THE ROLE OF MODERN TRADITIONAL CHIEFS IN DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICA
Welcome address given by His Royal Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II. Asantehene at the 2nd Bonn Conference on International Development Policy. World Conference Center, Bonn, Germany. August 27th-28th, 2009.
Your Excellency Prof. Dr. Horst Köhler, President of Germany
Honourable Armin Laschet, Minister for International Affairs, Family, Women and Integration of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, Mr. Peter Frey, Director of the ZDF Capital Studio Berlin and Chair of the Conference,
Excellencies, Heads of Diplomatic Missions,
Honourable Ministers and Honourable Members of the Bundestag
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I will like to take this opportunity on behalf of my delegation to thank the government of North Rhine-Westphalia for the warm welcome and hospitality accorded us on the arrival in your beautiful city and country. I will also like to extend my sincere gratitude to the organizers of this important international conference for inviting me to give the welcome address. It is a great honour.
The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2626 of October 24, 1970 on development reads, “the ultimate objective of development must be to bring about a sustained improvement in the well-being of the individual and bestow benefits on all. If undue privileges, extremes of wealth and social injustices persist, then development fails in the essential purpose.”
In similar vein, development according to Amartya Sen, winner of the 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics observes, “development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation…” It is thus imperative that for development to be meaningful and sustainable, it needs to address the needs and well-being of all who live in a said environment. It also needs to according to the Brundtland Report, “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The title of your conference, “New Impulses for Development Cooperation between Federal States, Regions and Local Authorities,” points to this notion.
Because an aspect of this conference deals with local authorities, my contribution therefore will look at “The Role of Modern Traditional Chiefs in Development in Africa.” The modern traditional chief in Africa today is an important and indispensable player in the development process of the continent, particularly at the local and community levels. His role entails the development, implementation and monitoring of development programmes and projects. Not only do they know the needs and challenges of the local environment, they also understand the dynamics of the different groups living in the local environment. They are also able to mobilize these different groups and stake holders in their environments to work together for the success of programmes and projects. Furthermore, their knowledge of local needs and aspirations and the requisite expertise needed to satisfy those needs can contribute significantly to poverty alleviation and reduction. This local knowledge adds a unique added value to the development process and indeed the sustainability of development projects.
But who are these traditional modern chiefs that I am talking about? They are persons who inherit governmental authority or position mainly by virtue of membership of a particular family or clan. However, in many cases, the choice of a chief or leader is based not solely on the circumstance of birth, but involves other criteria, such as the character or other personal qualities. Where this is the case, there usually is an election between several eligible persons from the same family or clan. These people who exercise governmental authority are referred to by various names in different parts of Africa, such as kings, chiefs, elders, leopard skin chiefs, emirs and so on. In all cases, they rule or govern their societies with the assistance of lower-rank rulers, as well as a large number and levels of advisers who for the most part also occupy their positions by virtue of their family or clan origins and status.
It is worth emphasizing that this mechanism ensures that the king or chief does not rule arbitrarily. Although the king or chief has the final word, he is bound to consult very regularly, and decisions are reached by consensus without formal votes. In this connection, although a chief is elected and installed for life, his continued stay in office is subject to good conduct.
A chief who breaks his oath of office of seeking the welfare of the people and progress of the nation is removable according to the rules and procedures laid down and transmitted from generation to generation.
It is not my intention to glorify our traditional systems and the modern traditional chief. But I am concerned to point out that democracy was and is not alien to all traditional African systems, and the rule of law, which provide checks and balances in the political system and impose restraints on authoritarian rule, was and is a prominent feature of most traditional African systems. These important features of traditional systems are a sine-qua-non in my view to sustainable development in Africa. Here are some few examples of the ways the modern traditional chiefs contributes to and continue to contribute to development at the local and in some cases the national level in their respective countries:
Conflict Resolution Role
The modern traditional chief is very active in dispute and conflict resolution when dispute arises between different ethnic groups or individuals in the local area or community. In Ghana in particular, where parties are disenchanted with the dilatory procedures of formal courts in the country, afflicted parties fall back on traditional chiefs and methods for the resolution of the dispute. It is my considered opinion that the absence of strong traditional systems in some African states, particularly Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote D’Ivoire that has contributed to the instability that have affected those countries. The impact of such instability on development thus is obvious. In Ghana, even at the national level, some disputes and conflicts may be referred to the Regional House of Chiefs for adjudication. When it is not successful, the case can then be referred to the National House of Chiefs for resolution.
The modern traditional chief is not only active in dispute resolution in their communities but it is part of their role within the traditional government of their people to make laws and rules in consultation with his council of elders and the diverse representatives of the people in the community or traditional area. These laws help him in conflict resolution and the day-day-day governance of his people. The laws may cover the exploitation of mineral resources as the chiefs are the custodian of the land particularly in Ghana. The laws are also used to adjudicate social, economic and other important issues impacting the community at a particular time. For example issues of land dispute have resulted in disputes and instability and the impact on peace and stability and development in particular cannot be emphasized enough.
