Chiefs and nexus of challenges in land deals: An insight into blame perspectives, exonerating chiefs



1. Introduction Over the years, large scale agricultural investment has become an integral component of Ghana’s agricultural sector. This development has been attributed to the persistent rise in commodity prices on the international market, the strategic concerns of importing countries, the wide array of viable commercial opportunities within the agricultural sector and the presumption of large vacant lands in Ghana (Anseew, Alden-Wily, Cotula, & Taylor, 2012; Borras & Franco, 2012; FAO, 2012). In large scale land investments in Ghana, chiefs are key actors who are consulted by investors for land acquisitions (Yaro & Tsikatai, 2014). This has resulted in several concerns regarding the appropriation of lands for large scale investments such as jatropha at the expense of the rural poor (Campion & Acheampong, 2014) with chiefs becoming the main actors blamed for such land appropriations (Mamdani, 1996; Yaro & Tsikatai, 2014). Agricultural commercialisation has been perceived with mixed feelings. Whilst it is seen as a signal for agricultural modernisation and evolvement of the traditional land tenure, commercialisation is liable to the disenfranchisement of the land rights of many local members (Obeng-Odoom, 2012). This is because, it tends to manipulate the land rights of the rural members through a coercive mechanism with the quest to satisfy ideological desires of powerful actors, thereby worsening poverty and inequalities of affected individuals. Yaro and Tsikatai (2014) have clearly indicated that through commercialisation, chiefs in Ghana appropriate the proceeds of land sales without due recognition of their people. Why are chiefs blamed for land tenure insecurity in Ghana? Why these attributions to chiefs when problems on land acquisition come up? This paper makes a case that these problems are not to be attributed to only the chiefs but other several actors within the land sector. As part of its arguments, the paper considers land use decisions and third-party leasing contracts/risks, and how it contributed to the problems of large scale land acquisition. It should be noted that the primary intention of this paper is not to argue for chiefs and their attributed defects, but systematically explore the challenges which confront land stakeholders in the land market, with a special emphasis on the interaction between chiefs and other key land stakeholders; both Government and private institutions. Since the study is premised on jatropha investment and subsequent transformation, it became adequately relevant to provide appropriate context for the focus on jatropha. Hence, the literature on jatropha, its boom, bust and transformation has been discussed. Again, to better appreciate the driven occurrences on blames and challenges of chiefs, there was the need to understand the historical overview of chiefs’ legitimacy, authority and property rights from the pre-colonial to the current modern state government. This has also been discussed in the study.

