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Whither Traditional Governace - By Prof. J.K Anquandah

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  Whither Traditional Governace - By Prof. J.K Anquandah Print  
A Tradtitional Ruler  

THE Gold Coast, over which Great Britain installed its colonial administration around AD 1900, was not a land without rule and rulers. On the contrary, all the numerous diverse ethnic groups that occupied the country at the time possessed some form of traditional political system, whether "centralized", "acephalous", or "theocratic".

That fact was well-known to the various European nations which had trade and diplomatic relations with the local ethnic groups during the four centuries preceding the establishment of colonial administration


Wherever the story is told of Ghanas heroes and heroic deeds, traditional rulers certainly have a prominent place in the early European written histories and in the oral histories chanted, spoken, or drummed by Ghanaian ethnic groups, traditional rulers always feature prominently in the heroic deeds connected with migrations, foundations of settlements and chiefdoms, empire building, establishment of plantations, industries, and trade networking, patronage of arts and crafts and wars of defence and offence.

Indeed, as early as the 15th century, Portuguese visitors to Edina (Elmina) and its environs reported encounters with rulers of centralized political systems, having cultural manifestations in the form of stools, drums, ivory trumpets, state swords and military accoutrements.

Diego dAzambuja, the Portuguese captain who, in 1482, established diplomatic relations with the Edinahene, Nana Kwamena Ansah, recorded with singular amazement the scene of regal pomp and pageantry:

The kings arms and legs were covered with chains and trinkets of gold in many shapes and countless bells and large beads were hanging from the hair of his beard and head.

The six centuries (AD 1200-1800) were times when many traditional rulers spearheaded the great acts of state foundation. A few outstanding examples merit mention here

  A Traditional Leader
  1. The Bono chiefs Asaman and Akumfi Ameyaw I.
2. The Fante chieftains Obonoman Kuma, Osono and Odapagyan.
3. The Atara Firam Guan dynasty of Atebubu and Gyaneboafo Kingdom.
4. The long line of royal statesmen of Adanse and Asante, including Oti Akenten, Obiri Yeboa, Osei Tutu, Opoku Ware, Osei Kwadwo, Osei Kwame, Osei Bonsu, etc.
5. Denkyiras multi-millionaire King, Boa Amponsem, nicknamed Great Amponsem who uses gold jewellery only once.
6. The Sakyiama Tenten dynasty founders of the Akuapem State.
7. The Sri Adeladza Ewe dynasty of Anlo Awoemefia.
8. The La Nimo dynasty of Shai and Konors of Kroboland, builders of the Dangme kingdoms.
9. The royal heroes Tohajie, Kpogonumbo, Sitobo and Yentaure, founders of the Dagomba, Mamprusi, Gonja and other centralized states of Northern Ghana.

The mammoth anti-colonial challenge mounted against Great Britain during the struggle for independence was, in fact, initiated by chiefs, and the intelligentsia and the working class got involved later.

The protest movement against the Poll Tax and the movement for the Aborigines Rights Protection were inspired by chiefs. Fante traditional rulers such as King Aggrey, King Aidoo and King Otoo were the first to call for the nullification of the Bond of 1844 and for the establishment of an independent sovereign state.

Nii Kwabena Bonne II, Ga chief of Osu-Alata, spearheaded the boycott of colonial shops and goods that sparked off mass riots which in turn led to the formulation of a new constitution and eventually paved the way for the grant of limited self-government in the 1950s.

Nana Ofori Attah I, King of Akyem Abuakwa, was the most colourful and politically articulate Ghanaian royal in the few decades preceding the grant of independence. He gave tremendous boost to traditional rule in Ghana and when he visited Britain in the early 1940s, he was accorded great respect and a dignified welcome. Since independence similar ovations and tumultuous receptions have been given to the kings of Asante, in particular, Otumfuo Opoku Ware II and Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, during their visits to the capitals of Europe and the U.S.A.

Notwithstanding the pomp, pageantry, glory and heroism associated with royalty in Ghana, for some time since independence, traditional rule appears to have lost a measure of its dignity and image on account of the persistence of disputes related to the office of chiefship. In some cases such disputes have resulted in serious internecine conflicts, battles, riots and even deaths

In the midst of such occasional confusion and traditional political instability, some people have been asking questions as to the real nature, worth and essence of traditional governance in Ghana? Is there justification for the maintenance of this aspect of our culture?

In pre-colonial times, the Ghanaian scene witnessed three types of traditional ruler. Firstly, there were priests or theocratic rulers who served as overseers of village clans and lineages.

Secondly, there was rule by wielders of centralized political authority according to graduated levels of power and functional specialization (e.g. paramount chief, divisional chief, palace functionary etc.)

