Title: African studies quarterly
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00091747/00032
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Title: African studies quarterly
Series Title: Gale Group
Uniform Title: African studies quarterly (Online)
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Creator: University of Florida -- Center for African Studies
Publisher: University of Florida, Center for African Studies,
University of Florida, Center for African Studies
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla
Publication Date: Fall 2008
Copyright Date: 2010
Frequency: quarterly
Subject: Electronic journals
Study and teaching -- Periodicals -- Africa   ( lcsh )
Gainesville (Fla.)
African studies -- Periodicals
Genre: Electronic journals   ( lcsh )
Electronic journals.
periodical   ( marcgt )
Abstract: Presents "African Studies Quarterly," an electronic journal published quarterly by the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Posts contact information for the editorial office via street address, telephone number, and e-mail. Lists advisory board and staff members. Offers access to the current issue, as well as to previous issues. Contains articles and related book reviews. Provides information on submissions and links to "African Anthropology."
Restriction: Licensed for access by authorized UF users (current UF students, faculty and staff -- and others within a UF Library.) Some e-journal service providers may offer only selected articles.
System Details: Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Dates or Sequential Designation: Vol. 1, issue 1 (May 1997)-
General Note: Title from title screen (viewed Aug. 6, 1999).
General Note: An online journal of African studies.
General Note: Latest issue consulted: Vol. 7, issue 4 (spring 2004) (viewed at publisher's Web site, Aug. 19, 2004).
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Volume ID: VID00032
Source Institution: University of Florida
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oclc - 40217685
issn - 2152-2448
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African Studies Quarterly

Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3
Fall 2008

Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida

ISSN: 2152-2448

African Studies Quarterly

Executive Staff
Hunt R. Davis, Jr. Editor-in-Chief
Todd H. Leedy Associate Editor
Shylock Muyengwa Managing Editor
Corinna Greene Production Editor

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for
individuals to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

Table of Contents

The Challenge of Globalization, Labor Market Restructuring and Union Democracy in Ghana
Akua 0. Britwum and Pim Martens

Stakeholder Participatory Processes and Dialogue Platforms in the Mazowe River Catchment,
Claudious Chikozho

Medicine and Anthropology in Twentieth Century Africa: Akan Medicine and Encounters with
M medical A it1,,,1.,l\
Kwasi Konadu

Who Ruled by the Spear? Rethinking the Form of Governance in the Ndebele State
Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni

Colonialism within Colonialism: The Hausa-Caliphate Imaginary and the British Colonial
Administration of the Nigerian Middle Belt
Moses Ochonu

The 5th Francophonie Sports and Arts Festival: Niamey, Niger Hosts a Global Community
Scott M. Youngstedt

Book Reviews

Beyond Words: Discourse and Critical Agency in Africa. Andrew Apter. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 2007. 169 pp.
Niyi Afolabi

Political Liberation and Decolonization in Africa: Lessons from Country Experiences. Julius
Omozuanvbo Ihonvbere and John Mukum Mbaku. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003. 373 pp.
Pade Badru

Political Islam in West Africa: State-Society Relations Transformed. W. F. S. Miles ed.
London: Lynne Rienner, 2007. 221 pp.
M. H. A. Bolaji

Brown Water of Africa: Portuguese Riverine Warfare 1961-1974. John P. Cann. St. Petersburg,
FL: Hailer Publishing, 2007. 248 pp.
Todd Cleveland

Women's Organizations and Democracy in South Africa: Contesting Authority. Shareen
Hassim. University of Wisconsin Press, 2006. 355 pp.
Erika N. Cornelius

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

One Hundred Days of Silence: America and the Rwanda Genocide. Jared A. Cohen. Rowman
& Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006. 232 pp.
Michael H. Creswell

Masquerades of Modernity: Power and Secrecy in Casamance, Senegal. Ferdinand De Jong.
Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2005. 216 pp.
Mark Davidheiser

Makishi: Mask Characters of Zambia. Manuel Jordan. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum at
UCLA, 2006. 84 pp.
Olawole F. Famule

The Internet and the Construction of the Immigrant Public Sphere: The Case of the
Cameroonian Diaspora. Kehbuma Langmia. University Press of America, Inc., 2008. 97 pp.
Nancy J. HaJkin

Intimate Enemy: Images and Voices of the Rwandan Genocide. Scott Straus and Robert
Lyons. Brooklyn, NY: Zone Books, 2006. 192 pp.
Madelaine Hron

The African Manufacturing Firm: An Analysis Based on Firm Surveys in Seven Countries in
Sub-Saharan Africa. Dipak Mazumdar and Ata Mazaheri. New York: Routledge, 2003. 451
Varinder Jain

Schooling and Difference in Africa: Democratic Challenges in a Contemporary Context.
George Sefa Dei, Alireza Asgharzadeh, Sharon Bahador and Riyad Shahjahan. Toronto,
Canada: University of Toronto Press, 2006. 331 pp.
Yatta Kanu

Law and Disorder in the Postcolony. Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 2006. 357 pp.
Walter J. Kendall III

Performance and Politics in Tanzania: The Nation on Stage. Laura Edmondson.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007. 175 pp.
Henry Kippin

Vanguard or Vandals: Youth, Politics and Conflict in Africa. Jon Abbink and Ineke van
Kessel, eds. Leiden, Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2005. 300 pp.
Ben Knighton

Transforming Museums: Mounting Queen Victoria in a Democratic South Africa. Steven C
Dubin. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 339 pp.
Yves Laberge

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

The Oral and Beyond: Doing Things with Words in Africa. Ruth Finnegan. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2007. 320 pp.
T. Spreelin MacDonald

African Art and the Colonial Encounter: Inventing a Global Commodity. Sidney Littlefield
Kasfir. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007. 381 pp.
Adel Manai

Colonial Madness: Psychiatry in French North Africa. Richard C. Keller. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 2007. 294 pp.
Shane McCorristine

Yoruba Bata Goes Global: Artists, Culture Brokers, and Fans. Debra L. Klein. Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, 2007. 220 pp.
Olatunji Ojo

The Pan-African Nation: Oil and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria. Andrew Apter.
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005. 334 pp.
Rasheed Olaniyi

Africa: A Guide to Reference Material (2nd edition). John McIlwaine. Lochcarron, Scotland:
Hans Zell Publishing, 2007.
Dan Reboussin

Domesticating the World: African Consumerism and the Genealogies of Consumerism.
Jeremy Prestholdt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. 272 pp.
Jeremy Rich

An Economic History of South Africa: Conquest, Discrimination and Development. Charles
Feinstein. London: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 326 pp.
Gerardo del Cerro Santamaria

States of Violence: Politics, Youth, and Memory in Contemporary Africa. Edna G. Ray and
Donald L. Donham, eds. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press. 268 pp.
Lisa Sharlach

Xhosa Beer Drinking Rituals: Power, Practice and Performance in the South African Rural
Periphery. Patrick A. McAllister. Durham, N.C. : Carolina Academic Press, 2006. 355 pp.
Andrew Smith

Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans
Brought to America. Sylviane A. Diouf. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. 340 pp.
Anthony J. Stanonis

Slavery and the Birth of an African City: Lagos, 1760-1900. Kristin Mann. Bloomington, IN:
Indiana University Press, 2007. 473 pp.
Hakeem Ibikunle Tijani

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

The Silence of Great Zimbabwe: Contested Landscapes and the Power of Heritage. Joost
Fontein. New York, NY: UCL Press, 2006. 246 pp.
Jonathan R. Walz

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

The Challenge of Globalization, Labor Market Restructuring

and Union Democracy in Ghana


Abstract: The resulting labor market transformations imposed by adjustment of national
economies prompt changes in the organizational strategies of labor movements. Such
strategies impact union governance and undermine union democracy. Strategies adopted
by the Ghana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and its national affiliates to cope with the
fall-out of economic adjustment since the late 1980s included the expansion of union
coverage and modifications in internal union structures to improve avenues for female
and rank and file interest representation. This paper raises the major features of the
challenges posed by globalization and discusses the implications of union extension into
the informal economy as a response to these challenges.
Studies on trade unions, especially those of the political economy approach, reiterate the
importance of trade unions in arresting the excesses of globalization, such as the threat to the
environment and increasing global poverty.' They also underscore trade unions' pivotal role in
the search for alternative development strategies. The ILO asserts unions role as an important
tripartite workplace social partner in its efforts to ensure that globalization is fair to all.2 Unions
role in the solution for world development concerns come at a point in time when the positive
benefits of globalization are being questioned in several sectors. The growing amount of
literature on the social dimensions of future prospects of globalization shows that many are
wary of the so-called benefits of globalization.3
Development theories, be they "... conservative, modernisation... or dependency theory
..., conceived development as national development" and the nation state constituted the prime
focus of national decisions and actions.4 Nation states set out their priorities for resource use on
the basis of some set assumptions about how development should proceed. These priorities set
the framework for resource use for production and consumption and citizens' mode for
accessing needs. Present notions underlying neo-liberal economic development, as are being
pushed through globalization, re-conceives development as national competitiveness within the
global market place.5 The object of production under globalization is primarily for international
markets not for national consumption. This shifts the focus of development from the national to
the global, while the State's space in production gets contracted to private enterprises. 6 Neo-
liberal policies absolve the state of its traditional responsibility towards welfare provisioning.

Akua 0 Britwum is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Cape
Coast, Ghana and currently a Ph.D candidate attached to the ICIS at Maastricht University, The Netherlands. Pim
Martens is Professor of Sustainable Development and Director of the International Centre for Integrated Assessment
and Sustainable Development (ICIS), Maastricht University, The Netherlands. He is also Research Professor of
Globalization, KOF Swiss Economic Institute, ETH Zurich, Switzerland.
University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

2 I Britwum and Martens

Re-conceptualization of development and the state's welfare and economic roles impact
production and distribution decisions within countries in ways that challenge the existence of
unions' ability to represent working people.
Improved technologies especially information and communication technologies that have
been part of globalization, have caused considerable changes in production modes and
relations. A characteristic feature of globalization is the ability of trans-national corporations
(TNCs) to split production over several locations across the globe, giving rise to global
production systems which allow companies to take advantage of variations in national
economic incentives. The improvements in global production systems have been impressive;
however they impact work and work relations, compromising the observance of core labor
standards.7 As nations compete amongst themselves to capture foreign direct investments of the
TNCs, the content of their labor laws are watered down to the detriment of their workers and
the movements that protect their rights.
The ILO's Director-General on the World Commission on the Social Dimension of
Globalization, whilst acknowledging the benefits of globalization, expressed concern for its
negative social impact on work and working people, deploring the existence of global economic
imbalances as "ethically unacceptable and politically unsustainable."8 It is the significance of
work in the lives of women and men that direct the ILO's decent work agenda: a set of "policies
which not only mitigate the adverse human consequences of economic change, but which also
strengthen its positive outcomes for peoples' lives and their work."9 Accordingly the ILO's 2004
report states that the quality of work is "the 'litmus test' for the success or failure of
globalization [and] the source of dignity, stability, peace and credibility of governments and the
economic system."10 It is in this connection that the impact of globalization in undermining the
standards of work and job security has implications for its sustainability.
Alterations in the direction and position of production within national development
practice and discourse has impacted labor markets in ways that undermined fundamentally
trade unionism in several parts of the world. Trade unions have faced a consistent onslaught
from globalization policies that usurped labor's role in production. Employment welfare
became antagonistic to the efficient functioning of corporations generating what Streeck and
Hassel call a trilemma, where full employment, price stability and free collective bargaining
become untenable, any two can be achieved at the cost of the third." Governments and
corporations chose to sacrifice collective bargaining under the guise that its benefits are
available to a very small section of the working population.12
After recovering from the initial shock, unions set to devising strategies to counter the
impact of globalization. Union strategies have been influenced by several factors, both internal
and external to their national contexts.13 Internal factors have been historical (unions political
role in nation building) or contemporary (the prevailing industrial relations frameworks within
which unions operate).14 The Ghanaian state, since 1983, has been keenly integrating her
economy into the global economy. National policy making therefore is geared towards
liberalization, privatization, and deregulation justified as making production entities
competitive on the global market.
In response to the systematic onslaught on workers' and trade union rights characteristic
under the liberalizing economies, the Ghana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) devised several

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

The Challenge of Globalization I 3

strategies to respond to the challenges.15 This paper discuses the implications of some of the
major strategies devised by GTUC to respond to challenges posed by labor market reforms. The
paper raises some of the critical questions of union governance and internal democracy that
have to be resolved if such strategies should achieve their aim of strengthening unions existence
and relevance to their members as it seeks to expand its space and operations within the
informal economy. The paper begins by examining the position of labor within the globalized
production system, the state relationship with labor generally, and specific forms it has taken in
Ghana. Later sections of the paper, which outline the nature of challenges organized labor in
Ghana has faced, sets the stage for examining some GTUC strategies and points to issues of
union internal democracy. Union strategies hold important lessons for providing meaningful
representation and engagement with globalized policies that confront workers in their daily
striving for meaningful and sustainable livelihoods. The paper utilizes information from group
and individual interviews of trade union leaders and members as well as existing documents
such as research reports, historical accounts, and union documents.

Globalizing National Economies

Globalization is used to refer to the unrestrained movement of capital world-wide that has
integrated national economies into a unified system of production and distribution.16 Attitudes
towards globalization and its impact are dependent on the claims to its utility, resistibility,
inevitability, and novelty.17 Underscoring the various positions are the convictions of how
present liberal global production and production relations can improve the living conditions of
the world's citizens, irrespective of their location, through sustainable use and equal
distribution of the earth's resources.18 Globalists or 'globaphiles' believe that the outcome of
globalization is equally beneficial to all who take advantage of the prospects it offers.19 Global
skeptics or 'globaphobes' however, point to the existence of poverty, insecurity, environmental
degradation, global resource depletion, and climate change as proof of the inherently
exploitative nature of globalization and its threat to sustainable development.20
Other areas of contention are the presentation of globalization as a dominant, naturally
evolving economic form which draws into its ambit all world production processes. Onder,
Sutcliffe and Glyn, Gore, Rupert and Smith, Munck, and Buckman all contest this view, arguing
that globalization is an imposed phenomenon fuelled by the ideological predisposition of the
so-called Washington Consensus.21 Globalization combines several strands, such as the
consensus amongst global economic policy makers who favor market-based development
strategies over state-managed ones, the control of G7 states over global market rules, and the
concentration of market and financial power in the hands of transnational corporations (TNCs)
and banks to facilitate its implementation.22 Others are "... public international financial
institutions created to oversee management of economic globalization... IMF, World Bank and
WTO ... technology ... transport and communications."23 The successful implementation of
globalization was buttressed by the collapse of state sponsored socialism in the Soviet Union
and Eastern Europe.
For developing countries located in the economic South, the imposition of globalization
was fuelled by the 1980 debt crisis. World Bank/IMF Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs)

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

4 I Britwum and Martens

and WTO negotiations served as vehicles for integrating such ailing, inward looking economies
into the global economy.24 Munck explains that in the early 1980s, the World Bank pointed those
nations who dealt with it for solutions to their economic problems to policies which entailed
integration with the capitalist market. Their weakened economies forced them to accept SAP
conditionalities as the basis for accessing badly needed IMF/World Bank loans. These
conditions included state withdrawal from direct production, the privatization of existing state-
owned enterprises, and the devaluation of national currencies. Public sector workers were laid
off under the misleading name of labor rationalization in a bid to cut government expenditure.
Other policy conditions included the withdrawal of state subsidies on social welfare like health,
education, and support for agriculture.25 At present, the IMF/World Bank maintain a strong grip
on economic decision making in African countries south of the Sahara. SAPs have been
abandoned since 1999 but the numerous programs of the World Bank and the IMF that have
replaced it still bear all the hallmarks of SAP in terms of structure, form and processes.26

Labor Within Globalization

At the fall of the Berlin Wall not only did neo-liberalists celebrate the end of history, they
also commemorated the death of work. Improvements in production and information
technology had shortened spaces between countries almost rendering borders irrelevant.27 The
drivers of globalization, computers and information technology, demanded minimal labor
requirements in the form of highly trained computer experts. With time this assertion has
proven to be untrue and globalization's latest labor force, highly trained computer experts are
yet to dominate production processes in developing countries like Ghana.28 Labor remains
central to globalization because the spread of capital is dictated by production and distribution
of goods and services, artificial intelligence is yet to supply all the answers for human needs.29
Globalization however has challenged the justification for labor to secure fair entitlements for
its contribution to production.
Neo-liberal economic policy dictates that nation states relinquish their role in production to
the more efficient private capital, calling for a re-definition of labor's position within the
production process. Consumer satisfaction directs the goals of national production for global
consumption. Under what is generally termed Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI), which
characterized national development policies in the 1960s and 1970s, the focus of development
was national.30 Countries such as Ghana and Kenya pursued development through
industrialization to feed domestic consumption.31 Onder explains that under ISI national
consumption was important to economic growth and workers income crucial in sustaining that
consumption.32 Globalization replaced ISI with Export Oriented Growth and suppressed the
interests of labor in favor of capital.33 Manda and Sen note how economic reforms in Kenya
during the 1990s called for adjustments in labor laws that increased the vulnerability of the
Kenyan labor force.34 The immediate post-independence phase in Ghana is characterized as a
labor friendly period.35 The Ghanaian state was engaged in direct production and industries
enjoyed protection from external competition. Neo-liberal reforms soured the friendly state-
labor movement relations.36

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

The Challenge of Globalization I 5

When interrogating the position of the nation state within globalization, writers have been
concerned about the tendency of neo-liberal principles to undermine national sovereignty and
citizenship entitlements.37 Critics of the various economic packages that accompany financial
support to ailing economies of developing countries like Ghana have expressed concern about
national ownership of IMF/World Bank economic programs and the tendency to submerge
citizens' voices and welfare benefits in a bid to get market prices right.38 Citizens who vote
governments into power no longer constitute the centre of national policy-making. Neither are
their inputs into economic planning guaranteed if they in any way contradict the dictates of
World Bank and IMF conditionalities.39
The implementation of neo-liberal economic policies depends on state power to curb
citizens' rights in so far as they are incompatible with the profit making interests of
transnational capital. Boafo-Arthur, Munck, Abugre, and Harcourt show how the neo-liberal
policy prescriptions of the World Bank and IMF were facilitated mainly by the suspension,
marginalization, and erosion of the efficiency of democratic institutions as well as the
suppression of human rights.40 Citing Pickel and Austin, Harcourt shows that authoritarian
regimes rather than democratic ones are better able to carry out neo-liberal reforms.41 Boafo-
Arthur's discussions on the introduction of SAP in Ghana conclude that Ghana's position as an
adjustment success was only possible under a military regime that utilized violence to suppress
all forms of resistance, including that of workers. He cites several examples of labor repressive
undemocratic practices to show how the government of Ghana, keen to ensure that labor
demands did not derail the demands of IMF/World Bank conditionalities, utilized force to
weaken representative groups like organized labor.42
Labor's fortunes within globalization are undermined by an ideological discourse that
upholds profits as a sign of efficiency that will generate the required levels of productivity to
sustain economic growth for national development. To succumb to labor demands or interests
would render an economy inefficient and directed towards failure. Thus, from a favored
position under a production system that produces to satisfy national needs, labor now stands in
the way of national progress if it insists that its interests should be considered.

GTUC and the Ghanaian Labor Market

The GTUC, a confederation of seventeen national unions, serves as a major labor
organization in Ghana.43 It emerged as a labor centre in 1946 under Ordinance as a response of
the British colonial government to persistent labor unrest. Prior to 1946, most trade unions were
short-lived and enterprise based, organized to lead demands for better and fair working
conditions.44 Prominent among the factors militating against the survival and effective
operation of unions were the structure of the colonial labor market, characterized by a small
waged and skilled workforce, as well as the hostility of private expatriate employers and the
colonial government.45 Its growth as a labor centre was greatly facilitated by labor friendly
legislation under the CPP and NRC governments in the early 1960s and 1970s.46
Three main sectors within the Ghanaian economy are the agricultural and rural, the urban
informal, and the formal sectors. These sectors have varying characteristics which underlie their
labor force demands. The rural labor market, which is dominated by the use of family labor, is

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

6 I Britwum and Martens

influenced by local customs and traditions in employment. Wage determination and dispute
settlement processes in the sector follow such customs and traditions.47 The urban informal
labor market is made up of several self-employed and small enterprises and here again family
labor dominates. The formal labor market stands out in terms of the fact that employment
contracts tend to be subjected to some measure of legislative control. The informal sector
accounts for at least 81% of the labor force. The predominant type of employment is self-
employment involving almost 59% of the population. The agricultural and rural informal
sectors dominate the Ghanaian labor market, employing more than 50% of the total Ghanaian
labor force. Much of the rural labor force is employed on small family farm holdings. The
private formal sector employs 8% of the Ghanaian labor force and the public sector 6%.48
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Gold Coast (pre-independence Ghana) was
an agricultural colony and paid employment was relatively unknown. Agriculture was
generally pursued by families and under one person management, usually the male head of
household. Most Ghanaians therefore worked on farms that they owned.49 Private sector wage
employment occurred in few sites, such as palm, rubber and cocoa plantations, in the forest
regions. Mining also gave paid employment to mainly migrant workers and some from the
Northern Territories of the Gold Coast.50
The government service provided the main source of wage employment. The majority of
such employees were civil servants located in urban centers. In 1952, for example, the Gold
Coast had a population of 4,500,000 with a male labor force of 1,500,000.51 The total number of
actual wage earners was about 250,000, with 93,000 working for the Central Government and
about 40,000 employed in mining minerals like gold, diamonds, manganese and bauxite. The
United African Company, the major retailing centre, employed nearly 6,000.52 There were about
200,000 mostly unskilled workers from Liberia, Nigeria, and neighboring French territories.
Expansion in the formal sector labor market occurred with investments in rail and road
construction from 1920 to 1930. It created direct employment for artisans, technicians and
engineers in Ghana, providing formal urban employment as an alternative to agricultural
employment. Railway and road expansion impacted the mining sector, enhancing the
geographical mobility of the labor force.53 The second and most important spate of labor market
expansion was experienced immediately after independence from 1957 to 1965 under the CPP
regime of Dr. Nkrumah, with massive investments in infrastructure, industrialization, and
social programs such as education and health care.54
Labor market expansion in the immediate period after independence (1957-1965) was
fuelled by the industrialization program and the policy of Africanisation, a conscious effort to
replace all expatriates workers with Ghanaians. The purpose was to effect a complete
transformation of the colonial economic system. Formal education received a big push from
increases in access and the quality of teaching and learning facilities. The CPP regime injected
huge investments into education and health and in direct productive activity and
infrastructure.55 The expansion in state activity as well as the restructuring of the national
economy contributed to the shift of labor from the subsistence agriculture and unskilled jobs in
rural and urban periphery to technical, industrial jobs in the urban centers. By 1985 public
sector employment had increased from about 184,000 in 1960 to 397,000.56

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

The Challenge of Globalization I 7

The capacity of the urban formal labor market to absorb labor began to decline in the 1970s
due to factors such as changes in government and a corresponding change in political
orientation. Declining foreign exchange earnings, as a result of world economic recession and
oil price hikes, reduced revenue available to government for pursuing economic expansion.
From 1967 to 1972, formal employment declined as both the military regime which overthrew
the Nkrumah government and the civilian form that succeeded it undertook to reverse his
social and industrialization policies. The expulsion of large numbers of migrant workers,
through the infamous Aliens Compliance Order of the PP regime led by Dr. Busia, contributed
greatly to reduce the component of African nationals of non-Ghanaian origin in the Ghanaian
labor force. Though the policies of the second military regime of the National Redemption
Council (NRC) brought some increases in formal sector labor force, its subsequent economic
mismanagement undermined all these gains. By the late 1970s, economic mismanagement had
caused a reduction in the capacity of the formal public sector to provide jobs and to improve on
the quality of the labor force. The private sector was equally affected. Ghanaians moved in
droves to work in Nigeria and other African countries. It was under these conditions that the
PNDC took over power and set out to implement SAP with the expectation to revive the
Ghanaian economy.

