This sprawling collection of essays, originally assembled for a conference in Accra funded by the Ford Foundation, provides a fascinating, albeit uneven, look at the contemporary issues facing the institution of chiefs in Ghana. The larger and more hierarchical ethnic groups had traditional rulers long before British colonialism, and the British found it useful to generalize and support the institution in order to use chiefs as auxiliaries to the colonial state. The first governments after independence sought to weaken the power of chiefs, but the book's essays suggest that chieftaincy remains strikingly popular, with over 70 percent of respondents to a survey supporting the institution, even if they appear to reject individual chiefs when they act inappropriately. What is the function of chiefs? What should it be? The mostly Ghanaian authors are not in full agreement, but the contributions make clear that chiefs have a complex relationship with the Ghanaian state: recognized in the constitution but not given a clear function in the governance of the country, at least some emerge as legitimate interlocutors of the government on behalf of their populations and their development aspirations. Some go so far as to lobby donors for development aid.
All rights reserved. To request permission to distribute or reprint this article, please visit ForeignAffairs.com/Permissions.