“Possible Role of Traditional Rulers in the Field of Conflict Resolutions”

Written by Dr. K. Ansah-Koi (Senior Lecturer, Legon)


Chieftaincy disputes, succession moves, struggle of land and related clan resources constitute, significant sources of conflicts in Ghana. In each of these, Chieftaincy is either at the center or closely involved and connected in one way or the other. I shall not bore you with a definition of a chief in the complex institution of chieftaincy; nor with a narration of the legal and constitutional bases and foundations of chieftaincy as an institution and a formidable reality in our state structure.

Suffice it to say that article 277 of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution most helpfully defines a chief as “a person, who, hailing from the appropriate family and lineage and who has been validly nominated, elected or selected and enstooled, enskinned or installed as a chief or queen mother in accordance with the relevant customary law and usage”. It is relevant, and indeed pleasing, to note that the venerable and time – tested institution of chieftaincy in our society is, under article 270 (i) of our Constitution, guaranteed and assured of survival. Indeed chapter 22 of the Constitution, covering article 270 to 277, is basically devoted to the institution of chieftaincy.

The chiefs would realize, that chieftaincy is at the center of, or closely involved either directly or indirectly, in the incidence and outbreak of conflict in Ghana. Indeed by virtue of the chiefs position as a ruler and a leader the chief is unable to distance himself from the incidence and outbreak of social conflicts. It is against such background that I wish to focus on the possible role of chiefs in conflict resolution.

Ghana as a state is actually composed of various ethnic groups, which are led by their various chiefs. The institution of chieftaincy is thus still salient and very pertinent.

Chiefs and Conflict
Under the circumstances, one possible role of chiefs in conflict resolution is that of leadership. Leadership could be physical, symbolic, or a combination of various variables and chiefs are prominent in each regard.

Also, when preventive measure fails and conflict erupts, chiefs should not seek false solace in a supposed neutrality. They must take the lead to mitigate, de-escalate, manage, resolve or re-direct the conflict as time and circumstances would require or permit.

Towards averting conflict, chiefs must also avoid impolitic, insensitive decisions and acts which are squarely within their customary and legal powers. Indeed, case-studies indicate that the actual eruption of many conflicts in Ghana are set off by, or traceable to such insensitive, impolitic decisions, acts or utterances.

Furthermore, chiefs need make, towards conflict resolution, greater and better use of the authority and powers of patronage and co-operation.

In the same vein, they should identify the root-causes of potential and actual conflicts in their areas and lead in the resolution of such conflicts.

Chiefs must as well be at the forefront of, or closely integrated into alternate conflict Resolution instructions and practices in Ghana. They must as well rise up to, and face the challenges and realities of decentralization squarely.

Also, chiefs need exploit traditional reconciliatory gestures, practices and rites as festivals, fester meals, purification rituals and the like, to the full towards the object of conflict resolution.

Indeed chieftaincy as an institution is so entrenched in popular support and acceptance that it is not feasible to have a commoner/usurper to stage a coup d’etat and take over the palace and office; as African states are want to have in their national politics.

Chiefs, by their influence and authority, can pre-empt the occurrence of conflict through taking the initiative in, or being integrated involved in conflict mitigation and conflict resolution processed.

Chiefs have numerous responsibilities and role at each phase. Their influence and authority should be brought to bear on their conflict prevention duties. They can do that by averting or preventing “imminent or parent conflicts.” They should be sensitized to identify early warning signals; and oriented to enable them respond fittingly to such early warning signals.

At the conflict prevention level, they should as well be at the forefront in efforts at empowering or enabling their populace. Such empowerment or enabling is most crucial as it has been established.

Poverty is a major source of potential conflict; and mass impoverishment is a definite feature of our socio-economic set-up.

Also in terms of development, chiefs need be individually and at a collective level, a strong lobby or interest group for development and modernization; as well as formidable pressure group. A study of the Ghana Bar Association’s role in national politics – from the perspective or espousing populist causes and concerns – and that of the National House of Chiefs makes a very interesting comparison. Furthermore chiefs, to avert conflict, must take the lead as agents of needed socio-cultural change specifically, questionable and inappropriate cultural practices as banishment, female genital mutilation, trial by ordeal, abusive rites and rituals, and the Trokosi” should be eradicated basically through the deliberate influence and authority of chiefs.

Chiefs, then, aught to be purposeful, unrushed agents of innovation and progressive catalysts in Ghana’s developmental process.

(Dr. Ansah-Koi’s paper was presented to the Capacity Building Workshop for traditional Rulers organized by CENSOR in Kumasi).