Research Article

Chieftaincy and traditional authority in modern democratic Ghana

Published in: South African Journal of Philosophy
Volume 40, issue 3, 2021 , pages: 319–335
DOI: 10.1080/02580136.2021.1964206
Author(s): Lord Mawuko-Yevugah, Ghana, Harry Anthony Attipoe, Ghana


Contrary to the expectations of several theorists belonging to the modernisation school, chieftaincy as a traditional institution survived various political changes throughout the 19th and 20th century in most African states. Nonetheless, their existence thereafter has varied in these states. Some states have lauded, recognised and employed chiefs for state development, while other states have blatantly ignored and designated the offices of chiefs as an obsolete governance institution that has outlived their usefulness. The variance in the disposition to chiefs is identified as deeply rooted in a long-standing debate over the relationship between modernity and tradition. This study explores this debate, adopting the Ghanaian chieftaincy institution in its modern form as a case study. A synthesis of existing literature on the relevant concepts was developed and discussed in the development of the study. The study identified the major debate on tradition and modernity to be situated in a binary school, where one strand believes they can both exist together, and the other situates their argument in the need to abolish tradition completely from modern societies. For the Ghanaian setting, however, the chieftaincy institution is recognised and accorded its autonomy in the 1992 Constitution of Ghana. This has created a bifurcated state where constitutional law and customary law are implemented at the same time. Over the years, the interaction between both systems of governance has been seen mostly in land administration, local governance, and development. Chiefs as such are identified as playing extensive roles in state development and investment promotion through land administration, serving as gatekeepers between the central government and their subjects, promoting solidarity and employing their influence and expertise as a means for introducing sustainable development initiatives in their localities. However, conflicts and land mismanagement have been areas of contention, affecting their influence and relevance in recent times. The study recommends capacity building and further integration with the modern democratic Ghanaian institutions to improve the contribution of chiefs to the development of Ghana and other contexts where they exist.

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