Ghanaian paramount chiefs dazzle their Kenyan Counterparts

The recent national launch of drones by Zipline International in Ghana for the distribution of medical equipment at Omenaka, north of Accra was a momentous occasion indeed, witnessed by the presidency and other cadre of leadership in the West African country.

I was among eight journalists drawn from across Africa to tell it to the world that the futuristic system aimed at saving lives was gaining momentum in Africa after the debut launch in Rwanda three years ago.

While robots flying to far away destinations within minutes carrying medical equipment including blood and vaccines to needy patients was fascination galore for all and sundry, I was particularly staggered by the spectacular arrival of a traditional ruler, complete with light flashing and siren screaming outriders, not to mention the stream of chase cars escorting his car.

It reminded me of scenes back home reserved for the Head of State and to a lesser extent, his deputy. The traditional ruler’s vehicle was as sleek as they come, almost outsmarting that of the Vice President Alhaji Dr Muhamudu Bawumia who represented President Nana Akufo Addo.  Its number plate was conspicuously inscribed with his title, OKYENHENE. No accompanying numbers. Just OKYENHENE.

More stunning was the VIP’s attendants comprising sinewy, bare chested hawk eyed men in colourful, traditional wraps and clinching gilded rods that bespoke authority.

When the ruler stepped out of the car, a king sized umbrella promptly unfurled over his head to the accompaniment of guttural rehearsed chants from the kow towing attendants as the women ululated.

He was larger than life in sheer size, proud looking and elaborately clad in gaudy but expensive outfits deliberately designed to leave one of his shoulders bare. The walk to his seat of honour mounted on a wooden platform was done in a style that left no doubt as to his lofty stature among his people.

Once seated, the Okyenhene’s feet rested on a skin clad box. A bare chested Aide de Camp stood motionless by his side, waiting to be given orders if any.

This was Okyenhene Osagyefo Amoaba Oforo Penin 11, Paramount chief since 1999 of Ghana’s Akyem Abuakwa Traditional area occupied mainly by Aken speaking people. He succeeded Osagyefo Kuntunkununku 11, a family member. The seat runs down families through king makers who select a suitable heir.

It was a dazing spectacle. My mind rushed 4,000 kilometres back home in Kenya where, though paramount and principal chiefs exist, nothing matches the grandour and momentous personality of the Okyenhene and other Ghanaian traditional rulers, not even King Mumia, the traditional ruler of the Wanga people of Western region who exhibits little sign of royalty except for his dressing about his disposition as Peter Mumia 11.

The 67 year old Peter Mumia 11 who has been on the throne since 1974 after the death of his father, Nabongo Shitawa has neither bodyguards nor aides when he goes about his official functions that include receiving visitors at his official seat of power in Matungu, Kakamega County.

His official work place at Eshiembekho Nabongo Cultural Centre does not reflect opulence whatsoever, save for a set of couches, two glass tables and a flat screen television set, He is not entitled to any salary or benefits from the Central or County Governments and depends entirely on small donations from well-wishers to sustain his operations.

Paramount and principal Chiefs who in essence are employees of the Government wield considerable power as they oversee the work of locational chiefs and their assistants within their jurisdiction.

To sample the operation of a Kenyan Principal Chief (a rank slightly higher than  paramount chief), I travelled to El Wak in Mandera County, the seat of powerful and respected Principal  Chief Isaack Adawa who supervises and coordinates  the operations of 230 chiefs and their assistants in the County through the County Commissioner.

He is a civil servant who started off in 1985 as Chief Grade 11 in-charge of El Wak location upon the death of his father, the late Senior Chief Adawa Edow Abdi in 1984.

“Mine was not an inherited position,” he explains, “but a gesture of trust by the community who loved my father and were attracted to me by my closeness to him as his personal secretary,” explains Principal Chief Adawa.
Adawa rose up the ranks fast, earning a quick promotion to Chief Grade 1 in 1987 and eight years later to Senior Chief 11 in 1995. He was elevated to Senior Chief 1 in 2007 and ultimately appointed the first Principal Chief of Mandera County in 2014, a position he holds to date.

Though taking charge of an area populated by over a million people (the 2009 census put Mandera County’s population at 2.26) Principal Chief Adawa does not swim in trappings of power like the Akyenhene whose Akyem Abuakwa region is populated by 167,896 people.

Besides his crisp uniform that he dons during official functions, Principal Chief Adawa is in white wraps preserved for respected Somali elders on ceremonial occasions, complete with a white turbine. He has no special car assigned to him and does not move with a special stool. His security is taken care of by the administration police (AP) who work under him.

A lover of education, Principal Chief Adawa donated five acres of family land for a primary school built in honour of his late father. Senior Chief Adawa Primary School in El Wak runs to Standard eight.

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