2. Large scale jatropha investment: Its drivers, outcomes and transformation In the early parts of the twenty-first century, jatropha became a prominent global agricultural crop (Cushion, Whiteman, & Dieterle, 2010). Several donors and development partners offered funding support for international and local NGOs and investors to venture into jatropha (Bassey, 2009). The specific drivers, outcomes of jatropha investment and subsequent transformation have been espoused in the subsequent sub-sections of the paper. 2.1. The drivers of large scale jatropha investment Before global jatropha hype, it is well-known that the Olmeca people of Mexico planted jatropha for medicine in the thirtieth Century BC (Leonti, Sticher, & Heinrich, 2003). Later, the crop spread to other parts of the world through Portuguese seafarers (Henning, 2003). During that period, jatropha was used for domestic purposes until in the twentieth century where its potential as a biofuel crop was discovered (Nogueira, 2004). This gradually increased the interest of jatropha, which was then heightened in the twenty-first century due to the world’s increase in demand for energy and climate change concerns (Ariza-Montobbio & Lele, 2010). Climate change was a critical concern because the rising use of fossil fuel has increased the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), altering climatic conditions negatively (Birega, 2008; Sulle & Nelson, 2009). Ultimately, green-fuels were seen to as the solution to reduce the use fossil fuels whilst meeting the world’s energy needs with positive implications on climate. Consequently, jatropha stood tall among other biofuel crops such as sugar cane, oil palm, corn, and soy. This was because, several studies claimed jatropha could be successful on marginal lands (Graham, Gasparatos, & Fabricius,, 2014; Openshaw, 2000), and hence, food security and livelihood concerns will not be affected through competitions for productive lands. There were others including Ariza-Montobbio and Lele (2010) who contended that jatropha was capable for reclaiming waste lands for agricultural purposes and when planted just once, it could yield oil for over 30 years. Jatropha was seen to have the potent for economic growth and rural livelihood transformation, apart from its perceived contributions to reducing energy poverty and enhancing environmental management and sustainability. As a result, Jatropha qualified for several enticing names including “wonder crop”, “marvellous crop” and “miracle crop” (Hill, Nelson, Tilman, Polasky, & Tiffany, 2006), which served as a source of motivation to drive its investment around the globe especially in Asia and Africa, where lands were perceived to be available (Deininger & Byerlee, 2011). 2.2. Outcomes and transformation of large scale jatropha investments The outcomes of large scale jatropha investments were generally negative which subsequently led to a halt in several jatropha investments across the globe. It was highly expected that jatropha investment will have positive implications on food security and livelihood. But the reality was that jatropha investment rather exacerbated food security and livelihood (Tsikata & Yaro, 2011). Jatropha production led to the introduction of new pests and diseases which later affected food crops in many countries (Axlesson & Franzen, 2010; Rodriguez, Vazquez, & Gamboa, 2014). Again, food crop farmers stopped the cultivation of their crops, and joined some investors to produce jatropha (see Hinojosa & Skutsch, 2011; Rucoba, Munguía, & Sarmiento, 2012). This later dwindled total crop production affecting food availability. Though jobs were created by Jatropha investors, the local members recruited were exploited for their service with very limited compensation for work done (Timko, Amsalu, Acheampong, & Teferi, 2014). Though the use of marginal lands was tagged as suitable for jatropha; investors, especially in Africa, used fertile lands alienating local farmers of their lands, with very little or no compensations at all. In Ghana, Cotula, Vermeulen, Leonard, and Keeley (2009) and Acheampong and Campion (2013) identified that large scale jatropha investment has displaced farmers and other rural actors from their source of livelihood. There were also negative environmental outcomes and unfair distributions of compensations and benefits for displacement (Campion & Antwi-Bediako, 2013). In relation to investors, jatropha was highly unprofitable, as the cost of refinery was huge, making it not economically feasible for corporate investors (Axlesson & Franzen, 2010; Valero, Cortina, & Vela, 2011). The failure of jatropha as a global biofuel crop has currently led to investment transformations. Also, policy attention has shifted from jatropha (Brew Hammond, 2009), and large acres of acquired lands have either been taken over by new investors interested in other crops or jatropha investors have transformed their investments to other crops (ActionAid, 2012). In other areas, jatropha lands either lie idle or community members have taken over the land for agricultural purposes (Ahmed, Campion, & Gasparatos, 2017).

