Feature: Much Ado About Gbese – By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

 Gbese Mantse of the Ga-Dangme Traditional Area, Nii Ayi Bonte, II
Gbese Mantse of the Ga-Dangme Traditional Area, Nii Ayi Bonte, II

The ceremonial marginalization of our traditional rulers, or perhaps I should more appropriately say that the effective marginalization of our traditional rulers to the status of ceremonial relics, has made it quite difficult to realize the significance of the apparent crisis that seems to be swirling around the Gbese Mantse of the Ga-Dangme Traditional Area, Nii Ayi Bonte, II. In the lead-up to the December 7 general election, this Accra divisional chief is alleged to have stated categorically and publicly that he was unreservedly prepared to relinquish his stool in the event of the presidential incumbent, Mr. John Dramani Mahama, losing his mandate (See “Gbese Mantse Should Apologize – K. B. Asante” Adomonline.com/Ghanaweb.com 12/23/16).

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That was more than two weeks ago; and Nii Ayi Bonte shows no signs of relinquishing or abdicating his stool in consonance with his pledge. So far, it appears that those calling for the Gbese Mantse’s abdication, or failure to do so his summary destoolment, are largely the citizens of the Gbese locality. The royal kingmakers have yet to make their intentions clear, as of this writing, although the renowned nonagenarian former President of the Ga-Dangme Traditional Council, Mr. K. B. Asante, who had earlier on been part of the chorus of critics calling for Nii Ayi Bonte’s abdication, has called on the besieged monarch to render a public apology for what some of his sympathizers are characterizing as “an error in judgment.”

The controversy appears to have intensified more because no electioneering cycle prior to the 2016 general election had attracted as much attention and the active participation of invested traditional Ghanaian rulers. This was rather curious because chiefs are categorically prohibited from actively engaging in partisan political activities by the Fourth-Republican Constitution that went into effect in January 1992. In publicly declaring his loyalty to the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), Nii Ayi Bonte was not only in egregious breach of the Constitution, he had also shown himself to have lost the political neutrality enjoined by the Constitution for all chiefs and personalities so invested and recognized by statute.

And so it is not clear just what the mere issuance of a public apology, however profound, would do towards the restoration of the lost dignity and the credibility of the traditional overlord of the Gbese division of the Ga Traditional State. In the olden days, the failure of Nii Ayi Bonte to quickly and quietly abdicate his stool would have resulted in him being forcibly removed from his palace and stool by the invested kingmakers. He could then have been exiled or literally chased out of town for bringing great shame and dishonor and spiritual filth to the land and its people. In the rarest of circumstances, Nii Ayi Bonte could even have been dispatched to the eternal homeland of the ancestors by the royal executioners.

Neither the Greater-Accra Regional House of Chiefs nor the Ghana National House of Chiefs has issued any statement on the Gbese chieftaincy crisis. So far, a group calling itself the Gbese Youth Association (GYA) and its leader, Nii Annan Agbo, have called a press conference to warn against any attempt to destool Nii Ayi Bonte. According to Mr. Agbo, the supporters of the embattled chief are ready to “shed their own blood” to ensure that Nii Ayi Bonte retains his stool. Whatever the outcome of the raging impasse in the Gbese division of the Ga Traditional Area, it cannot be gainsaid that something needs to be done by both the leaders of the Greater-Accra Regional House of Chiefs and the National House of Chiefs, with the collaborative oversight of whoever gets appointed, respectively, as Minister of Culture and Local Government by President Akufo-Addo.

It is obvious that the role of chiefs in a politically democratic Ghana needs to be clearly defined, with chiefs being integrated into the larger political establishment in such a way as to ensure both their active participation in nation-building and being able to do so on the basis of partisan and ideological neutrality.

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