One of the important functions of the modern traditional chief in Africa is the executive role he plays. He is responsible for the day-to-day running of the community or local areas under his rule. They have an important pronouncement on economic activities, resource and environmental management, social and indeed dispute resolution in the local communities in their kingdom. In some instances, the traditional ruler can invite elected presidents or heads of state of the day, cabinet ministers, foreign ambassadors accredited to the country, civil servants and other important people in the country to register concerns as well as debate selected issues with them of national concern but specifically articulating needs of their communities. For example in Botswana, the House of Chiefs has the power to summon a cabinet minister to answer questions about his or her government portfolio and the minister must comply. This in my view contributes to accountability on the part of these public figures to the country which augurs well for development.
Most modern day traditional rulers also play an important role as spiritual leaders in their communities and over the people they rule. In some areas they serve as intermediaries between the people and the ancestors who are regarded as the living dead. They are custodians of the numerous religious shrines and gods of the kingdom or community and thus work with fetish priests in their courts to fulfill this function. Such a spiritual role enables the modern traditional chief to control social behavior, curb social vices, instill family values and curb the wanton exploitation of the community’s resources with impunity. For example, the declaration of communal resources and farmlands as sacred has enabled the traditional chief or ruler and his council of elders to regulate their use and exploitation; saving the scarce resource of the community for the use of future generations―the concept of sustainable development in practice.
The purpose of my illustration of the various roles of the modern traditional chief today in Africa points to their indispensable role in development at the grassroots and local level in their various countries. Now let me share with the conference attendees my personal experience in this regards and end with how an enduring partnership can be forged with the Government of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, the German government as well as the E.U. moving forward.
When I ascended the Golden Stool of Asante as ruler of the Ashanti kingdom, I took an oath before my people on 26th April 1999 to rule with honesty and truth.
Ghana, at the time, was ending the second time of democratic rule. Our economy was not in the best of shape as a nation. In the Asante community itself, educational standards were falling, children were dropping out of school at an alarming rate to chase jobs for a living; and some children were attending school under trees. In the health sector, HIV/AIDS was threatening our population and our entire social and economic fabric, and our children were being bombarded with foreign cultural materials. Added to this were a large number of chieftaincy, succession, land and litigation cases before the courts, which were impeding social cohesion and economic development.
In my first address to the Asanteman Council, the highest level of traditional authority in Asante, I underlined all these problems and challenged all the chiefs to get involved in programmes and projects that would address the unacceptable trends in their communities. I indicated to my chiefs and people that the central government alone could not solve all the problems of society. I argued that leaving conditions to deteriorate would amount to abandoning our social and moral functions and responsibilities.
Education Fund: The next thing I did was to set up the Otumfuo Education Fund, under an independent body, to harness contributions from all sectors of society to support bright but needy children in our communities to attain an education. As you are aware, we live in a knowledge-era where knowledge-based economies are now the most competitive. Thus if our community and indeed our country is to be competitive, it will need these knowledge workers. Contributions have come from Ghanaians overseas. To date, over 4000 children have benefited from scholarships offered by the Fund and beneficiaries have not come from Asante alone, but also from the other nine regions of Ghana, irrespective of their gender or religion.
Health: I also established a Health Committee to advise me on steps to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS prevalence in the region. The committee was also charged to work closely with the Regional and Metropolitan Medical Team to find support for the eradication of infant mortality, elimination of glaucoma and other eye diseases, buruli ulcer, guinea worm and other water-borne diseases. Today, my health sector concerns have been taken over by my dear wife who runs an NGO and continues to support me on that front.
Interaction with External Bodies: I took my concerns about the social conditions of my people further when the then Country Director of the World Bank, Peter Harold, paid a courtesy call on me late 1999. I charged that the practice whereby traditional rulers were left out of the planning and management of projects at the community level was wrong. I indicated that it was not in the interest of communities for government to sideline traditional leaders when it came to the sitting and management of projects. The result of my perseverance with the World Bank led to the establishment of the project now called PROMOTING PARTNERSHIP WITH TRADITIONAL AUTHORITIES PROJECT.
Under the PARTNESHIP project, the World Bank is assisted Asanteman with a grant of $4.5 million to build the management capacity of chiefs, rehabilitate schools and build sanitation facilities in 41 communities, develop health education modules for traditional authorities to lead in awareness creation in HIV/AIDS, and build programmes to preserve traditional values and culture. In all cases, traditional leaders have played active roles in the implementation of projects.
They followed the Bank’s strict rules regarding disbursement of funds, including procedures for accounting and audit of expenditures, to avoid misuse of funds and to ensure successful completion of the projects. Let me emphasize that district local government officials were partners at all stages of this programme.
I was invited to Washington DC as a guest of Mr. James D. Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank. This was my second time, and I used the opportunity to carry along an extension of my development agenda in the partnership vein. This time, my concern was with the Millennium Declaration, which was adopted by Heads of State and Government at the United Nations General Assembly in 2000. Part of the Declaration says and I quote: “We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty (Unquote)…”
Among other things, the Declaration aims to (Quote) “halve the proportion of people (who are unable to reach or afford safe drinking) water … (Unquote)” Great declarations, I say to myself. But then, how can traditional leaders be involved in solving problems which rightly fall at their doorstep?
