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International Human Rights, Religious Pluralism and the Future of Chieftaincy in Ghana

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A revolutionary development that resulted from Africa's experience of colonialism was the emergence of the nation-state made up of previously separate ethnic states. By the end of the colonial period the rulers of these ethnic states — the chiefs — had lost most of their real political and judicial powers to the political leaders of the new nation-states. But in spite of the loss of effective political power the chiefs continued to wield moral influence over members of their ethnic groups. The limited reach of the nation-state in the post-colonial era has also meant a dependence on the chiefs, in many cases, for aspects of local governance. This, for example, is the case of Ghana. However, in the modern context of religious pluralism the intimate bond between the chiefs and the traditional religion exacerbates tension in situations of conflict between people's loyalty to the traditional state and their religious commitment. In some cases, chiefs invoke customary laws in attempt to enforce sanctions against individuals who refuse to observe certain customary practices for religious reasons. But this has implications for the human rights of citizens. This article discusses the implications of this situation for the future of chieftaincy as well as prospects for the protection of the human rights of citizens who for religious reasons choose to stay away from certain communal customary practices.


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