Tradition as a process-oriented phenomenon, is made up of actions that connect the present with the past. This dynamic process births a very intriguing concept within mainly the African setting today: traditional authorities. Such authorities have existed as the institutions, powers, or permissions in either centralized or segmented societies, which tend to draw their legitimacy either wholly or partially from tribal, ethnic, or cultural values of a group of people that share them. Legitimacy is thus rooted in history and culture, with most recent additions noted to include the citizens they govern and the State within which they exist. Eminently, most of these authorities have come to be recognized by both the communities ruled and the secular State, which allows them to exercise various levels of influence.
The introduction of the term ‘secular State’ advances the evident notion of a ‘different’ form of authority, whose development is associated mainly to an emancipatory thrust: modernity. Within Africa, this thrust is noted within two distinct spheres: scientific and technological advancements; and political development. With a focus on the latter, Wallerstein (1995, p.472) mentions “modernity of liberation”, denoted to encompass the development of political institutions that shift from authoritarian rule to various forms of governance that enhance the liberty and welfare of all citizens, and not just a select few. The form of governance widely adopted towards attaining these features over the years has been democracy. Democracy as we know it represents the type of governance where those who govern obtain the power to do so through the means of a free, fair, and competitive contest for the people’s mandate. Eminently, competition, participation, civil and political liberties, and legitimacy of the electoral process as key elements of democratic States. For ‘democratic authorities’, legitimacy is grounded in elections, and generally embedded in constitutional and legal procedures, as well as rules.
The discussion so far presents modernity and tradition as two distinct components that possess differing sub-units especially within the political sphere. As differing as they appear, both concepts eminently exist within a sphere of differing normative dictates, as to the relevance and compatibility or otherwise of both concepts. Whiles some schools of thought believe that both old and new cultures, with their respective structures, imbibe the capacity to exist without conflict and within a context of mutual adaptations, others believe incompatibility is the order of the day. With the latter, a complete break off from either traditional structures and cultures, or the modern variants, is necessary especially in the attempt to address contemporary African problems.
Regardless of these normative dictates, it is eminent that African States today are presented with what Mamdani (1996) refers to as the ‘bifurcated State’, where two forms of authority persist. The nature of such interaction however varies, sometimes producing harmony and in others chaos between traditional and democratic authorities. Both instances inform two major debates: The first notes that tradition and its political institutions are incompatible with democratization; whiles another holds that some kind of co-existence could persist within the African context. A third notion however persists, noted mainly to present the somewhat utopian idea that traditional authorities should replace State actors. Nonetheless, the myriad of traditional authorities within a single African State presents a major flaw to the idea.
With a focus on the 4th Ghanaian republican context, this article basically presents the findings of a study conducted to explore tradition and modernity, with specific focus on chieftaincy within the aforementioned context. The study mainly focused on exploring the interrelation between chiefs and the modern political institutions in Ghana, as well as the impact of such interaction on the socio-economic development of Ghana.
The study identified that in the current democratic Ghanaian dispensation, the 1992 Constitution, specifically the Article 270 provides for the autonomy of Chiefs from State intrusion as well as abolition. Although the constitution recognizes chiefs with respect to their power, responsibilities, and legitimacy, they are barred from taking any part in partisan politics. Nonetheless, the State endeavors to integrate modern democracy with the persisting traditional authority.
In the year 2005, a Ministry of Chieftaincy and Traditional Affairs was for instance created and later renamed the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs with the goal of harnessing, developing, and maximizing the utilization of Chieftaincy and Traditional assets and values to serve as a basis for wealth creation and socio-cultural empowerment (GoG, 2017). The Chieftaincy Act 2008 (Act 759) was also promulgated to delineate the nature, countenance, and expected outlook and disposition of the office of traditional authorities. One can ascertain from these provisions and institutions that, 4th Republican governments have identified that Chiefs can frustrate or sabotage government policy, as such it is necessary to apply tact and handle interactions with them diplomatically.