3. The history of chieftaincy and its incorporation in the modern nation-state In Ghana, traditional leaders are accorded the needed respect and legal recognition because chieftaincy institutions embody the history of the people, their culture, laws and values, religion, and even remnants of pre-colonial sovereignty (Ray-Donald, 2003). The constitution of the Republic of Ghana recognises the power, responsibilities and legitimacy of the chiefs (Owusu-Mensah, 2014). Chiefs therefore play significant roles in the governance of the country, particularly in land administration and management. Before the colonial era, the chiefs were responsible for playing the legislative (law making), executive (law interpretation) and judiciary roles (law enforcement) in the country. The roles of the chiefs have however, been influenced by colonialism, civil and military regimes (Owusu-Mensah, 2014). 3.1. Pre-colonial era and chiefs’ authorities In the pre-colonial time, chiefs were the main actors of the government machinery. They performed functions such as law making, law interpretation and execution as well as law enforcement. Though, the social and political systems of the pre-colonial period did not represent a “golden age”, these systems of social and political administrations revealed deep democratic systems and protection of individuals’ rights through customary/traditional networks of culture, values and traditions (Frimpong, 2006). The traditional leaders who held administrative and political powers were not influenced by external agents above their respective powers. They were deemed to have independent power and control over the management and administration of the country. For instance, land access and use was the prerogatives of every individual in the traditional area and was regulated by the traditional heads (i.e. chiefs, elders and families). 3.2. Colonial era and chiefs’ authorities During the colonial era, the chiefs’ independent political and administrative power was mainstreamed into the administrative system of the colonial masters (the British). The British instituted “order in Council” 1 in 1856 which gave definitions to local laws, traditions, norms, values, practices and usage. One key legalisation of the traditional system during the colonial era was the institution of the Chiefs’ Ordinance in the year 1904. This legalisation supported the election, installation and removal of chiefs based on local customs (Owusu-Mensah, 2014). McLaughlin and Owusu-Ansah (1994) asserted that the new administrative and centralised political system introduced by the British, integrated the control and management of local services, despite the fact that administration of services was predominantly delegated to the chiefs. The modern state machinery which led to the rise of public bodies including the Judicial Council, the Legislative Council, the Gold Coast Police Force and the West Africa Frontier Force were created through the centralised system. These new bodies performed functions to support the chiefs in the various traditional areas. Resultantly, the traditional system and its functions were slowly merged into the new centralised colonial administrative structure, and the chiefs who were independent and autonomous in the pre-colonial era, came to apprehend the need for integration and co-operations with other traditional authorities and state institutions for sustainable and mutual benefits, unity and overall development (Owusu-Mensah, 2014) 3.3. Post—colonial era and chiefs’ authorities in modern nation-state In post-colonial societies of West Africa, land is also seen as a form of political space and territory to be controlled both for its economic value and a source of leverage over other people (Berry, 2009). According to Ray-Donald (2003), within the context of the post-colonial era, chiefs’ legitimate rights were supported during the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial eras. Various constitutions enacted over the years supported the operations of chiefs. In Nkrumah’s regime, the Chieftaincy Act 1961, Act 81 was passed which defined chiefs as individuals elected, installed or nominated in accordance with the local customs and laws and/or are identified and recognised by the responsible ministry for local government administration in the country (Ladouceur, 1974; Owusu-Mensah, 2014). The recognition of the Regional and National House of Chiefs and the roles they played were within the framework of the 1969 constitution. The institution of the Chieftaincy Act, 370 in 1971 as well as the passage of the current Chieftaincy Act in 2008 further recognises the powers and the roles of chiefs in the country. Article 270 (1) of the current 1992 Constitution of Ghana affirms and supports the mandate of chiefs to serve as the heads of their communities and to mobilise their people for development (Constitution of Ghana, 1992). All customary lands in Ghana which constitute about 80% of the total lands in the country are vested in chiefs. The management of such lands is required to be done in accordance with the customs and traditions and reflections of the interest of the people who are ruled by their chiefs (Kasanga & Kotey, 2001; Larbi, Odoi-Yemo, & Darko, 1998; Ubink, 2008). The key state establishment with key roles to play within the framework of the land sector is the Land Commissions. The operations of the Lands Commission are recognised by the Lands Commission Act of 1994 (Act 483) and the current constitution of the country (Kasanga, Cochrane, King, & Roth, 1996; Lands Commission Act, 1994).

4. The traditional power structure in Ghana The 1992 Constitution of Ghana allows for temporary alienation via leasehold titling of customary lands. The management of lands in Ghana is characterised by regulations, market and customs, which define the complexities and controversies of how land sector institutions relate (Obeng-Odoom, 2012). Ghana has more than 32,000 traditional rulers identified under the National and the Regional Houses of Chiefs and these recognised rulers are under over 200 paramountcies which have considerable and respected power and influences in the country notably, the rural centres (Knierzinger, 2011). The structure of Ghana’s traditional leadership is hierarchical in nature. For example, among the Akan speaking people, the lowest form of authority is at the clan or family head (Abusua-panin) after which comes the “Odikro” (Sub-chief/care-taker chief). The “odikro” rules the community. This is followed by the divisional head (a chief in charge some number of communities or areas/villages) who also serves under the “Omanhene” known as the Paramount chief. At the topmost part is the overall head of the tribal group, for instance, the King of the Asante people. The king is in control of the paramountcies of that tribe. The roles of these leaders at the various levels of authorities include; serving as the custodians of their ancestral and community land; ensuring the continuity of culture, customs and traditions; initiating and championing development of their areas of operations; and maintaining law and order in their defined territories (Asumadu, 2006). The structure of the Traditional leadership is shown in Figure


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