As one South African writer, Peter Abrahams wrote in his novel, ‘TELL FREEDOM’ that; “There is the need to write and to tell freedom.” Likewise I find it necessary to write and to tell freedom about some social injustices going on in Ghanaian society including our chieftaincy institution.During his official visit to Ghana, President Obama of United States of America said one important thing that I always take note of it. He said, “Africans need to build strong institutions, rather than building strong personalities.” Instead of our media focusing on how to strengthen our institutions including chieftaincy institutions, our media are found of projecting, praising and even idolizing some individual personalities including some chiefs or kings. Some media practitioners see certain personalities as gods and as a result they do not see anything wrong with their action or inaction. Sycophancy has become the order of the day as far as Ghanaian media is concern. If you do not dance to their tune, you are sidelined or relegated to the backyard. For democracy to succeed in Africa we need compromise and tolerance. At the same time, we need frank, dynamic and courageous people who are not afraid to make public denunciation of social injustices and champion the cause of the oppressed.According to Marxist conflict theory approach, power belongs to those who control the means of production. In this modern era, power belongs to those who control the means of communication. No wonder media is now the forth organ of state. However media is like a gun. If a gun is in the hand of right person, it can be used to defend and protect the people. On the otherhand, if a gun finds its way into the hand of a wrong or a wicked person the consequence would be tyranny. For this reason, media must be fair and circumspect in our presentation or dissemination of information to the public
It is very sad and pathetic that the Daily Graphic editorial (20th January 2015) used favoritism technique as a vehicle to drive home his message. The question is; ‘Is Asantehene becoming an absolute monarch?’ This question may be seen as a rhetorical question, because in most monarchical regimes the kings or the rulers used to have ‘absolute powers.’ Since power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely certain societies found it imperative to put certain measures or mechanism in place to check the excessive powers of some monarchs. As a result, some absolute monarchs have evolved into ‘constitutional monarchs’. In this case, there are two main types of monarchy namely, absolute monarch and constitutional monarch. In the constitutional monarchs, there are rules and regulations that limit the powers of a king. Examples are the British monarch and Lesotho monarch. These monarchs only perform ceremonial functions. Conversely in the absolute monarchy, the king or the ruler has unlimited powers that make him more powerful. One typical example is the monarchy of Swaziland in Southern Africa. Apart from these two, there are other monarchs which are mixture of both absolute monarchy and constitutional monarchy. Examples are kings of Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen etc.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, with the emergence of republican states and modern government, these monarchs or traditional rulers have turned into tribal heads. Examples are Zulu king of South Africa, Asante king of Ghana, Mossi king of Burkina Faso, Baganda king of Uganda, Oyo king of Nigeria, Kikuyu king of Kenya etc. These kings do not have absolute powers like their counterparts in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen and Swaziland who control the entire country or like British Queen who is the head of state of Britain, Canada and Australia.
However these kings or traditional rulers are held in high esteem and are highly respected by their tribesmen and even beyond. Even though the constitution is always silent about their role and their powers, however their words carry weight in their respective countries. Moreover, there are customs, traditions, conventions and usages that spell out their functions and powers within their kingdoms. Since I am a Ghanaian, it is necessary for me to use Asante king (Asantehene) as my case study. Asante Nation is known as Asanteman. Asantehene is the head of Asanteman. Asanteman is a confederacy of different states or traditional areas with each state having its leader known as Omanhene or Paramount Chief. The irony of this situation is the apparent fact that Asantehene is also Omanhene (Paramount Chief) of Kumasi state or traditional area. Each of the Amanhene is autonomous and is the ruler of his state. However, all the Paramount chiefs within Asanteman owe allegiance to Asantethene who is the occupant of the golden stool. In this case, the relationship between Asantehene and other paramount chiefs of Asanteman is like the relationship between the Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers in the parliamentary system of government in Britain. Prime Minister (the first among equals)who is the leader of government business is also a member of parliament of a particular constituency like his colleague ministers of state. In view of this, it is wrong for ‘The Ghanaian Times’ (16th January 2015) reporter to describe the paramount chiefs of Asanteman as Asantehene subjects. The chiefs are not Asantehene’s subjects. They are his colleague chiefs or kings who have accepted him as the life President of Asanteman. It is also like the relationship between Archbishop and his colleague Bishops. Archbishop is the leader of college of bishops. In this case, the relationship between archbishop and bishops is not like clergy and laity relationship. Archbishop and bishops are all members of a clergy.
