Breakfast at the chief’s

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When a paramount tribal chief in Ghana invites you to come for breakfast at his palace, it’s an offer you can’t really refuse.  

And when you agree to have beer with it, it’s also difficult to change your mind. Our invitation came during our last live edition of World Have Your Say from the twin cities of Sekondi-Takoradi in the west of Ghana. 

The chief, Nana Kobina Nketsia V, was taking part in the programme in his role as chairman of the Local Organising Committee for the tournament in Sekondi-Takoradi, home to one of the venues. His palace turned out to be a large, relatively modern, one-story house, surrounded by high walls, in Sekondi where a brand-spanking new, 20,000-seater stadium has been built for the tournament by the Chinese at a cost of $38 million.

Change of dress

While he was wearing jeans and a shirt for the programme, he met us in his living room dressed in traditional green robes, hung over one shoulder, and leather sandals.He sat down on his chief’s stool, but at first he didn’t address us. Protocol demanded that he initially speak through his “linguist”, an older man, also dressed in robes. Once that formality was over, the linguist went to get the beer – a choice of lager or 7.5 per cent-strong Guinness.Ros, who had said the previous evening that he would have Guinness, now wanted tea – something the chief was quick to pick up on and challenge. Ros reverted to his original choice. I opted for tea from the start and didn’t waiver.Chief’s don’t stand

During the programme Ros asks people who want to speak to stand so that the rest of the audience can see who’s talking, but when he asked the chief one of his entourage told Ros, “Chief’s don’t stand”.

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He’s been chief of the Essikado traditional area in Sekondi for 10 years and presides over around 70,000 people.

The chieftaincy passes through the female line and he inherited the position from his mother’s brother, Nana Kobina Nketsia IV. There are around 200 chiefs like him in Ghana.

He says one of his roles is settling disputes and that sometimes judges contact him about cases they are unable to deal with, but that he refers marital problems to his mother. The chief says the poor and hungry also come to him for help.

The chief hands on power at death or through abdication and can be deposed if an elder removes the chief’s sandals and his feet touch the ground, something which should never happen to a chief.

There is a hierarchy among chiefs and lower ranked ones must doff the shoulder strap of their robe to their more senior brethren. He says the respect shown to him is respect for his position and not him as a person.

The chief on politics

He talks about Marx and the political economist Adam Smith, then says chiefs don’t get involved in party politics, but that he has sympathies for the Concept Party. It’s one of a number of apparently contradictory statements the chief makes.

He studied at North London Polytechnic in the late ‘70s and now teaches history at the local university, but then says that many Africans who are studying under an education system inherited from their former colonisers are being “miseducated”. He says he is re-educating himself.

He adds that one of our Nigerian colleagues is a “white man with black skin”.

The chief says that he wouldn’t normally speak in public, but that he made an exception for our programme as he is a friend of the boss of the local station, Skyy Power FM, which co-produced it. Then he tells us about appearing on Nigerian television.

The chief on Bush

He says he could meet President Bush who is visiting Ghana later this month – “It would be easy to arrange” – but says he doesn’t want to.

He respects the former British Labour Party leader Michael Foot, and would like to meet the former Labour MP Tony Benn, and didn’t like the way Britain was going under Thatcherism when he lived there.

African leadership

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Asked why in the past Ghana has not always looked after new infrastructure, such as stadiums, he says, “We don’t see the continent as belonging to us. It belongs to a leadership sometimes cut off from us”.

As we leave a number of people are waiting outside on the veranda where he happily poses for photos.

It was one of the most unusual, but satisfying breakfasts I’ve ever had.

7 Responses to “Breakfast at the chief’s”

  1. 1 Brett
    February 6, 2008 at 16:16

    What a great read! I wish I were able to experience times like these!

    Brett ~ Richmond, Va.

  2. 2 Dictatore Generale Max Maximilian Maximus I
    February 6, 2008 at 19:58

    A barbecue dinner in Issa’s house (It was in Uganda right?), & the goat(s) that you saw on the hillside! (I remember putting up a comment about how many of those goats were endangered!) and now beer or Guinness for breakfast!!!

    What’s next?

    I visited Ghana on business many years ago & stayed in Accra for a week or so. I liked the Ghanaian people. Mild, welcoming, warm, friendly, …. Good people!

    Personally speaking, I don’t drink until the sun sets. But I admire the adventures you are having!

    Max Maximilian Maximus I

    P.S. : I learnt something here – “Chief’s don’t stand”. Aha! That’s interesting.

  3. February 7, 2008 at 13:49

    Guiness for breakfast? I have never had that but Guiness and a bowl of chili and beans for lunch is great.

  4. February 7, 2008 at 14:48

    Chiefs don’t stand?? How nice.

  5. 5 Ros Atkins
    February 7, 2008 at 15:30


    What an interesting read about the breakfast with one of Ghana’s chiefs. Did you stop at one beer? I would say that would put a ‘kick-start’ to your day.

    Keep up the good work.

    We just had several tornadoes in the part of the country where I live. They say that the funnel cloud that touched down and killed 4 people north of us, passed directly over the county where I live. I know that about 10:15 Central Time, I had gotten up because things were ‘eerily’ quiet. I looked out and it was very light outside, heavy rain that was blowing almost sideways. I am just thankful that nothing touched down in our immediate area. The temperature has dropped about 40 degrees F in 2 days. It has been a really strange winter.

    Hope you have a good day and let everyone at WHYS know we appreciate the job you guys do.

    Cheers, coop.

  6. 6 Paul, Liberia
    February 7, 2008 at 16:01

    Hey Ros a breakfast with a Chief and having it with Guinness, man is a good way to start today’s show. Now it is with a Chief, who knows Her Majesty, The Queen might call you for dinner and this around you’re going to have a real Royal dish. Keep up the good work guys…

  7. 7 George USA
    February 9, 2008 at 07:09

    This story says more about WHYS itself than most.

    You meet interesting people around the world and have breakfast.

    I would put you only behind the fellow on “Globetreker” for travel.

    But your job is more interesting than his, talking with everyone on earth.

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