January 10 symposium: what next? ended this Friday, January 21 at the amphitheater Idriss Deby Itno of the University of Abomey-Calavi. One of the main activities before the closing ceremony is the round table discussion deciphered by Professor Arifari-Bako on the issue of traditional chieftaincies and political governance in Benin.
Benin celebrated on January 10, the feast of endogenous religions, a few days later, an international scientific symposium was held in the dynamics of rethinking the vodùn, exclusive cultural heritage of Benin. At the end of the conference, a round table was organized around the issue of traditional chieftaincies and governance. Deciphered by leading figures such as Nassirou Arifari-Bako (University Professor and Deputy at the National Assembly of Benin), Florentin Nangbè (Maitre de Conférence/Cames) and His Majesty Benon-Mora, it refocuses the debate on concerns related to the legislation on traditional chieftaincy.
On the definition of traditional chieftaincy
At the beginning of his presentation, Professor Nassirou Arifari-Bako made it known that when we speak of traditional chieftaincy, we have the idea of a projection in relation to something that does not seem to be contemporary. In other words, the concept refers to “the antithesis of modernity, the antithesis of everything that, in terms of governance, refers to retrograde ideas” he insisted. From then on, traditional chieftaincy is perceived as an obstacle to development, modernization and positive transformations in society.
However, when we situate the debate at the level of state-building, the question of traditional chieftaincy refers to the problem of local representation of public power and at the same time that of the representation of local populations at the level of the central state.
For Dr. Nangbè, who says “traditional chieftaincy in Benin says kingdom”. And who says kingdom federates “Vodunnon, Bokonon, healers, chiefs of land …”, said Professor A. Benon-Mora, because traditional chieftaincy meant power, legitimacy and sacredness in pre-colonial times.
In the rest of his intervention, MP Arifari-Bako established in five typologies, the different post-colonial governmental policies towards chieftaincy. The enumeration is as follows: “a government strategy of exclusion”; a “policy of systematic integration into the administration with authority”; a “policy of association” in which they have no clear attribution but which gives them a position of an advisory type, especially in land matters; a “policy of adaptation and reinterpretation” which functions as a continuation of auxiliarization (titles maintained, but with a new content); and finally, “existence as a political epiphenomenon”.
Towards the creation of an institutional framework for traditional chieftaincies
At the outset, it is important to recognize the progress made in relation to traditional chieftaincy in Benin. Once the guardian of politico-religious power, the customary authorities very quickly saw their power mortgaged by the colonizer. From then on, the problem of their social status, their place and their rehabilitation will arise and is still arising since independence. Fortunately, the Beninese state, in the revision of its constitution dated November 1st, 2019 has officially recognized the traditional chieftaincy as the guardian of habits and customs. In the coming months, it is the decree on the attribution and organization of the traditional chieftainship that is expected from our honorable deputies in order to rule on the profile of our traditional leaders.
Profile of traditional leaders in Benin
How does one become a traditional leader yesterday and how to become one today? This is also a major concern that the decree expected from the legislator must address. In fact, according to an article in the text being prepared by the national assembly, the kings or traditional chiefs support the political-administrative authorities in their respective territories. A measure of the said law would even stipulate that these kings or traditional chiefs can be sanctioned in case of abuses. This further fuels the controversy around the debate “Will we henceforth witness situations where a king will be deposed or imprisoned?” asks Professor Florentin Nangbè.
On this occasion, Professor Jérôme Alladayè, sitting in the audience, was quick to make a wish. The historian of religions hoped that the government and legislators would involve the experts, “the real ones,” in this reform so as not to add confusion to confusion. Since to legislate in Benin, we tend to copy the provisions of Western countries without going to the populations concerned themselves.
One thing is certain: “the traditional chieftaincy will exist,” reassures Arifari-Bako. However, “it will always be dependent on the political-administrative authorities,” he continues, before emphasizing the danger of “functional duplication (it will represent both the public authorities and the people). Moreover, since chieftaincy is already seen as “the antithesis of modernity”, the adjective “traditional” that accompanies it is “pejorative and somewhat folkloric”, according to the MP. This often denotes the impotence of French to express clearly the typical Beninese realities. The resolution4 of the said symposium has moreover ruled on the question:The rule retained consists therefore in “constituting the words in national languages, into concepts to be conquered, where the words in French are powerless to translate the Beninese and African historical facts”.
Traditional chieftaincy is an important part of Benin’s history. To arrive at a constitutionalization of this customary institution is a political recognition of our heritage because our kings are the guarantors of our habits and customs.