Union/State Relations

All ruling Governments of Ghana (GOG) have maintained keen interest in the activities of
the GTUC for two considerations: first, the reputation of the GTUC as the most organized social
force and its primary role of defending workers' rights; and second, the proportion of formal
sector labor force the GOG employs. Since independence the GOG has remained the major
employer of formal sector labor in the country. In 2000, after 16 years of SAP induced
privatization, and consequent public sector labor retrenchment, the proportion of Ghanaian
workforce employed in the private sector stood at nearly 8%, whilst the state employed 6% in
public sector enterprises. The GTUC's form and functions are underscored by an ideological
orientation which insists that the creation and distribution of national wealth is the primary
responsibility of government and should not be abandoned to market forces. In the past this
belief made it critical of GOG policies, often to the point of mobilizing workers to resist the
implementation of any worker hostile policies.57
The direction of the Ghanaian economy has therefore dictated state and organized labor
relations, producing a checkered record of GTUC/state relations varying from close
collaboration to outright hostility and open confrontation.58 GOG's interest in the affairs of trade
unions has produced policies and practices which according to Panford "often include
interfering in internal union affairs, such as union organizing, structure of workers' associations
and the selection of union leaders" or their appointment to key public positions.59 Co-optation
ploys or recourse to physical violence have often been utilized to ensure that favorites or
persons personally connected to ruling governments became union leaders.60 The most
notorious were acts by the National Liberation Council (NLC) and Progress Party (PP) which
resulted in disbanding the GTUC and the shooting down of three gold mine workers.61 Panford
explains how "the military cum police administration of the ... NLC, which toppled the

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

8 I Britwum and Martens

Nkrumah regime, ... use[d] the police to shoot striking mine workers in 1969."62 Under the
Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC), vocal workers' leaders were arrested and
detained; some suffered police brutalities.63
The 1970s marked a period when the Ghanaian economy was subjected to unprecedented
levels of mismanagement. When the PNDC took over power in a military coup on the 31
December 1981, the country was almost bankrupt.64 By 1983, a culmination of natural and
political events in the form of drought, bush fires, repatriation of one million Ghanaians from
Nigeria, and withdrawal of Western Aid worsened the already dire economic situation.
Shillington notes that: "disposable foreign exchange at the end of 1981 [was] barely sufficient to
cover two weeks of imports. ... and there was hardly any commercial bank abroad which
would confirm letters of credit for any of Ghana's local banks." 65 Ghana's food stores were
depleted and drugs needed to support health care in short supply. The grim economic situation
was further worsened by world oil price hikes in 1980-81 which "meant that in the first six
months of 1982 Ghana was forced to spend US$100 million, three-quarters of all foreign
exchange, on crude oil imports."66 Aryeetey (1996), corroborating Shillington's observation,
concluded that the economy of Ghana in the early 1980s was ready for any form of reform and
the IMF and World Bank provided one which, in the circumstances, appeared as some kind of
life line. The recourse to IMF/World Bank SAP however, received stiff opposition from the left-
leaning members of the PNDC who had conceived of the military takeover that brought them
into power as laying the grounds for a socialist revolution. Their hostility to the turn of events
resulted in political tensions and several attempts at counter coups d'6tat that were foiled. In the
end some protesters either fled the country or were detained.67
The broadly populist orientation of the early years of the PNDC prompted the emergence
of the community based People's Defense Committees and its workplace counterpart, the
Workers Defense Committees (WDCs). These designations were derived from the central organ
of power, the Provisional National Defense Council. The WDCs waged relentless struggles to
deracinate corruption at the enterprise level. The struggles directed against management at the
enterprise level took three forms.68 The WDCs exposed management in private enterprises who
abused labor rights or they subjected management, whose practices they perceived as inimical
to the interest of the nation, to 'revolutionary' justice. The third form of workplace struggles
saw workers attempting to take over or actually taking over joint state and privately owned
enterprises.69 Enterprise-based trade unions did not escape the 'revolutionary zeal' of the
WDCs. The WDCs either subjected the activities of the local union executives to close scrutiny
or took over completely the workplace representation of workers.
The central labor confederation, the GTUC, also got its share of the 'revolutionary'
intrusions that characterized the early years of the PNDC rule. In 1983, the Association of Local
Unions (ALU), a coalition of militant local unions based in Tema, the industrial hub of Ghana,
with open support from the PNDC, took over the leadership of GTUC. This action severely
undermined the legitimacy of the operating structures of the GTUC, especially its governing
system. Members of ALU sacked the national leadership, dissolved the Executive Board and set
up an Interim Management Committee (IMC) to oversee the affairs of the GTUC. Pockets of
resistance from sections of the rank and file were too weak to arrest this move. Relations
between the GTUC and the state were tense in 1983. In addition government support for the

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The Challenge of Globalization I 9

take-over of the GTUC leadership had resulted in a reconfiguration of its governing system and
undermined internal democracy. It was against this backdrop that the Ghanaian labor
movement faced the labor market restructuring which characterized the late 1980s and early

Economic Adjustment and Labor Market Restructuring in Ghana

One role of the state in mediating capital/wage labor relations under globalization is to
dampen the cost of labor through the removal of traditional labor protection rights.
International competitiveness hinges on the ability of a nation to lower production costs of its
labor force through a restructuring of work and the labor market. The main strategies have been
privatization of public enterprises and labor flexibility. Labor flexibility is usually justified in
the name of economic efficiency, the promotion of economic growth and job creation. Its core
measures however are downsizing (reducing the number of workforce required to perform
company tasks) and sub-contracting or externalization (where firms only concentrate on their
core functions and sublet peripheral tasks to small scale informal operators). Other labor
flexibility methods include the modification of jobs, adjustments in working hours, and wage
flexibility (where wages are tied to labor productivity).71 Such restructuring is not restricted to
the private sector alone; market principles also run in public sector enterprises subjecting the
once secure forms of employment to high levels of insecurity.
The notion of fulltime secure wage employment disappears under globalization, leading to
varying forms informal work.72 Labor market informalisation is a feature of both developing
and the highly formalized western industrialized countries.73 Informalisation has caused an
expansion in the forms of work that were hitherto outside the organizational ambit of the trade
unions, narrowing union coverage and reducing union density.74 Trade unions find themselves
confronted with new types of workers who are not interested in organizing while their
traditional core dwindled in the face of labor market restructuring under an ideological
orientation that positioned trade unions as protectionist and interfering with market principles.
Labor market flexibility provided the answer for curbing trade union liberties detrimental to
economic growth.
Ghana's recourse to World Bank/IMF SAP was the outcome of years of economic
mismanagement of a neo-colonial economy weakened by falling commodity prices and oil price
hikes.75 IMF/World Bank-induced SAP was introduced in two phased Economic Recovery
Programmes (ERP I and ERP II) spanning 1983 to 1986 and 1987 to 1989. SAP policy goals
included the stabilization of the economy with special emphasis on arresting the decline in
industrial production and exports. Specific labor market-impacting policy demands under ERP
I were the devaluation of the national currency cedii), a reduction of government expenditure,
and withdrawal of subsidies on food, agricultural inputs, fuel, and utilities.76 Others were
upward adjustment of capital cost and sustenance of positive real interest rates. State owned
enterprises were privatized and some labor force within the public sector declared redundant.
ERP I also included other labor market restructuring methods like real wage flexibility and long
term public sector wage freezes.77

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ERP II, the second phase economic reforms in Ghana, was designed to lay the foundation
for sustained output growth of about 6% per annum and attain a viable external payments
position with a significant development in social services. Macro-level policies included a
continuation of ERP I policies, curtailing public expenditure by withdrawing more subsidies,
imposing further public sector wage freezes, and transferring state-owned enterprises to private
foreign concerns. Trade was liberalized and legislation amended to attract foreign investment.
These policies were supposed to increase private foreign investment, expand industrialization
and product markets, and promote job creation. Ghana's foreign exchange earnings, it was
expected, would rise to enhance her capacity to service her foreign debts and wean the economy
off dependence on foreign aid.78
The Ghanaian economy made dramatic improvements and by 1986, Ghana was hailed as
an economic miracle.79 Import liberalization provided domestic firms access to otherwise scarce
inputs and equipment while price liberalization allowed firms to pass on their higher costs of
production to consumers. The manufacturing sector for example, bounced from decline to
growth with real annual growth rate rising sharply from 13% in 1984 to 24% in 1985. The
capacity utilization in the sector increased from a low level of 18% in 1984 to 40% in 1988.80
The short spell economic 'success' came at a cost, and already in 1986, when the Ghanaian
miracle hype was reaching a crescendo in international circles, the social toll of adjustment was
too glaring to be ignored. A Programme of Action to Mitigate the Social Costs of Adjustment
(PAMSCAD) was instituted to offer relief to some social groups identified as vulnerable to
adjustment shocks.81 The immediate victims of ERPs I and II included workers in traditionally
secure public sector employment where GTUC recruited most of its members. Accounts of the
GTUC have therefore focused on how SAP-induced policies of the 1980s to date impacted the
labor movement and affected its membership and structures. Others have documented the
decreasing membership size and shrinking union funds for pursuing union activities.82 These
were the direct result of job losses and work restructuring. Job losses were caused by
privatizing state-owned enterprises, whose new owners sought to maximize profits by reducing
their work force, and by public sector labor rationalization. Mining sector reforms transferred
state-owned mining concerns to private hands. Large scale surface mining, the predominant
form adopted by the new owners, displaced rural subsistence farming communities from their
farm lands. The privatized mines failed to provide the promised employment for the displaced
farm households.
Public sector rationalization became the euphemism for massive labor layoffs from the civil
service, local government, and public educational and health institutions across the country.83
From 1985 to 1991, retrenchment and the divestiture of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) caused
public sector employment to fall from 397 000 to 156 000. By 1994, the GTUC had lost 40% of its
membership to various sector reforms.84 The categories of affected workers were unskilled
laborers, artisans, apprentices, farm hands and revenue collectors, the bulk of whom were
members of the GTUC.85
Graham, Ninsin, and Panford explain that the introduction of ERP policies into the
Ghanaian economy contributed to making the mid 1980s and early 1990s the longest period of
acrimonious state/labor relations in Ghana.86 It was during this era that the GTUC faced the
stiffest challenge to its existence. Discussions on the trade union situation and working

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The Challenge of Globalization I 11

conditions in the mid-1980s to the end of the 1990s give several accounts of how labor rights
were flouted with impunity and established labor relations practices manipulated to the
disadvantage of Ghanaian workers.87 Such excesses included the misuse of legal facilities to
freeze wages and avoid paying due compensation to retrenched workers. Legislation like the
COCOBOD Retrenchment and Indemnity Law, PNDC Law 125 (1985) and the State Fishing
Corporation, Re-Organisation and Indemnity Law, (1986), were passed to obstruct the efforts of
the National Unions to utilize legal facilities to access the right of retrenched workers to
compensation. Where union leaders persisted in their demands they were issued direct threats
from ministers of state.88 Wage levels were determined by government without consulting the
established tripartite structures. The Prices and Incomes Board set up under the NRC/SMC was
used by GOG to reduce salary and wage levels reached through collective bargaining. Workers'
protests to adjustment conditionalities that sought to reduce social wages were countered with
Domestic private sector enterprises suffered greatly from the effect of liberalized trade,
currency devaluations, and high interest rates which undermined their capacity to survive and
continue to provide jobs for Ghanaian workers. Practices adopted by private foreign and
domestic employers to cope with the impact of trade liberalization on their enterprises
informalised formal work relations. Such practices included recourse to hiring casual or
contract labor and outsourcing through sub-contracting to informal economy operators.
Enterprises used such arrangements to relieve themselves of worker overheads like pensions,
annual bonuses, meals, housing and transport subsidies and weekend rest from work. Contract
and casual workers have no security of employment; neither do they have social protection.
For Ghana, as for other sub-Saharan African countries, the economic and political principle
underlying economic globalization was an injection of SAP to energize ailing economies. It has
since taken various forms as country after country struggled to overcome policy failure and
increasing poverty. By 2004, some 43 countries, 33 of whom were from sub-Saharan Africa, had
moved on from SAPs to the World Bank/IMF HIPC initiative which provided countries
considered to have unsustainable levels of debt access to the Growth and Poverty Reduction
Facilities (GPRF) on condition that they met some conditionalities. These included the
production of a poverty reduction strategy paper (PRSP) and evidence of having submitted the
national economy to macro-economic policies of free market-oriented reforms (privatization,
deregulation as well as production and trade liberalization) that were characteristic of SAP. In
2001, the newly elected government of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) announced a decision to
access debt relief under the HIPC initiative; an admission that SAP policies had failed the
nation.90 Ghana prepared its first PRSP, the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper I (GPRS I),
covering the periods 2003-2005. In 2004, Ghana reached completion point within HIPC under an
enhanced initiative. Again in October 2005, the second PRSP, Ghana Growth and Poverty
Reduction Strategy II (GPRS II) covering the periods 2006-2009, was submitted to the boards of
the IDA and the IMF.91
The fall-out of Ghana's ERPs I and II was reforms, in the labor market that called into
question the benefit of worker welfare to economic growth. Submission to the dictates of World
Bank/IMF conditionalities set the stage for Ghana's integration into the globalized system of
production and distribution as a liberalized economy. The underlying policy requirements

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introduced during the adjustment periods of the 1980s and 1990s continue to shape the
Ghanaian labor market in ways that undermine rights of labor and their movements. Twenty-
two years of adjustment in various forms has benefited very few Ghanaians. The first GPRS I, a
policy requirement for accessing relief under HIPC, lamented how economic policies of the
1990s had resulted in an uneven economic growth across regions, among socio-economic
groups, and along gender lines. The document therefore raised doubts about how a
continuation of policies pursued in the 1990's could improve the socio-economic conditions of
the poor in Ghana.92 A World Bank sponsored evaluation of ERP in Ghana also concluded that
adjustment had a negative impact on trade, education, and mining communities.93
The policies of ERPs I and II generated an industrial relations environment that was hostile
to the existence of unions at the national and enterprise level. These policies were implemented
at a time when the GTUC and its affiliated National Unions were engaged in leadership
struggles brought on through the ALU takeover. The legitimacy and existence of organized
labor were called into question. It required innovative strategies to remain a credible and
effective labor organization to continue protecting labor rights in a hostile environment.
SAP in Ghana shook the very foundations of trade unionism, generating what Hyman has
described as the crises of workers and interest representation. The three types of crises
challenging trade unionism were: the crisis of interest representation, as the labor force becomes
increasingly heterogeneous; the crisis of workers, introduced by the decentralization of
employment regulation to the company and workplace; and the crisis of union representation,
as unions fail to organize key occupations in the dynamic sectors of the economy.94 The GTUC's
claim to represent the Ghanaian worker was called to question with its overwhelming presence
in the formal sector. As informalisation of the formal sector labor market, increased workplace
management practices abandoned traditional adversarial approach, raising doubts about union
role in workplace dispute resolution. The declining size of the formal public sector labor market
shifted the dynamism of the Ghanaian labor market to the informal economy, pushing the
GTUC to assume a more prominent role in order to remain credible as the main labor centre in
After the shock and disorientation wrought by labor market restructuring to its
membership base and presence in national politics, the GTUC and its affiliates set out to re-
strategize to deal with the challenges posed by globalization. The three main strategies utilized
by the GTUC and its affiliates to deal with globalization challenges fall in line with those
identified by Hyman for unions elsewhere.95 These strategies have tried to deal with the
problems of representation by creating structures to improve representation and participation
of hitherto neglected categories of workers (e.g. women) and by extending union coverage into
the informal economy. The implementation of these strategies was not accompanied by changes
to trade union organizing principles and notions of trade unionism. They have affected internal
governance systems of the GTUC and the National Unions and therefore impacted union
democracy. The next section presents some of these strategies and raises the challenges they
pose to internal union governance.

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The Challenge of Globalization I 13

Union Organizational Changes

Within the GTUC's operating system are three structures, the governing, consultative and
administrative wings. The governing structure is the site for union decision and policymaking,
whilst the consultative wing, provides union officers contact with membership in whose trust
they hold office. It is the administrative wing that services the governing and consultative
wings. These two structures of the GTUC, provides its distinct character as a political
organization. The consultative structures of the GTUC include the Regional and District
Councils of Labor (RCL and DCL). Also located within the RCLs and the DCLs are the
Women's Regional and District Committees which provide avenues for women's self-
organization. The DCLs are the last operating units within the GTUC's consultative structure
and ideally designed to provide channels for the union members outside the governing
structures to make inputs into GTUC decision-making. The DCLs also serve as membership
mobilizing centers to back union political decisions and actions. In short effectively functioning
DCLs are the powerhouse of the GTUC.
The appearance of DCLs in union history dates to 1947, but until 1985 when attempts were
made to revive them, they remained dormant in the few districts where they were present. A
former Sectary-General of the GTUC explained that the ALU takeover of GTUC leadership in
1982 sounded a warning about the need to improve internal union democracy by strengthening
the locals of the national unions and the DCLs.96 The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the DCLs
very active in union decision-making and their meetings provided the membership at the
district level direct contact with the governing and administrative structures of the GTUC.
Discussions at DCL meetings enabled workers to make a direct connection between their living
conditions and socio-economic policies of government. Such observations encouraged the
Executive Board to intensify the role of GTUC in the general struggles for improved conditions
of life beyond the workplace.97
Through the activities of the DCL's, the GTUC was able to fashion out a consistent
opposition to the anti-worker impact of ERP, with regular protest memoranda to GOG. A
significant outcome was the establishment of a Standing Joint Consultative Committee (SJCC)
that served as a direct avenue for union representatives to engage within state policy making
apparatus. The SJCC, composed of representatives of the PNDC and the GTUC, dealt with
socio-economic and political issues that fell outside the jurisdiction of the Tripartite Committee.
This included issues such as the salary freeze imposed in the Budget of 1994. The SJCC created
space for direct consultation between government and the GTUC during the turbulent period of
adjustment in the late 1980s and early 1990s.98 This enabled members to keep contact with the
leadership of GTUC and allowed them active roles in the call for a return to civilian rule. The
GTUC used the DCLs as a platform at the district level to collate membership views for the
development of a new national constitution and derive inputs into the formulation of the Labor
Act (Act 651) of 2003. At present, however, the revitalization of the DCLs have been constrained
by the financial standing of the GTUC and the re-conception of the Political Department,
making it difficult to mobilize members at the district level as was done in the 1980s and 1990s.
The consultative structures serve more as conduits for communicating union decisions from the

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top layers of the GTUC governing system with limited avenues for making inputs into union

The Female Factor in Union Organization

Two peculiar features of trade union membership in Ghana are the heavy formal sector
representation and male dominance. These features are in sharp contrast to labor market
conditions in Ghana. The proportion of the Ghanaian labor force located in the formal sector is
12% female and 23% male.99 Adjustment-induced changes caused the formal sector to shrink
while the informal economy expanded. At present the informal economy holds about 81% of
the Ghanaian labor force.1'0 In the formal sector, informalized labor practices created several
forms of atypical work blurring the sharp formal/informal economy distinctions. We have
referred to the recourse of formal sector enterprises to casual and temporary labor and use of
informal economy agents through outsourcing, and sub-contracting. The dramatic decline in
union membership in the face of a shrinking formal sector and a fast growing informal economy
called for alterations to trade union operating structures to allow for the extension of union
coverage to the informal economy and provide its female members better access to union
Women constitute an estimated 25% of GTUC membership and hold 12% of union
decision-making positions.101 Representation of women on decision-making structures within
the national unions varies from zero in male-dominated unions like the Railway Enginemen's
Union and the Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU) to a high of 31% for the Teachers'
and Educational Workers' Union. The proportion of female labor force located in the informal
economy is 85% as against 12% in the formal sector. This does not suggest that females have no
need for union representation. On the contrary, they have a greater need, for their working
conditions and experiences in the Ghanaian workplace differ in significant ways from that of
males.102 They congregate in fewer occupational categories where labor protection is lowest,
they have unequal access to work benefits, and they earn lower wages.103 Their unequal
workplace conditions are compounded by gendered social relations creating additional labor
concerns for working women.
The main tenets of strategies outlined by the GTUC to address union gender disparities
consist of a threefold affirmative action provisions. The first involved the creation of a special
administrative organ, the Women's Desk, to coordinate women's activities located within the
GTUC and the national unions. The activities of the Women's Desk are spelt out in a gender
policy which is reviewed every four years. Secondly, women's self-organizing units, the
Women's Wings and Committees, expand avenues for women to access union leadership
positions. GTUC and its affiliates, in further pursuit of affirmative action, operate a quota policy
which calls for at least 30% of female participation in all their educational and training
programs and a reserved seat within union governing structures for women alone to contest.
The women's self organs operate in tandem with the consultative structures at the regional
and district levels, the RCLs and DCLs. The women's wings and committees have a
constitutional mandate to pass on their concerns and decisions to the DCLs and RCLs for action.
Decisions of the National Women's Committee are supposed to feed into Executive Board

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The Challenge of Globalization I 15

deliberations. The potential of women's self organizing structures is constrained however by
financial allocation to the Women's Desk and a policy orientation that focuses on women and
not union gender relations.104 There has been some improvement in terms of an increase in the
number of females ready to hold union office. Female presence in union decision-making has
enlarged considerably and there is every indication that the numbers might rise even more. But
the women-only focus avoids tackling gendered relations within the structures of the GTUC.
Failure of the DCLs to function effectively also constrains women's self-organization within the
districts. Again, the women's wings and committees have no relations with the woman
occupant of the special seat within union decision-making.

