Land is an important asset and helps define the socio-cultural uniqueness of every tribe, clan and ethnic group. Therefore the ancestors of all societies and communities fought and shed their blood to secure land for the future generation.
In Ghana to safeguard lands, our ancestors established the Chieftaincy Institution to be the custodians of our ancestral and community lands, culture, customary laws and traditions as well as the initiators and champions of development activities. The chiefs in principle and primarily performed these three roles to keep the society together. It is the performance of the first role (i.e. the custodian of ancestral and community lands) that this article seeks to explore in the proceed discussions.
Modern societies use land to proudly demonstrate their achievement, lifestyle, progress and as a cultural expression. The skyline of our built and immediate environment says a lot about who we are. The economic value and strategic importance of land, therefore, cannot be overemphasised. In an era of increased demand for Real Estate development we are rather experiencing stagnation and under performance of a number of businesses operating within Architectural, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry.
Though land is largely owned and controlled by the Chiefs land acquisition and entitlement problems have continued to plague or slow down real estate development in our country. Unfortunately, the conduct of traditional rulers has fuelled multiple sales of the same land to different parties, unapproved development schemes and the used of inaccurate maps leading to land conflicts and litigations between stools and other land owning groups. In some places the Chiefs have become law to themselves, using self-appointed land guards to terrorised residents. And so you ask: Are Chiefs now Land Salesmen or Custodians of sacred lands?
The role of our chiefs to protect and preserve ancestral lands is now diminishing. The establishment of the National House of Chiefs was to usher a new era in the development of the Chieftaincy Institution. However, we have experienced more conflict and disputes among our traditional rulers than ever, which are mostly due to land disputes. The prestige and honour attached to chieftaincy position is therefore gradually eroding.
Their role as initiators and champions of development activities have waned. Though today most royal households enstool highly qualified and trained professionals to be chiefs, these chiefs have also not used their experience, knowledge and skills to spearhead economic development activities in their traditional areas.
Land is a significant asset which chiefs could leverage to secure income generating activities in their towns. Yet the use of land to encourage developments, industrialisation, income generating activities, leisure and recreational parks, schools and hospitals is largely ignored. Some chiefs have rather condoned illegal mining, pollution, logging and other land degrading activities to the detriment of their own environment, whilst pretending they are unaware of what is going on. Instead of working constructively with development partners with genuine intent to promote development activities they put impediments to hinder development activities.
There is also the collusion between the Chiefs, District Assemblies and the Land Department who illegally grant permits to change land use. This helps the chiefs to carry out their money making schemes but destroys the lands. The National House of Chiefs is therefore challenged to institute self-regulation measures to tackle land management and also advise their members properly on investment opportunities. Ultimately what would be ideal is for all lands to be invested in the State under a National Lands Trust for lands to be managed judiciously in the interest of all and not only the chiefs.
As a primary function our chiefs should be champions of progress and development. The high cost and poor management of land is causing constant destruction of virgin lands. Alternatively, the chief could set up local Land Trust Boards or Committees with skilled and competent professionals as Trustees to manage their lands to support development programmes. The Trust should also consider using the lands to secure shareholdings in viable business opportunities. Today the cost of housing is astronomical because of land values, consequently, people cannot build their own places but are rather living in appalling conditions across the country. Instead of Real Estate developers exploring inner-city development they are being pushed to develop areas that should rather be given environmental protection and preservation.
Chiefs could raise the standard of living of their people by using lands to secure affordable housing. The outright sale of land may make you money today but it is depriving future generations a legacy for development. Our chiefs are therefore being reminded that they are stewards of our lands and not Salesmen.