From G.B. Osei-Antwi, GNA Special Correspondent, Boston, USA
Boston, Nov. 8, GNA - Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, Asantehene, has stressed the need for the State to involve chiefs in its development agenda.
He noted that far from being rivals to State power, chiefs sustained and supported the State in projecting its reach to the grassroots level.
The Asantehene was delivering the "Harvard Distinguished African Address" on the theme: "Chieftaincy and Development in Contemporary Africa: The Case of Asante". He said chieftaincy should be moved from an institution that functioned at the default of State effectiveness to one that was explicating incorporated into State structures at the central and local levels.
"My main contention is that traditional authorities are obviously partners in the development process and governance in Africa that is why we are partners in progress," he said.
Otumfuo Osei Tutu said while the elected politician thought of the next election to be elected to power, the traditional ruler on the other hand looked at the numerous problems that had rendered his people poor and found solutions to them.
"It is incontrovertible that peace, education and good health are vital to any economic revitalisation plan. These are goals that are shared and promoted at the national and international levels."
The Asantehene pointed out that with the framework in place to facilitate Ashanti, "I broached my concerns about the social and economic conditions of my people to the World Bank officials in 1999.
"I charged that the practice whereby traditional rulers were left out of the planning and management of projects at the community level was wrong, and indicated that it was not in the interest of communities for government to sideline traditional leaders when it came to the management of projects."
He said: "My perseverance with the World Bank led to the establishment of the initiative now called, 'Promoting Partnership with Traditional Authorities Project (PPTAP)", where the Bank is assisting Asanteman with a grant of 4.5 million dollars to build the management capacity of chiefs, rehabilitate schools and build sanitation facilities in 41 communities.
Otumfuo Osei Tutu said his chiefs had been central in the implementation of these projects, adding that they followed the World Bank's strict rules regarding the disbursement of funds to ensure the successful implementation of the projects.
Otumfuo Osei Tutu: "My initiative as King of Asante, highlights my concern in turning the usual and often poorly organised "supply driven" approach to development to a "demand driven" one, adding this is in consonance with the World Bank's own evolving concept of good governance.
The Asantehene said Colonial Rule transformed and deformed the institution of chieftaincy, pointing out that post-colonial governments chose to marginalize chieftaincy, seeing the chief and his local community as impediment to the forging of the Nation-State and a national spirit.
In a democratic era when most of the functions of chiefs seemed to have been taken over by organs of State, is there the need for an indigenous institution that elects hereditary leaders for life? Otumfuo asked.
He said even in the pre-colonial period, the chief was not an autocrat. An electoral college chose him from a pool of eligible royals and the institution itself was based on a social contract predicated on good governance.
He said, today, it was clear that chieftaincy held great resonance for the majority of Africans, who mostly dwelled in the rural areas lightly touched by the central government.
Otumfuo Osei Tutu said he had partnered initiatives such as the chieftaincy, governance and development project at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, which had sought to provide chiefs with leadership skills and knowledge that would equip them for the contemporary challenges of good governance and development.
On chieftaincy disputes and land litigation, the Asantehene noted that disenchanted with the dilatory procedures of formal courts, "I encouraged all my chiefs with succession and land disputes to withdraw their cases from the courts and bring them to the Asantehene;s court where traditional techniques of resolution are used."
Otumfuo said since his accession, he had caused all cases that came before the traditional court to be recorded on video, adding the ability for my counsellors to review video evidence, and for vacillating witnesses to be confronted with their own video testimony, had aided the resolution of cases enormously.
He stressed that as the traditional court emphasises arbitration and not punitive sanctions, contesting parties in chieftaincy disputes have been able to return to their communities as partners in development, saying equally important was the preservation of the institutional memory of the court.
The Asantehene said his Secretariat had begun transforming the video records of court cases onto VCDs and DVDs as part of the digitisation project at the Regional House of Chiefs and the Manhyia Palace Records Office, with the assistance of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana.
Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong, Chairman of Committee on African Studies, Harvard University, chaired the lecture, which was attended by a large number of people from the academia and students of African Studies.