Queen mothers: the unseen hands in chieftaincy conflicts among the Akan in Ghana: myth or reality?

Author:Owusu-Mensah, I.


Chieftaincy is the most enduring institution in the Republic of Ghana's political history that has demonstrated remarkable resilience through the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial times. The traditional female position of the Queen Mother has survived with the institution. This endurance has been arduous and tortuous because the leadership of political parties through various regimes have tried to utilize the institution as a vehicle to satisfy sectarian and parochial political interests.

Brempong (2007) argues that in the colonial era, the institution was used as an instrument to administer colonial governance in the Crown Colony and the Protectorate. After independence, chiefs were recognised by the successive constitutions, but the extent of recognition was dependent on the regime. The Convention Peoples Party recognised chiefs on conditional terms but successive regimes revered the institution as partners in socio-economic development.

In spite of these turbulent times in the history of Chieftaincy, it still remains an important institution of traditional governance in contemporary Ghana. It is the medium for the expression of social, political, religious, traditional and economic authority in most Ghanaian communities.

The leadership of the chieftaincy institution has had tremendous effects on Ghana's development process in that it has influenced the political economy, industrial development, agricultural productivity, and the construction industry. In Ghana, 80% of the land is under the control of Chiefs which they hold in trust for the dead, the living and the yet unborn with government in possession of only 10% for public development (Odotei and Awedoba 2006).

Development oriented chiefs such as the Techimanhene and the Asantehene have educational funds that seek to help gifted but needy children. Some chiefs such as the Okyenhene have embarked on environmental programmes. Queen Mothers are not left out in this developmental agenda as they are occupied with children and women welfare projects as well as girl child education and the reengagements of school dropouts. For example, the Nkosuohemaa of the Afigya Kwabre District is in partnership with a local NGO reengaged 1000 teenage mothers back to school (1). The objective of these projects is to empower women through skill development, education, maternal healthcare and more importantly, in the eradication of poverty.

The structure of the chieftaincy from its antecedent has modelled the male to be the leader of the traditional authority. However, in a few traditional areas of the country, especially in the northern part has reserved positions exclusively for women to ensure that the communities also benefit from the leadership qualities possessed by women (Odotei, 2006). According to Brempong (2007:125), 'an Ohemma or Obaapanyin is the female counterpart of a male ruler and may be his mother, mother's sister, sister's daughter, ...'. The Ohemma or the Queen Mother wields substantial power in the Akan communities unlike the female chieftaincy positions in northern communities like the Dagomba, or the Gonja. (Brempong 2007).

The Akan succession and inheritance system entrusts the exclusive and prerogative right to nominate the prospective chief with the Queen Mother. Consequently, any qualify candidate who demonstrates an interest to be a chief must first be endorsed by the Queen Mother. The Queen Mother nominates the rightful unblemished royal heir, who has a strong moral aptitude in the community, and in the larger society. The right to nominate a prospective chief for approval by a college of kingmakers must be exercised by the Queen Mother three times. After the third nomination, the council of elders may select a fourth candidate through a conclave, thus, the fourth candidate so selected becomes a chief in consultation with the Queen Mother. But the candidate could be disqualified on moral and traditional rounds by the Queen Mother. The two factions may consequently resort to mediation or adjudication to nominate the rightful heir to be installed as chief.

This paper seeks to assess the contribution of Queen Mothers in the Akan regions in chieftaincy conflicts in various traditional areas. The extent to which these Queen Mothers have perpetuated these conflicts or contributed to the resolution of the conflicts is a major significance in this study. Hence, this work is based on the hypothesis that the vulnerability of women during conflict compels them to be key advocates of peace, and that they may use every opportunity to halt conflicts in their respective communities.


The study covers four out of the five Akan regions in the Republic of Ghana. Thus, the Ashanti region was purposively eliminated because of the influence and authority of a centralised chief (Asantehene) to resolve protracted chieftaincy dispute in the jurisdiction. The study adopted a primarily qualitative research methodology as a research design for the purposes of data collection and analysis. Face to face semi-structured interviews were conducted in twenty traditional areas in the Brong-Ahafo, the Central, the Eastern and the Western regions afflicted by conflicts emanating from succession disputes. The respondents were Queen Mothers, Regents, Divisional Chiefs, Registrars of Traditional Councils, Clan Heads (Abusuapanyin), and some youth groups. The respondents answered standard questions on succession practices in the Akan chieftaincy system, and in peculiar, questions relating to their traditional areas, especially on the role of Queen Mothers in the protracted conflicts.

Theoretical Framework

An analysis of women's contributions to the process of conflict ought to be established from a theoretical perspective to provide the appropriate direction to guide discussion. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) developed the Conflict Development Analysis Framework to assess the relationship between genders and conflict, hence, an examination of the unique roles and responsibilities of males and females in conflicts.

Goetz and Treiber, (2012) elucidate the relationship between Conflict Development Analysis Framework and other conflict analysis models with three major elements that interrelate with other theories in the conflict resolution process, they are: (1) analyzing context (actors, causes and capabilities); (2) understanding the dynamics of conflicts as they unfold (scenario-building to assess trends); and (3) making strategic choices about remedies and responses (with a stress on institutionalizing non-violent means of resolving future conflicts).

Goetz and Treiber, (2012) note that gender relations tend to intersect with many other lines of social cleavage, including class, race, ethnicity, age and geographical location to determine the major actors in a conflict and the relative capabilities of different actors to intensify or resolve conflict. Accordingly, women reinforce and exacerbate conflicts processes, for example, they serve as combatants, or they may provide services to combatants to achieve the conflict objectives. Goetz and Treiber, (2012) consequently strongly argue that the tendency to see women primarily as victims of violence has obscured the many other roles women play in provoking and pursuing conflict or in building peace. They contended that any engagement of major actors in a conflict in negotiation and resolution efforts must involve women because their different experiences give them different perspectives on the social and economic tribulations to be addressed in any peace accord and in post-conflict governance arrangements. Goetz and Treiber (2012) have distinguished between three types of causes of conflict: the root structural factors (systematic political exclusion, succession problems, demographic shifts, economic inequalities and economic decline and the attendant search for economic gains), the catalysts or triggers (assassinations, nomination or election fraud, corruption scandals, human rights violations) and the manifestations (surface explanation means by which is the interest are pursued) in the gender analysis, as well as in the roles played by the sexes that differ.

With regards to the second element of understanding, the dynamics of conflicts as they unfold, Goetz and Treiber (2012) note that the analysis of conflict dynamics must track the changing influences of different actors and the factors that strengthen the hands of mediators and change agents. Women may, for example, acquire unaccustomed social and political leadership roles as a conflict progresses to different levels. Post conflict reconstruction programmes require a return to...

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