Anyway allegiance is a personal relationship between the occupants of two stools whereby the inferior acknowledges the authority of the superior over him. However with the allegiance, there are customs, traditions and rules that limit the powers and functions of Asantehene on the other states. This situation goes with ‘checks and balances’ to prevent arbitrary rule. Our forefathers understand this principle of human nature; that is ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. For this reason, our forefathers had put on certain measures or mechanisms to limit the powers of traditional leaders. For instance in Akan society, a king or a chief is under a family head (AbusuaPanyin) of a family that he belongs to. This is another ‘checks and balances to avoid dictatorial rule.
Even though Asanteman is a confederacy, it is similar to federal system of government. In federalism power is shared between the federal (central) government and the states (regional bodies). In a similar situation, power is shared between Asantehene and other states of Asanteman. Even though Asantehene is overlord of Asantemancertaian powers have been reserved for the authorities of other states. Even within the states certain powers are reserved for the Sub-chiefs who are under the paramount chiefs. For instance in the United States of America the President is the final authority. However the President cannot take certain decisions oncertaion matters in other states. Such decisions are reserved for the authorities within each state. Likewise the power to install or des-stool a chief within Akan society including Asanteman is solely rested on the people within each traditional area. Surprisingly, Asantehene recently has started using his powers to de-stool some chiefs within Asanteman. At the moment, he has gone to the extent of installing some chiefs. Kumawu case is typical example.
According to ‘The Ghanaian Times’ (16th Jan. 2015) BarimaSarfoTweneboaKoduah (Dr. Yaw Sarfo) was installed the paramount chief of Kumawu on 30th October 2014 and swore the oath of allegiance to Asantehene at the Manhyia Palace on 3rd November 2014. However the Aduanahene, Nana KwasiBaffoe and Akyempimhene Nana okyereKrapah insisted that Dr. sarfo is in imposition who they would never accept. They contended that, the election and installation of the Kumawuhene had by tradition remained the exclusive preserve of the king makers of Kumawu and nobody can alter it. As a result, the three chiefs and other elders of Kumawu on 12th January 2015 installed a new paramount chief in the person of BarimaTweneboahkoduahiv. In a reaction to this action, Asantehene declared that, the golden stool is the biggest and fiercestof all stools in the kingdom which therefore makes him the occupant, the final authority. In a similar situation, some years ago, Dormaahene used his own power to install a chief at Wamfie, the capital of Dormaa West District in BrongAhafo Region. The inhabitants of Wamfie resisted and the dispute had continued for so many years and up till now there is no chief at Wamfie. It is true that the golden stool is the final authority of Asanteman. Likewise in the United States, the President is the final authority. The President can veto the bill pass by parliament (congress). However two-third majority of the congress can also overturn the veto of the congress. Moreover there is a ‘judicial review’, that is the power of the court to declare both executive and legislative enactment null and void when they in conflict with the constitution. Asantehene’saction on Kumawu chieftaincy issue is ultra vires because is in conflict with customs and traditions of installation of chief at Kumawu.
I was surprise to see the Daily Graphic (20th Jan. 2015) editorial saying that, “The government will not interfere in chieftaincy disputes, it must not sit aloof while a section of king makers and their supporters attempt to make their communities and by extension the entire country ungovernable.” What crime, have the king makers of Kumawu committed and as a result the Daily Graphic is inciting the county’s security personnel against them. Are they also not citizens of Ghana? They just exercised their prerogative rights and duties to install a king of Kumawu. Have they caused any commotion or mayhem?In view of this, I was surprise to hear Asantehene saying that, “The fact that Asanteman is a confederacy does not mean any branch can sit somewhere and do whatever they like.” Asanteman being confederacy of traditional councils is being governed by rules and regulations including customs and traditions. Some of the customs and traditions, limit the powers of Asantehene. In this case, Asantehene is ‘constitutional monarch’ like British monarch. Britain which does not have a written constitution is having a constitutional monarch. This by virtue of the fact that, there are rules, customs, traditions and conventions that limit the powers and functions of the British monarch. In the same vein, Asanteman is having an unwritten constitution. Modern governments have caused the efficiency and powers of all European monarchs to dwindle to vanishing point. Today even British monarch is a mere ‘rubber stamp’.
