Governance in Ghana: The case of “the old and new wife”
Ghana has a governance system that mirrors the scenario of a husband with two wives, where the husband, wants to please both wives. But the new wife is cherished more than the old. You will be wondering who the wives are in the Ghanaian governance. I present to you the two wives of Ghana’s governance: The Chieftaincy Institution and Constitution rule (Democracy). Ghana over the years has tried to merge these two forms of governance and this combination has had its ups and downs.
Chieftaincy, the old wife who was the darling of her husband, now finds herself sidelined because there is a new wife, the Constitution. Practically, the new wife at times tries to respect the old wife but will not back down when she gets the opportunity to prove to the old wife, she is the new ‘madam’ in the house. Presently, the chieftaincy institution in Ghana principally exists for ceremonial purposes. Yes, the constitution recognises their influence and control over land, but what else? All that chiefs can do now is to lobby for developments. Their control over the populace has dwindled. This takes me back to the 2016 elections where chiefs pledged a certain percentage of votes for candidates, but after the election, the populace decided otherwise, indicating a paradigm shift from the olden days. Like the old wife who used to be the ‘madam’ in the house, chiefs no longer wield the power they used to have, the new wife Constitution has that power. Thus, relegating chiefs to advisory roles.
The basic feature of democracy is the involvement of the people in the selection of their leaders and accountability. The chieftaincy institution is the very opposite of this feature. Chiefs are not elected, and the position is not open to everybody. When it comes to accountability, politicians are accountable to the people who elect them into offices, but who does the chief account to? Who questions the chief? Politicians are berated in the media space every day but questioning a chief can be regarded as disrespectful. Given the basic principles of democracy and chieftaincy, the compatibility of the two is difficult to comprehend. Chiefs are not expected to provide schools, fix roads and provide other amenities in their communities since the people will demand that from the politicians. So, what do they do? Are they only there for festivals? I am just asking.
I remember in my ‘Asante Twi’ class in Junior High School, the chieftaincy institution was a full governing body, with security, legislative, financial, judicial and executive positions. I ask, what is the function of the “Adontehene” in the Akan chieftaincy setup now? (Adontehene is the one who goes in front of the army. This is one of the four positions describing military flanks). There are many chiefs whose functions are currently obsolete. Unfortunately, chieftaincy issues have been the source of misunderstandings and conflicts in some parts of the country lately which does not contribute anything good to the country but rather derail development in those areas.
As the husband, may find it difficult to let go of the first wife because of the contributions she made to his success, Ghana does not seem ready to let go of the Chieftaincy institution, thus measures must be taken to make it effective. Making the chiefs effective will portend well for the development of this country since they are relatively closer to the grassroots. This article is not to disparage any form of governance, because democracy has not been perfect. This is to set the scene for future discussions on how the chieftaincy institution can be reformed and transformed to provide a better service to the country.
The husband (Ghana) must create an environment that will utilise the potential of the wives accommodatingly or be bold and choose one of the wives (Chieftaincy and Constitution).
God help and bless Ghana
Gideon Kwame Otchere
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