Thirdly, some societies combined secular centralized political authority with priestly authority. Notwithstanding these varieties and degrees of authority exercised, the British colonial administration thought it convenient to give an all-purpose label or designation of CHIEF to all traditional rulers in Ghana

Studies on the evolutionary history of traditional governance show that in the early stages of traditional political development the overseer of society was probably a traditional priest. From pre-colonial times until the late 19th century this type of rule held sway in certain segmented societies in northern Ghana, such as the Bulsa, Dagare, Moba, Konkomba, Namnam, Nankani, Tallensi and Wuna, and also perhaps among the Guan, Ga and Dangme societies of southern and middle Ghana. In northern Ghanaian societies, such priests were known as Tengdana, Tindana or Tengyono.

The Tengdana was head of the first family that settled in every new village. Only he knew, and was known, to the ancestral spirits and the earth deities. He acted as patriarchal overseer. He allocated lands to new settlers and collected from them tithe offerings and sacrifices.

He mediated between tenants and the earth deities and served as Justice of the Peace who settled disputes. He could appoint Tengdana to new clan villages and on his death, he was succeeded by his son. Evidently, such theocratic or priestly overseers were not formal rulers.

They had no law and no courts and they had to rely on spiritual sanctions derived from the earth deities and ancestral spirits who alone could bestow fertility, longevity and prosperity or drought, famine and death.

With the passage of time, and as society grew and became diversified in function, it was feared that if the priest involved himself in such mundane affairs as trade, politics, foreign and diplomatic affairs, he could lose his spiritual power, become desecrated and incur the wrath of the ancestors.

Thus in some societies, such as the Dangme and Ga, from the 16th century onwards, there emerged a secular ruler called Mantse or Mangtse, who complemented the spiritual work of the Wulomo or Wotse. Until the mid-1800s, this dual authority operated among the Dangme Shai living in the eastern Accra plains.

In Asante, the Chief Priest of the Patakro shrine is believed to exercise some spiritual authority similar to that of the Archbishop of Canterbury vis--vis the English monarch. Currently, in theory, Nana Bonsam, Priest Chief of Patakro Cathedral Shrine provides from the River Bona water of purification or Bonasuo which is conveyed once a year to cleanse various chiefdoms in Asante.

For the centralized political system, leaders are selected at the Village level (Odekuro), at the Divisional level (Ohene), and at the State level (Omanhene). These political; offices are symbolized in Southern Ghana by Stools and in Northern Ghana by Skins, which are vested in royal clans.

All Ghanaian kingmakers are always concerned to ensure that occupants of stools or skins are men of good character. The Akan choose their chiefs primarily on the basis of matrilineal inheritance and succession. The queen mother advises on who the best candidate is, after due consultation with clan elders. In case there are several candidates eligible from the matrilineage, the principle of election is applied. In some northern Ghanaian societies, kingmakers nominate three candidates and present their names to a Priest for selection of the chief.

Elmina customary law related to traditional governance is believed to be unique in Akanland, Edinaman is viewed as a military state. Hence its Asafo companies constitute the kingmakers. The Enyampa No. 7 Asafo Company is responsible for conducting a search for a candidate when there is a vacancy in Paramount chieftaincy in Edinaman.

The candidate must satisfy all requirements before his candidature can be submitted by Enyampa Asafo for approval by all the Asafo companies.

The qualifications include the following: Membership of Nsona or Anona clan; membership of Enyampa No. 7 Asafo company; membership by patrilineal inheritance of the Nkondwa cult of the Ahenewa section; and the candidate must be a direct son of a former Omanhene and also a son of the chiefs wife who sat in a palanquin at the outdooring of the former Omanhene.

In considering the process of selection and enstoolment of chiefs one needs to take into account the World-view of Ghanaian societies. For instance, the Akan world-view sees a clan as comprising both living and dead members.

In fact, to the Akan, the chief does not die as such. He is merely translated to the spiritual homeland of the ancestors. These ancestors in the spiritual world are believed to participate and intervene in the affairs of the early society. The ancestors are called Nananom Nsamanfo or spiritual patriarchs.

The reigning Chief/King is also, in a sense, an ancestor, even while alive hence his title Nana or grandfather. Moreover, the reigning monarch is regarded as the vital intermediary connecting the living and the spiritual ancestors.

His office is, to an extent, a SACRED one. Apart from such secular functions as adjudicating in legal matters and apportionment of clan lands held in trust from the ancestors, he had to perform various religious ceremonies such as are required at the festivals of Odwira, Ohum, Afahye, Bakatue, Aboakyer, Tedudu, etc.

These spiritual ceremonies are believed to facilitate harmony between the living clansmen on the one hand, and the spiritual ancestors and earth deities, on the other.

Thus, the Ghanaian chief, irrespective of his religious, ideological, education, and economic background, is obliged, by dint of his office, to perform sacrificial, purificatory and other ritual functions associated with the royal office.

This peculiar status and function of the chief is reflected in the ceremony connected with his enstoolment. An Akan chief is enstooled in a secret ceremony in the stool-room where the blackened or ritually-preserved stools of previous clan stool-holders or occupants are kept.

The kingmakers hold the chief elects arms and his waist, slowly lower him, and make his buttocks, three times, touch lightly the blackened stool of the renowned ancestor whose name he has adopted as a stool-name.

