The institution of chieftaincy in Ghana has been involved in local governance of the country before the arrival of the Europeans on our soil in the 15th Century. This institution emerged from the peoples’ need to come together for security and protection.
Thus, a chief was enjoined to protect and add value to the community through civic engagement with his people. Today, we are witnessing some interaction between customary and modern local governance with “constitutional side lining” of chiefs which has led to a progressive weakening of the chieftaincy Institution with its attendant national crisis.
Our rural communities are now being abandoned, along with the traditional values which they inhabit and represent. For as long as we can remember, our local communities were governed by chiefs who were responsible for the management of their land and people – arbitrating everything from social and administrative to logistical and financial issues – and whose service was rewarded and respected accordingly.
Our chiefs would resolve issues on the local level, well before they became of national concern, being held responsible for both the failures and successes of their area. By having a chief who lives, acts and governs in the local community, the people have someone to turn to in times of trouble as well as someone who keeps them in line, making sure they adhere to the social contract and the law of the land. Not unlike the father of the house, the chief in a community would uphold our nation’s values, rules and traditions, offering comfort, advice and stability through his rule.
During my long years of public service to Ghana, I have often encountered chiefs and traditional authorities and drawn valuable lessons of leadership from them. Through official and personal interactions, I came to appreciate the critical role of chiefs in the day to day running of our country, holding communities together and serving as the immediate interface in conflict resolution in local communities.
This is why I watched in dismay as the chieftaincy was weakened, how chiefs lost their standing in our country and their ability to support themselves, and how the affects of that rippled through our nation. The loss of our nation’s chiefs’ power has resulted in social problems, a youth detached from tradition and morals, depopulation of our rural areas as well as both economic and spiritual poverty. We as a people need our traditions, they are the core of our great nation, and abandoning them means abandoning the soul of Ghana.
The chieftaincy is a carefully designed architecture and an administrative structure which has been instrumental in shaping the economic, political and social paradigm of Ghana, simply removing and replacing it with a modern western democratic structure has been a grave mistake, the consequences of which are all too evident today.
Embracing our traditions does not mean we are a backward nation or that we are stuck in our past, it means we are proud Ghanaians, reaping the benefits of millennia of traditional knowledge, unmatched by any western trends.
As I take my official steps back into Ghanaian political life, I want to do so embracing our traditions and values, drawing from my decades of experience in public service. I am convinced that we need our chiefs and that their authority and responsibility should be restored and under my leadership, this issue would have top priority.
By entering into a renewed partnership with our nation’s chiefs and giving them 20% of all revenue generated from their communities, they would be given the opportunity and responsibility to care for their people, community and local institutions and infrastructure while also being answerable to the state government.
Giving the chiefs back their status as well as a sustainable income based on overall revenue would incentivize them to make sure that their communities prosper, as the community’s success is their own success and vice versa. Through an empowerment of the chiefs we would get local solutions to national problems; such as Galamsey, roads and a variety of social problems.
A stronger chieftaincy would also have much larger socio-economic benefits as a growing and more prosperous rural landscape would stop the rampant depopulation of our countryside and see the return of commerce, schools and sustainable investment. A living chieftaincy would breathe life into our country, our entire country, and end the cyclopean focus on Accra and other big cities. All of Ghana has to live and prosper, every single life has to count!
Traditionally, our chiefs are the custodians and the embodiment of localized communities in Africa, their service and values are the collective representation of everyday people whose continued survival depends on the respect and continuation of these values.
With coming into force of Ghana’s 1992 republican constitution and subsequent subsidiary legislations, the role of chiefs has been largely reduced to the management of customary duties, most of which they are unable to properly fund as they are given little or no payment for their service. This has successfully diminished the relevance of chiefs in the governance process of our country and forced them to spend greater part of their time outside their local communities, leaving those communities rudderless and vulnerable to social and economic decay.
This constitutional fiat, places an artificial border, distancing our chiefs from contributing meaningfully to nation building. I dare say that, for Ghana to reap the true benefit of its democracy, central governments must renew its partnership with nation’s chiefs and understand the crucial role they play in co-governance.
With added responsibility, the chiefs will be expected to keep closer hold on security, commerce and social issues to afford the central government the needed support to improve on the quality of life of its people due to the proximity and relationship of the chiefs. This position of responsibility will afford the chiefs respect and result in peaceful coexistence, mindful of our rich history and beautiful traditional mosaic.
The many setbacks in Ghana’s developmental agenda can largely be associated with the alienation of chiefs from the governance structure of the country. It comes as no surprise then that the efforts to combat illegal small-scale mining menace has been derailed. To effectively implement policies that have direct impact on communities, traditional authorities must play a lead role, chiefs and traditional authorities must be placed at the center of policy initiatives.
To practically achieve this goal, successive governments need to map up a key integration plan, purposely molded with traditional authorities in mind. With this, parliament must be made to consider new legislations, having in mind the valuable contributions of chiefs. This new legislation must look closely at setting up local committees, headed by paramount chiefs of these traditional areas and a membership representation of faith leaders, divisional chiefs and sub-chiefs, whose scope of work will collaborate with local government authorities in expanding and implementing central government policies.
In return government must allocate 20% of all revenues generated locally to the chiefs for some specific development agenda for their people. This nexus will place enormous responsibility at the doorstep of traditional authorities and hold them accountable when necessary.
I was raised to not speak unless I have something important to say, and I have lived according to that creed, including in my political life, but now the time has come for me to speak, and to act. I love my country and I live in her service, to see her grow and for my fellow Ghanaians to prosper. We are a great nation with proud traditions, and rather than run from them we should embrace them and use this ancient knowledge to better govern modern times.
>>>The author has vast knowledge in public administration, he was a former Bank of Ghana Governor, former Finance minister and currently the Founder and President of Institute of Fiscal Studies Ghana. (IFS)