Unionizing the Informal Economy

The national unions intensified their efforts at extending union coverage into the informal
economy, an area where the labor force operates outside the confines of the protection offered
by the legal provisions governing labor rights in Ghana. GTUC's origins have been located in
the informal economy despite the large formal sector membership. One of its affiliates, the
Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU), which has been affiliated to the GTUC since
May 1967, draws its entire membership from the informal economy. These members are a
combination of transport owners and drivers. The GPRTU has no collective bargaining
functions and operates as a welfare association working to enhance the working conditions of
its members and regulate their trade. It acts as their mouthpiece in seeking to influence national
policies that will enhance the opportunities under which members operate their transport
businesses.105 The GPRTU also acts as a conduit for accessing state and private bank loans for its
members. The remaining sixteen national unions draw their members largely from the formal
In the face of fast dwindling membership in the 1980s, national unions of the GTUC
engaged in a systematic and determined approach to organize informal economy workers. The
GTUC sets the standard for its national unions to operate in the informal economy through its
informal economy desk and policies. The informal economy desk provides technical support in
the form of capacity-building workshops, manuals, and networking platforms for unions
engaged in the informal economy to share experiences. It has been the expectation that national
unions will undertake to do the direct organizational work and identify informal economy
groups located within their operational jurisdiction for organizing. In cases of jurisdictional
ambiguity, the informal economy groups are given direct affiliation to the GTUC. Two such
unions affiliated to the GTUC in 2007 were the Makola Traders' Union and the Madina Traders'
The GTUC and its national unions utilize two models for organizing informal economy
workers. GPRTU and the General Agricultural Workers' Union (GAWU) have used the direct
recruitment of individual members whilst the remaining unions organize through existing
associations. None so far are organizing informal economy workers as cooperatives. The unions
find organizing existing groups cost effective. The approach involves identification of a contact
person who convinces an existing informal economy group to accept union affiliation. The

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contact person sometimes serves as the main link between the union and the informal economy
Since GTUC set out in 1996 to intensify organizational work in the informal economy,
twelve national unions so far have engaged in some levels of organizational work in the
informal economy. A GTUC-LO/FTF review report on GTUC's activities in the informal
economy revealed that varying levels of commitment and activity in the informal economy
produced five categories of national unions within the GTUC.106 GPRTU, GAWU, Timber and
Woodworkers' Union (TWU), and the Local Government Workers' Union are actively engaged
in organizing informal economy groups and seeking to deal with the challenges that
organizational work in this sector brings. Others had informal economy members who were not
active in union activities or had abandoned efforts at organizing. Some national unions had
organized informal economy groups and failed. The last two had never organized in the
informal economy. Whilst one category had just identified prospective groups which it might
organize, the last had no interest in organizing in the informal economy. Demands from the
formal sector-based members leave such national unions no space for engaging with informal
economy workers.
National union enthusiasm about organizing in the informal economy is largely dependent
on both internal and external factors. The dynamics within the economic sector that national
unions organize serve to provide motivation for informal economy organization. GAWU, for
example, moved into the informal economy in the early 1970s when plantation agriculture
began to use out-grower and small-grower schemes to support its expansion. Internal factors
somehow outweigh the external so union capacity (both human and financial) and the
perception of union leadership about the utility of informal economy organization to union
resources and profile sometimes outweigh the external changes within union jurisdiction of
operation. Success in organizing informal economy workers have varied across and within
unions. Some obstacles to success have been traced to the inadequate human and material
capacity, the expectations of informal economy groups, and labor relations within the informal
economy. 107
Organizational barriers, once surmounted, bring to the fore problems of representation and
union membership rights for informal economy workers. Such rights derive from union internal
democracy and the institutional positioning of informal groups within union structures.
National unions organizing in the informal economy have faced the problem of negotiating
with the formal sector workers for acceptance of equal representation and union rights.
Membership location within formal sector-based national unions for informal economy workers
is usually confused by dues payment and attachment to unions. Formal economy workers have
direct membership through their national unions. Informal economy workers are connected to
unions through their associations. Moreover, regularity of dues payment determines voting
rights and access to union office. Informal economy members pay yearly associational and not
individual dues.
Also problematic is determining the nature of representation to offer informal economy
members. Traditional trade union structures are based on a particular notion of work and work
relations, a workplace where a large number of workers congregate and have distinct
relationship with employers or their representatives. These features do not exist in the informal

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The Challenge of Globalization I 17

economy which is usually composed of isolated self-employed individuals and micro- to small-
scale enterprises employing various forms of non-wage labor, for example family members and
apprentices.108 In some instances, enterprises are dependent on casual wage labor. Cases of
permanent wage labor with distinct employee/employer relations are few. The lack of uniform
labor types within the Ghanaian informal economy challenges the traditional trade union mode
of organizing labor. As operators struggle to make ends meet, their employment statuses tend
to be diffused, straddling employee and employer concurrently. The heterogeneity of labor
types and fluid employment status of workers located in scattered and small enterprises
produce forms of labor relations that vary across sectors and localities.109
Informal economy labor relations depend on the social norms within which the enterprises
are located. These social norms uphold some basic standards of social justice and provide some
framework for seeking redress. They allow for employee employer mediation and arbitration
through traditional social networks. However they have the tendency to be paternalistic,
pandering to norms that privilege males and persons who hold high social positions.110 These
social norms have turned increasingly commercial as state social provisioning in the form of
subsidies has been withdrawn.
National unions, unable to tackle social norms underpinning informal economy labor
relations and address the policy environment that impact their livelihoods, resort to service
provisioning. Micro-credit schemes, skills training, provision of production equipment, and
marketing avenues are some of the services that have been engaged by national unions as a
measure of maintaining their informal economy members. Union capacity to satisfy such needs
has been insignificant in the face of the enormity of the informal sector and declining union
GAWU's experience in the informal economy offers some lessons for formal sector-based
national unions extending union coverage to informal economy workers. GAWU's membership
profile changed from predominantly formal to informal from 1980, and by 2005 over 50% of its
members were the rural self-employed. It was one of the national unions worst hit by
adjustment-induced rationalization, restructuring, divestiture, and privatization. Its
membership reduced by more than two-thirds from 130,000 in 1982 to 40,000 in 1997. Extension
of union coverage to the rural self-employed was in response to informalization in rural
plantation agriculture. The necessary constitutional amendments have now been effected to
facilitate institutional representation for informal economy workers within union structures.
GAWU's strategy has altered from performing purely collective bargaining for formal sector-
based members to include representation, campaigning, and advocacy to pursue national
policies and programs that will enhance the livelihoods of agricultural workers. GAWU,
together with the GTUC, engaged in a legal battle to have government repeal a law that
facilitated the dumping of cheap poultry and rice imports on the Ghanaian market to the
detriment of local rice and poultry farmers, the majority of whom are informal economy
workers. GAWU, however, remains caught in service provisioning like training and skills
development, as well as savings and credit schemes. It is also involved in the promotion of
group and pre-co-operative activities, provision of access to appropriate rural and agricultural
technology, and community re-aforestation programs. These services are putting a strain on
union finances and dampening group moral as GAWU's capacity to deliver becomes strained.

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Organizing informal economy groups in the past has seemed an insurmountable task for
the GTUC and its affiliates. However, as informal economy membership within unions grows,
representation and membership entitlements within unions pose issues that have to be
confronted. These are issues for discussion that call for a re-thinking of union identity and the
basis for determining membership entitlements within unions. This review of union
membership presents a dilemma for national unions that had hoped that their extension into
the informal economy would provide not just an occasion to expand membership but shore up
their financial base and intensify their presence on the national political scene.


While globalization is about removing state restrictions on capital, it seeks also to control
labor by making believe that social protection and job security are uneconomic and inimical to
economic growth. Labor within production is composed of human lives that should not be
subjected to the rigid rules of market demands of neo-liberalism. Workers and their movements
have been at the negative receiving end as the free movement of capital sought the fastest
returns for investments by reducing production costs. The recognition of labor rights within
production provides an important avenue for ensuring that globalization benefits are shared by
large numbers of the world's population. Trade unions are well placed to secure a fair
distribution of benefits through its worker members. Their ability to do so however derives
from their strength, presence, and relevance to their members; all of which are dependent on
internal union dynamics.
Union strategies to counter the globalization threat to their existence can be effective to the
extent that they lead to stronger unions. It is strong unions that can secure a strong political
presence within national policy-making. So far the GTUC's strategies at reviving the DCLs and
improving female representation and participation within union structures have managed to
show what potential exists and what tools such strategies offer to improve membership morale
for mobilization for union activities. Thus, union entry into the informal economy has also
offered occasion for workers to gather lessons about engaging with state policy. The success of
these strategies, however, remains constrained by internal union democracy. Questions still
remain about real representation of DCLs, the Women's Wing, and informal economy workers
within union structures. Effective representation should provide these sections of the GTUC
and the national affiliates equal status within union structures and voice in union decision-


1. Kelly and Frege, 2004.
2. ILO, 2004; Servias 2004.
3. Necla, 2000; ILO, 2004; Servias 2004; Jenkins 2004.
4. Munck, 2002: 45.
5. Onder 1998; Streeck and Hassel, 2003; RoyChowdhury, 2003.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

The Challenge of Globalization I 19

6. Munck 2002; Gore 2000; RoyChowdhury, 2003. p32.
7. Servias 2004; ILO 2004.
8. ILO's Director-General on the World Commission on the Social Dimension of
Globalization, 2004: 4.
9. Servias, 2004:202.
10. ILO 2004:5.
11. Streeck and Hassel, 2003.
12. Ibid.
13. Jelle Visser, 2003; Streeck Wolfgang and Anke Hassel, 2003; RoyChowdhury 2003 and
Fairbrother, 1990.
14. Jeffrey and O'Brien 2002; RoyChowdhury, 2003.
15. See the works of Boafo Arthur, Panford and Graham on the recourse to violence as an
essential tool for the implementation of harsh adjustment policies during the late 1980s
and 1990s in Ghana.
16. Sutcliffe and Glyn, 1999; Jenkins, 2004.
17. Buckman, 2004; Jenkins 2004.
18. Buckman, 2004.
19. Buckman, 2004, Munck, 2002.
20. Munck, 2002; Buckman, 2004; Jenkins, 2004.
21. Onder, 1998; Sutcliffe and Glyn, 1999; Gore, 2000; Rupert and Smith, 2002; Munck, 2002;
and Buckman, 2004.
22. Munck, 2002: 109.
23. Buckman, 2004: 34.
24. Rupert and Smith, 2002; Munck, 2002; Buckman, 2004.
25. Tsikata 1996; Boafo-Arthur, 1999; Aryeetey 1996.
26. Malaluan and Guttal 2003; Abugre 2003.
27. Munck, 2002.
28. Ibid.
29. ibid.
30. Onder, 1998.
31. Manda and Sen 2004.
32. Onder, 1998.
33. Onder 1998; Manda and Sen, 2004.
34. Manda and Sen, 2004.
35. Cowan 1964; Panford, 1994; Britwum 2007b.
36. Graham 1989; Ninsin 1989; Boafo-Arthur 1999; Necla, 2000; Aryeetey and Goldstein 2000
and Britwum, 2007b.
37. Onder, 1998; Boafo-Arthur, 1999; Munck, 2002; Abugre 2002; Harcourt, 2004;
38. Chavez and Guttal 2003; Abugre 2000 Necla 2000; and Onder, 1998.
39. Boafo-Arthur, 1999; Munck, 2002; Abugre, 2003.
40. Boafo-Arthur, 1999; Munck, 2002; Abugre 2002; Harcourt 2004.
41. Harcourt 2004.
42. Boafo-Arthur's 1999.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

20 I Britwum and Martens

43. National unions affiliated to the GTUC as at February 2008 were the Construction and
Building Workers' Union, Communication Workers' Union, Ghana Mines Workers'
Union, Ghana Private Road Transport Union, General Agricultural workers' Union,
General Transport, Petroleum and Chemical Workers' Union, Health Services Workers'
Union, Local Government Workers' Union, Maritime and Dock Workers' Union
National Union of Seamen, Public Services Workers' Union, Public Utilities Workers'
Union, Railway Enginemen's Union, Railway Workers' Union, Teachers and
Educational Workers Union, Timber and Woodworkers' Union and the Union of
Industry, Commerce and Finance Workers.
44. Cowan, 1960; Panford, 1994; Arthiabah and Mbeah, 1996; Britwum 2007b.
45. Panford, 1994.
46. Britwum, 2007b.
47. Britwum, Ghartey and Agbesinyale, 2006.
48. Ghana Statistical Service, 2002.
49. Cowan, 1960.
50. ibid.
51. Employment policies under colonial administration was sex discriminatory, kept
women out of some career tracks and obliging formal sector female employees to give
up employment upon marriage or pregnancy ISSER/DPPC 1996 and Britwum 2007a.
52. Cowan, 1960.
53. ibid.
54. Cowan 1960; ISSER/DPPC, 1996
55. ibid.
56. ibid.
57. Ghana Statistical Service, 2002.
58. Britwum 2007b.
59. Panford, 1996: 6.
60. Panford, 1996; Britwum 2007b.
61. Ninsin 1989; Panford 1996.
62. Panford, 1996:6.
63. Graham, 1989.
64. Shillington 1992; Aryeetey 1996.
65. Shillington, 1992: 98.
66. Shillington, 1992:98.
67. See Aryeetey 1996; Shillington 1992:98.
68. Ninsin, 1989.
69. Graham, 1989; Ninsin, 1989.
70. Britwum, 2007b.
71. Hyman, 1999.
72. Munck, 2002; Manda and Sen 2004.
73. Munck, 2002.
74. ibid.
75. Shillington, 1992; Aryeetey, 1996; Panford, 1996.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

The Challenge of Globalization I 21

76. Aryeetey and Goldstein, 2000.
77. Shillington 1992; Aryeteey 1996; Aryeetey and Goldstein, 2000; SAPRI Ghana Country
Report, 2001.
78. Aryeetey, 1996, Aryeetey and Goldstein, 2000; SAPRI Ghana Country Report, 2001.
79. Shillington, 1992.
80. SAPRI, Ghana Country Report, 2001.
81. Aryeetey and Goldstein, 2000.
82. Panford, 1996; Graham, 1989; Adu-Amankwah and Tutu, 1997; ALRN, 2004.
83. SAPRI 2001.
84. Panford, 1996; Adu-Amankwah and Tutu, 1997.
85. Baah, n.d.
86. Graham, 1989; Ninsin, 1989; and Panford, 1994.
87. Adu-Amankwah 1990; Graham, 1989, Adu-Amankwah and Tutu, 1997; ALRN, 2004;
Britwum 2007b.
88. Panford 1996, Britwum 2007b.
89. Baah, n.d.; Graham, 1987; Ninsin, 1989; Adu-Amankwah and Tutu 1999; Britwum 2007b.
90. Britwum 2007b.
91. IDA/IMF 2007.
92. GPRS 2003-2005: pp25 and 28.
93. SAPRI Ghana Country Report, 2001.
94. Hyman, 1999: 98.
95. Hyman, 1999.
96. Britwum 2007b.
97. ibid.
98. Britwum 2007b.
99. Ghana Statistical Service, 2002.
100. ibid.
101. Ghana TUC; 2003.
102. Britwum, 2007a.
103. GTUC, 1997; Ofei-Aboagye, 2001; ALRN, 2004; Duncan, 2004.
104. Britwum, 2007a.
105. Britwum, 2007b.
106. GTUC-LO/FTF, 2007.
107. ILO-GTUC, 1994; Britwum et al, 2006 and GTUC-LO/FTF, 2007.
108. Britwum et al, 2006.
109. ibid.
110. Britwum et al, 2006.


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Thesis, The Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. 1990.

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Adu-Amankwah, Kwasi and Kwadwo Tutu. "Ghana: Going Beyond Politics" in Trade Unions
and Sustainable Democracy in Africa. Ed. Gerard Kester and Ousmane Omarou Sidibe (Aldershot:
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African Labour Research Network (ALRN): Gender and Labour Market Liberalisation in Africa.
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History of the Trades Union Congress of Ghana. Accra: Gold Type Press Publications Limited, 1996.

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Aryeetey, Ernest. Structural Adjustment and Aid in Ghana. Accra: Friedrich Ebert Foundation,

Baah, A. Y. "Trade Unions and Working Conditions in Ghana (1980s 1990s)" (N.p, n.d).

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Britwum, Akua 0. "Female Trade Union Representation and Participation in Ghana" in
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Agbesinyale (An APADEP Survey Report on Trade Union Situation and Workers' Participation
in Ghana. Accra: TUC/APADEP, 2000), p. 102-122.

Britwum, Akua 0. Ghana TUC: Sixty Years of Promoting Workers' Right. Accra: GTUC, 2007b.

Britwum, Akua 0. "The Gender of Trade Union Democratic Participation" in Trade Unions and
Workplace Democracy in Africa. ed. Gerard Kester (Aldershot: Ashgate 2007a). p. 227-251.

Britwum, Akua 0, Patrick Agbesinyale and Nana KT Ghartey. Organising Labour in the Informal
Sector: the Conditions of Rural Agriculture in Ghana. Accra: Ghana Universities Press, 2006.

Buckman, Greg. Globalization: Tame it or Scrap it? Mapping the Alternatives of the Anti-Globalization
Movement. London: Zed Books, 2004.

Cowan, E. A. Evolution of Trade Unionism in Ghana. Accra: TUC (Ghana), 1960.

Duncan, Beatrice Akua. Women in Agriculture in Ghana. Accra: Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 2004.

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Fairbrother, Peter. "The Contours of Local Trade Unionism in a Period of Restructuring" in
Trade Unions and their Members: Studies in Union democracy and Organisation. ed. Fosh, Patricia
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Gore, Charles. "The Rise and Fall of the Washington Consensus as a Paradigm for Developing
Countries" in World Development 28, no. 5, 2000, p. 789-804.

Graham, Yao. "From GTP to Assene; Aspects of Industrial Working Class Struggles in Ghana
1982-1986" In The State Development and Politics in Ghana. ed. Hansen, Emmanuel and Kwame A
Ninsin, (Dakar: CODESRIA), 1989 p. 43-72.

Graham, Yao. "Changing the United Brotherhood: An Analysis of the Gender Politics of the
Ghana Trades Union Congress." In Tsikata, Dzodzi, ed. Gender Training in Ghana: Politics, Issues
and Tools. (Accra: Woeli Publishing Services), 2001 p. 293-320

GTUC-LO/FTF-Denmark. Report of a Review of GTUC's Work in the Informal Economy, 2007.

Harcourt, Mark "Neo-Liberal Reforms and Accords: Are They Compatible with Democracy?" in
Trade Unions and Democracy: Strategies and Perspectives. ed. Harcourt, Mark and Geoffrey Wood,
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004). p. 40-61.

Harrod J and Robert O'Brien "Organised Labour and the Global Political Economy" in Global
Unions? The Theories and Strategies of Organized Labour in the Global Political Economy. ed. Harrod
Jeffrey and Robert O'Brien, (London: Rutledge, 2002) pp 3-28.

Hyman, Richard. "Imagined Solidarities: Can Trade Unions Resist Globalization?" in
Globalization and Labour Relations, ed. Peter Leisink (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 1999), p. 94-114.

ILO. A fair globalization: The Role of the ILO, Report of the Director-General on the World
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ISSER/DPPC. Women in Public Life in Ghana. Accra: DFID, 1996.

Jelle, Visser "Unions and Unionism around the World" in International Handbook Of Trade
Unions. ed. Addison, John T. and Claus Schnabel (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing
Limited, 2003), p 366-406.

Jenkins, Rhys. "Globalization, Production, Employment and Poverty: Debates And Evidence"
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Kelly, John and Carola M. Frege. "Conclusions: Varieties of Unionism" in Varieties of Unionism:
Strategies for Union Revitalization in a Globalizing Economy. ed. Frege, Carola M. and John Kelly
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p.181-195.

Kester, Gerard and Ousmane 0. Sidibe "Trade Unions it is Your Turn" In Trade Unions and
Sustainable Democracy in Africa, ed. Gerard Kester and Ousmane 0. Sidibe (Aldershot: Ashgate,
1997), p.1-18.

Manda, Damiano Kulundu and Sen, Kunal "The Labour Market Effects Of Globalization In
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Jennifer L Moher (Dakar: International Development Research Centre, 2000), p. 1-8.

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Politics in Ghana. ed. Hansen Emmanuel and Kwame A Ninsin, (Dakar CODESRIA, 1989), p. 15-

Ninsin, Kwame A. The Informal Sector in Ghana's Political Economy. Accra: Freedom Publications,

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Panford, Kwamina. "The Labor Movement, Politics and Democracy in Ghana (1985-1996)"
Paper presented at CODESRIA Methodological Seminars and Special Studies on Social
Movement in Africa, Dakar, Senegal, May, 1996.

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Panford, Kwamina. African Labor Relations and Workers' Rights: Assessing the Role of the
International Labor Organization. London: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Roy Chowdhury, Supriya. 2003. "Public Sector Restructuring and Democracy: The State, Labour
and Trade Unions in India" in The Journal of Development Studies, 39, no. 3 2003, p29-50.

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Streeck, Wolfgang and Anke Hassel "Trade Unions as Political Actors" in International Handbook
Of Trade Unions, ed. Addison, John T and Claus Schnabel, (Cheltenham; Edward Elgar
Publishing Limited 2003) p.335-365.

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Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: Akua 0
Britwum and Pim Martens, "The Challenge of Globalization, Labor Market Restructuring and
Union Democracy in Ghana," African Studies Quarterly 10, nos. 2 & 3: (Fall 2008) [online] URL:

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

Stakeholder Participatory Processes and Dialogue Platforms in

the Mazowe River Catchment, Zimbabwe


Abstract: The introduction of water sector reforms in Zimbabwe was premised on the
assumption that all stakeholders would be afforded a chance to fully contribute to the
reform process. Neutral dialogue platforms were also expected to be put in place in order
to afford various stakeholder groups the necessary space to engage with other
stakeholders and have their voices heard. The Mazowe catchment was selected as a pilot
project area in which integrated water resources management approaches and principles
would be introduced and tested. Among other things, the approach emphasizes
improved governance of the water sector through increased stakeholder participation
and decentralization of water management responsibilities from central government to
catchment-based organizational structures. Relying on evidence from the Mazowe
catchment and detailed research carried out in the Nyadire and Nyagui sub-catchments,
this paper analyzes the stakeholder participation processes initiated and dialogue
platforms created to enhance stakeholder interaction. Results of the study show that the
participatory strategies and processes implemented have been generally unsatisfactory
and the dialogue platforms were weakened by failure of water user boards to function
and effectively engage people at the grassroots level.

Key words: stakeholder participation; governance; dialogue platforms; integrated water resources
management; awareness


At the global level, issues of water scarcity and shifting natural resources management
paradigms have helped to push water onto the priority list of international development
agencies. In response to increasing water demand and changing global water resources
management paradigms, Zimbabwe initiated a water sector reform programme in 1996. Among
other things, the stated intentions of the reform were to improve governance of the water sector,
bring about equitable access to water, and decentralize water resources management

Claudious Chikozho is a Lecturer in the Department of Development Studies at the National University of Lesotho.
He teaches courses in the fields of governance, social and economic development, and natural resources
management. He has carried out considerable research on community-based natural resources management in
Zimbabwe, South Africa and Tanzania. He has also done research work on smallholder farmer water harvesting
practices in semi-dry regions of Tanzania and South Africa. In all his research work, he has had a special focus on
policies, institutions and resource governance frameworks. He also has a keen interest in issues of poverty
alleviation, rural development, public sector reforms and globalization.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

28 I Chikozho

responsibilities from central government to catchment-based water management organizational
structures. The Mazowe catchment was selected as a pilot catchment planning project area
whose experiences would be used to inform the establishment of other catchment councils in
the rest of the country. This paper is based on results from a study carried out to closely follow,
analyze and document outcomes of the implementation of water sector reforms in the Mazowe
catchment. Major focus is on the utility and effectiveness of stakeholder participatory processes
utilized and dialogue platforms created for better stakeholder engagement in the catchment.
The study sought to find out the extent of the stakeholders' participation in the water reform
process as reflected through their perceptions and awareness of the water sector reforms. It also
sought to find out what programmes and activities have been initiated during the reform
process to ensure stakeholder participation and effective dialogue processes. The paper presents
lessons of experience from the Mazowe catchment that can be used to inform water sector
reforms in other developing countries.

Research Questions and Assumptions

One major assumption guides the analysis in this paper and that is, if properly crafted, dialogue
platforms can create the appropriate conditions for better stakeholder engagement and
decision-making that enables harmonization of different and conflicting interests in river basin
management contexts. In other words, the greater the participation of stakeholders in the
planning and implementation of catchment management strategies, the greater the relevance,
effectiveness, and sustainability of the institutions that emerge from water reform processes.
Dialogue enables differences and potential conflicts to be better understood by various
stakeholders who can then identify potential solutions together by consensus. Three key
questions are useful in exploring this assumption. The first one is, which platforms can be best
used or developed to implement river basin management initiatives while enabling more
meaningful and smoother exchange of ideas, information and experiences among multiple
stakeholder groupings? The second one is, what are the real and potential technical and
methodological challenges to river basin dialogue processes and how can they be overcome?
Thirdly, what sort of capacity building is required to create neutral spaces and facilitate
dialogue among competing users and interests? Ultimately, appropriate and neutral dialogue
platforms must be created if meaningful stakeholder engagement is to be realized.

Study Methodology

This study mainly utilized qualitative research methodologies to gather the required data
or information, even though quantitative approaches were also utilized in cases where it was
deemed more practical to do so. The research methodologies used reflect the importance of
analyzing the appropriateness of both process and outcomes in public sector reforms.
Qualitative perspectives tend to put a lot of emphasis on people's perceptions, meanings,
attitudes, world-views and belief systems. Patton argues that these dimensions require
description of what development outcomes actually mean to the respondents, rather than any
scaling.' In addition, the same event or outcome may mean different things to different people.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

Stakeholder Participatory Processes and Dialogue Platforms I 29

In this paper, the analysis of stakeholder participation processes and dialogue platforms in the
water sector reform programme relies, to a large extent, on narratives, perceptions and
experiences of the people who have been involved in the programme in various ways. An
interpretive approach is used to build up a relatively comprehensive narrative relating to the
events taking place in the Mazowe catchment, why they happened, how they unfolded, why
they unfolded the way they did and the outcomes of the process. A number of research
methods were used in data gathering. The methods include review of relevant literature and
documents; direct observation through attending catchment and sub-catchment council
meetings and workshops; questionnaire-guided surveys; and key informant interviews. Using
semi-structured open-ended questionnaires, surveys were carried out to establish the nature
and extent of stakeholders' participation in the Mazowe catchment decision-making processes
as the reforms were implemented.
A total of 119 household representatives were interviewed in the Musami communal areas
(Nyagui sub-catchment) and 105 were interviewed in the Mutoko communal and resettlement
areas (Nyadire sub-catchment). In Musami, the household surveys were carried out in the
villages of Mushinga, Shangure, Mavhurume and Darare to reflect communal area stakeholder
views. In Mutoko communal lands, household representatives were interviewed from two
villages namely, Nyamuzizi and Kanyongo. More household representatives were drawn from
villages 53, 68 and 74 in the Hoyuyu resettlement scheme to reflect resettlement area
stakeholder views. Households included in the survey were selected through systematic
random sampling procedures. This entailed the researcher approaching one household to carry
out an interview with the household head and then skipping the next household in order to get
a wider coverage of the village concerned. Preference for the interviews was given to household
heads if they were available. In the event that the household head was not present, another
adult family member would be interviewed.

