The news that came from Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region at the weekend was not a pleasant one. People had been wounded, houses burnt and valuable property lost, all because of a chieftaincy dispute.
We were told the violence erupted when supporters of rival chiefs clashed and resorted to the use of firearms and other offensive weapons and set houses ablaze.
The institution of chieftaincy is part of our cherished heritage. It is the embodiment of our spiritual and physical existence. Traditional rulers offer not only leadership and direction. They are the custodians of our cultural values and serve as a rallying point for social mobilisation for community work.
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In modern times, the roles of chiefs have dimmed, especially in large urban settlements where the central government command and enforce authority.
The same cannot be said about our rural communities where traditional rulers still wield enormous power and authority because our local government system has largely left the welfare of the rural people in the hands of the people themselves.
Whether in the cities or rural communities, many decisions affecting the people cannot be successfully implemented if the government or any other institution does not factor the role of traditional rulers in the scheme of things. For instance, if it comes to land acquisition, the support of chiefs is very necessary if even the land is held by families.
It is, therefore, very unfortunate that chieftaincy is gradually departing from its cherished royal functions of uniting the people and directing their energies towards development. There is hardly any traditional area in the country today where one can confidently say that there is no chieftaincy dispute.
Most of these disputes have exploded into violent clashes leading to loss of lives and property. Families have been divided and ethnic groups that have co-existed for ages are now at one another’s throats because of disputes as to who should be a chief.
Apart from the insecurity and fear that these disputes have created, the social fabric of communities have been affected and farming and other economic activities disrupted. Traditional festivals that bring the people together and which could easily be exploited for their tourism potential can no longer be celebrated without threats of violence.
The Aboakyir Festival of the people of Winneba, the Ga Homowo and the Hogbetsotso of the people of Anlo in the Volta Region, to name just a few and other major festivals with tourism potential that could be marketed by the country for its tourism industry at one time or another became victims of chieftaincy disputes.
While land disputes sometimes transcend traditional or regional boundaries, chieftaincy disputes are very often family or clan affairs where there are more than one royal gates. What that means is that the violence that erupts is always among brothers and sisters and for that matter the disintegration of families over a matter which under normal circumstances should not trigger conflicts, let alone violence.
Some may not agree, but if truth must be told, chieftaincy is losing its relevance and has become a disincentive for peace and progress. These violent clashes do not only endanger the peace but are also a drain on the country since a lot of resources have to be deployed to restore law and order.
The Bolgatanga clash, which is the latest of these chieftaincy clashes, is a sad commentary on the sanctity of our chieftaincy institution and raises questions as to whether in this 21st century we still have to draw daggers and spill precious blood over an institution which is largely ceremonial and at best a relic of our history?
If we still cherish chieftaincy and want to make it part of our modern transformation, then all those who have a role to play in its edification and sustenance must rise up and do something about the numerous disputes bedeviling the institution before it consumes us.