This act is believed to bring the chief into peculiarly close spiritual contact with his ancestral predecessor, and hence to consecrate his person. Henceforth, he is Nana, and he is sacred. He is not permitted to strike anyone. And except for the rare case in a million when a chief has to be destooled, no one can hit him or let his buttocks or naked feet touch the ground, as such acts can desecrate the chief. If such misfortunes should happen to an Akan chief, sacrifices will have to be made to avert the wrath of the ancestors.

At the ceremony of enstoolment, the Magna Carta of Akan Democracy was intoned:

Tell Nana, we will not tolerate greed,
We will not tolerate corruption
We do not wish that he should curse us
Nor that his ears should be closed to wise counsel;
Neither should be insult us and say
You are fools;
Nor should he act arbitrarily without due consultation;
We do not wish that he should ever
Be heard saying:
I have no time, I have no time;
We do not wish personal attacks;
We abhor violence of any form;
Let Nana pay heed to these admonitions.

Most Ghanaian societies hate to contemplate the destoolment of a chief. The Akan have been compelled to resort to destoolment only rarely and then in very dire circumstances, such as when a 19th century Akan king was alleged to have plundered an ancestral royal site for its treasure.

In recent times, the erstwhile authority vested in traditional rulers has been considerably reduced so that they are now but a shadow of their former status. Chiefs have played some role in Central Government in the past and also currently, especially as members of the Council of State, etc. However, it is in the sector of Local Government at the district levels that they have been most effective.

A number of questions are posed by the subject of traditional governance.

* What role, if any, should traditional rulers be permitted to play in present day and future Ghana?

* Should the chief be employed as an officer of Central Government at the district level where he is well-known and commands respect, and where, culturally-speaking, he is a round peg in a round hole, a local representative of his living lineage as well as the ancestors?

* Should the chief be given a place in a national multi-party democracy to play a positive role in national political and development?

Prior to Ghanas independence, when a national constitution was being formulated, the issue of the future of chieftaincy was hotly debated. Indeed, some politicians of the time treated chiefs with some indignity by taunting them with threats like chiefs will run away and leave their sandals behind...

In 1949, Sir Justice Henley Coussey Chairman of the Coussey Committee wrote: The whole institution of chieftaincy is so closely bound up with the life of our communities that its disappearance would spell disaster. Chiefs, and what they symbolize in our society, are so vital that the subject of their future must be approached with the greatest caution. No African is without some admiration for the least aspect of chieftaincy and we would all hate to do violence to it any more than the social values embodied in the institution itself.

In 1977, contributing to a debate on the future of traditional governance in Ghana, Justice Nii Amaa Ollenu observed: In the present political and social system of Ghana, the chief, in his official capacity, cannot reasonably aspire to an office in National Central Government Administration because a chief is an elected representative of his people and his place is among his people. Even in local administration, which, to be viable, generally comprises an area of more than one traditional authority, chieftaincy cannot hope to be supreme it cannot operate exclusively, but always in conjunction with persons elected by popular vote, or persons appointed by the state, as the case may be.

To conclude, the establishment of Western-type democratic political system at the time of Ghanas independence led to the gradual eclipse of indigenous forms of governance. However, since independence the political pendulum has swung from one shade of governance to another. The Ship of state has been subjected to buffeting and turbulence at the hands of various military regimes NLC, NRC, AFRC PNDC, etc. The new-fangled one-party-state system and the various military regimes have come and gone. Traditional governance is still with us! Recently, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of democratic governance under the Fourth Republican Constitution. This

Constitution is characterized by traits originating from both Western-type democracy and traditional Ghanaian culture so that, for instance, currently, we not only have a President of the Republic of Ghana, but also have a President of the National House of Chiefs.

The inevitable conclusion is obvious: Traditional rule in Ghana is considerably shorn of its former political authority and much of its prestige and economic wealth. But not only does it survive today, it indeed remains the GEM in Ghanaian culture.

Chieftaincy, because it is linked to the network of many traits within traditional cultural system, constitutes the very lynch-pin of Ghanaian culture. If there are cases of corruption, impropriety, and ethnic disputes associated with traditional governance, there should be appropriate and legitimate ways of removing such shortcomings so that chieftaincy should not merely survive but also be consolidated.

If we choose to bring any harm upon the edifice of traditional rule, not only it but also all the colourful cultural traits with which it is associated, will come tumbling down thrones and shrines, courts and palaces, councils of elders and commoners alike, durbars and festivals, regalia, visual arts, verbal arts, performance arts, crafts, religious ceremonies and rites.

It is not without reason that the celebrated king of 17th century France, Louis XIV, said of royalty; Le mtier du Roi est grand, noble et delicieux the profession of a king is not only splendid, it is also noble and enjoyable. Long live traditional rule in Ghana.

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Topic starter Posted : 18/08/2018 9:28 pm
Kwadwo Tòkunbọ̀ says Blacktastic

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