Promoting local governance in Ghana the role of Akan Queen Mothers.

Author:Owusu-Mensah, Isaac


The Constitution of Ghana entrust the executive power in the President of the Republic who has the responsibility to define, formulate, implement and evaluate public policies on behalf of the people of Ghana. A key constituency that shapes the development of public policy process has been local governance, and thus, the significance of local governance in the entire governance structures in the country compels the state to invest enormously in the management of the sector to exercise the requisite management, direction and controls. Contributing to central government's exclusive interest in local governance, Tickell and Peck (1996) assert that local governance is almost always business led by 'Government' (Constitution of Republic of Ghana, Assembly Press, 1992).

The state monopolistic conducts relegate all perceived and real competing actors in local governance, including indigenous institutions, in spite of their historical contributions made to the development of the country. Stressing the significance of traditional institutions in local governance, Beall, et al (2005), argue that indigenous institutions ensure continuity of governance as well as fill the institutional vacuum created at the local level (Chieftaincy Act, 2008 Act 756, Accra: Assembly Press, 2008).

In Ghana, the current local governance system is a composition of the four-tier system, made up of: the regional coordinating councils; district assemblies; urban/area council and unit committees. This paper therefore assesses the contribution of Queen Mothers as a critical component of traditional institutions to local governance development. The paper also evaluates the legal framework on local governance, highlighting the position of traditional authority, and asks what have been the challenges of Queen Mothers in development pursuits, and what have been the core challenges of local governance in Ghana?


The study adopted a qualitative research design to collect data from four regions: Brong-Ahafo, Eastern, Western and the Central Region of Ghana. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were organized with Queen Mothers ranging from the paramount Queen Mother to the Odikro (hamlet woman leader). Focus groups discussions constituted of 7 participants per group to provide indepth exploration of their role in local governance. Queen Mothers and some key stakeholders in the chieftaincy system in Ghana were purposively selected for the (engagement) research. Although there were initial challenges in the analysis and interpretation of the data, the process was rigorous with a great deal of care and judgment to ensure that the generalization of the findings reflected the broader population of Queen Mothers. The collected data was fully transcribed to establish evidence that the data was collected from a specific population within a particular period of time. The moderator filled in the gaps as well as the missing words as a mechanism for editing and cleaning the data; unfinished thoughts were further restructured without altering the essence of the ideas produced. A pragmatic content analysis and an attribution analysis were further helpful in making the interview data meaningful, along with focus group discussions.

Legal Status of Queen Mothers in the Fourth Republic

The legal status of a Queen Mother can be scrutinized in the context of a broader legal framework of traditional authorities in Ghana. The Constitution of Ghana and the Chieftaincy Act 756, 2008 provides the appropriate basis for these analyses. Article 270 (1) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, guarantees the institution of Chieftaincy with the appropriate traditional councils as established by customary law and usage (1).

Article 277 defines a 'chief as a person, who, hailing from the appropriate family and lineage, has been validly nominated, elected or selected and enstooled, enskined or installed as a chief or Queen Mother in accordance with the relevant customary law and usage' The Act 756, further sets minimum qualifications for a chief to be a person who has never been convicted of high treason, treason, a high crime or for an offence dealing with the security of the State, has not been convicted for fraud, dishonesty or moral turpitude (2). From these instruments the position of chiefs and Queen Mothers are consequently guaranteed within the appropriate customary laws and practices of the respective traditional area(s). These legal provisions of the indigenous institutions epitomize Ghanaian reverence for traditional leadership and its increased political prominence, which emanates from the roles performed during the pre-colonial and colonial administrative periods, as well as by the political legitimacy commanded by the institutions.

Historical Perspective

The local government system in Ghana takes root (from) in 1951 as a component of the British Colonial Administration. The Colonial Governor involved the traditional authority in the management of the country in a form of indirect rule. As per the 1951 Municipal Councils Ordinance, Ghana operated a two-tier local council system, whereby two-thirds of the members were elected by universal adult suffrage and one third reserved for the traditional authority. The councils' were not development oriented. The core responsibility was limited to the collection of taxes imposed by the colonial administration. The attainment of independence and republican status, led to the promulgation of a new Local Government Act 54, 1961. The Act abolished the one-third seats reserved for tradition authorities. Non-partisan elective principles that guided the local council elections were also scrapped. Members of the council were elected from the one-party Convention Peoples Party with the introduction of a centralized planning system to dictate to the local councils with critical management practices. With the inception of the Second Republic, Local Government Act 359 of 1971 was introduced. The new Act was initiated to rectify the deficiency in the 1961 Act. Act 359 further introduced a four-tier system which consisted of Regional, District, Urban/Town and Area Councils. Membership was non-elective, public and civil servants managed the councils as district administrative officers.

Chiefs were re-introduced into local governance with the responsibility to chair town and area councils. The subsequent legislations in the military regimes and the Third Republic failed to introduce any structural amendments on the position of traditional authorities in local governance. Thus, the local governance system in the Fourth Republic is enshrined in chapter twenty of the 1992 Constitution. The chapter enjoins Parliament to enact the appropriate legislations to regulate the development and growth of local governance. Consequently, Parliament has enacted a series of legal instruments which define, direct and control the mandates of the District Assemblies. The jurisdictions of these instruments cover the entire operations of the local government system from planning, through financing and implementation to evaluation. These are:

* The Local Government Act 462 (1993)

* The Civil Service Law 327 (1993)

* The National Development Planning Act 480 (1994)

* The District Assemblies Common Fund Act 455 (1994)

* The Local Government Service Act 656 (2003)

* The Decentralization Policy Framework 2010 (April)

* Ghana National Decentralized Action Plan 2010 (April)

In spite of the contributions of these laws to the development of the local governance, none of these laws specify any automatic inclusion or clear roles of traditional authorities in the decentralized governance system in the country. By extension, these laws slight the role of Queen Mothers in local governance. Consequently, any forms of contributions or negotiated platforms provided by the Assemblies are discretionally delivered on their own conditions and terms within a stipulated period of time.

Conceptual Framework

The conceptual and theoretical analysis of Queen Mothers must be positioned in the broader analysis of indigenous institutions, which span across various different configurations and manifestations within the context of an African political system wherein institutions defined as rules, designs and structures in a given political environment. Rules that alter the threshold of participation in the political system are likely to be contested by sets of political actors to their advantage. And thus, rules are not neutral; their versatility is dependent on the changing political dynamics of the actors in the system (1).

Martin (2000) distinguishes between two main components of institutions to include institutional environment that is the systems of informal conventions, customs, norms and social routines; and formal structures of rules and regulation, which controls and constrains social behaviors and conducts (2). And Pike et al (2014) maintain that formal institutions comprise the system of government and governance within a country while information institutions comprise cooperative work between the private and public sectors. These two institutions interact within the productions of actors and conditions within a given political system (3). The Queen Mother, as a key component of traditional institutions, constitutes a part of the informal institutions.


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