ï¿½ ï¿½ï¿½ In pre-colonial Ghana the chieftaincy institution formed the framework via which the functions of the three branches of contemporary government—executive, legislature, and judiciary—were carried out. Chiefs, with the assistance of their council of elders and advisors, presided over the state and protected the people from aggressive forces; made laws and ensured their enforcement; and arbitrated in disputes among citizens. In short, chiefs were the CEOs of the land. However, things began to change when the first European settlers arrived, as they tried to reduce the powers and influence of chiefs in order to set up their own forms of administration.
In the years following Independence, indigenous governments also acted to diminish the authority of the chiefs in attempt to centralize and consolidate their own power. Today, chieftaincy in Ghana has mostly been reduced to a symbolic institution. Many chiefs have become mere custodians of traditional lands, and subsequently have become embroiled in land disputes. (Some chiefs have even become notorious for selling the same piece of lands to many different buyers, and this results in endless court litigations.) But the case of the contemporary chieftaincy affairs in Ghana is not all gloomy—the Ashanti Kingdom stands tall among the rest as a cultural group that has its chieftaincy institutions almost intact after several centuries of existence.
A few weeks ago the Ashanti Kingdom in Ghana celebrated the tenth anniversary of the ascension of its King, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, to the Golden Stool (as the Ashanti royal seat is referred to as). It was indeed a colorful and culturally rich event that befitted a people as great and proud as the Ashanti. The week-long celebration culminated in a grand durbar at the Baba Yara Sport Stadium in Kumasi, and it was attended by everyone that mattered in the Ghanaian society—from President to the down-trodden. Some ex-Presidents of other countries were also present at the ceremony, and they included: Festus Mugai of Botswana, Tejan Kaba of Sierra Leone, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, and Jerry John Rawlings of Ghana.
In modern day Ghana the chieftaincy institution faces many problems. In many traditional areas in Ghana, the legitimacy of the successors to many stools are being disputed, because more than one faction believe their favorite ought to be crowned. In the Northern part of the country, there have been civil conflicts over a number of years over who should be king in some areas. Under Ghana’s constitution, chiefs are explicitly barred from active politics, and are required by law to give up their thrones before participating in politics. Yet some chiefs are known to be actively involved in politics, despite the laws dictating otherwise.
It is thus refreshing that the Asante king is one that is above this fray and has initiated a number of important social programs, chief (no pun intended) among them is a multi-million dollar education project that caters for the education of both Ashantis and non-Ashantis alike. One can only hope that the other chiefs stop their unnecessary acts that bring chieftaincy into disrepute, and rather emulate attention to Osei Tutu’s example. Only then can this once-great tradition of the Ghanaian culture be accorded the proper respect and recognition that it deserves.