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General News | May 23, 2004

Editorial: A look at absentee and honorary Chieftaincy system in Ghana

Ghanaian News Canada

We are compelled to draw the attention of our readers and all stake-holders in Ghana's development to two disturbing trends in the institution of chieftaincy. First, is the conferring of chieftaincy titles on foreigners by certain communities in Ghana. Second is with respect to the increasing trend whereby people who are installed as chiefs prefer to take permanent residence abroad and rule their communities away from home.

Over the past several years, a number of foreigners, mainly American and some European visitors to certain parts of Ghana have had chieftaincy titles bestowed on them. It is difficult to figure out the origin or how this conferment of chieftaincy titles on foreigners began in Ghana. But our recollections show that they came to prominence around some coastal villages in the Central Region of Ghana where people conferred chieftaincy titles on some visiting white foreigners. They usually made them "Nkosoohene" (sub-chiefs for development).

The towns and villages who started conferring these titles were hoping that the foreigner, having been made an honorary citizen of the town or village, would bring in money, material or other resources to assist in the town/village's development . But in most cases the visiting White foreigner merely regarded this show for what it really is: a form of high-drama entertainment that they ran into during their three-week vacation in the sun on Africa's West Coast. No-one ever hears again from the newly-minted chiefs after they leave Ghana at the end of their vacations.

We believe that in most cases, their only memories of these "incidents" are the photographs they took during their "enstoolments". What started then as minor incidents (similar to what people cynically refer to as "Kaakaamotobi" chieftaincy enstoolment practice in North America), have now become a growing trend in the institution of chieftaincy in Ghana. And the practice is fast spreading across the country, especially in the south..

Our apprehension is that it has the potential of devaluing the revered institution of chieftaincy in Ghana. Despite the fact that these "enstoolments" of visiting foreigners have produced virtually no benefits to those towns and villages that have embarked on the practice, more and more towns/villages are embracing the practice. It has now shifted to African-Americans who visit Ghana and claim to have traced their heritage and ancestral lineage to certain parts of the country.

While we should do all we could to encourage our African-American brethren to come back and reconnect to their roots, it is high time we realized that chieftaincy revolves around royalty and royal lineage and not anyone is enthroned a chief or King. It therefore becomes disturbing when chieftaincy titles are being dished out on such a magnanimous scale. The practice demeans and ridicules the noble institution and makes chieftaincy lose its significance. .

Equally disturbing and worthy of note is the practice of "Overseas-resident-absentee Chiefs". In times past, chiefs were supposed to be the leaders of their towns/villages, always available for consultations, direction and leadershipThe institution in traditional perspective is to, among others, adjudicate, sit in splendor to receive homage from the people, take crucial decisions to resolve conflicts, initiate development projects, etc. Above all, the chief is the commander-in-chief of the traditional authority.

Over the past forty years or so, attention shifted to installing "educated" people as chiefs and queens. This was to take advantage of their "expert" knowledge for development purposes. The quest for "educated" candidates for chiefs makes sense and these days it is difficult to find illiterate chiefs anywhere in Ghana. As most of these "educated" chiefs work outside their towns and villages of origin, they have all become absentee chiefs who only make weekend or monthly visits to their areas of jurisdiction.

Our concern with absentee chiefs now stem from a new trend where overseas-resident Ghanaians are also grabbing chieftaincy titles left, right and center. It is uncomfortable and unproductive for chiefs to be away from their posts for weeks or months while working in other parts of the country. But it becomes even more disturbing when Chiefs live thousands of miles away in overseas countries and make only yearly visits to their chiefdoms. Where then is the leadership they are expected to provide? We call on our readers and Ghanaians generally to ponder and reflect on these trends in our revered institution of chieftaincy. They are disturbing.

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