Author: Elom Tettey-Tamaklo
Accra (Africa6News)- The next time you enter into a discussion about African chieftaincy with foreigners, don’t be surprised if they claim to be a chief in some faraway African community or even your own hometown! Many a time, I have found myself spellbound by assertions of chieftaincy from individuals who are not even remotely connected to these communities, apart from a few who have visited them once or twice (if we’re lucky). Assertions of connection to the land, its people, and its history may come off as ignorant at best and disingenuous at worst. With a long and complex history of colonialism involving various foreigners appropriating our culture, mineral resources, and even our bodies, the enstoolment of foreign chiefs often leaves a lot to be desired.
A couple of weeks ago Ghanaian social media was apoplectic with rage and disdain as the people of Kwahu Abetifi, a town in the Eastern region of Ghana, enstooled a Chinese man, Sun Qiang as a chief in the area. The enstoolment came with a grand durbar and a traditional stool name – Barima Kofi Ayeboafo. The installation of Qiang has stoked fiery questions around colonial legacy and more importantly, the strained Sino-Africa relations in recent years. With the incursion of Chinese nationals into the Ghanaian economy especially within the mining sector amidst accusations of illegal mining practice, commonly known as galamsey, the installation of Qiang seems inappropriate. Furthermore, the gross mistreatment of Africans in China at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic earlier in the year further calls this move into question. Many social media users have opined that basic human dignity, much more royal status will never be given to Africans in China and therefore this the enstoolment of Qiang is a double standard.
A wide cross-section of Ghanaians also raised concerns about what this means for our cultural authenticity. The inclusion of foreigners who do not have shared history, culture, and sentiments of the people they are chiefs over, presents the risk of cultural dilution. With the global African narrative bearing foreign footprints all over it, actions like these further jeopardize our cultural authenticity.
The phenomenon of installing foreign chiefs or ‘white chiefs’ as they are popularly referred to as is not new in many communities in Ghana. This practice introduced by Asantehene Otumfuo Opoku Ware II, a former king of the Ashanti people of Ghana, stems from the idea that foreigners can serve as agents of development in local communities and are therefore enstooled as nkosuohene or nkosuoheema meaning ‘development chiefs’. According to Katharina Schramm, professor for the anthropology of global inequalities at the Free University Berlin and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative of the University of Cape Town.
these chiefs “receive a basic education on the royal etiquette, are equipped with the insignia of chieftaincy, such as beads, a crown, sandals, and a special stool, and sometimes even partake with their own entourage in a durbar.” (Schramm, 165) Although the aim of development chiefs is to provide development to these local communities, we hardly notice the impact that many of them make in communities.
The discussion of foreign chiefs is not solely limited to economic development. There have been revived calls for African-Americans in the diaspora to return to Africa in order to connect with their roots. Many of those who return are given preferential treatment as ‘lost sons and daughters’ of the continent and are often given citizenship or even chieftaincy titles. Michael Jai White, an African-American Hollywood actor, who according to his Instagram account conducted DNA tests and traced his roots to West Africa, was enstooled as “Nana Akoto III, Odopon” in the Akwamu traditional area of Ghana, in 2019. It is safe to say that White who lives comfortably in Brooklyn, New York is divorced from the on-the-ground realities of the hundreds of Akwamu people he presides over. It therefore raises questions about the efficacy of this Chieftaincy and what value it provides to the people of Akwamu in Ghana. Is it only to satisfy the feelings of belonging for our African-American brothers and sisters or is it just another exchange of culture for cash?Does this sound familiar?
Opinions oscillate around the issue of the enstoolment of foreign chiefs in communities in Africa especially, Ghana. From those at one end of the spectrum who praise the phantom development that comes with the enstoolment of these chiefs to those at the other end who see it as a dilution of culture and heritage, Ghana stands divided on this issue. Next time you walk into a bar in Berlin, don’t be shocked if Mathilda tells you she’s a queen mother for your tiny village in southeast Ghana.