The study sites

The Mazowe catchment lies in the north-eastern part of Zimbabwe and stretches across the
border into Mozambique (see Map 1). According to Williams and Sithole, its total area is 38
900km2 which is approximately ten percent of the total area of the country. The Mazowe river
itself drains into the lower part of the Zambezi river in Mozambique downstream of the Cabora
Bassa dam.2 Throughout the catchment, one finds various types of property regimes including
communal areas; big mines such as Bindura Nickel Corporation in Mashonaland Central and
Acturus Mine in Mashonaland East, large estate concerns such as the former Anglo-American
owned Mazowe Citrus Estate and huge timber and orchard industries in Manicaland.
Communal areas make up a larger part of the catchment in all the three provinces. The
catchment is made up of a total of ten sub-catchments namely Upper Ruya, Lower Ruya, Upper
Mazowe, Middle Mazowe, Lower Mazowe, Nyadire, Nyagui, Upper Rwenya, Lower Rwenya
and Kairezi. The study mainly focused on villages in the Nyagui and Nyadire sub-catchments
for detailed study.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

30 I Chikozho

Zimbabwe Catchment ,.
Council Boundaries

\ - A1 ^ -'.^--k k

._. ....

Source: Hydrology Department, Zimbabwe (2000)

The Nyagui Sub-catchment measures about 4 900km2 covering parts of a number of
districts that include Marondera, Goromonzi, Murewa, Shamva and Bindura. It has six water
user boards namely, Chikwaka, Chinyika, Marondera, Mubvinzi, Nheweyembwa, and Musami.
Data gathering was done in 4 villages lying in the Musami water user board. The Nyadire Sub-
catchment measures about 5 431km2 covering parts of several districts, which include Mutoko,
Murewa, Mudzi, and Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe. It has eight water user boards, namely,
Budga, Ngarwe, Mukarakate, Mutoko, Uzumba, Upper Nyamusanzara, Lower Nyamusanzara,
and Maramba-Pfungwe. The study focused on 5 villages located in the Mutoko water user

Stakeholder Participation and Dialogue Platforms

Most water resources management theorists and practitioners are generally agreed that
demand for fresh water is outstripping supply and that the traditional way of meeting new
water needs through increasing water supply is no longer sustainable.3 A study by the IUCN in
1996 concluded that the population of the Southern African region is projected to double in less
than 25 years from 145 million in 1995 and as such, water resources of the region are under
siege. The demands being placed on these resources are growing daily, limiting the region's
ability to provide its people with water.4 Traditional approaches for meeting increased demand
for water relied almost exclusively on centralized infrastructure and decision-making: dams
and reservoirs, pipelines and treatment plants, water departments and agencies.5 These old

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

Stakeholder Participatory Processes and Dialogue Platforms I 31

notions of water resources management dominated by a supply-orientation and reliance on
technical solutions to water problems have been discarded in favor of a governance regime that
embraces user involvement in resource management. It is now generally acknowledged that
water users and their representatives can make valuable contributions to water management
decision-making processes.

Governance, stakeholder participation and integrated water resources management

The concept of 'governance' has implications for water resources allocation and
management. Governance broadly refers to how power and decision-making is shared amongst
different actors and groups in society. It is the sum of interactions between civil society and
governments.6 It is thus a word which clearly has a relational dimension that focuses on how
civil society and government interrelate, and how that relationship might change in ways that
foster better power sharing. It also denotes the use of political authority to exercise control over
society's resources. It is a continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may
be accommodated and co-operative action may be taken. The United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP) argues that governance has to do with mechanisms, processes and
institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal
rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences.6 In this paper, institutions are
defined as the formal and informal organizational arrangements, rules and regulations that
influence water management practices in river basin contexts. This broad interpretation of
governance can also be specifically applied to the water sector in that the emphasis on
stakeholder participation and dialogue is, by implication, an emphasis on 'good governance'.
Stakeholder participation enhances the potential for citizens and groups to articulate their
interests and have their voices heard in river basin management decision-making processes.
The decentralization of water management responsibility to the catchment level is an
attempt to implement a better water governance framework. The establishment of catchment
councils, sub-catchment councils and water user boards is the operationalization of this
framework. In this paper, 'decentralization' is defined as the deliberate and systematic shift of
water management responsibilities from central government departments and ministries to
local authorities at catchment, sub-catchment and water user board levels. It is becoming
apparent that in the water sector reforms, decentralization, stakeholder participation and
dialogue platforms have become both an end and a means to an end as they are expected to
lead to increased stakeholder empowerment. But the model of decentralization promoted under
the integrated water resources management (IWRM) framework is not a general type of
decentralization. It is targeted at very specific functions of resource management and
administration. While these functions are systematically shifted from central government to
new management structures at the catchment level, central government departments and
agencies retain a significant amount of overall authority and responsibility. They have the
power to re-possess the authority transferred to the lower level management structures. They
also define the rules and regulations that guide the operations of these structures. Therefore, the
preferred mode of decentralization in the water sector tends to be de-concentration, a mode that
does not offer many opportunities for genuinely empowering water users. De-concentrated

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

32 I Chikozho

government officials continue to play a more significant role than locally elected representatives
at the river basin level.

Dialogue as a viable option in river basin decision-making processes

As is the case in the management of most other common property resources, river basin
management has become increasingly concerned with bringing in stakeholders to key decision-
making processes. When individuals or groups of individuals share water resources as a
common property, they are connected in a socio-political, economic and ecological sense.
Misuse of the resource by one individual affects other users.7 It is this understanding of water
that works as a catalyst for collective action among communities in water management. It has
also led to the growth of the stakeholder-based basin management approaches (a new form of
collective action). Thus, many development projects that affect river basins are now subject to
more inclusive assessments and decision-making procedures than they were in the past.
Opportunities for hitherto, marginalized voices (rural farmers and the poor) to make
themselves heard have increased.8
Due to the ever-present potential for conflict and diverse views over resource sharing
arrangements and practices, one of the cornerstones of stakeholder participation in a river basin
context becomes dialogue. Dialogue basically refers to the process of interaction between
different stakeholders with a view to addressing specific problems related to competing
interests, conflicts, and views on how basin resources should be used or managed. Therefore,
dialogue is an option that directly addresses the requirements for stakeholder participation and
collective action in water resources management. What immediately becomes crucial is the
identification of key stakeholders that would make the dialogue process viable, more
meaningful, and effective. It is also important to find ways in which each stakeholder group can
participate effectively.
Each river basin is usually constituted by a particular array and configuration of
stakeholders whose social, economic and political position gives each of them a unique ability
(or lack of) to have their voices heard in basin decision-making and negotiation processes. Due
to different ecological, social, economic and political circumstances, stakeholder interactions
differ from one basin to another. Wester and Warner argue that it the size of the population in
most river basins precludes the direct participation of all stakeholders in basin level decision-
making.9 Thus, questions that usually arise in relation to stakeholders in river basins include:
Who should be seen as a legitimate stakeholder? Who should represent groups of stakeholders?
Are all stakeholders equal in terms of rights to make decisions affecting the basin? Which
stakeholder groups are likely to dominate the decision-making process? What forms of
representation are appropriate for different stakeholder groups? Different stakeholder concerns
and worldviews on development, participation, and river basins are shaped by where they
come from, what scale they operate at, and how they perceive problems facing the resource.
Stakeholder analysis is therefore, an essential component in the design of river basin
management frameworks. It is also important to identify the stakeholders' diverse needs and
interests and their relative power and influence, especially for low-visibility groups that are
traditionally excluded from the public arena.

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Stakeholder Participatory Processes and Dialogue Platforms I 33

A few salient points cut across most accounts of dialogue processes. Allen provides a
concise summary of these points. He states that dialogue leads to the development of shared
understandings by the groups involved through negotiation. It leads to a convergence of
interests, and learning about the stakes and mechanisms at work. It also leads to deliberate
reflection about mutual interdependence among the conflicting parties.10 Dialogue is therefore a
useful tool where a range of perspectives must be brought to bear on complex issues such as
those posed by integrated catchment management, challenges that need to involve multiple
stakeholders in making decisions which take account of social, ecological and economic
considerations. As the decision-making environment becomes more contested, the need for
effective dialogue increases.
Platforms and fora for stakeholder dialogue have to be identified (or created) if dialogue is
to become a formal component of river basin management. In some cases, this might mean
having recourse to institutional arrangements that formalize participation of stakeholders in
key river basin management bodies. Stakeholder dialogue may also be more focused on specific
decisions and projects, for example, through environmental impact assessment processes. At
another level, stakeholder dialogue may focus on governance arrangements and broad
principles. However, successful establishment of stakeholder opportunities and platforms for
negotiation does not and cannot take place overnight. It is usually the outcome of years of
negotiation and less inclusive decision-making, and the terms of involvement are continuously
re-evaluated and re-negotiated."

Catchments, Sub-catchments and Water User Board Areas

A catchment refers to all the land drained by a single river and its tributaries. It is a
hydrological zone or physical geographical area of land dominated by one big river into which
several smaller rivers and streams flow. It is therefore, the area constituted by all the places
from which rainfall run-off flows to the dominant river (river catchment area). The Mazowe
River, for instance, forms a big catchment (about 39 000 km2) into which several tributaries such
as the Nyadire river and the Nyagui river drain. The characteristics of any river (physical,
chemical, biological etc.) are determined by the nature of the catchment and the activities, both
anthropogenic and natural, that take place in it. A sub-catchment is a sub-section of the
catchment defined by the catchment area of one of the rivers that flow into the major catchment
river. The Nyadire river catchment area, for instance, forms a sub-catchment of the Mazowe
catchment area. A water user board area is ordinarily a smaller geographical unit of the sub-
catchment. Its boundaries are determined by the catchment area of a smaller river or stream that
flows into the sub-catchment river. However, there are cases in the Mazowe catchment where
water user board boundaries were not determined by hydrological units but by administrative
demarcations (wards). The catchment council, sub-catchment council, and water user board
committees provide the stakeholder dialogue platforms where water issues and conflicts are
dealt with.

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34 I Chikozho

The Mazowe Catchment Experience

The water management regime established during colonialism in Zimbabwe systematically
excluded the larger majority of people from the decision-making process through the
requirement that one had to have a water right to qualify for membership of river boards.
Decentralization of water management responsibility to new institutions at the catchment, sub-
catchment, and water user board levels has been adopted as a way of correcting these historical
inequities. In the long-run, these institutions are also expected to actively lead the information
dissemination process. When the Mazowe catchment was chosen as one of the pilot catchment
planning project areas, its express mandate was to interpret the principles of the integrated
water resources management approach and convert them into specific action plans that would
be tried and tested in the catchment before they were replicated elsewhere. IWRM stresses
comprehensive river basin management, decentralized water management structures,
stakeholder participation, and reliance on the market mechanism, pricing, and technology to
promote water efficiency, recover costs, and conserve the resource. In the Mazowe catchment,
participation of a wider spectrum of stakeholders in decisions regarding water allocation was
expected to make the process more transparent and less conflict-ridden given that the
catchment had many water right holders and competition for the available water was increasing
By April 1997, the catchment could boast of at least some clearly defined institutional
structure that was beginning to operate and spearhead the reforms. On 11 April 1997, the
Mazowe pilot project was officially launched. Community-level elections for thirty-two water
user boards were subsequently held during the following month. Each water user board
nominated two members to represent their stakeholders at the sub-catchment level. Sub-
catchment councils met for the first time in June 1997 and nominated two members each who
would represent them at the catchment council level. The fully elected Mazowe catchment
council officially met for the first time in July 1997 and was expected to meet once every month
thereafter. At that time, most of the discussions held by the catchment council centered on how
to assist the fledgling water user boards and sub-catchment councils within the original project
area so that they could become fully functional.

Media and methods of stakeholder consultation used

Knowledge and information are cornerstones of any dialogue and public participation
process. Knowledge and information empowers and capacitates participants in dialogue
platforms. Well-informed stakeholders are better placed to make meaningful contributions to
the dialogue process. The media and methods of communication or information dissemination
used in any public participation programme determine the extent to which stakeholders gain
knowledge and information. Therefore, information dissemination has a direct bearing on the
effectiveness of the dialogue process. Results of observations and surveys carried out during
this study to assess the effectiveness of the consultation process in water reforms are quite

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Stakeholder Participatory Processes and Dialogue Platforms I 35

revealing. The WRMS secretariat mainly disseminated information through meetings and
workshops as well as through the electronic and print media. In the print media, pamphlets
printed in English and translated to some of the major local languages such as Shona, Ndebele,
and Tonga were produced. Posters in English, Shona and Ndebele were printed and distributed
throughout the country. Adverts regarding the water reforms were also placed in all the major
newspapers. The electronic media used radio, audio drama and television news items to
publicize the reforms. Despite all these efforts, the process has generally been very slow in
disseminating information to all people in most catchment areas and results from the data
gathered in the Nyadire and Nyagui sub-catchments confirm this conclusion. More than 90% of
respondents interviewed in these sub-catchments were completely unaware of the reforms and
the new institutions formed.
In the whole of the Mazowe catchment, where distribution records of the information
dissemination material were kept, a total of about 12,487 Shona pamphlets, 4,711 English
pamphlets, and 2,426 posters were sent out for public consumption. These were sent out
through the offices of the District Administrator, Provincial Administrator, the Governor,
Agricultural Extension officers, the Natural Resources Board, Commercial Farmers Union,
Zimbabwe Farmers Union, and traditional leadership structures. It is debatable and doubtful
that this was an effective way of disseminating information because the information did not
reach the grassroots level. Where the grassroots people got hold of the pamphlets, they either
did not read them or read them without understanding the message conveyed altogether.
Advertisements put in the print media are not necessarily effective because many people may
not access them. Besides, advertisements do not give room for feedback from the target group
such that WRMS could not have established whether or not they reached the intended targets
with their communication strategy.
WRMS convened national and catchment-specific consultative workshops. All key
stakeholder groups were invited to send representatives to these workshops. The researcher
attended a number of the workshops in the Mazowe catchment and also had access to reports of
workshops carried out in other catchments of the country. Most of the workshops were well
attended and WRMS presented information on the reform process. Participants discussed the
information and immediately gave some feedback regarding their views about the reforms. It
was assumed that the representatives would then go back and disseminate the information
among their constituencies at the grassroots level but there are indications to show that this did
not happen. The surveys carried out by the researcher in the Nyagui and Nyadire sub-
catchments indicated there were no systematic report-backs to the grassroots level. As a result,
while sub-catchment council members and other stakeholder representatives have been
exposed to the major water sector reform issues, their constituencies have, to a large extent,
remained unaware of these issues.

The process of stakeholder consultation

In each of the workshops held at the national, catchment, and sub-catchment levels, key
stakeholders were represented and specific aspects of the reforms were discussed and clarified.
Active interaction took place between WRMS, the Department of Water Development (DWD)

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36 I Chikozho

and most of the stakeholders and a lot of feedback was provided to WRMS. Most of the people
who attended these workshops demonstrated improved understanding of the reform process
after the workshops. In 2001 and 2003 when key informant interviews were held with some of
the catchment and sub-catchment council members who had attended the workshops, most of
them could still remember the key issues discussed and relate them to the ongoing reforms.
They generally demonstrated a clear understanding of the rationale for the reforms, key
changes made to the water Act, and the role of ZINWA as a newly established institution.
There was not much difference in the level of awareness and understanding between
different stakeholder groups. One major draw-back though is that the workshops limited
discussions and increased awareness to only workshop participants and representatives from
various stakeholder groups. There was no systematic transfer of the knowledge to the
grassroots level. Interviews carried out with Rural District Council (RDC) officials indicated
that only their representative who attended the workshops was fully informed. The rest of the
officials would have only heard about the reforms without getting any detailed information.
The same situation prevailed in the communal and resettlement areas where traditional leaders
and RDC councilors were aware of the reforms while most of the ordinary people were not well

The electronic media

As part of the awareness campaigns and information dissemination, WRMS ran a 10-minute
long drama series in Ndebele and Shona on Radio 2. Advertisements were also shown on
television by both WRMS and ZINWA. It is difficult to determine the overall effectiveness of
these advertisements as no formal survey was carried out to assess stakeholder reception and
understanding of the drama. However, it can be safely concluded that the advertisements could
only reach those people with television sets who happened to be watching the television at the
particular times when they were shown. In urban, mining and commercial farming areas, the
television is effective in that it provides both visual and sound images during information
dissemination. But for most people in rural and resettlement areas of Zimbabwe, the television
is a luxury that they do not possess. Discussions held with stakeholders in communal and
resettlement areas of the Nyagui and Nyadire sub-catchments revealed that the most effective
way to disseminate information in these areas is to use existing communication channels and
leadership structures. These include the local governance system, agricultural extension officers,
religious leaders, schools and traditional leaders such as chiefs, kraal-heads or village
chairpersons. These have closer and constant interaction with the people at the grassroots level.
During the study, most of the people who were not aware of the ongoing water sector reforms
tended to perceive the reforms as having little to do with their lives. They were therefore,
indifferent to the whole process.

Stakeholder analysis

The study revealed that consultation of key stakeholders had not been properly targeted.
For instance, it generally targeted all people in the communal and resettlement areas instead of

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Stakeholder Participatory Processes and Dialogue Platforms I 37

farmers. Some of the key community figures such as councilors, RDC officials and traditional
leaders were invited to the catchment and sub-catchment councils but then these leaders tend to
represent political or administrative platforms. If farmer groups had been targeted, they would
represent the farming community and this is the group with water issues at heart because water
makes a difference in farming. Awareness would have spread through and among people with
a genuine interest in water resources management (farmer group networks). Information
dissemination through farmer group networks could also have been enhanced by reliance on
agricultural extension and Zimbabwe Farmers' Union officials. These agencies are directly
involved and interested in water issues and they also have a direct link with the communities.
In addition, observations made by the researcher during workshops and meetings
organized by WRMS in the Mazowe Catchment are that the process was not really consultative
or participatory. WRMS officials tended to introduce pre-determined ideas, concepts and
principles that they felt were good for the reform process and ask participants to debate on
them and select those that should be included in the water policy and legislation. Therefore,
what really transpired may be called 'guided stakeholder participation' and not genuine
participation. Stakeholder participation requires that you identify the problems and solutions
with the people involved as opposed to doing it for them.12 In the case of the Mazowe
catchment, consultation would have been more genuine if WRMS had facilitated problem
identification with the people and then gotten a consensus regarding the way forward. In this
process, use of participatory rural appraisal tools and techniques could have been more useful
and effective in identifying water issues and challenges that are more relevant to the
stakeholders as well as solutions that the stakeholders felt would be appropriate.

Information feedback processes

One intrinsic requirement of stakeholder participation is that consultation should result in
two way communication where there is feedback that shows whether or not the message is
reaching its intended target. Any concerns and issues that need clarification for the benefit of
the intended audience can then be addressed immediately. This study found out that the
feedback system in the Mazowe catchment was relatively good particularly with reference to
outputs from meetings and workshops. Minutes of the catchment and sub-catchment council
meetings were regularly forwarded to the Ministry of Water and WRMS for their records and
comments where necessary. In this way, some of the stakeholder concerns were forwarded to
the relevant authorities and the Ministry's responses to these concerns were then send back to
the catchment and sub-catchment councils through report backs by WRMS officials at the next
meeting. There are instances where Ministry officials were invited to attend the catchment and
sub-catchment council meetings so that they could address and clarify certain concerns raised in
previous meetings.
However, during the drafting of the new Water Act and ZINWA Act, stakeholders
expressed dissatisfaction with the way the process was handled by the Ministry of Water and
WRMS. They ended up feeling that the new legislation was becoming the product of ministerial
dictates. On several occasions, stakeholders complained that their participation in drafting the
Act was not adequate. At a meeting of the Mazowe catchment council held on 17 October 1997,

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38 I Chikozho

when the eighth draft of the water Bill was distributed among the catchment council members,
most of them stated that they had never been given the earlier drafts. In 1998, a year later, when
the draft water Bill was already being discussed in Parliament, people from the Nyagui and
Nyadire sub-catchment councils were requesting to be educated about the contents of the Bill.
Again, they complained that they were being sidelined from a very important part of the reform
process. Eventually, in 2001 (four years later) workshops were organized for sub-catchment
councils in the Mazowe catchment to be informed on what the Water Act contained. Thus,
communication and feedback in relation to the drafting of the new water legislation and some
of the statutory instruments was neither smooth nor satisfactory. Essentially, the new legislation
was drafted by people in DWD and WRMS without the full contribution of sub-catchment
councils. Had that not been the case, then they would have been familiar with its provisions
earlier than was the case. In this respect, stakeholder participation was only rhetorical and
superficial. It neither began at the grassroots level nor sufficiently filtered down to the

Gender dimensions of participation

The term gender is often used with reference to the social and economic power relations
between men and women. In analyzing access to water, gender and power configurations
emerge as important themes. Nemarundwe states that gender relations are socially constructed
through meanings and practices, which invest them with particular significance in everyday
social interaction. Feminist and political ecology approaches stress that gender differentiation
can be traced to a societal division of labor, property rights and power. Participation of women
in management structures is considered vital in ensuring that women have a voice in the
management of natural resources.13 The role that women play in the management of water
resources within and outside the household is critical to rural economies. Their participation in
the stakeholder consultation process is therefore, as vital as their participation in the water
management structures and dialogue platforms created.
There is no evidence to show that the dialogue platforms established in the Mazowe
catchment were sensitive to women's participation and the women were generally excluded
from the decision-making processes. A gender sensitive consultation process does not only
imply participation. It is a process informed by the belief that the problematic category in
women development is not the women, but the socially constructed relationship between men
and women in which women occupy a subordinate position. The domination of men in
decision-making processes for the Mazowe catchment was very apparent. During this study, it
was established that all the members of the Nyagui and the Nyadire sub-catchment councils
were men. These sub-catchment councils did not have a single woman out of an average of
twenty members per sub-catchment council.
The Mazowe Catchment council itself initially had three women out of a total of fifteen
members. By 2004, only one woman was regularly attending meetings of the Mazowe
catchment council as a member. The other two women were no longer attending. Had the
participatory process been more gender-sensitive, it would have created more space for women
to assume positions on the catchment and sub-catchment councils. In this way, the women

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Stakeholder Participatory Processes and Dialogue Platforms I 39

could have been able to identify their interests, become more informed and aware of the reform
process, gain confidence and have their voices heard in the reform process. Perhaps a quota
system would have ensured that more women participated. During the socio-economic survey,
most of the respondents indicated that they would prefer women to represent them in
discussions about water issues. Sixty five percent of the respondents said that women are most
suitable to represent the community on water issues. More than sixty percent of the
respondents said that women should be responsible for managing water in the community. But
while people acknowledge the important role that women play or can play in water resources
management, this is not reflected in the water reform program as evidenced by the conspicuous
absence of women from the new water management structures.

Awareness of the new institutions in the Nyagui and Nyadire sub-catchments

Asked to demonstrate their knowledge of the new institutions for water management, most of
the people revealed that they were not familiar with these institutions. Tables 1 and 2 show the
results obtained from the survey carried out on knowledge of the new water management
institutions in the two sub-catchments.

