The Waning of The Powers of Traditional Authorities in Africa: What Went Wrong?

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Since the dawn of man and prior to the discovery of civilization, human societies have governed themselves via traditional authorities. The traditional authorities consist of the chief, his sub-chiefs and a team of elders, forming the traditional council. This body governed societies, formulating laws and orders for the people to observe. These laws regulated the moral behaviors and attitudes of community members while promoting peace and unity amongst the people. The judgment or verdict passed by the chief was final and was accepted by every member of the society. However, the situation is somehow different today in Africa. The authority of the traditional authorities that was held in high esteem is gradually being weakened.

It is quite distressing, embarrassing and even a mockery of the culture of Africans to see society members talking injuriously about the personality of the chief and dragging in the mud, their authoritative powers. People do not view the sanctions imposed by some of the traditional authorities in Africa. Thus, when summoned by the traditional council, some community members refuse the call and yell out disrespectfully 'Take me to a civil court', without any form of remorse. What actually went wrong? Many factors have contributed to this sorry situation in Africa and need to be looked at critically with the aim of finding remedies to beef up the respect for the authority of the traditional authorities in Africa.

The cardinal problem that has wrecked the powers of traditional authorities is the abandonment of the traditional values instituted to be followed by the forebears. The traditional authorities have been left a moral path and pattern of governance by their predecessors. This splendid pattern of governance campaigned for fairness and justice. It was marked by humility and respect for one's subjects. Today, most traditional authorities are enticed with bribery and corruption. Many of them overturn the face of judgment when seduced by money and other material things. Thus, they leave the virtues of truth and justice that marked their system of governance. It is sad that the innocent but poor is labeled guilty while the guilty and rich is rather branded as innocent. The general public knowing this and being victims of such gross injustice, loose the trust they have in the discretion and judgment of the traditional authorities while looking with contempt, their authoritative powers.

Moreover, wanting to be favored by political leaders and their followers, some traditional authorities take a stand for a political party though they are to be neutral in politics. Party followers of the opposing party, thus rain all sorts of insults on the personality and powers of the chief and the cabinet that makes up his traditional council. As an arbiter of peace in the society, the traditional leader is not supposed in any way to paint himself in any party colors. The refusal of some traditional leaders to be apolitical has resulted in the disdain of their powers by the community and the nation at large.

In addition, there are some traditional authorities who wrongfully occupied the seat of leadership in their communities. They may have been privileged to have skipped all the protocols and requirements for the selection, probably, due to their educational background, wealth or political affiliation. Such persons are not knowledgeable in the cultural traditions and system of governance of their predecessors. As such, they are power drunk and do not respect their subjects and/or the elders in the society. They fail to take cognizance of the views of their people and this normally results in stiff opposition from their subjects and stirs up chaotic situations in the society. Such traditional leaders and their traditional council are not respected by subjects.

To earn their lost past glory, traditional authorities must revisit and leave in consonance with the cultural values and norms laid down by their forebears. They must mimic and tread the path of the leadership of their early predecessors. They must follow the virtues of truth, fairness, and justice, which are the hallmarks of the traditional seat they occupy. They must throw aboard, all forms of corruption and bribery while demonstrating respect for their subjects. They must remember their role in the society and live in line with it as an oasis of peace, non-political agents so that they can amicably settle all forms of disputes that arise in their societies. If traditional authorities correct all the wrongs highlighted in this paper, they would recover, as it were, their powers and earn the respect and approval of all their community members and the nation at large.