Chieftaincy is one of the oldest institutions in Ghana. It is thus the finest representation of the indigenous systems of government. In pre-colonial times chiefs were the political, executive, judicial, military, cultural and spiritual leaders of their societies. In performance of their duties, chiefs were assisted by their elders and councilors. The authority of a chief was however essentially localized, that is their authority was limited to their traditional areas.
Chiefs should not actively engage in partisan politics due to several reasons. Our laws governing the land do not permit chiefs to participate in active partisan politics. However, if any chief wishes to engage in party politics or even parliamentary elections, he shall abdicate his stool or skin. Below are some of the reasons why chiefs should not actively participate in active politics:
Chiefs are agents of development and they also inspire their subjects to participate in development work and to safeguard traditions. Chiefs are supposed to ensure that their communities get the needed development they deserve. They should not be used as tools for politicking, rather be instrumental in mobilizing their subjects and people to participate in development activities. If this is done, their communities would develop.
Also chiefs are royals as opposed to their subjects who are commoners. They are therefore the fathers of the people and should not be dragged into the “mud” and the “gutters” of partisan politics, where they could be booted at or insults freely rained on them. One of the unfortunate things that normally do happen in politics is the instance where key political figures are insulted and certain defamatory words used against them. It would be very embarrassing to hear, for example, that a very prominent chief in society was insulted and embarrassed due to politics. Chiefs should therefore not have any interest in active partisan politics because these unhealthy comments are associated with it.
Chiefs who also engage in partisan politics may lose their balance and therefore may compromise their high positions as the fathers of their people. As fathers of their people, their subjects look up to them as their role models and their source of inspiration. They set the pace for the others to follow. Their actions and inactions affect their subordinates one way or the other. If care is not taken, the trust and confidence the people have in them would diminish gradually.
Also chiefs may lose the respect of their people. Most at times people who indulge in active politics are branded as “corrupt” people. Be it as it may seem, not all politicians are corrupt. But they fact that one is associated with a political party in which members are described as corrupt means you are also a player in that party though one might not be a corrupt person. Such people are often not accorded the needed respect and privileges they deserve.
Not participating in party politics is the best protection for the institution of chieftaincy against governmental arbitrariness and interference. This makes it difficult for government official and political parties to interfere in chieftaincy issues. Thus, these government officials would find it very difficult to use chiefs as fronts to carry out their motives and agenda in the communities mostly with the aim of attaining political power.
Non-partisan chiefs are assets and the conscience of the nation with sufficient moral authority to call politicians in order when matters are going out of hand. Such chiefs therefore can monitor events happening in the country and call the appropriate parties or bodies involved to order. They could also ensure that there is peaceful co-existence among individual in that country.
Non-partisan chiefs also attract investors and other foreign partners into their communities to help build and promote them. Non-partisan chiefs seem to be level headed and also unbiased in their judgment to issues. Thus, such chiefs easily attract foreign investors who invest massively in the resources in their communities. This is because such chiefs are seen to be people who are trustworthy and can also help them in their investments.
They are men of honour who are normally consulted by the President and other important dignitaries to seek the way forward for the betterment of the country. Chiefs are people who are regarded as men full of wisdom and knowledge. They are among the few elites who are mostly sought for in times of difficulties of crises. They give important advice to key political figures and government officials on the need to develop and promote the country in a more holistic way.
Chiefs are important symbols of unity or of the oneness and togetherness of the people of a traditional area. A chief engaging actively in politics would make room for divisions among his people. Chiefs who openly profess their support for a particular political party create much tension, fear and panic among the inhabitants. This is because not all the people would like to support the political party of their leader. Others have other political parties of their choice. The chiefs may carry across the ideas of their preferred party which could bring about misunderstanding and chaos in their communities. The other half would do everything possible to resist and thwart the plans of their opponents. This would bring about divisions among the people.
The resources of the community could be partially distributed. The resources intended for the development of the community could be apportioned to only a few people in the community who sympathize with the political party of which the chiefs belong. This would mean that the communities are not likely to develop as they should since the fear is that resources needed for development of the communities may be mismanaged.
In conclusion chiefs are key figures in society who should not engage in active partisan politics due to the various reasons elaborated on above. They are the people government officials, diplomatic corps and political figures contact to benefit from their rich knowledge in matters relating to the development of the nation.
Institute of African Studies: Chieftaincy, Traditional Leadership and Development in Africa (2003)