Table 1. Knowledge of new water management institutions in the Nyagui sub-catchment

Institution % knowing the % not knowing the
institution institution
Catchment council 4 96
Sub-catchment council 7 93
Water user board 21 79
ZINWA 4 96
Water development association 7 93
Chairman of water user board 15 85

N = 119

Table 2. Knowledge of new water management institutions in the Nyadire sub-catchment

Institution % knowing the % not knowing the
institution institution
Catchment council 5 95
Sub-catchment council 6 94
Water user board 19 81
ZINWA 6 94
Water development association 10 90

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

40 I Chikozho

Chairman of water user board 9 91

N = 105

The tables show that most of the respondents in the Nyagui and Nyadire sub-catchments
respectively, were not aware of the new institutions formed to lead management of water
resources in the catchment. Only six percent of the respondents said that they had ever met a
member of their local water user board. The majority of the respondents (92%) said they were
not even aware that there is a new water Act for the country. Only eight of the respondents said
that they had knowledge of the new water Act. Most of those who were informed about the
new water Act said that it had been explained to them at a meeting called for by traditional
leaders to discuss other issues not necessarily specific to water. The water user board member in
the area had taken advantage of this forum to explain about the water reforms. These
percentages reveal a general lack of knowledge regarding the new water management
institutions. If the people had been actively participating in the reform process right from the
beginning, they would most likely have been much more informed about these institutions than
they indicated during the survey.

The water user board problem

Analysis of the new water legislation revealed that the water user board (which is the
lowest management unit) is not legally recognized. The new Water Act only provides for the
establishment of catchment and sub-catchment councils. One of the negative impacts of this has
been that financial support from government and donors has been limited to the catchment and
sub-catchment councils. Yet the water user boards also require this kind of support in order to
function smoothly. These water user boards were designed to be the vital link between the
grassroots and the sub-catchment council in terms of information dissemination. The study
revealed that water user board committees sometimes go for long stretches of time without
being active or functional. This implies that the link between the higher water management
structures and the grassroots level has been broken, thereby neutralizing one of the important
dialogue platforms.


The study established that there were some instances in which catchment and sub-
catchment councils were forced to rubber-stamp decisions made at higher levels. A good
example is the draft Water Bill that the Mazowe catchment council felt had been drafted
without their contribution. At the end of the day, the Ministry of Water claims that the new
legislation was drafted with full contributions from stakeholder representatives when in actual
fact the consultation was artificial. Genuine consultation helps to ensure that all relevant views
are taken on board and makes implementation easier. The participatory processes utilized have
been neither adequate nor effective enough to make a significant difference at the local level.
More resources should have been allocated to publicity and community mobilization work. One

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Stakeholder Participatory Processes and Dialogue Platforms I 41

useful option would have been to employ full-time community mobilization officers who could
raise awareness of the reforms among the communities in such a way that the communities
become informed citizens who can meaningfully contribute to decision-making in the
catchment. Alternatively, the reform could have made use of agricultural extension officers who
are already on the ground and are much more in touch with the people. As the assessment of
stakeholder participation has shown, awareness of the reform process has remained acutely low
at the grassroots levels.
Participatory processes should begin with the grassroots and maintain the momentum
gathered. The new water management structures in the Mazowe catchment were formed in top-
down fashion and hence, they lack the appropriate grounding at local levels. In addition,
existing institutions traditional, governmental, and non-governmental organizations were
not formally involved in the reform process. Thus, the reform process failed to take advantage
of the opportunities that these institutions offer in terms of information dissemination. They
must be brought on board for the reforms to be holistic and easier to implement. There is also
an urgent need for more awareness campaigns to be carried out at the grassroots level in order
for the reform message to spread widely.
Lack of legal recognition for the water user boards significantly diminished the
opportunities for linking the grassroots to the formal dialogue platforms created during the
reform process. Without the necessary support from the government and donors, most of the
water user boards failed to function with the result that information and education about the
reforms has not reached the grassroots levels. Only members of the catchment and sub-
catchment councils have some information about the reforms yet it is the people at the
grassroots level who are expected to be actively involved in managing the resource on a daily
basis. Unless the issue of providing operational support to the water user boards is resolved,
awareness will remain low and the reform process might not get the cooperation of the people
on the ground. The utility of smaller units of management as effective dialogue platforms is
The new institutions were structured to embrace all interest groups. While this ensures that
everyone's voice is given a chance to be heard, it has the disadvantage of making the
institutions unstable and decision-making more difficult. The spirit of 'community' remains
superficial. The interests of different groups, such as commercial farmers, urban councils,
resettlement and communal area people, small-scale commercial farmers and miners, for
instance, are quite varied. But with the spirit of 'stakeholder participation' in mind, these groups
were brought together to form the catchment councils, sub-catchment councils and water user
boards. A systematic stakeholder analysis process would have revealed that commercial
farmers have been using water for agricultural purposes for a long time dating back to colonial
times. They are more familiar with modern water management principles than their
counterparts from other sectors. On the other hand, most of the communal and resettlement
area people have not had a chance to use water on a large-scale commercial basis. Their usual
concerns lie in water for domestic purposes and livestock. All the other groups also have their
own unique concerns. This makes it very difficult for the new institutions, made up of all these
disparate interest groups, to make timely decisions. It might be better to split the institutions

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

42 I Chikozho

along user group lines and then form an association of these groups where different interests
would then be represented in a more informed manner.
Stakeholder participation is a key aspect of water resources management discourses and
finding the appropriate institutional mix for effective implementation of the water reforms
remains vital. While there are serious stakeholder participation shortcomings in the Mazowe
catchment planning process, it is also true that the foundation for further development has
already been laid. Through careful orchestration and learning from experiences in the Mazowe
and other catchments, it is not too late to improve the stakeholder participation processes in
water reform and ensure that some of the basic tenets of good governance are taken on board.
The catchment councils, sub-catchment councils, and water user boards are important platforms
for dialogue, conflict resolution and information dissemination. What is required is to provide
these new institutions with the necessary technical and financial support so that they can carry
out their mandate more effectively.


This paper raises a number of critical issues in stakeholder participation and river basin
dialogue processes that need to be continuously teased out and regularly re-visited as water
reform programmes are implemented. There is need to think carefully about the kind of
dialogue platforms created to facilitate decision-making in river basin management. The
platforms created should enable free and faster flow of information among various stakeholders
and at different water management scales. This also requires effective coordination between the
different management scales, for instance between the sub-catchment and the water user board
and down to the grassroots level. Different social groups will have differing capacities to
meaningfully participate and therefore the need for systematic gender-oriented stakeholder
analysis becomes critical. This analysis enables river basin authorities to understand and take
into account the needs and capacities of various social groups. These groups include women,
men, and the poor whose voices may not be easily heard in the river basin dialogue processes.
Gender-oriented stakeholder analysis partly provides responsible government agencies with a
mechanism for ensuring that constraints to meaningful participation are identified and
addressed in order to create more neutral and equitable platforms for dialogue.


1. Patton 1987.
2. Williams and Sithole 2001.
3. IUCN, 1996.
4. Gleick, 2002.
5. Manor, 1999.
6. UNDP 1997.
7. Global Water Partnership, 2003.
8. Australian Mekong Resource Centre 2003.

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Stakeholder Participatory Processes and Dialogue Platforms I 43

9. Wester and Warner 2002.
10. Allen, 2004.
11. Wester, et.al., 2003.
12. Cernea, 1985; Chambers, 1983.
13. Nemarundwe, 2003.


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Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: Claudious
Chikozho, "Stakeholder Participatory Processes and Dialogue Platforms in the Mazowe River
Catchment, Zimbabwe," African Studies Quarterly 10, nos. 2 & 3: (Fall 2008) [online] URL:

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

Medicine and Anthropology in Twentieth Century Africa:

Akan Medicine and Encounters with (Medical) Anthropology


Abstract: Since the 1920s, there has been a foreground of fluctuating perspectives on
indigenous African medicine and therapeutics in the medical anthropology of Africa.
These circular perspectives in medical anthropology have stubbornly focused on the
ubiquity of "witchcraft," the natural or supernatural basis of African therapeutics,
integration between biomedicine and indigenous systems of healing, but have failed to
excavate African perspectives on or the relevance of these issues in the background of
African societies. This essay argues the failure to locate African perspectives on
therapeutic matters that may or may not be important concerns in African societies is the
quest for "ethnographic cases" that lend themselves to issues in the field of medical
anthropology rather than African knowledge and perspectives of the field (i.e., Africa).
The Bono, an Akan society of central Ghana, provides but one of many significant case
studies in the encounter between African therapeutics and medical anthropology in the
twentieth century, and an African perspective on the substance of those foregoing issues
in the (medical) anthropology of Africa.

The healer must first have a healer's nature... [he or she] who would be a healer must set great value on
seeing truly, hearing truly, understanding truly, and acting truly... You see why healing can't be a
popular vocation? The healer would rather see and hear and understand than have power over men. Most
people would rather have power over men than see and hear.

-Ayi Kwei Armah, The Healers, pp. 80-81


In twentieth century southern and eastern Africa, "traditional" medicine was the dominant
healing system and often regarded as the more appropriate mode of treatment by specialists
and recipients.' Stretching from Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Africa, and Zambia to Cameroon,
Nigeria, and Ghana, indigenous African healing systems remained highly utilized by large
segments of the (rural) populations surveyed.2 These perspectives on and use of indigenous
medicine were shared by parallel populations in geographically distinct places such as New
Zealand, Hawaii, and the United States among persons of African ancestry.3 Overall,

Kwasi Konadu is Assistant Professor of History at The City University of New York. He is the author of Indigenous
Medicine and Knowledge in African Society (2007) and A View from the East: Black Cultural Nationalism and Education in
New York City (2008).

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

46 I Konadu

indigenous healers in Ghana and elsewhere rarely translated their knowledge of medicine into
social practices that emphasized the omnipresent dichotomies of "spiritual" and "natural"
disease causation nor did their praxis revolve around the debates on witchcraft and the
existence or denial of African "medical systems" found in medical anthropology. Akan healers
in central Ghana, and I would suspect elsewhere, were unaware of and perhaps would care
little about the substance of those debates. Since the 1920s, there has been a foreground of
fluctuating perspectives on indigenous African medicine and therapeutics in the medical
anthropology of Africa. These circular perspectives in medical anthropology have stubbornly
focused on the ubiquity of "witchcraft," the natural or supernatural basis of African
therapeutics, integration between biomedicine and indigenous systems of healing, but have
failed to excavate African perspectives on or the relevance of these issues in the background of
African societies.4
This essay argues the failure to locate African perspectives on therapeutic matters that may
or may not be important concerns in African societies is the academic quest for "ethnographic
cases" that lend themselves to issues in the field of medical anthropology rather than African
knowledge and perspectives of the field (i.e., Africa). This contention is critical for it argues for a
strategic distinction between two sites of knowledge production-field of medical anthropology
and the "field" of Africa where fieldwork is conducted- on the larger canvas of global health
issues using the local case of the Bono (Akan) therapeutic system of Ghana. Contextually, global
health issues in Africa were conditioned by the failed structural adjustment and Highly
Indebted Poor Countries initiatives of the 1980s and 1990s, collapsing health structures, the
emergence and spread of HIV/AIDS, the global confrontation between pharmaceutical
companies and African governments, and the lawsuits brought by pharmaceutical
multinationals against these governments for seeking less-expensive drug alternatives. The
guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (purported to ensure the sustainability and
safety of the sixty billion dollars herbal medicine industry) were more than humanitarian as
issues of herbal medicine -poisonings, heart problems, addition of steroids to plant medicines,
poor plant quality and collection practices -continue to plague the United States, China, and
Europe. The U.S. pharmaceutical industry spent $4.1 billion on drug research and development
in the 1990s and consumers purchased in excess of eight billion dollars. Since 74 percent of the
chemical compounds of the 119 known plant-derived drugs have the same or related use as the
plants they derive, this pharmaceutical industry exploits medicinal "claims from alien cultures"
in the "discovery" of new drugs.5 As industries in the United States and Canada, the European
Union, and Japan become more knowledge-intensive, and "as what constitutes national wealth
shifts from the natural resource endowments toward the acquisition, manipulation, and
application of knowledge," the ownership and marshaling of indigenous knowledge in and by
African societies have perhaps never been so crucial.6 In the consideration of the foregoing, and
as the "Western" world extracts African medicinal knowledge to be brokered between academic
and business interests and African ministries of health perpetuate colonial ideas of "traditional"
medicine, the contention of this essay could not be more timely.
In this essay, I use the Bono, an Akan society of central Ghana, because they provide but
one of many significant case studies in the encounter between African therapeutics and medical
anthropology in the twentieth century, and an African perspective on the substance of those

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

Medicine and Anthropology in Twentieth Century Africa I 47

foregoing issues in the (medical) anthropology of Africa. The Bono have occupied an ecological
zone between the dense forest and the savannah and, more importantly, have maintained an
ancient and complex "ethnomedical" and nutritional system since at least the 1000 CE. After
centuries of refinement, the therapeutic basis from which indigenous Bono healers
contemporarily operated were dynamic and often did not function in the manner prescribed by
or constructed in the minds of anthropologists, and indigenous healers appeared to draw upon
a composite spiritual-temporal perspective in their day-to-day healing work uncluttered by the
foregoing preoccupations in (medical) anthropology.7 The potentialities of the indigenous
therapeutic system offer an invaluable therapeutic option in addressing issues of health and
healing in Ghana. Moreover, the Bono case implies that knowledge produced on such systems
are less the realities on the ground than they are the representations of "authorities" who fail to
fully grasp an unmediated picture of healing (in village or urban life) with and without the
presence of the anthropologist, medical doctor, or NGO worker over time. In the last few
decades, the ways in which indigenous (medicinal) knowledge has been "discovered" by these
brokers of knowledge is cynically remarkable, and the appropriation and reduction of that
knowledge for vested academic and pharmaceutical interests calls into question the vital issues
of representations, authority, causation and therapy dichotomies, and the ubiquity of

The (Medical) Anthropologist and the Akan

In medical anthropology, it has become somewhat popular nowadays to have cultural
"conversations" about medicine and healing in ethnographic representations of those
therapeutic "non-systems" studied.8 In these ethnographic representations, the ultimate goal is
some sort of negotiation "between the insider and outsider perspectives."9 Yet, as this goal or
the mode of illness conversations seeks the foreground of healing discources, vital issues that
threaten this very same quest are simultaneously pushed to the background. Two of these key
issues will suffice. First, relations of inequality and power are glossed over and presented as a
given, that is, white university doctors or professors linked to "established" educational or
medical institutions are supported by grant-giving agencies to conduct research in African or
largely African populated societies in which enslavement and colonialism are a part of the
living fabric and memory. Whatever research related discussions or conversations occur, they
most likely are "artificial dialogues" configured by the power relations historically situated, in
the broad and multilayered scope of historical encounters, between the African and the
European. The intent here is not to reduce the matter of research to white power and African
subjugation, but rather to remind us that race (variously defined) is itself ubiquitous in
ethnographic encounters in Africa and its Diaspora and cannot be simply ignored in any serious
consideration of those encounters.
Robert Pool mentions, as one of several constraining factors, a fragment of this issue of
power relations; however, this fragment is presented as a featherweight contender in the super
heavyweight fight of his conversations about illness. Perhaps, his preoccupation with
"witchcraft" obstructed this issue during his mediated dialogues. Secondly, Paul Brodwin talks
much about the goal of ethnographic research as one of representation between "insider" and

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48 I Konadu

"outsider" perspectives, yet he does not say much about money in terms of limited options in
the availability of biomedicine for most of the rural population that he studied in Haiti. He also
does not say much about his payment for witness treatments and consultations, which calls into
question what actually occurred during his fieldwork and the dubious picture of village life he
presents. In other words, Brodwin wrote as if he was absent from village life when his presence
alone affected whatever normalcy existed prior to his periodic arrivals. This is not to suggest
that anthropologists have the power to shift the meaning of an entire medicinal system by their
mere presence, but that the representation of those systems by such researchers is not the reality
they purport but a snapshot conditioned by their foreign presence and the fulfillment of
academic interests. Brodwin's aim, therefore, appears to have not been one of clarifying the
reality of healing in rural Haiti but rather a convenient ethnographic exercise linked to issues in
medical anthropology.
The emergence and life of a "Western" anthropological project was more than simply
"framed by the [supposed] superiority of European and American science and industrial
development and by the colonialist context of research."10 This project was and is an embodied
vehicle of the views and values of those who desire or claim global hegemony in politico-
economic and military terms. Therefore, as Sally-Anne Jackson argues, nineteenth century
imperialism and biomedicine, which was re-imagined as tropical medicine, were inseparable
and the intimate relationship between disease and empire, in terms of ailing African bodies
constructed as vectors of infection, allowed for African exploitation and colonial imposition."
The diseased African body, cast as "other" or alien through the introduction of co-colonizing
diseases such as tuberculosis, necessitated the denigration and suppression of "efficient
indigenous healing systems in operation" and expedited the expendability of those from that
"afflicted continent."12 The very nature of the "Western" anthropological project strongly
suggests that "Western" (social) science has a direct relationship with European interests and
imperialism, and the global presence of the former is an expression of European expansion. As
such, the proposition "that indigenous/folk/local groups should determine... their own
historical destiny-with the anthropologist as facilitator or broker" -has been heralded and
unquestioned.13 Even among those who question this belief, they have also failede] to escape
the Western hegemonic mentality that they criticize."14
In the medical anthropology of Africa, the ideas of W. H. R. Rivers and C. G. Seligman,
both medical researchers who became anthropologists, have immense implications since the
orientation of Rivers' (1924) work became a widely used model (and some still employ it now)
in "ethnomedical" research. For Rivers, death and illness were defined as afflictions and
misfortune and the study of health and disease was reduced to his conceptions of witchcraft,
sorcery, and magic-conceptions which, no doubt, were rooted in the long history of witchcraft
and related phenomena in the European experience and imagination. The primary concern was
with the disease wherein the person was viewed as a diseased organism and its magical,
superstitious sources in terms of an unyielding obsession with magical theories of disease
causation as the basis for indigenous therapeutic systems. This same orientation figured
prominently in the works of V. M. Turner and E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Evans-Pritchard's studies,
precisely his work on the Azande published in 1937, became the framework which others have
used to fit their data linked to "witchcraft" in Africa. Evans-Pritchard studied under C. G.

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Medicine and Anthropology in Twentieth Century Africa I 49

Seligman, who wrote the foreword to his text on the Azande, and in that same text Evans-
Pritchard wrote, in spite of contradictory statements throughout, "witchcraft is ubiquitous" for
"the Azande attribute sickness, whatever its nature, to witchcraft or sorcery" and secondary
causes are "associated with witchcraft and magic."15 His study on the Azande might be
oversimplified here, but that study's concern or obsession with witchcraft parallels those
anthropologists before and after him who have had a similar overriding focus.
Evans-Pritchard noted that the "royal class" detested their European colonizers and "were
useless as informants," suggesting that those who were useful informants were receptive or
yielding to European conquest which surely made a difference in the value and volume of
information obtained during his cumulative twenty month stay among the Azande. The recent
works of British anthropologist Robert Pool, who spent time in the Wimbum town of Tabenken
(Cameroon), resurrected Evans-Pritchard and propagated the model set forth by W. H. R.
Rivers, and his devotees, when he concluded, "in the final instance everything boils down to
witchcraft" in Wimbum and apparently in African etiology.16 According to Pool, witches are the
ultimate cause of all (significant) illness, misfortune and death, and given his acceptance of the
long-standing dichotomy between "natural" and "supernatural" etiologies, he argues that
Wimbum etiology is personalistic ("supernatural") and the "Wimbum do not have a medical
system" at all.17
Based in the Bono town of Bonkwae (Takyiman) during his study of the Primary Health
Training for Indigenous Healers (PRHETIH) project, Peter Ventevogel also concluded that Akan
medicine was not a "real system" because of its highly externalizing and diffuse character.18 The
issues of the existence (or denial) of indigenous African "medical systems," theories of natural
and supernatural or personalistic disease causation and therapy, and the ubiquity of witchcraft,
which undergird the foregoing, saturates the discourse on African therapeutics and culture. In
fact, these issues have become the discourse in (medical) anthropology.
For the Akan, Robert Sutherland Rattray's collected works on the Asante, an Akan society,
are considered "a monument of colonial ethnography and manifestly a major source," and are
utilized as one of several baseline sources for Asante and general Akan studies.19 In 1921, the
then Gold Coast Government chose Rattray as the first head of the Department of
Anthropology. In the capacity of British colonial anthropologist, he traveled to areas formerly
under Asante control and documented aspects of socio-political organization and indigenous
"religious" life.20 Rattray's work focused on the Asante and, in the several chapters dedicated to
festivals and Bono "religious life" in Takyiman, he, like his anthropological predecessors, went
in search of the "gods" and even requested that one be made for him to take home to Britain.21
Rattray did not attempt to explore the indigenous medicinal system nor its conceptual
underpinnings. Instead, he contended that religion was inseparable from other facets of life and
regarded the Takyiman area as a place "hitherto untouched by the anthropologist and hardly
opened up to the European, [and which] should be the ideal ground upon which to study Akan
customs and beliefs"22
In the 1930s, Margaret J. Fields, a British colonial anthropologist intrigued by the new
"witchcraft" shrine movement in Ghana, spent time at the Bono town of Mframaso (20 miles
north of Takyiman) at a "witch-catching" shrine. She generalized from this experience and
concluded, "According to African dogma sickness and health are ultimately of supernatural

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50 I Konadu

origin" and "organic illness is almost always attributed to witchcraft, bad medicine or sin,
seldom to worry and stress."23 In the latter part of the 1960s, Dennis Warren came to Takyiman
as a Peace Corps science teacher at the Takyiman Secondary School. Warren later conducted his
doctoral study on Bono "disease, medicine and religion" and concluded the "religious system"
had nothing to do with the majority of Bono disease lexemes or Bono diseases, which were
conceptual, and that the vast majority of Bono diseases were defined in terms of natural
causation.24 Warren's argument here and elsewhere for "natural" rather than "supernatural"
disease causation marked a shift from previous anthropologists, but only formed part of the
fluctuating or circular contentions in anthropological understandings of African disease
causation and therapy. Warren found that the most serious and common diseases were linked
to the stomach, head, and malaria, and the highest-ranking causes were associated with
(impure) blood, dirt and a dirty body, and insects (e.g., germs and mosquitoes). The anatomical
location of most diseases were in the skin or internal; disease prevention strategies included
eating good food, a clean living environment, drinking good water, and bathing twice a day,
while the most frequently named medicines and ingredients consisted of ginger, varied
peppers, water, and lime.25 The baseline data for Warren's study derived from nearly 1500
"disease names organized into a 12-level taxonomic system expressed by one venerated Bono
priest-healer [Nana Kofi Donkor]."26 The data gathered from Nana Kofi Donkor was compared
with data from other informants within the same community; this approach used more than
one informant as a reliability check on initial and primary informants, "the most important
being Nana Kofi Donkor of [Takyiman]."27 In addition to the construction of his disease
classificatory scheme, Warren argued that spiritual causations of disease do occur but naturally
caused diseases did not have structural or functional relationships with Bono "religion" (what
he termed Onyamesom), hence, his dichotomy between "spiritually and naturally caused
Peter Ventevogel, who conducted his studies on the effects of the PRHETIH program,
argued, "the literature on Akan medicine lacks real consensus on the indigenous nomenclature
of nutritional diseases... [and] indigenous disease names cannot be substituted
unproblematically by Western disease terms."29 The PRHETIH program was established in 1979
as a project to "train" indigenous healers in some of the fundamental techniques employed in
the biomedical system. The project collapsed in 1983 and was later revived in 1991. Evans-
Anfom commented that the outcome of an evaluation of the PRHETIH program "should help in
determining how trainable the traditional healers are."30 Interestingly, Evans-Anfom neither
considered nor questioned how "trainable" were biomedical practitioners, who appear to be
hegemonic and the most hostile toward attempts aimed at "cooperation" (whatever that
means). In sharply criticizing Warren, Ventevogel concluded:
It became clear to me that the indigenous knowledge is not readily available in the minds
of the informants, ready to be 'discovered' by the anthropologist... The Techiman-Bono
ethnomedical classification system can be seen as an attempt to formalize a system that is not
formalized in its nature... Akan traditional medical knowledge is not a solid body of
knowledge. It differs from town to town, from healer to healer, from day to day. Akan medical
knowledge is partially idiosyncratic and is embedded in an externalizing medical system.31

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Medicine and Anthropology in Twentieth Century Africa I 51

Ventevogel's study compares well with those of Robert Pool, and both noted the few key
informants used by Warren and argued that the anthropological understanding of indigenous
knowledge was produced and reproduced in an interplay between informants, interpreter, and
researcher. However, their conclusions were at odds with those of Helga Fink, who studied in a
Bono area but whose work drew heavily on Warren's dissertation and classificatory scheme,
and Van Dalen, whose study in a Bono town revealed that disease was always the effect of
certain natural and spiritual happenings rather than spiritual or natural (causative) factors. In
challenging G. P. Murdock's dichotomy of natural and supernatural theories of illness causation
and Pool's assertion that "everything boils down to witchcraft" in African ethnomedicine,
Edward Green, a colleague of Warren, attempted to advance his indigenous contagion theory
with the claim that major (contagious) diseases in African societies are naturalistic or
impersonal.32 Green, Warren, Van Dalen, Fink, Ventevogel, Pool, and others, no doubt, follow a
long tradition of anthropological dichotomists who have argued for either side of the natural-
supernatural coin, or claim the coin itself is worthless in their verdict on African medicinal
systems, systems long regarded as synonyms for "witchcraft."