Upon consultation with my chiefs and elders, I concluded that if we are to commit the international community to an expanded vision of development, one that is people-centered and vigorously promotes human development as the key to sustaining social and economic progress in all countries, and recognizes the importance of creating a global partnership for development, then all of us in leadership positions have a moral responsibility to get involved. On current record, I cannot see how Government interventions alone can solve the problems of Ghana. Any such belief is illusive and indeed a “feel-good opium” which does not reflect the realities of today’s global economic environment.
In a country with a population of just over 20 million, Ghana has 7.4 million people drinking unsafe water, and more than that figure are exposed to poor sanitation. I therefore presented a case to the World Bank asking for a grant to fund water and sanitation facilities for 1000 communities in five regions of Ghana as supplement to Government interventions. This was well received by the Bank, and as I am speaking, the pilot phase has already taken off. We as traditional leaders are undertaking to mobilize our various communities to own the projects and manage them. This is in the true spirit of partnership with traditional authorities. We are turning round the often-repeated but poorly organized “supply-driven” approach to development to a “demand-driven” one. This a “bottom-up” approach to development to compliment the “top-down” approach for sustainable development in Ghana. This Project is in consonance with the World Bank’s own evolving concept of good governance.
In recent years, the Bank has been exploring new ways of empowering and enabling its clients. It has embraced mechanisms that promote “citizen voice participation” and allow non-governmental entities and other groups of citizens an effective say in the design and implementation of projects. Projects are not seen as viable unless they are “owned” by the people most directly affected by them. There is a growing concept of Community Owned Rural Development Projects, which is currently being tested in Ghana.
The involvement of traditional leaders and their people in the Bank’s operations is therefore a logical extension of the Bank’s own evaluation of actors other than its conventional partners and the recognition of the importance of innovative mechanisms for reinforcing the development endeavours of its clients.
Conflict Resolution: One area where the traditional system of governance has shown tremendous success is in conflict resolution (as mentioned earlier in this speech). We have sat in council with chiefs, sub-chiefs and elders and dispensed justice to the satisfaction of all. Applying the norms of customary law, recognized under the constitution of Ghana, the king or chief settles all disputes that come before him. In the past ten years, following an appeal I made to all concerned, nearly 1000 cases that would otherwise be still sitting in the books of modern law courts and dragging on intractably, have been settled amicably before my traditional court. These were land, chieftaincy, succession, and civil cases. Peace has returned to communities whose development was halted, and families have been re-united in several instances. This is what sustainable development is all about.
You may also be interested to know that for the past ten years, I have instructed to be recorded on video all cases that have come before the traditional court, and my secretariat has begun transferring them onto CVDs and DVDs to help preserve the institutional memory of my court using modern technology.
I believe if we are to unleash a “New Impulse for Development Cooperation,” between the European Union, Germany, the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, and our people and indeed Ghana, we can learn from some of the best practices of development cooperation between my people and the World Bank at the local level as elaborated on in the later part of this speech. In our effort to unleash this “New Impulse for Development Cooperation,” we cannot approach the development challenges of today using the same ideas that created them. According to Albert Einstein, a 1921 Nobel Laureate in Physics, “the significant problems we face cannot be solved at the level of thinking we were at when we created them.” We need a re-think. I believe that re-think is engaging fully modern traditional chiefs and leaders in development at the local and grassroots levels. It is the best way to achieve effective and sustainable development that will help countries in Africa be able to meet their Millennium Development Goals.
I will like to conclude my speech by going on record to say that the true challenge of development in Africa is in the rural areas not the urban areas. These rural areas which consist of majority of the populace in most African countries are not touched by the modern conveniences of the urban areas. The people in these rural areas look up to their chiefs and elders to usher in development, settle their disputes, allocate land, offer financial support to the needy, and indeed fill the gap that the resources of most modern governments with their numerous challenges cannot meet. We, most of the traditional leaders in Africa today have risen to this challenge. It is on this bases that I fully support your vision of unleashing a “New Impulse in Development Cooperation” to enhance the role modern traditional rulers play in the development of their communities. Would this be easy? Definitely not. It will require persistence and perseverance to make this new partnership work.
According to President Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the U.S., “nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence, determination and hard work alone makes the difference.”
I hope I have shared with this distinguished audience the important role that traditional African leaders play in the socio-economic and political development of their communities and indeed their respective countries. My plea is that this “New Impulse in Development Cooperation” between your governments and ours, between your people and ours should not forget the importance of traditional rulers in this equation and agenda. Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to share my ideas and thoughts on this new trajectory of development with you. I will now leave you with a blessing from the Apache native people of America where equally their chiefs play an important role in the development of their communities.
When you leave here: “may the sun bring you new energy by day, may the moon softly restore you by night, may the rain wash away your worries, may the breeze blow new strength into your being, may you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life.”