Ghana’s Elites Overlook Traditional Institutions

Published on 13th November 2007

Day in, day out Ghanaian traditional rulers are increasingly talking about development. This has led to Okyehene Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin II, one of Ghana’s leading traditional rulers and intellectuals, to grumble about “centralized government.” He says, “Central government was good for the 6.5 million people in the country in 1957. It is not working for the 22 million people in 2007.”

The Okyehene’s concerns reveal the schisms and the increasing open and critical debates within Ghana.Ex-colonial institutions and development paradigms have not been harmonized skillfully with the traditional Ghanaian institutions for deeper and broader progress. “Out of 48,000 settlements in the country, only 12,000 have government agencies such as post offices, hospitals and police stations,” observes Okyehene.

If there are skewed public goods and some ethnic tensions in Ghana, it means Ghanaian elites have not re-orientated the nation-state holistically from within Ghanaian indigenous values since the British colonialist left. According to British colonialists, Africans were “primitive,”  intellectually and morally “deficient,” and needed to be “civilized.”

Compared to the Southeast Asians, Ghana is still run like the ex-colonialist's “centralized despotism” - with a powerful central government and weak local communities in terms of mode of distribution of power and its attendant provision of public goods and institutions.

The British colonial development policy, according to Ugandan social scientist Mamood Mamdani in his controversial book Citizen and Subject  was driven by the British self-interest. The British used indigenous African traditional rulers and traditional institutions under the colonial “decentralized despotism" to make the African more of a subject than a citizen in development terms.

Still, in States and Power in Africa, Jeffrey Herbst argues that there is uneven distribution of public goods in Africa because  the colonialists’ development policies were driven by natural resources and population density but not Africans' needs. Post-colonial Ghanaian elites have not reversed this uneven provision of public goods.

When some chiefs of the Greater Accra Region said traditional rulers should be included in the judicial system in order to make the delivery of justice accessible to local communities throughout the country, they were, in effect, saying that the Ghanaian development process is not informed by our innate developmental wisdom.

This misunderstanding of Ghana’s development process by its elites explains Nene Klangbojo Animle’s (Paramount Chief of Osu Doku) argument that the erosion of traditional judicial powers of the chieftaincy institution by the modern judicial administration has denied rural people, who form majority of the population, speedy justice.

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