On "Witchcraft" and the Akan Case

Many African nations "still retain Witchcraft Acts promulgated during the colonial era,"
and in Botswana, for instance, its "witchcraft proclamation" aimed at "diviners" rather than
herbalists was passed in 1927 and remains in legal force.33 On this historical phenomenon, the
discourse on "witchcraft" in the African context is often silent as a pragmatic and ideological
consideration in ethnographic "conversations" about illness and therapy. The resuscitation of
Evans-Pritchard recently by Robert Pool, among several others, argues that there is no such
thing as African medical systems since everything in those non-systems are ultimately
embedded in and explained by "witchcraft."34 In Bongmba's attempt at an interpretation of the
phenomenon of "witchcraft" among the Wimbum-in one of whose towns Pool conducted his
study-he notes the conceptual and contextual translation difficulties surrounding the Limbum
terms of bfui, brii, and tfu employed to differentiate the varied phenomena consolidated under
the term "witchcraft."35 The fact that the Wimbum and perhaps other Africans have come to use
non-Limbum vocabulary from other parts of Cameroon as well as English terms, such as
witchcraft and sorcery, in their "attempt to make sense of what it means to be human" in a
capitalist and homogenizing global order suggest the "borrowed" use of "witchcraft" is no
more than semantical or misappropriated nonsense.36
Though Bongmba criticizes what he considers to be Evans-Pritchard's imposition of
Azande thought in terms of epistemological superiority, it was writers such as Eva Gillies who
concluded that the Azande or other Africans do not attribute diseases to witchcraft or sorcery
for these "actors" make distinctions between different kinds of illness and between levels of
etiology and pathogenesis.37 Even those who argue that "beliefs and practices related to medical
care should be subsumed under the domains of religion, magic or witchcraft," while
contemplating Evans-Pritchard's contribution to polemic debates on rationality, have merely
created ideational structures conducive to their own thinking and offering such creations as the
reality.38 In Murdock's global survey of the ethnographic literature using criteria derived from

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52 I Konadu

medical science and anthropology, he found that witchcraft was "practically universal in the
Circum-Mediterranean region but surprisingly rare elsewhere in the world."39 According to
Murdock, this region includes "Caucasoids," "the Afroasiatic, Indo-European and Maro-
Sudanic," and is distinct from the "region of Sub-Saharan Africa" offering "essential
confirmation to a single region" based on overwhelmingly high witchcraft ratings.40
"Witchcraft," Murdock wrote, "is important among about a third of Africa's peoples but is
absent in about half of them."41 These findings offered by Murdock-however flawed by his
creation or use of the above "ethnic clusters" and his reliance on studies which largely sought
the exotic and supernatural-sketches a picture that does not support the "ubiquity of
witchcraft" or that everything in African etiology boils down to "witchcraft" propositions.42
Among the Bono, the discourse on "witchcraft" finds little solace but rather an opportunity
for clarification. Bayie ("witchcraft") is a power or energy with intent used positively or
negatively, and writers often translate it as "witchcraft" (the act itself). Abayisem as well as the
Fante ayen is also employed, and the former refers to "witchcraft" or (a)bayie matters, issues, and
cases (nsem). According to Akator, bayie derives from the phrase ebeye yie ("it will be good or all
right"); if this is the case, then we must reconsider the exclusive "witchcraft" connotation the
term obayifoo (pl., abayifoo; one who does bayie) seems destined to have.43 The phrase, according
to Akator, is an optimistic utterance made to give hope and direction for one who needs to
consult the obayifoo. In the Bono area of Takyiman, abayi-bonsam is the male "witch" who does or
uses bayie, while obayifoo, a gender-neutral term that applies to either sex, is used for the female.
The (female) abayifoo usually outnumber the abayi-bonsam, and the abode of the obayifoo is in the
female line of the family where the most damage occurs among the obayifoo's own blood
The idea that abayifoo are powerless outside of their own clan, possess an organizational
structure akin to Akan polities, and desire and feed on blood suggest that abayi is a metaphor
embedded in, yet antithetical to Akan social order, which is rooted in the abusua (mother-
centered family or clan) itself synonymous with mmogya or blood.45 One may never know who
is an obayifoo, even the obayifoo themselves-as one may be born this way or do the work of an
obayifoo unconsciously. Nana Kwasi Appiah, one of my informants, argued that "witchcraft"
was inborn or inherited with a capacity for positive ends, but it is the person's mind or the
factor of intentionality that shapes bayie into something negative.46 Confessions by abayifoo are
usually made after they have been caught by one of many "abayifoo-catching" obosom ("spiritual
agents" or "emissaries" of an Akan Creator) called obosombrafoo (pl., abosommerafoo). If an
obayifoo does not confess, they are spiritually executed by the obosombrafoo prior to a warning of
some sort to elicit a confession. The confession appears to be cleansing and medicinal, and akin
to the Akan protocol involved in greeting someone: though the person may live next door, he or
she must state his or her "mission" or intent for visiting in order to cleanse the social space and
prepare it for positive interaction. A confession, though perhaps stating the obvious to others in
a way similar to a neighbor stating why he or she is visiting, may operate within the same line
of reasoning as the Akan greeting protocol.
Nonetheless, there was a shift from the tete abosom (ancient Atano abosom) to the increased
popularity of abosommerafoo in the late nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth
century.47 This shift corresponded to (a) the decline of Asanteman (Asante nation) in the late

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Medicine and Anthropology in Twentieth Century Africa I 53

nineteenth century and British colonial imposition; (b) instability in Akan society largely
occasioned by colonial rule; and (c) the upsurge of what became the cocoa industry, which
facilitated the rise and popularity of the abosommerafoo, the majority of which came from
northern Ghana and Burkina Faso. The spread of the abosommerafoo paralleled the spread of
migrant workers who came from northern Ghana, Burkina Faso, and elsewhere. In 1879, cocoa
plants were successfully cultivated in the Akwapem area of Ghana's Eastern Region. The Gold
Coast government took control of this industry by 1890. The cocoa industry's emergence led to
not only sharp declines in palm and coffee products, but also occasioned one of the most crucial
changes of the twentieth century in Akan (and Ghanaian) society. Thousands of farmers became
prosperous and created tremendous income gaps between them and the urban professionals,
subsistence farmers, and underemployed migrant laborers.48
The outward expansion of the cocoa industry from the Akwapem area caused a migration
of farmers who sought new lands for cocoa trees and cocoa regions depended on tens of
thousands of migrant laborers who came from northern Ghana, Burkina Faso and elsewhere.49
The increase in the use of abosommerafoo, such as the Tigare obosom from Yipala in northern
Ghana, mirrored the increase in the cocoa cash crop that brought heavy social tensions as many
farmers cultivated this crop and challenged the social structure that provided security for its
members.50 Major socio-economic changes usually alter a society's disease patterns, and the
expansion of cocoa farming in southern Ghana provided a stimulus for opening roads and
clearing forestlands for agriculture, which further facilitated the breeding of the mosquito that
is the major vector of falciparun malaria.51 The logic that industrialism, economic growth, and
increased living standards produces better health conditions, as suggested by Patterson, seems
problematic and inconsistent.52 As Patterson himself notes, with urban growth there has been a
decline in human life and health, and with higher incomes consumers could choose nutritious
foods or white bread, sugar, tea, tinned milk (for infants), and other foodstuffs of dubious
value.53 The phenomena of deforestation and commercial lumbering, which began in the 1880s,
allowed sunlight to reach pools of water creating favorable breeding conditions for malaria-
carrying mosquitoes. Though the above transformations presented specific challenges to
indigenous healers and their practice, the Bono have maintained an allegiance to their ancient
Atano abosom despite the shifts in Akan society and spiritual practices, and still regard the
obosomfoo as senior to the okomfoo.54 The obosomfoo attends to the abosom and provides healing
services, and, in this matrilineally inherited but male position, he oversees the "shrine"
attendants, including the gender-neutral role of ]-another category of indigenous healers. The
abosomfoohene ("head obosomfoo) for Takyiman "state" obosom Taa Mensa (Tano Mensa; "Taa" is
the contraction of "Tano," as in the Tano River) has a position of authority above all individuals
inclusive of the Takyimanhene ("male leader of the polity"). This social configuration and the
role of its spiritualists in healing individual and community ailments suggests a strong concern
with order and balance, including those that use bayie (so-called "witchcraft") for nefarious
ends, and this concern forms part of larger perspective on indigenous medicinal knowledge and
its dimensions and challenges.

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Akan Perspectives on African Medicinal Systems

In reducing African medicinal systems to "witchcraft," global readers and Africans
consume such anthropological or colonial renderings of those systems and, invariably, fail to
appreciate the layers of indigenous (medicinal) knowledge possessed by various members of a
community and the ideational basis of the systems' approach and therapy. In the Bono
therapeutic system, there exist key spheres in production, transmission and deployment. The
three primary and overlapping spheres include those at the level of core and basic knowledge,
specialized and in-depth knowledge, and peripheral knowledge. The first sphere corresponds
to the core-basic knowledge shared by most, if not all, community members and the basis upon
which those members plan and do. Here, "core-basic" refers to what is fundamental and widely
known within the indigenous medicinal system, and at an essentially basic level of knowledge
and aptitude, though there are those who are an exception to this general observation. For
instance, a "majority of the population [still] prepare and use their own herbal mixtures," and
thereby exhibit agency in the process of addressing their health needs.55 Informal interviews
among the youth of Takyiman found that they were very knowledgeable about many medicinal
plants and their functions, in addition to revealing the names and utilities of at least six of the
most effective and frequently used medicines cited by indigenous healers in the Takyiman
The second sphere corresponds to specialized and in-depth knowledge that is associated
with the specialists who function ultimately to maintain the coherency and expand the
development of the community as it principally relates to holistic health and healing. Those
specialists were the indigenous healers who represent the institutions of abosomfoo, akomfoo, and
nnunsinfoo ("herbalists"). Almost all of the indigenous healers interviewed agreed-with the
exception of one who qualified her response -that there was a clear distinction between nyansa
(wisdom) and nimdee (knowledge). In terms of the procedural relationship between wisdom
and knowledge, wisdom was older than knowledge and one could not acquire knowledge
without wisdom. However, it appeared that knowledge was considered heavier or more
substantial than wisdom for reasons that one was born with the capacity for knowledge but
knowledge had to be learned and developed, and thus it grew, accumulated, and became
"heavy" as a result of one's journey through life.
The third and last sphere of peripheral knowledge refers to information about a people's
existence at varied points and events in their lives. This sphere is "static knowledge" that lacks
the dynamism or "lived" characteristic of the core-basic and specialized and in-depth spheres,
and archives aspects of the first and second spheres similar to how a camera captures the image
of a person or event. The picture only re-presents a finite moment in the life of that person or
event, and clearly is not the person or event; nor can the picture attempt to embody the person
or event as a living entity or experience. The picture merely archives that finite moment, which,
interestingly, in and of itself, may contain a vast amount of information and insight well beyond
the moment that it visually captures. Numerous narratives or kind of information can
potentially be preserved within a single photo or another documenting and archiving
mechanism. Yet, even photos and archiving mechanisms spoil, corrupt, or even corrode over
time, hence, acknowledging their inherent limitations. This peripheral knowledge, although

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Medicine and Anthropology in Twentieth Century Africa I 55

significant, has been the nature of all (medical) anthropological writings, and the still pictures
they have purported in the field and documenting media of anthropology must always be
(re)evaluated in juxtaposition to the "core-basic" and "specialized" knowledge in the fields of
The above spheres of indigenous medicinal knowledge all share an ideational basis that
further questions the ubiquity of "witchcraft" proposition and the common anthropological
understandings of African therapeutics. The ideational basis of indigenous African medicine
suggests a holistic approach to balanced health and other human circumstances and this basis
considers the variables of family, way of making sense of the world, vocation, ecology, and
cultural environment while placing a high value on the human being.57 In one of Mandeng's
interviews with an elder healer in Cameroon, that healer explained, "the living and the dead,
we all live in the same world."58 Instructive and simple are these healer's words, yet the
dichotomization in the theories of African illness causation and treatment well represented in
the literature remain quite pervasive.59 If this dichotomy were an academic journal, it would
appear from the literature that many writers have active or perhaps lifetime subscriptions in
terms of buying into the supposed "naturalistic" and "personalistic" explanations of disease
and the therapeutic strategies deployed.60 A few have constructed three categories of illness
causation, namely, natural, preternatural, and supernatural to explain the parallel physical,
"magical," and "ritual-sacrifice" dimensions of each respective category, while most have
remained vigilant on the natural-supernatural antagonism.
Guided by the belief that the anthropologist's first task is "to find the simplest taxonomy
for causality beliefs" and that to "depersonalize causality" reflects an "evolution of culture,"
Foster, among others, argued the principal etiologies of "non-Western medical systems" were
personalistic and naturalistic in nature.61 Painted on a neat canvas as irreconcilable opposites,
these two primary etiologies have been criticized as "inappropriate and unnatural
categorizations" undermining "a more emic approach," and as "enormous reduction" that fails
to examine health and sickness ideas "as they are in the usually exigent context of social
action."62 Moreover, the naturalistic-personalistic dichotomized model is deficient not only in
terms of addressing how practitioners and patients conceptualize illness and therapy, but in
terms of also explaining health behavior and perceptions in situations where multiple health
systems are utilized by members of a given society. If a society does not distinguish what
researchers call "separate levels of reality," then why do these same writers present that society
in terms of "natural" and "supernatural" worlds?63 The main idea which emerges then from the
varied perspectives riddled by the natural-supernatural dichotomy is that complexities of life,
whether health related or not, are often crudely forced into one generalization or another
without regard for the ways in which real people approach and resolve health and healing
circumstances during their life cycle(s).
Pervasive or not, the dichotomization of African societies and the ideational basis of their
therapeutic systems are commonly unrealized in the praxis of indigenous Bono or Akan
healers.64 Accordingly, one can say, "Both the organic and the spiritual aspects of the disease are
taken into consideration... [and that the human being] is a compound of material and
immaterial substances, which makes the maintenance of a balance between the spiritual and
material in [humans] a condition for sound health."65 However, to correspondingly claim, "[t]he

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56 I Konadu

practice of medicine is closely tied up with the practice of religion in Africa," confuses
indigenous concepts of medicine and healing through the use of the alien variable of "religion"
with its untangled linguistic and cultural baggage.66 The Bono ideational approach to healing is
based on a composite spiritual-temporal perspective rather than a "religious" grounding, and
that perspective is found in other African societies. For instance, the Bantu-Bak6ngo notion of
n'kisi ("medicine") is complemented by the concept of "self-healing power" as "the biogenetic
package of power that is received at the moment of conception in the mother's womb."67 This
package is not only the key to one's health, but it is the excellent healer since it is both creative
and generative. For the Bantu-Bak6ngo, sickness is the abnormal functioning capacity of one's
self-healing power caused not by bacteria or virus, but by the loss of the body's balance or
energy.68 The cure is perceived in terms of wholeness and the therapist (n'uial ils or m'fidi)
"believes that therapy is essentially grounded in both flesh and spirit," a process of restoring
self-healing power.69 In Nigeria, Offiong concluded, "It seems proper to assume that religious
[i.e., spiritual] factors are intrinsic to healing."70 In the Ivory Coast, Memel-Fot& found that -
among the Mande, Gur, Kru, and Akan-the comprehensiveness of indigenous medicine was
characterized by "its broad conception of health, sickness and cure, itself linked to the idea of
life," and indigenous "medical theory [was] that man's nature is not only physical but also
mental and spiritual."71
Noticeably, Ghanaians have been described as "ambiguous" with confused attitudes
towards indigenous (medicinal) systems and Western (medical) institutions because of the
"fatal impact of irreconcilable social systems and cultures."72 This ambiguity is a cultural and
ideational phenomenon, and its powers compel even academic "authorities" in Ghana to
proclaim, "it is for us scientists to throw the light of science on the herbalist's art, and lay a more
pragmatic and scientific basis for his practice."73 This pronouncement is not an anomaly for it is
wholly consistent with others that passionately declare, "healing with herbs cannot continue to
be just an art" since "African methods were wholly trial and error."74 Many of these scholars,
however, fail to either recognize or accept that there has always been a demystified "scientific"
process to indigenous medicine in addition to the vast knowledge of medicines acquired
through close observation of nature and animals' application of those medicines, trial tests on
animals and sometimes humans, and practical experience accrued over centuries.75 More
importantly, it is the misguided pronouncements of Ghanaian scholars on the issue of
indigenous medicine and the gestation and propagation of "witchcraft" driven anthropological
understandings of "traditional" medicine that provided a dubious setting for current debates of
"integration" or "cooperation" between indigenous and biomedical systems.

Integration versus Cooperation

Some have argued struggles, resistance, adaptation, critique, negotiation, and
appropriation have characterized the encounters between indigenous and "Western" medicine,
but these processes have all reduced indigenous systems to "things." Correspondingly,
individual herbs were objectified through "Western" analytical concepts, bio-chemical analysis,
randomized clinical trails, creation of patents for bio-chemical substances, and marketing those
substances as drugs and nutritional supplements. In this context, the debate with regard to the

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Medicine and Anthropology in Twentieth Century Africa I 57

"integration" of indigenous therapeutic systems (specifically their varied categories of healers)
into national health delivery systems in Africa remains a discourse captured by seemingly
irreconcilable ways of thinking, cultural behavior, and sensibilities.76 Irrespective of the
argument that the distance between "Western medicine" and "non-European folk medicine is a
product of post-nineteenth century medical science," the lives of African people are decisively
affected by the contestation that exists between the two.77 Given that African ministries of health
and medical schools still propagate colonial attitudes towards indigenous healers, and
missionary and government school curricula nurture those perceptions, it is not surprising then
to find ambiguity harbored in the minds of Ghanaians, and the Akan in particular, especially
with regards to matters of indigenous healing.78 Part of this ambiguity is itself rooted in the
ways in which colonial rule both heightened so-called "witchcraft" tensions, altered disease
environments, and affected the search for and value placed upon viable therapeutic options.
At the turn of Ghana's political independence in the 1960s, a leading anthropologist among
the Bono (Akan) argued, "the introduction of Western institutions has not resulted in conflict
between culture or between 'traditional' and 'modern' segments of culture, but rather in
accommodation."79 Warren's perspective, and other anthropological understandings of
indigenous medicine, facilitated the first of several integrative health projects and shaped the
"integration" of indigenous healers with biomedicine in Africa. In the 1970s, Ghana was one of
the first to host health initiatives such as the Damfa project funded by USAID in Greater Accra,
the Brong-Ahafo Rural Integrated Development Project (BARIDEP) project funded by the
World Health Organization (WHO) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation
Agency (SIDA) in the Kintampo district, varied United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
sponsored training projects, and the Primary Health Training for Indigenous Healers
(PRHETIH) project which operated between 1979-1983 in the Takyiman district.80 Several
projects of a similar nature were initiated in the Bono inhabited districts of Berekum and
Dormaa based upon the PRHETIH experience and the film initially entitled Bono Medicines
(1983) and later renamed Healers of Ghana (1996). Many indigenous healers who participated in
the PRHETIH program soon discovered the "one-way" nature of PRHETIH as well as
analogous efforts (e.g., the Damfa project). This realization was confirmed by project facilitators
who noted how sessions on herbs were the best received while those sessions that "consisted
primarily of advice or description" were least welcomed.81
The above experiences have engendered multiple arguments and proposals. Some argue
that integration is pragmatically impossible but some form of cooperation in areas where both
indigenous and "Western" medicine complements each other is feasible. Others propose that
integration or collaboration could lead to a reconciliation of the unsettled encounter between
indigenous African and "Western" medicines and the cultural frameworks in which they are
embedded. In other words, the renewed interest in and debate about the integration of
indigenous medicine and "biomedicine" has its origins in and is a synonym for the historic
encounters between adherents of both approaches to health and healing. Integration or not,
African governments continue to place demands on indigenous medicine to "go modern" by
way of scientific rationality, some biomedical doctors recognize healers as potential allies in the
fight against AIDS, and pharmaceutical companies and similar agencies exploit indigenous

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58 I Konadu

medicinal knowledge (through intellectual property rights conventions) under the auspices of
Perhaps the barriers to integration are in fact substantial and the benefits are unproven, as
some have argued.83 Proposals to provide on-the-job training for young health professionals
with indigenous healers, for public education to rectify the popularized false perceptions of
indigenous medicine, to utilize indigenous healers as part of a global disease reporting systems
for emerging diseases, and to create a two-tier medical school system may be missing a vital
point.84 The conjuncture of views and propositions on integration or collaboration suggests
what is really at work is a recasting or reduction of indigenous medicine as a mechanical,
lifeless, and inhuman adjunct to biomedicine with a "one-size-fits-all" approach that neglects
the fact that physiologically, emotionally, spiritually, and ideationally no two human beings are
the same. In effect, indigenous medicine will become like biomedicine and since we are dealing
with "two different medical paradigms," as Hedberg and StraugArd observed, integrative
attempts to compartmentalize the "empirical" and the "spiritual" and, subsequently,
disregarding the latter will only engender an inadequate version of "modern medicine."85 In
this context, Foulkes' contention that indigenous African medicine is a system that is
"irreconcilable with our own" (i.e., "Western" or "bio-medicine") seems more intelligible
though there are those who believe that there is compatibility "in the domain of contagious
disease."86 Surprisingly, the relatively high levels of collaboration among indigenous healers
themselves in places such as Cote d'Ivoire -Ghana's western neighbor and home of several
Akan groups-do not form part of the discourse nor do they figure in proposals for health
projects in African societies.87 Rather than efforts to further collaboration and efficiency among
indigenous healers who serve much of the general populace, we are left incarcerated by the idea
that "traditional healers are a poorly organized group of people with only a low formal
education, and therefore cannot be regarded as equal partners with Western health care
workers who are well trained and embedded in powerful institutions."88 Lastly, one cannot
simply imitate or import, in the African context, the stories of "integration" between
"traditional" and "biomedical" specialists in the Asian countries of China, Vietnam, and
The way the "cooperation" discourse is framed, indigenous healers and the medicinal
system they represent are problematized- that is, there is a problem "training indigenous
healers" and integrating them into the biomedical system. In that framing, "cooperation" or
"integration" is never stated as a process of creating a new system wherein both participate on
agreed upon terms or that biomedical workers "integrate" the indigenous system, particularly if
that system represents and is responsive to the overwhelming majority of the population.
Rather, the "cooperation" or "integration" debate has been unilateral with the biomedical
system being both the source and the destination; this situation has been glaringly
demonstrated by the health projects initiated in several Bono districts. It would seem more
sensible to "integrate" into a indigenous system that is embedded in the thought and pragmatic
structure of society than to do the same with an external (and antagonistic) system, such as the
biomedical one, which is imported and removed from the majority of the people, and only
accessible to a few financially well-off, urbanized individuals. This debate, however framed,
appears to be a distraction from the real issue: the inherent and unbalanced power relations

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Medicine and Anthropology in Twentieth Century Africa I 59

embedded in society, and the marshaling of human and other resources towards the substance
of people's lives. It is not that unequal power relations make therapeutic pluralism impossible,
but that very social arrangement, often evident in widening socio-economic disparities, does not
marshal the same levels of resources to support indigenous therapeutic options used by large
parts of the citizenry.
At the cultural or ideational level, both the indigenous and the biomedical systems are
irreconcilable at their very core. The notion of "integration" seems misguided and the idea of
"cooperation" (whatever that means) appears more feasible if both systems acknowledge and
accept their areas of expertise and limitations, perspectives and cultural foundations from
which they operate, and are genuinely concerned about the difficult but necessary task of being
human. The fact is medical training in Ghana and other parts of the world traditionally focus on
disease diagnosis and management rather than on preventative medicine and health promotion.
The lesser focus on preventative medicine and health promotion has historically constituted the
very underbelly of biomedicine. It appears, therefore, serious introspection for biomedical
systems existing in Africa is an imperative before any pragmatic consideration toward
cooperation or collaborative efforts between those systems and indigenous ones. In rural Haiti,
the competing ideologies of Catholicism and Protestantism unite and consolidate their assault
toward Vodun adherents and specialists as their "demonic inverse," and yet, Haitians continue
to seek out and utilize the latter's therapeutic services.89 In Ghana and other parts of Africa, the
collaboration between the truncated nation-state and its political and medical instruments
engaged in their own assault through policy, propaganda, and resource misallocation. Yet and
still, the cultural views and values of its vast majority, particularly rural dwellers, as well as
many "educated," "un-schooled," and Christian or Muslim individuals alike seek out the
therapeutic services of indigenous healers. These peoples negotiate socio-political circumstances
as best as they can through what they know, and it has become clear to me that their
intergenerational knowledge has not brought them this far because it is solely or most
importantly hinged on the fear of "gods" and the nocturnal activities of witches.


