Needless to say, I was gripped with great elation when the Kufuor-led New Patriotic Party (NPP) created the Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs. Having grown up with a heavy dosage of traditional Akan-Ghanaian cultural values and pride inculcated into me, and having also been privileged to serve as a regular poet at Anokyekrom of the Ghana National Cultural Centre, it was a dream come true.
Under the “revolutionary” phase of Mr. Jerry John Rawlings’ tenure, largely nothing more than lip-service had been accorded chieftaincy as the indisputable matrix of traditional Ghanaian cultural values. The man whose faux-Scottish accent most Ghanaians could barely understand, did not even appear to have much respect for Chieftaincy and indigenous Ghanaian cultures as a whole. Not only did such disrespect show in the palpable discomfort with which Mr. Rawlings decked on traditional garbs and/or carried himself publicly in the same, quite a slew of his pejorative pronouncements regarding the supposed obsolescence and abject irrationality of much that passed for indigenous Ghanaian cultural praxis, left almost no one in doubt that, indeed, the government of the so-called Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) was about anything but the development of Ghanaian cultures.
Anyway, while I have not conducted the relevant research to ascertain precisely what the nature of the relationship between the central government and “Native Authority” has been since colonial times, nonetheless, I am a bit puzzled by the new regime of having our Paramount Chiefs and Queen-mothers placed on a national payroll for the Ministry of Finance to remit these cultural custodians monthly monetary allowances through, of course, the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Culture.
Hitherto, I had perennially been under the impression that Paramount Chiefs and their traditional governments have often received a set percentage of revenue from both “royal stool-lands” and local tax revenue. But, of course, I am also quite aware of attempts by the Kwame Nkrumah-led Convention People’s Party (CPP) to politically control the entire Chieftaincy institution through a systematic hobbling, cooptation and summary expropriation of such traditional sources of revenue, where independent-minded and non-CPP-leaning chiefs were concerned.
Personally, I have mixed feelings towards this new regime of placing registered Paramount Chiefs and Queen-mothers on a government-sponsored official payroll. For, on the one hand, while the system appears to be transparent and uniformed, with each and every Paramount Chief being paid exactly the same allowance, to the pesewa, the reality on the ground clearly indicates the fact that not all Paramount Chiefs are of equal status, stature and political primacy. And this is also where I have my own qualms regarding how the Central Government and the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Culture arrived at the figure of 201 Paramount Chiefs (and the same number of Queen-mothers) constituting the membership of our august National House of Chiefs.
There, obviously, appears to be absolutely no question about the fact of “Divisional Chiefs” and Queen-mothers being reckoned as Paramount Chieftains. If so, then one would reasonably urge that such clear distinctions in ranking ought to be fairly reflected on the Chieftaincy Payroll. For instance, I don’t see the fairness of such traditionally recognized “Paramount Kings” as the Asantehene, Ya-Na and Okyenhene being remitted the same amount of monetary allowance as their “Divisional Commanders” or lieutenants.
Where such remittances make perfect sense, of course, is in regard to the need for our cultural custodians to be economically safeguarded and the symbolic significance of their offices jealously protected, in much the same way that Britons are protective of their monarchical system.
What appears to be now left for the Central Government to do is to integrate the indigenous institutions represented by these Chieftains into the post-colonial modern state of Ghana. This must partly come in the form of redesigning the curricula of our entire educational system, from Pre-School to the so-called Tertiary or University level. It is then, and only then, would Ghanaians be able to legitimately begin to initiate a comprehensive dialogue on our national development agenda and destiny.
By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI) and the author, most recently, of “The Obama Serenades” (Lulu.com, 2011).