The offices of the traditional authorities have also proven themselves over the years as viable and cooperative political actors within the 4th Ghanaian republic. For instance, within the confines of governance with specific focus on land administration and management, chiefs have played major roles. The activities in this role are conducted in tandem with the Land Commission and Office of the Administration of Stool Lands, which are both institutions of the democratic structure in Ghana.
Chiefs also contribute towards development, a component witnessed within the confines of the concept ‘developmental chiefs’ (Aggrey-Darkoh & Asare, 2016). As developmental chiefs, traditional authorities intervene directly in the development of their traditional areas and beyond, through various in-grown initiatives that ultimately fill spaces in the socio-economic development gap of their communities.
Aside envisaged roles towards the attainment of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), through resolution of disputes, promotion of inclusive societies through festivals, and provision of alternative forms of justice, chiefs in Ghana have over the years contributed to development through the establishment of various foundations, funds, and communal labour and development initiatives. Examples of such initiatives by these chiefs include the Otumfuo Education Trust Fund, Togbe Afede Scholarship Scheme, Okyehene Environmental Foundations, the Ga Educational Endowment Fund, the Kwahu Educational Fund, the Tema Education Fund. Chiefs are also identified to play significant role in sustaining development especially at the rural and local levels in Ghana.
The relevance of chiefs at the local level has even led to the conceptualization of their office as the nucleus around which micro-administration of the Ghanaian society is effectively carried out. Their role as this nucleus is what Tieleman and Uitermark (2019) refer to as ‘local gatekeepers’, where chiefs are noted to serve as overseers and mediators between formal institutions of the State and residents of their jurisdiction.
Despite these benefits to the current democratic dispensation in Ghana, as well as the somewhat synergy between traditional authority and the modern variant, there persists various challenges and criticisms mainly against traditional authorities. Such criticisms pertain to the litany of intra-ethnic conflicts largely fueled by chieftaincy and land disputes, the inability to abstain from politics as the constitution prescribes, and the failure of the chieftaincy institution to deal decisively with debilitating issues. These criticisms have largely informed the conclusion by several individuals that chieftaincy is anachronistic and as such serves as a hindrance to the development and transformation of the country.
The 4th Republican Ghana nonetheless emerges as one that identifies and protects dearly the chieftaincy institution. The outplay of the tradition-modernity intersect within this sphere also provides vivid evidence of the capability of tradition and modernity to adapt and develop together, creating harmony and pursuing the development of the State. Thus, although the bifurcated State has its own flaws, it has very visible strengths that can be capitalized upon to promote the evolution and socio-economic development of the African state.
Ghana has capitalized on some of these strengths, but there also exist evident areas that could be employed to boost development and promote democracy itself through grassroots participation. First, there is a need for the democratic government to institute measures towards dealing mainly with the discrepancies and negative extremities that arise out of the management of land by the chiefs. There is also the need to clearly define the roles of local government structures as well as those of the Chiefs in local governance.
This can be done by streamlining the local governance structure in tandem with the National House of Chiefs to enable fluid interrelation between local governance structures and the local chiefs. There is a need to further invigorate the efforts of the National House of Chiefs to build their capacity specifically in conflict prevention and management through adoption of training schemes guided by the judiciary, as well as incorporation of Queen Mothers into activities. Also, incorporating the chieftaincy-court-mechanism into the judicial system of Ghana will go a long way in meeting access to justice for majority of the citizens within the country, especially for those in rural areas.
This would also make alternative local dispute resolution a reality, as well as make conflict resolution much cheaper and efficient. Finally, there is a need to reinforce and implement the Code of Royal Ethics for chiefs to ensure and promote ethical behavior by these institutions as they interrelate with modern democratic institutions as well as the people they are accountable to. This would require a stringent effort by the National House of Chiefs, with support from the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Religious Activities.
The author is the Registrar of the Volta Regional House of Chiefs, Ho.
Columnist: Harry Attipoe