Ventevogel concluded, "medical knowledge is not a thing or a fact, it is the outcome of a
historic process," and postulated, "constructing an 'ethnomedical' system resembles taking a
snap-shot of a certain place at a certain time."90 Though Ventevogel's notion of a "snap-shot"
lends itself to our discussion of peripheral sphere of indigenous knowledge (i.e., capturing what
exists in a delimited historical and cultural context), he is really insinuating that the Akan
medicinal system is not what it was a hundred years ago nor will it be the same a century from
now. The boundaries of what constitutes "Akan medicine" are becoming blurred. However,
Minkus's findings on Akan medicine twenty years ago, Maier's findings from the literature
related to Asante (Akan) medicine almost two centuries ago, and what eighteenth and
nineteenth century writers observed on the Gold Coast (contemporary Ghana) still holds true
among many Akan communities.91 This does not mean Akan medicinal knowledge is static or
resistant to refinement, but has been one of continuity in medicinal practices aligned with
spiritual-temporal convictions held over the centuries. The boundaries of what constitutes

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60 I Konadu

"Akan medicine," as opposed to Mossi or Dagomba medicine, are sometimes not easy to
discern because of movement, interaction, and incorporation of varied skills and techniques
related to health and healing. This development, however, reveals the significance of the Bono
cultural and ecological zone as a point of (medicinal) knowledge convergence among varied
African societies and implies an internal pan-African knowledge base among West Africa
therapeutic systems -a development borne of historic processes in the "field" of West Africa.
Out of historic processes and encounters also came the fluctuating and, at times, divergent,
perspectives on the "naturalistic" or "supernatural" basis of African therapeutic systems in
medical anthropology and a reduction of those systems to an ubiquitous "witchcraft." I have
argued this development came out of a continuous failure to locate African perspectives on the
substance of such realities in African societies, and that failing emerged from a quest for
"ethnographic cases" and issues of "witchcraft" and "supernatural" etiologies in the field of
medical anthropology rather than the field of African knowledge and perspectives. Our
discussion has placed that failing and its importance into proper and broader context. In so
doing, this essay also sought to clarify some of significant realities linked to health and healing
in Akan societies and since these societies were sites of "integrative" health projects for several
decades, those realities contributes a valuable perspective on issues of "witchcraft," disease
causation and therapy, and on the integration or cooperation debate in medical anthropology.
An Akan perspective on those issues suggests a strategic distinction between two sites of
knowledge production-field of medical anthropology and the "field" of Africa where
fieldwork is conducted-on the larger canvas of global health issues. Such a distinction revealed
"witchcraft" was more ubiquitous in the anthropological literature than in the "field" of Africa.
Anthropological approaches to and understandings of indigenous medicine constructed the
"integration" debate and the key factor of incompatibility. The medical anthropology of Africa
will remain constricted by its history unless it exorcize its obsessive quest for supernaturally
charged medicines, magic, gods, and witchcraft.92


1. Rukangira 2001, p. 180.
2. Bishaw 1991; Gessler et al. 1995; Puckree et al. 2002; Rukangira 2001, p. 180;
Stekelenburg et al. 2005, p. 78; Mandeng 1984, pp. 3-4; Betti 2004, p. 3; Osujih 1993;
Offiong 1999, pp. 128-29; Ekpere and Mshana 1997, p. 2.
3. Toafa et al. 2001; Bell et al. 2001; Marbella 1998, p. 184; Payne-Jackson and Lee 1993, p. 3.
4. "biomedicine" and its variants (e.g., biomedical, allopathy, conventional medicine) refer
to the use of biological, biochemical, physiological, and other basic "scientific"
assumptions to address issues in clinical medicine, particularly as it relates to an almost
obsessive focus on the body as a biochemical contraption that is the source and site of
disease or sickness
5. See Farnsworth, 1988.
6. Edoho 1997, p. 100.
7. See Konadu 2007.
8. Brodwin 1996; Pool 1994a.

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Medicine and Anthropology in Twentieth Century Africa I 61

9. Brodwin 1996, p. 194.
10. Good 1994, p. 21.
11. Jackson 2003, pp. 3-5.
12. Ibid., pp. vi, 5.
13. Purcell 1998, p. 260.
14. Pfeifer 1996, p. 47.
15. Evans-Pritchard 1937, pp. 63, 479.
16. Pool 1994b, p. 12.
17. Pool 1994a, pp. 108-112, 254, 264.
18. Ventevogel 1996, p. 136.
19. McCaskie 1983, p. 187.
20. Rattray, 1923, pp. 5-10.
21. Rattray 1923, pp. 172-87; see also Platvoet 2000, pp. 80-96.
22. Rattray 1923, p. 114.
23. Field 1960, pp. 112, 117.
24. Warren 1974, p. 431.
25. Warren 1974, pp. 299, 343, 357.
26. Warren 1974, p. v.
27. Ventevogel 1996, p. 132.
28. Warren 1974, pp. 95, 431.
29. Ventevogel 1996, p. 95.
30. Evans-Anfom 1986, p. 58.
31. Ventevogel 1996, p. 137.
32. Green 1999, pp. 17, 37.
33. Makhubu 1998, p. 40; Hedberg and StraugArd 1989, p. 22.
34. Pool 1994a; 1994b.
35. Bongmba 1998, p. 166.
36. Ibid.
37. Feierman 1985, p. 108; Gillies 1976, pp. 358, 391-92.
38. Morley 1979, pp. 2, 8-9; Foster 1976, p. 773.
39. Murdock 1980, p. 21.
40. Ibid., pp. 43, 45-46, 52.
41. Ibid., p. 48.
42. van der Geest 1984, p. 60; Murdock 1980, p. 8.
43. Akator 1988, p. 12.
44. Brempong 1996, p. 44.
45. Rattray 1927, pp. 28-29.
46. Appiah, K. Interview by author. Nyafuman (Takyiman), Ghana, 25 December 2001.
47. Silverman 1987, p. 285.
48. Patterson 1981, p. 103.
49. Ibid., p. 7. The Gold Coast government in 1947 established the Cocoa Marketing Board,
which determined the optimal conditions for producers, fixed prices locally and for
distribution to the world market, and appointed agents who bought cocoa from farmers

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62 I Konadu

on behalf of the board. The board was or currently is the only authority to market cocoa
outside of Ghana and the Kwahuhene is the head of the board.
50. Ventevogel 1996. Tigare is both a suman and an obosom, and the latter is a more recent
development according to traditions found among the Bono. According to oral historical
sources, Tigare was a suman used primarily by hunters, as a hunter found it in the forest,
and as a suman it did not "possess" its custodian. A Tano obosom extracted clay from the
Tano River, in addition to other ingredients, and placed the composite substance on the
Tigare suman, transforming it to an obosom.
51. Patterson 1981, pp. 1-4.
52. Ibid., p. 8.
53. Ibid., pp. 6, 9.
54. Konadu 2007, pp. xx, 53-57.
55. Warren 1974, p. 325.
56. The spheres of indigenous medicinal knowledge detailed here also exists in other
African and African-descended societies, such as those in Cameroon, Ghana, Tanzania,
and Haiti, and among healers in the Bolivian Andes and Amazon. See Betti 2004, p. 3;
Dokosi 1969, p. 119; Mandeng 1984, pp. 4-6; Swantz 1990, p. 11; Brodwin, 1996, pp. 2-3;
Vandebrock et al. 2004, p. 838.
57. Bishaw 1991, p. 199; Memel-Fote 1999, p. 328; Mandeng 1984, p. 247; Appiah-Kubi 1981,
p. 148.
58. Mandeng 1984, p. 245.
59. Green 1999; Murdock 1980; Warren 1974.
60. Muela et al. 2000; Green 1999; Bierlich 1999; Gyekye 1997, pp. 245-46; Ventevogel 1996;
Gbadegesin 1991, pp. 128; Fink 1990; Swantz 1990, pp. 143; Warren and Green 1988, p. 6;
Mandeng 1984; Warren 1982, p. 89; Fosu 1981; Morley 1979; Foster 1976.
61. Foster 1976, pp. 775-776.
62. Foulks 1978, p. 660; Kleinman 1978, p. 661.
63. Bierlich 1999.
64. Ventevogel 1996, pp. 132-133; Van Dalen 1987; Minkus 1980.
65. Opoku 1978: 149.
66. Ibid., pp. 148-49.
67. Fu-Kiau 1991, p. 23.
68. Ibid., p. 39.
69. Ibid., p. 49.
70. Offiong 1999, p. 129.
71. Memel-Fote 1999, p. 328.
72. Assimeng 1999, pp. 246-247.
73. Addae-Mensah 1992, p. 49.
74. Addy 2003, p. 31; Addae 1996, p. 13.
75. Opoku 1978, p. 150.
76. Offiong 1999; Ventevogel 1996; Good 1987, pp. 17-18; Anyinam 1987; Evans-Anfom 1986,
pp. 43-62; Pillsbury 1982; Rappaport and Rappaport 1981; Twumasi 1975.
77. Meyers 1976, p. xii.

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Medicine and Anthropology in Twentieth Century Africa I 63

78. Assimeng 1999, p. 246; Nakuma 1994.
79. Warren et al. 1981, p. 18; Warren 1978, p. 77.
80. Warren 1986, p. 26.
81. Warren et al. 1981, p. 14; Appiah-Kubi 1981, p. 148.
82. Liverpool et al. 2004; Yangni-Angate 2004, p. 4; Offiong 1999, p. 128; Gessler et al. 1995,
p. 158; Twumasi 1988, pp. 26-27; Warren et al. 1981.
83. Barrett et al. 2004, p. 258.
84. Groce and Reeve 1996, p. 352; Nakuma 1994; Appiah-Kubi 1981, p. 148.
85. Hedberg and Straugard 1989, p. 29.
86. Foulkes 1992, p. 122; Green 1999, p. 17.
87. Memel-Fot& 1999, p. 333.
88. Ventevogel 1996, p. 123.
89. Brodwin 1996, p. 193.
90. Ventevogel 1996, p. 135.
91. Bosman 1967 1705, pp. 224-225; Smith 1967 1744, p. 225; Bowdich 1966 1819, pp. 371, 397.
92. Chesi 1989; Peltzer 1992; Pool 1994a.


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Medicine and Anthropology in Twentieth Century Africa I 67

Muela, S. H. et al. "The Paradox of the Cost and Affordability of Traditional and Government
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Ventevogel, Peter. \\i iih. lua's Things: Training and Detraining Healers in Ghana. Amsterdam: Het
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Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: Kwasi
Konadu, "Medicine and Anthropology in Twentieth Century Africa: Akan Medicine and
Encounters with (Medical) Anthropology," African Studies Quarterly 10, nos. 2 & 3: (Fall 2008)
[online] URL: http://africa.ufl.edu/asq/vl0/vl0i2a3.htm

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

Who Ruled by the Spear? Rethinking the Form of Governance

in the Ndebele State


Abstract: The current intellectual stampede over issues of governance in Africa has given
birth to ahistorical evaluations of the crises bedeviling the African continent. Pre-colonial
traditions and cultures have been unduly blamed for bequeathing politics of disorder on
the post-colonial state without being carefully studied separately. This article offers a
rebuttal to the emerging 'African exceptionalism' thesis that blames pre-colonial
traditions and cultures for the bad governance systems being witnessed in Africa. It is a
nuanced and systematic interrogation and rethinking of the Ndebele system of
governance in the nineteenth century. The article arrives at the conclusion that one
cannot generalize about pre-colonial African systems of governance as they were not
only diverse but also complex, allowing for good governance and bad governance to co-
exist uneasily and tendentiously across space and time. As such the single-despot model
preferred by many Eurocentric scholars is too simplistic to explain the complexities and
diversities of African political systems. Even post-colonial despotic rulers cannot justify
dictatorship and violation of their people's rights on the basis of pre-colonial African
traditions, cultures and histories because human rights and democracy were organically
built into pre-colonial African systems of governance as this case study of the Ndebele

One of the earliest attempts to understand the ontology of African political systems and the
forms of African governance is the collaborative anthropological work of M. Fortes and E. E.
Evans-Pritchard. In this work, sweeping generalizations were made about diverse African
societies to the extent that African forms of governance were divided into centralized and
decentralized forms. Centralized forms were seen as undemocratic and decentralized were
reduced to democratic governance.1 The achievement of independence by African states that
was attended by problems of deepening democracy and increasing participation of all citizens
in political processes elicited new interests in understanding African political systems and why
democracy was difficult to institutionalize in Africa. A number of explanations emerged
including Eurocentric and Afrocentric pessimist paradigms that blamed African pre-colonial
traditions for bequeathing authoritarian forms of governance and disorder on the continent. For

Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni is a Lecturer in African Studies at the Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies at the Open
University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom. Before joining the Open University, Ndlovu-Gatsheni was Senior Lecturer and
Head of Department of International Studies at Monash University's South Africa Campus in Johannesburg. He has published
articles on history and politics in Southern Africa in journals such as Journal of Southern African Studies and Eastern Africa
Social Science Research Review. His book entitled The Ndebele Nation: F, rl r. -. of Hegemony, Memory and Historiography
is in press in the Netherlands. He is currently researching on nationalism, memory and transitional justice in Zimbabwe.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

72 I Ndlovu-Gatsheni

instance, Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz linked the crisis of democracy with African
culture that allowed for patrimonial forms of governance.2 Chabal and Daloz emphasized
continuities of pre-colonial political traditions across the colonial and postcolonial periods as
important in explaining current failures of governance in Africa. To them, the crisis of
governance in Africa is one of "modernity rooted in the deep history of the societies in which it
is taking place." Sounding apologetic of the contribution of colonialism to the current failures of
democracy in Africa, Chabal and Daloz argued that "time has long passed when we,
Westerners, had to expiate the colonial crime of our forefathers."3 Instead, they posited that the
essential feature "most important to emphasize is the significance of continuities in the political
practice from the pre-colonial period."4 To them, colonialism failed to overcome "the strongly
instrumental and personal characteristics of traditional African administration." Their
conclusion was that African cultures were ontologically hostile to good governance and
effective administrations.5
The thesis of continuities between precolonial political systems and African traditions into
the postcolonial period is countered by scholars like Mahmood Mamdani and Peter P. Ekeh
who emphasize the contribution of the legacy of late colonialism to problems of
democratization in postcolonial Africa. According to Mamdani colonialism bifurcated colonial
populations into citizens and subjects. This became the beginning of hierarchized citizenship
determined by race within which white settlers enjoyed citizenship rights and Africans as
subjects suffered under decentralized despotism called indirect rule with the African chief at its
apex.6 Colonialism ossified Africans' identities into rigid ethnic groupings and sealed these
through legal coding. This created many problems for Africa. In the first place it meant that
African nationalism developed as ethnic consciousness. In the second place, it created the
intractable problem of the 'native' and the 'settler' which is sometimes termed the national
question.7 In an endeavour to install democracy, many postcolonial regimes concentrated on de-
racializing civil space while at the same time reinforcing decentralized despotism inherited
from the colonial state at the local level as recognition of African traditions and customary law.8
Mamdani's arguments resonates with those of Peter Ekeh who argued that colonialism
introduced two public spheres (one for whites and another for blacks) that resulted in Africans
imbibing bourgeois ideologies, making them to "fight alien rulers on the basis of criteria
introduced by them."9
My concern in this article is to rebut what I will call the continuitiess thesis' between
precolonial systems of governance and the postcolonial because this gives ammunition to some
postcolonial African dictators to justify their non-accountable styles of governance and blatant
violations of human rights on the basis of African tradition. Even long presidential incumbency
by one person and life presidencies are justified on precolonial tradition.10 The continuitiess
thesis' is founded on a false impression that democracy and human rights were brought to
Africa by people from the West. The case study of the Ndebele state is used here to rebut the
continuitiess thesis' on democracy without necessarily ignoring the 'inventions of traditions' by
colonial regimes as well as African nationalists and postcolonial governments that has
compounded African problems." The main weakness of the constructivist paradigm that gave
birth to the ideas of 'inventions of tradition' in Africa is that it tended to privilege white agency

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

Who Ruled by the Spear? I 73

over that of Africans. African creative agency was sacrificed at the altar of missionary and
colonial agencies.
One of the glaring gaps in the debate on governance in Africa is the lack of nuanced studies
grounded on precolonial African political systems of governance. There is a general belief that
precolonial governance was nothing but a long night of savagery and violence within which the
spear played a fundamental role under what Carolyn Hamilton termed "terrific majesty."12
Writing about the Ndebele south of the Limpopo River, Peter Becker saw nothing in them but a
"path of blood" in their trail of violent conquests.13 Thus besides rebutting the continuitiess
thesis,' this article is a thorough revision of the earlier characterization of the Ndebele system of
governance. It reveals Ndebele notions of democracy and human rights in the nineteenth
Mathew T. Bradley defined democracy as "a configuration of governance molded by
general values, biases, prejudices and nuances of a given culture."14 Like elsewhere, precolonial
notions and practices of democracy and human rights were informed by diverse African
histories, African traditions and were expressed in different languages and articulated in
different idioms. Denial of rights and freedoms permeated precolonial conflicts since not all
African precolonial governments were democratic or respected human rights. The common
reality was that democracy and human rights co-existed uneasily and tendentiously with
authoritarianism, patriarchy and militarism.15 But few scholars who chose to study African
systems of governance during the precolonial era tended to use the single-despot model that
was not confirmed by historical realities on the ground in Africa.16
A single-despot model of African governance systems is inadequate because African
societies were very diverse in their ontology, thus defying simple generalizations. Each of the
pre-colonial societies had unique sets of rules, laws and traditions suitable for particular
contexts and historical realities. These rules, laws and traditions, commonly termed customs,
formed the basis of how people would live together peacefully as part of a community, state
and nation. Earlier African formations like those of Egypt in North Africa, Nubia and Axum in
North East Africa, Ghana, Mali and Songhai in West Africa, and Mapungubwe and Great
Zimbabwe in Southern Africa, produced different political and economic systems of governance
relative to their environment of operation as well as historical circumstances of formation.17
Because of their magnitude, they all evolved complex systems of governance that could hardly
fit into a single-despot model.

The Ndebele and historiographical debates

The Ndebele have attracted a lot of studies ranging from those by precolonial travelers,
missionaries, colonial officials, anthropologists, novelists, poets and historians. What was
widely reported was their reputation for what was considered to be 'bloodthirsty savagery,'
'martial spirit,' 'splendid despotism' and 'noble savages.' These descriptions captured
contradictory representations of the Ndebele within British colonial imaginations. Within the
colonial imagination, the Ndebele fell victim to exoticization and demonization.18 Later writings
on the Ndebele were heavily influenced by early literate observers' writing on the Ndebele and
missionary records became primary records for later academic works on the Ndebele.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3 I Fall 2008

74 I Ndlovu-Gatsheni

The major historians who have written on precolonial Ndebele history are Kent Rasmussen
on the Ndebele South of the Limpopo, Terence Ranger on Ndebele politics during the scramble
period; Ngwabi Bhebe on missionary activities in the Ndebele state; David Beach on Ndebele-
Shona relations, Julian Cobbing on Ndebele history from 1820 to 1896; Pathisa Nyathi on the
Ndebele history from 1820-1896; Enocent Msindo on Ndebele-Kalanga Relations from 1860s to
1980s, Bjorn Lindgren on Ndebele ethnicity, Ray Roberts on Ndebele royal family, and my own
work on Ndebele political system and their notions of democracy and human rights.19 Except
for my work, the theme of democracy is avoided in the writings on Ndebele history save for a
focus on revision of Ndebele-Shona relations which were described as characterized by violence
by colonial writers bent on justifying colonialism. Among all these writers, Cobbing produced a
more comprehensive revisionist study of the Ndebele history, though the issue of governance
and democracy was not his central concern.20 Despite the fact that Beach alluded to the myths
dominating articulations of Ndebele history and tried to explode some, he continued to describe
the Ndebele state as a 'mfecane' state that was organized along military lines.21 Msindo's recent
writings accept old-fashioned descriptions of the Ndebele state as militaristic and authoritarian
to the extent of seeing my concern with democracy and human rights among the Ndebele as "a
Zansi/Nguni-centric view of Ndebele history, which defends pre-colonial political
The scholars who continued to emphasize Ndebele politics as a terrain of violence failed to
distinguish between two phases in Ndebele history. The first phase of Ndebele history running
from 1820-1840 was dominated by migration and violence and covers the turbulent years of the
'mfecane.' The second phase of Ndebele history running from 1841-1893 saw the Ndebele
transforming themselves from a life of migration and violence to a new full-fledged settled
heterogeneous nation on the Zimbabwean plateau. Violence became minimal and Beach used
this to explain the resurgence of Shona power.23 The distinguishing features of this 'settled
phase' and its processes of consolidation of Ndebele power included a ceaseless search for
consensual governance. The issue of rights and human rights that were pushed to the
peripheries of politics during the formative stage of the state now came to the centre the state
politics.24 The actual realities of power shifted during the 'settled phase' to the control of the
means of production which superseded the control of the means of violence as the base of
wealth, power and privilege. Major institutions such as amabutho (age sets) which were largely
geared towards the military, were quickly civilianized to suit the exigencies of a less aggressive
environment on the Zimbabwean plateau.25
Robert Moffat, a London Missionary Society (LMS) agent and long time friend of Mzilikazi
Khumalo tried to appropriate all positive changes in the Ndebele state as products of his
missionary efforts including the reduction in offensive wars. All positive changes in Ndebele
politics were to him attributed to his interventions and interventions of Christian God.26 The
civilianization process also saw the practice of celibacy being relaxed.27 These reforms meant
that those Ndebele men who were renowned for courage and prowess in warfare were
permitted to marry and build villages for themselves. The king allowed the right to marry and
to establish a family to be accorded to many people during this phase of Ndebele history.
Renowned fighters found themselves settling down to carry out civilian oriented duties like
administering the segments of the Ndebele state, since the state had expanded greatly.28

