espoused in this letter may appeal to your conscience, I am not agnostic to the fact that you need the powers to be able to do all these things. There is nothing as frustrating as your own divisional chief taking you to court over a matter and winning. That can be crippling to the very foundations of your overlordship and the powers of our skins. We don’t need that. If what we know is the truth, then the understanding is that the position of the Yagbonwura is such that he can make and unmake his divisional chiefs. When the Yagbonwura roars and growls, we must feel the reverberations across Gonjaland otherwise he becomes an acephalous leader.

And that is why a new Gonja constitution, in keeping with the constitution of Ghana is needed. That will be the capstone of everything I have mentioned in this letter and one that will strengthen not just the foundations of Yagbon, but its superstructure.

This presupposes that if you must hit the ground running, please get a working committee on the 22/03/2023 (a day after your coronation) to start working a new constitution. I will leave the finer details of what that constitution ought to address to the framers you choose.

Your Highness, the limitations of space of a single letter such as this will not allow me to add the finer fleshes to the bones of the to-do items listed above. My aim therefore is to deposit these items in your in-tray in their crystallized form to kickstart a sustained discussion of the future of Gonjaland. We, your servants, are prepared and willing to contribute to these discussions should you want us to do so.

Once again, congratulations Your Highness and long may you live.

Dr Sheriff A. Idriss-Yahya London