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Africa Today 48.4 (2001) 152-154

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Rathbone, Richard. 2000. Nkrumah & the Chiefs: The Politics of Chieftaincy in Ghana 1950-60. Athens: Ohio University Press. 176 pp.

Although book reviewers should begin their endeavors without preconceptions, after reading the Preface of this book I was sure I would enjoy it. I was not disappointed. Richard Rathbone is a highly regarded scholar about the history and politics of the Gold Coast and Ghana. He has many years of research experience, has produced several important publications, and has made extensive use of a variety of primary sources that include government documents, memoirs, biographies, newspapers, and personal interviews. Furthermore, he applies clear, analytical language in his studies. Nkrumah & the Chiefs is no exception, and it is an expanded study of previous studies about the political transformation of the Gold Coast to independent Ghana.

The focus of this work is a political analysis of the status and roles of traditional rulers in transition from colonialism to the postcolonial era, especially from 1940 to 1959, although references are made at the end to the period immediately after the 1966 coup d'etat. Professor Rathbone raises and extensively discusses several fundamental issues about the efficiency and viability of political institutions and processes that have affected government and politics in Africa since the 1960s. These issues may be divided into external conditions and internal responses. He points out that politics in Ghana were intimately shaped by the model of colonial government, the concept of representative government, and the industrial system of economic and social development. Given these ideas and influences, he examines the CPP government's management of material and human resources, the disconnection between national, regional and local functions, and the uses of antiimperialist rhetoric. [End Page 152]

What makes this study distinctive is its specific focus on the techniques by which government agencies undermined traditional authority at the regional and local levels. Colonial officials began the process with a series of contradictory and poorly executed reforms after 1940, and when the British government accepted the necessity of collaborating with the CPP administration, British relations with the traditional authority system became greatly attenuated. Increasingly, the traditional rulers were affected by the politics of the modernizing CPP officials, who used a variety of judicial, legislative, administrative, and electoral mechanisms to reduce or even to eliminate their authority over finances, courts, councils, and programs at the local level. Some traditional authorities vigorously resisted their loss of power by appealing to the British and by helping to organize opposition parties, and their supporters engaged in militant activities. However, the new government also acquired the support of some traditional (and not so traditional) chiefs, especially as it achieved greater administrative and legal control. Through the establishment of CPP local branches the government produced its own local militants, and by using destoolment, deportation, arrest, the appointment of new chiefs, and the recombination of chieftaincies (Brong-Ahafo), the government increased its power over local and regional affairs. As Professor Rathbone clearly demonstrates, these actions led to an unstable, ineffective structure of new "traditional" officials, elected local representatives, and appointed administrative officers. In turn, this ineffective system produced poor economic and social development.

While traditional chieftaincy was greatly modified in some areas and chiefs lost power in relation to central government, the institution was not crushed. Many chiefs cooperated with government, and others continued to perform their roles within the new constraints and maintained an underlying hostility to the CPP. Also, as Professor Rathbone emphasizes, many chiefs in rural villages of little interest to the central government were able to govern their small communities. After 1966, while the old system of chieftaincy could not be resurrected, the 1992 constitution did recognize chiefs as an important institution in society. Professor Rathbone raises the point that the loss of material significance does not eliminate the psychological and social functions of chieftaincy. That chiefs retain high status for many citizens of Ghana is evident to all who have done research there in the past thirty years.

In conclusion, this is a well-written...


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