Africa traditional system if government is democratic, because traditional rulers are responsible and accountable to the people. Even though chiefs are chosen from royal families, they are chosen on the wishes of the people. After installation the paramount chiefs of Asanteman go to Manhyia not to seek approval of Asantehene.
Rather, they go to Manhyia to swear their allegiance to the golden stool as a sign of accepting to be part of Asanteman and show loyalty to Asantehene.On the other hand, after installation and if the people tell the paramount chief not go and swear allegiance to Asantehene, the chief have no option but to obey the wishes of the people. It is the people that install their king through king makers before he can go to Manhyia to swear allegiance to Asantehene. It is not Asantehene that install kings of various states of Asanteman.
I want to use this opportunity to appeal to Asantehene to handleKumawu chieftaincy crisis with care. Since Asanteman is a confederacy there is limit to his powers on other states ofAsanteman. The reason why former Soviet Union comprising fifteen sates collapsed was that, Russia being one of the states became very powerful and dominant of other states. Other states found the need to secede to get their freedom and independence. In a similar situation, Kumasi state which is one of the states of Asanteman has become very powerful and overshadowing other states of Asanteman especially those in Ashanti Region. This does not enable the Paramount chiefs in Ashanti Region have their liberty like their counterparts in other regions. An organization being structured and socio-technological system must respond to threat and address themselves to the changing needs of society. No wonder ‘Arab Springs’ had compelled all the monarchs in the Middle East to relinquish some of their powers to the people. In my opinion, Asantemanshouldbe re-structured to limit Asantehene’s excessive powers over the confederacy. Asantehene should remain as the head of Asanteman, but relinquish his position as President of Ashanti Regional House of chiefs. That position should be reserved to the paramount chiefs of Ashanti Region on rotational bases.
This can enable the paramount chiefs in Ashanti regions also enjoy the regional house of chiefs presidency like their counterparts in other regions. There is a conflict of interest as far as Asantehene’s position as the President of Ashanti Regional House of chiefs is concern. This is by virtue of the fact,Asantehene does not sit on National House of chiefs meetings. However constitutionally regional houses of chiefs are subject to National house of Chiefs. Asanteman has overshadowed Ashanti Regional House of chiefs and for that matter, Ashanti Regional House of chiefs has become dysfunctional. Since Asanteman transcends beyond regional boundaries, I do not think it is necessary for Asantehene to remain as life President of Ashanti Regional house of chiefs. For example, Kukuomhene owe allegiance to the golden stool, but he became President of BrongAhafo Regional House of Chiefs. This did not affect Asantehene’s position as the head of Asanteman. Current British monarch is a beautiful combination of tradition and modernity despite the fact British people are conservatives. Our chieftaincy institution should be restructured and modernized to make it more effective and efficient to meet the needs of the people. Projecting and marketing individual chiefs or kings is not the best way of strengthening our chieftaincy institution.According to OseiKwadwo (2000), ‘An Outline of Asante History’, “During the reign of Nana Osei Kwame Bonsu (1800-1824), the Asante Nation covered an area almost bigger than the present day Ghana. After the defeat of the Ashantis in Akantamasu (Dodowa) war, many states broke away.” One major reason that led to the formation of Asanteman was security threat from outside. Today such security threat is no more in existence because society has changed. If our chieftaincy institution including Asanteman do not transform and address themselves to the changing needs of society, it will die natural death.
As Pope John Pau II put it forward, “ Peace is not just an absence of war. It is dynamic process that should take into account factors that can make or unmake it.” Sopeace cannot be achieved at Kumawu by using security apparatus to threaten or to arrest any group of people at Kumawu. Peace cannot be achieved at Kumawu by expelling the king makers from Asanteman. The king makers of Kumawu are also members of Asanteman. They are also citizens of Ghana. For that matter, they have their democratic rights. Long live Kumawuman, Long live Asanteman,Long live Ghana.
By ALFRED NUAMAH
This Writer is a Freelance Journalist and also a Social Studies Teacher at Modern Senior High School at Amanfrom-Kasoa.