Wednesday, July 22, 2009

King of Kings and Other Kings

National and international media appeared to have missed the fact that although he came here as a plain commoner, the US President departed Ghana a royal: The Oguaa Traditional Council of Cape Coast conferred on him the title of Nana Okokodurufo Obueakwan Kofi Obama while his wife also got the queenly title of Obaahemaa Efua Nyamekye. The council will invite the newly minted royal couple to come down to Cape Coast for their investiture sometime soon.

However, the formal coronation (or re-coronation) of another foreign leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, as the King of Kings of Africa in Ghana this week was postponed. The theme of the conference was to be “the Role of the Traditional Ruler in the Integration of Africa”.

The President of the National House of Chiefs, Pugansoa Naa Professor John S.K. Nabila explained to the National House of Chiefs that the honorary title of "King of Kings of Africa" given to the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was in appreciation to his efforts at bringing traditional rulers together to fulfill the continental union objective. He said in Kumasi on Tuesday, two days after the postponement, that the conference will now take place in Accra on August 24 this year.

Regarding the cancellation of the conference, the Ghanaian Times reported a “misunderstanding between the organizers and the government over the purpose of the conference”. The National House of Chiefs, the official hosts of the conference said only that the cancellation was due to a “technical hitch”.

The Times reported further that “a source at the Libyan Embassy in Accra said [that] Col. Gaddafi, Chairman of the African Union, halted the trip to the country because Ghana was not entirely happy about his mission in the country. The source, however, added that the meeting would now come off in September without giving further details”. A Deputy Minister of Information, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, told the Times that “the government received information from the Libyan government that Col. Gaddafi could not make the trip because he was attending to some exigencies”.

In August last year, a meeting of more than 200 African kings and traditional rulers bestowed the title "king of kings" on the Libyan leader. According to a BBC report, “the rulers, wearing gold crowns, sequined capes and colourful robes met in the Libyan town of Benghazi in what was billed as a first of its kind. Col Gaddafi urged the royals to join his campaign for African unity”.
The traditional rulers were reported to have come from “countries such as Mozambique, South Africa, Ivory Coast, and the DR Congo”, according to the report. The King of Kings told the assembled royals that he wanted “an African military to defend Africa, we want a single African currency, we want one African passport to travel within Africa”.

It is believed that Mr. Gaddafi’s strategy is to engage traditional rulers, who wield enormous influence in many African countries, to prevail upon their governments to sign up to his campaign for a unified African state. A Tanzanian Chief, Sheikh Abdilmajid, said at the time that "the people believe in the chiefs and kings more than they believe in their governments”.

Whether the strategy will work depends largely on how other African governments perceive the overall Gaddafi Pan-African project. Since the transformation of the Organisation of African Unity into the African Union, the Libyan leader has assumed leadership of the “instantist” faction in the Union that advocates for an immediate institution of a continental African government. Some analysts say that the movement is not gaining ground because it is identified too closely with the person of the Libyan leader. Becoming King of Kings will not improve the mood of his opponents.

In January Uganda stopped a meeting similar to the one that was to have been held in Ghana on the grounds that it was going to violate the country’s constitution which bans traditional rulers from indulging in politics. In Uganda, hundreds of traditional rulers from several African countries were expected to converge in Kampala for a forum of traditional rulers where a secretary-general was to be elected for the “Eastern Zone”.

A senior official of the Ugandan Foreign Ministry, James Mugume issued a statement at the time saying that having traditional rulers discuss political issues without a mandate from their governments could lead to instability. The cancellation of the Ghana meeting a few days before the event has led to speculation that the government needed time to study the issue.

It is reported that there is a general misgiving in Africa about the "King of Kings" title which was to be bestowed on Col. Gaddafi, and some commentators have wondered why a re-coronation was necessary. In addition to the original coronation in Benghazi last year, Col. Gaddafi was further crowned at another ceremony in Addis Ababa on February 1 during the AU meeting at which he was elected Chairman of the organisation.

Obviously, the Libyan leader takes the King of Kings business rather seriously because convening these kingly meetings must be a bit of a drain on the exchequer of the oil rich country. In a widely reported incident, Col. Gaddafi was said to have stormed out of an Arab meeting in Qatar last March after informing the gathering that he was the King of Kings of Africa. “I am an international leader, the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam (leader) of Muslims, and my international status does not allow me to descend to a lower level”.

The Libyan leader’s royalist pretensions probably foreshadows a clamour by traditional rulers for a formal places within the structures of the African Union. During the 10th anniversary of his enstoolment, The Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II has called on the African Union (AU) to consider giving traditional authorities in Africa a seat in their deliberations. He said apart from instigating debates at different forums on the need to place African traditions and culture in the midst of the globalization process, a greater purpose will be served if traditional leaders are allowed to be part of the AU. A senior chief of the Soli people of Lusaka recently made the same case to journalists at Lusaka Airport on his way to attend a Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) meeting. "Good governance cannot be good governance without participation of traditional rulers,” he said.

There is a case for debating the merits of these suggestions but whether Col Gaddafi who came to power through a military coup 40 years ago should be the mouthpiece of Africa’s traditional rulers is a debatable point too. Only time will tell whether the postponement of the Accra conference has been a missed opportunity or saved Ghana from embarrassment.

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