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Who Ruled by the Spear? I 75

The office of the king was transformed and ritualized leading Julian Cobbing to write of the
rise of an ideological glorification of the person of the monarch.29 The king assumed the role of a
successful rain-maker, administering a system of grain production, distributing cattle, and
heading a cult of ancestor worship. At this time the king's importance was best described in
ritual terms. The king became the "rainmaker in chief" and "a collector of charms and
medicines designed not only to secure rain but to protect the state against the machinations of
its enemies."30 On top of this, the king administered justice, maintained a monopoly over the
important long-distance trade to the South, and distributed the proceeds of tribute and of
raiding. As put by L. Vail and L. White, Mzilikazi was no longer the absolute and arbitrary
tyrant of "European travelers" tales.'31 The king became involved more in ivory trade and
spiritual satisfaction of his people.
A strong aristocratic group emerged, quite different from that which had held power
because of its military prowess in the 1820s and 1830s. Achievement or meritocracy was
increasingly replacing ascriptive status in the Ndebele state. Commenting on this new power
development, Cobbing noted that without king "there would have been an inchoate collection
of feuding chieftaincies."32 However the king was no longer able to exercise absolute power
with this new development. Relatively strong subsidiary chiefs and headmen who maintained a
great deal of independent wealth and power based on personal ownership of cattle and
achievement had emerged. 'Royalisation' was taking new forms via marriages to women of
royal blood. As the power of this group increased, kingship vigorously ritualized itself to the
level of ideological glorification through veneration of the king's ancestors who were invoked
and propitiated in national ceremonies as the state's protectors.33
The refugees and captives of earlier decades and those who were acquired in the southwest
now coalesced into a nation, broadening the heterogeneity of the Ndebele state. Some of them
assumed powerful positions as chiefs and commanded a lot of respect from the king. Under the
abenhia (those from the North) social strata that formed south of the Limpopo River, there
emerged a third additional social strata of amaHole.34 AmaHole were those people who were
assimilated into the Ndebele state within the Zimbabwean plateau. They were the latest
entrants into the Ndebele society. The top and proud Zansi (those from the South) who left with
the king from Zululand became a minority only identifiable through their Nguni isibongo
(surname) such as Mkhize, Gatsheni, Khumalo, Mkwananzi, Sithole and Gumede.35
Democratic spaces opened up in line with new social and political realities. The Ndebele
society became more tolerant, accommodative, and open to the reality of the numerical
dominance of non-Nguni groups. These non-Nguni groups were gradually accorded more and
more rights so as to placate them. Raiding which had been relied upon as an economic as well
as a political ploy was changed. Raiding lost much of its attributes as an economic ploy and
became largely a political ploy meant to weaken neighbhours of the Ndebele and to punish the
recalcitrant chiefs. In the words of David Beach, raiding became target-specific.36

Power and Governance Structures

The Ndebele system of governance crystallized around the person of the king (inkosi). This
reality led some scholars to misinterpret this to mean that the Ndebele king was despotic and

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76 I Ndlovu-Gatsheni

dictatorial.37 There is no doubt that the Ndebele king was powerful, but not to the extent of
becoming an absolute monarch with all power concentrated in his hands. The Ndebele society
had developed very elaborate mechanisms which acted as checks and balances on the power of
the king. The hierarchy of power facilitated communication between the leaders and the
ordinary people. It also facilitated communication between the lesser chiefs and the senior
leaders up to the king (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Hierarchy of power In the Ndebele state

Inkosi (King)

Indunankulu Yeslzwe (Prime Minister)

Umphakathl (Inner Advisory Council)

Izikhulu (Outer Advisory Council/Council of Prominent Men)

Izinduna Zezigaba
(Provincial Chiefs)

Abalisa (Headmen)

Abamnumzana (Homestead Heads)

Figure 1 demonstrates that even though the Ndebele king was at the apex of a power
hierarchy he was not an autocratic ruler with absolute powers. Other powerful officials were
active in the governance of the state as well checking absolute dictatorship. These included the
indunankulu yesizwe (prime minister/head of the government). The king became largely a
ceremonial head of state. During Mzilikazi's rule, Mncumbatha Khumalo occupied this post
and even acted as a regent after his death in 1868. Mncumbatha was described by the Ndebele
as umqamelo wenkosi, which meant the pillow of the king. He was so described because the king
relied on him for advice.38 He acted as a deputy to the king. He represented the king on various
important occasions and could sign treaties on behalf of the king as happened in 1836.39
The Ndebele king did not rule by decree. State policies were subjected to serious debate,
and meetings were considered important in deciding the future of the state. A loose group of
the king's personal confidants comprising inner advisers, collectively termed umphakathi,

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Who Ruled by the Spear? I 77

played a crucial role in determining state policy. They also deliberated on the difficult judicial
decisions. Another set of advisers of the king were a large group of the state's prominent men
collectively termed izikhulu. It was through these two councils that the ordinary Ndebele people
were able to participate in the government of their country. Umphakathi and izikhulu operated as
representative councils. The members of these councils, however, were mainly rich people,
rather than ordinary persons. They were not freely chosen by the people, their positions were
largely hereditary.
In theory, the king was the head of state, head of government, religious chief, commander-
in-chief of the armed forces, and the supreme judge of all criminal cases. In practice, however,
the king was basically a ceremonial head of state in all these posts and a source of unity in the
state. There is need to note that there was always tension between forces of centralization and
those of decentralization of power. The Ndebele king tried to keep as much power in his hands
as was possible, but the leaders of izigaba worked tirelessly as well to gain more and more
power and increasing influence in state affairs.40 It was these people who practically
commanded the armed forces during military assignments. They also determined outcomes of
difficult judicial decisions. While the king could differ with the views of his advisers on a
number of issues, he was often forced to endorse the popular views of his advisers.41
The leaders of izigaba rather than the king were the practical representatives of amahlabezulu
(the ordinary population). The king had to listen to their views in order to keep in touch with
the popular sentiments of his people. Chiefs of izigaba were initially appointed by the king
especially during the inception of the state and the formation of specific izigaba as the state
grew. Provincial chiefs, however, had to work hard to cultivate the allegiance of the people
within the territorial area of their rule. Upon the death of an appointed chief, the king's power
to appoint another chief fell away as the deceased chief was to be succeeded by his eldest son
from his senior wife (indlu enkulu). If the senior wife failed to produce a son, other sons from
junior wives were accepted as successors.42
Despite all these elaborate mechanisms of governance in the Ndebele, the system of
governance was not fully based on consensual politics. It was characterized by a mixture of
democratic tendencies on the one hand, and aristocratic, autocratic and/or militaristic
tendencies on the other. Tension, competition, jealousies, and violence also characterized
Ndebele system of governance.43
Kinship was one major ideology in the Ndebele state that was a source of both strength and
weakness. Both Mzilikazi and Lobengula were known for suspecting their own relatives to be
their worst enemies and for harshness towards male royals, giving rise to the popular Ndebele
idea of a blood brother as umfowethu (umfo means enemy). The whole idea of a royal house
limited the chances of ordinary people to participate fully in the governance of the state and to
attain higher posts. Only those connected to the royal family could readily attain the posts of
senior chiefs.
Politics in the Ndebele state were not open to competition as in modern day democracies.
Power was hereditary, that is, confined to royal houses. While the Ndebele conceded that
power was to be contested, they never tolerated opposition to the incumbent leader. Their
popular ideology was alikho ilanga elaphuma elinye lingakatshoni (no sun has ever arisen before
another one had set).44 The Ndebele emphasized that power belonged to those with power. The

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78 I Ndlovu-Gatsheni

ruling Khumalo house was praised as ndlangamandla (those who rule because of their power).45
Mzilikazi ruled until he died of old age without a clear successor. The Ndebele feared even to
mention the issue of succession when Mzilikazi was still alive.46
The Ndebele governance was also characterized by patriarchal ideology. Patriarchy
referred to a form of domination based on strictly personal loyalty to a father-like ruler who
invoked the sanctity of tradition to justify his acts.47 Ndebele patriarchal ideology exalted the
leadership of older men. Women, young men, and captives, generally stood outside the centre
of power. The Ndebele king was a 'father' figure and the people he governed conveyed their
respect by referring to themselves as his 'children.' Political life was acted out in terms of
personal relations rather than in terms of depersonalized and institutionalized law. The
Ndebele considered themselves as one family (uMthwakazi) and the family was an idiom
through which political conflict and alliances were expressed.48
White observers tended to emphasize the existence of injustices and cruel punishment
among the Ndebele without a clear analysis of Ndebele notions of justice and punishment.
Rhodesian colonial officials, especially the Native Commissioners, wrongly assumed that
Africans brought cases to them because they offered a superior kind of justice that was far much
better than that offered by African pre-colonial governments.49 Others argued that among the
Ndebele democracy and human rights were unknown because the judiciary system was
characterized by only two forms of punishment, that is, fines and death.50 Robert Moffat
described the Ndebele system of justice as "tyrannical in the strictest sense of the word" and
that the king's word was law.51 All these were distortions and falsifications of the Ndebele
notions of justice and punishment.
In the Ndebele state, notions of justice and punishment were closely intertwined with
Ndebele customs and traditions. Political leaders of the state performed both administrative
and judiciary roles. In the execution of justice the political leadership summoned the wisdom of
other traditional officials in society such as izanusi, izinyanga, izangoma (diviners, wise men and
magicians respectively). At times even the services of the religious shrine such as Njelele were
sought to establish justice.52
Amacala (criminal cases) were basically divided into two categories, that is, amacala
amakhulu (serious crimes) and amacala amancane (minor crimes). The serious crimes included
ukubulala (murder), ubuthakathi/ukuloya (witchcraft), amacala ezombuso (political crimes) and
ubufebe (prostitution and adultery).53 The king commonly dealt with serious crimes whereas
minor crimes such as ukweba (theft) and inxabano emagumeni/emizini (domestic
misunderstanding) were dealt with by either abalisa headmenn) or izinduna (chiefs) depending
on the gravity of the case within their respective territorial jurisdiction. Even abamnuzana (heads
of households) could deal with very minor cases without the interference of either a headman
or a chief.54
A clear system of justice ran from the household up to the state level and there were clear
channels and mechanisms of dealing with various crimes and punishment. Conflict resolution
mechanisms were also available to cater and protect both communities and private interests.
While an attempt was made to achieve even handed justice in the Ndebele state, the judiciary
system, like other state institutions, was prone to abuse and manipulation by the 'big men' such
as the king, chiefs, headmen and senior men to the detriment of others.

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Who Ruled by the Spear? I 79

Witchcraft was considered to be one of the most serious offences equal to murder. It was
considered prejudicial to the lives and property of others in society. Death and illness were not
considered to be natural among the Ndebele. They were attributed either to the anger of
amadlozi (ancestral spirits) or witchcraft. Diviners and magicians usually raised accusations of
witchcraft (ukunuka abathakathi) and their allegations usually led to trials.55
In many occasions those who were accused of witchcraft were punished by death. The
Ndebele public ideology has it that umthakathi kancengwa uyaphohozwa ngenduku (there was no
sympathy for wizards and their fate was execution).56 A number of examples help to strengthen
this view. In 1880 Lobengula had his own favoured sister, Mncengence killed because he
thought she was responsible for the barrenness of the royal wife, Xwalile.57 In a separate
occasion, Xukuthwayo Mlotshwa, the chief of Intemba, had nine people of his own family
executed because he suspected that his illness was caused by them.58
Despite the emphasis in the Ndebele public ideology that witches' punishment was death
and that there was no sympathy for them, it is also evident that among the Ndebele doubtful
and unproven charges of witchcraft did not lead to execution. Instead, unsubstantiated
accusation of witchcraft led to banishment away from the mainstream of the Ndebele society.
Villagers were reluctant to harbour suspected witches and a place of refugee came into being
for the victims of such charges at a place called eZihwabeni between Solusi and Plumtree.59
Amagusu amnyama (dark forests) of Matebeleland North were also places 'where witches were
thrown to live.'60 In these places of exile, those accused of witchcraft were supplied with meat
and grain from the state coffers.61
The other serious crimes were those related to political crimes (amacala ezombuso). Those
accused of these crimes faced serious consequences. The clear case in point was that of 1840-
1842 known as the Ntabayezindunacrisis.62 Mzilikazi descended mercilessly and ruthlessly on his
close relatives, including his own children and his wives, because they were accused on political
grounds.63 Political opposition and harbouring political ambitions were considered as criminal.
The prominent and powerful members of the Ndebele society tended to manipulate and
abuse their power and positions in the umphakathi and izikhulu to eliminate one another by
accusing each other of witchcraft and plots against the king. The accusation of witchcraft was
used as a political weapon in moves for favours. One of Mzilikazi's closest confidants, Manxeba
Khumalo (the son of Mkaliphi Khumalo) was executed in August 1862 on a charge of witchcraft
elaborated by his rivals in the umphakathi. In 1854 Mpondo, another of Mzilikazi's confidants
was executed because he was accused of witchcraft.64 The real crime, however, was that they
were too close to Mzilikazi to the extent that they generated jealousy from their colleagues who
also wanted to be nearer to the king.
During the crisis of 1870-1872 following Lobengula's controversial accession to the throne,
prominent men like Mtikana Mafu and Thunzi Ndiweni who were respected by Mzilikazi were
eliminated after being accused of being witches and for plotting against the king. Lotshe
Hlabangana, a close confidant of Lobengula was in 1880 accused of witchcraft by his rivals. He
survived execution at that time only to be executed in September 1889 on a charge of having
misleadingly commended the Rudd Concession of 1888 to Lobengula.65
Despite all these executions, Tabler (one of the early literate observers on the Ndebele
history) pointed that Mzilikazi was not as despotic and tyrannical as portrayed other white

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80 I Ndlovu-Gatsheni

observers. He criticized the use of western Christian standards to evaluate the Ndebele justice
system. To him, Mzilikazi was influenced by public opinion to carryout executions for
witchcraft offences.66 Even among Ndebele oral tales, Mzilikazi is portrayed as inkosi ebunene (a
sympathetic and kind king) and is said to have pardoned a number of accused people whom
public opinion wanted severely punished or executed. It was even mentioned by some
informants that if ever a criminal, including those accused of murder and witchcraft, happened
to run away to seek asylum in the capital, he or she became immune to further harassment or
Some of the methods used to punish offenders, such as piercing through anus of an
offender with a sharp stick and tying stones around the neck of an offender before being thrown
into water (mentioned by observers like Robert Moffat) were horrific, though rare. What
emerges from the above is a hierarchy of rights and governance running from umuzi (nuclear or
extended family) under umnumzana throughimizi (villages) under abalisa headmenn), through
the izigaba (provinces) under izinduna (chiefs) to the ilizwe (kingdom) under the overall
administration of inkosi (king).68 These arrangements in the Ndebele state, like every facet of
Ndebele life and work, were shot through with political import. There were complex dialectics
between egalitarianism, competition, tensions, clan and family intimacies, mutual assistance,
communalism, co-existing with domination, violence of the 'big men,' seniority, aristocratic,
and militaristic tendencies, under-pinned by patriarchal ideology and an all embracing ideology
of kinship.69

Accountability and Legitimacy

A closer look at the governance styles of many Nguni pre-colonial societies tempts one to
argue that pre-colonial leaders were more accountable for their actions than some present day
African leaders. This argument is vindicated by the work of such scholars as Claude Ake and
Joseph Cobbah who uncovered that pre-colonial leaders were accountable even for natural
disasters.70 Among the Ndebele, proverbs and praise poems reflected popular expectations of
the subjects about their king and the government generally. Ndebele oral literature was also an
embodiment of Ndebele claims against their state and leaders as well as a tale of criticism of
some of the actions of the king and all those in power.71 The king and his chiefs were expected
to be generous with food and productive resources. They were also expected to provide
protection against enemies and drought.72
For the king to remain a legitimate ruler, he had to be very humane in his dealing with his
people. The Ndebele clearly expressed their fear and respect of their king while at the same time
celebrating their king's ability to 'eat' his enemies.73 Mzilikazi was respected by his people
mainly because of his ability to build the Ndebele state, his ability to outwit leaders like Shaka
and Zwide, and his ability to seize cattle from his enemies for the benefit of the Ndebele. All
these qualities of Mzilikazi's rule were expressed in his praise poems. No Ndebele doubted
Mzilikazi's legitimacy because he was the undisputed builder of the Ndebele state.
The Ndebele king's legitimacy was enhanced by judiciously distributing wealth to his
people in consultation with other influential men in the state. The chiefs were also obliged to
grant some material support to their subordinates. This patron-client relationship had the

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Who Ruled by the Spear? I 81

potential of making and unmaking of kings. Political power and economic wealth were
interdependent. Mzilikazi and Lobengula safeguarded their secular power through the strategic
redistribution of cattle and land to their followers. The simple logic of clientage ensured that no
one escaped accountability to the governed in the Ndebele political hierarchy.74
Some previous scholars distorted the whole issue of property rights in the Ndebele state.
One traditional argument was that the Ndebele king owned all the cattle and all the land as his
personal property.75 This was not true, bearing in mind that the king owned land in trust for his
people. The right to own property as an individual as well as in association with others was
embedded in Ndebele society. Cattle were owned at two levels, that is, individual level and
communal level. Inkomo zamathanga referred to privately owned cattle, whereas inkomo zebutho
or inkomo zenkosi referred to communally owned cattle.76
Land was available to every Ndebele person. The king and his chiefs distributed land to
their followers. Land among the Ndebele was neither sold nor bought and every member of the
state was entitled to it. The people who lost land to the Ndebele were those who decided to
migrate rather than accept Ndebele rule. The Ndebele on arrival in the southwest embarked on
a limited national re-organization policy and this process saw some communities like those of
Malaba being moved to Tegwani River, and those of Mehlo being moved from the headwaters
of Khami River to Dombodema.77 The idea behind the process was not to deny these people
their land but rather the Ndebele intended to create a defence zone against the Ngwato using
these Kalanga families. Above all, the people who were incorporated and assimilated into the
Ndebele society were allocated land and other resources and in return were expected to obey
laws, customs, and traditions of the Ndebele. They had to serve in the army and to attend the
annual inxwala ceremony.78 The inkomo zebutho/national herd or communal herds (inkomo
zenkosi) were different from the king's personal cattle. They were also different from the
privately owned cattle/inkomo zamathanga. The differences lay in the fact that the communal
herd was state property and while they were under the overall administration of the king, even
the king could not use them for his private affairs. It was this state herd that was distributed to
the provinces for people to tend and for those without cattle to benefit from them in the form of
manure, milk and meat. The power of the king to distribute cattle gave rise to an ideological
glorification of the person of the king, especially among the poor who happened to benefit
materially from these cattle.79
Among the Ndebele cattle (inkomo) constituted a vital branch of production as the
ownership of cattle determined social status and their acquisition was the major long-term
economic objective of all Ndebele males. The Ndebele acquired cattle mainly through raiding
and breeding. The cattle, which were seized through raids, were first of all taken to the king for
him to distribute to his people. Cattle also expanded by natural growth. It was through the
distribution of cattle that the king was able to boost his popularity among his followers. Baines
watched the arrival of the raiders from Gutu at Gibixhegu in 1870 and he pointed out that they
were fairly distributed following "tolerably equitable principles."s8
The accountability of the Ndebele leaders was usually expressed during indlala (famine),
where they had to provide food to the people. The king and his chiefs usually distributed cattle
and amabele (millet, sorghum and maize) to the starving people. The king and the chiefs kept
grain in secure places so as to distribute to their people during times of crisis.81 Indlala among

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82 I Ndlovu-Gatsheni

the Ndebele was not just considered as a natural occurrence. Causes were to be sought for it.
Thus, besides distributing cattle and grain to the starving people, the king was also obliged to
investigate the causes of famine. If the famine was caused by isikhongwana/intethe (locusts), the
king and his chiefs had to look for medicine and if the famine was caused by lack of izulu (rain), the
king had to send people to the rain-shrines like Njelele so as to get an explanation.82 In this way,
the Ndebele leaders tried by all means to be accountable to their people.
Religion played a very significant role in cementing legitimacy of the king. The Ndebele
kings were important religious leaders. The inxwala ceremony was partly a festival of unity
serving as a means of maintaining the power of the king over his people. The numerous men
and women who assembled around the capital for inxwala ceremonies also came partly in order
to renew their allegiance to the kingship, politically to the person of the king, and spiritually to
the memory of the royal amadlozi as national ancestral spirits.83 As a result of the central role
played by the king in the religious affairs of the Ndebele state, the kingship quickly acquired a
deep-rooted religious significance.
Ndebele society however, was not classless even though communalism was common.
There were the powerful royals and the weak, captives and non-captives, senior and junior, old
and young, women and men, able-bodied and disabled, and elderly and the youth, etc. Power
in general was stored in unequal human relations that were underwritten by an ideology of
lineage seniority and kinship.84 In the upper level of the Ndebele state was the royalty who
comprised the king and his relatives constituting a ruling aristocracy. The royalty indeed
enjoyed privileges and rights that were far above other groups in the Ndebele society. They
were the richest as they were given cattle by the king so as to make sure they did not constitute
a threat to the king. The royalty received reflected authority from the king. They were the
prominent members of umphakathi. Mzilikazi's brother-in-law, Maqhekeni Sithole and his
cousin, Mncumbatha Khumalo, held influential positions, whereas Lobengula's brothers:
Ngubongubo, Sibambamu, Nyanda, Muntu, Silwane, Fezela and Mahlahleni were prominent as
his inner advisers.85
Below the royalty were the Zansi (those from the South) who consisted of those people who
left with Mzilikazi from Zululand in the 1820s and their descendants. This group of people in
the Ndebele society formed an aristocracy and claimed a number of privileges and rights far
above other groups with the exception of the royalty. The senior chiefs in the Ndebele state
were drawn from this group. They had power because they suffered with the king during the
turbulent years of the Mfecane and they had fought for him in various battles of the migratory
There was the Enhia group within the Ndebele society who comprised the Sotho and
Tswana people and occupied a position below the Zansi. Mzilikazi incorporated these into the
Ndebele state before crossing the Limpopo River. They had suffered with the king since they
accompanied the king up to Matabeleland. The Enhlaalso had a claim to positions of authority
and power too based on their longer association with the Zansi. They largely occupied positions
of headmen under the Zansi who occupied positions of chiefs.87
Below the Enhia were the Hole group, which consisted of the Kalanga, Rozvi, Nyubi, Nyayi,
Birwa, Venda and other indigenous people of the southwest who were incorporated into the
Ndebele state mainly in the 1840s. Some early observers had a wrong impression that the Hole

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Who Ruled by the Spear? I 83

were treated as slaves in the Ndebele state.88 The Hole were subordinated to the Zansi and Enhla
groups socially and politically. Even though they were belittled and looked down upon by
others, they were not really enslaved to the Ndebele.89 After all, they were the largest group in
the Ndebele society. By the 1890s, up to sixty per cent of the inner Ndebele state was of Hole
To Bjorn Lindgren, the words Zansi, Enhla, and Hole, were taken to convey a sense of ethnic
rigidity which ranked the Ndebele state into castes. His anthropological research resurrected
the old-fashioned reading of the Ndebele society in terms of castes.91 The reality is that people
continuously moved across these categories as they negotiated new alliances, usually by
marriage, merit, and loan of cattle. A respectable Hole was able to move closer to the Ndebele
chiefs and could become richer than a relative of a chief who had fallen into disfavour. In the
Matshetsheni isigaba, a Zansi man called Sinanga Khumalo was succeeded as a chief by a Hole
man called Ntuthu Msimangu. Ntuthu was succeeded by another Hole, Swina Nkala.92
One controversial issue that made early observers describe the Ndebele society as an
authoritarian state was that of existence of captives or domestic slavery. In 1829, Robert Moffat
mentioned Hurutshe children who were kept by one of Mzilikazi's brothers as slaves.93 The
Ndebele practiced capturing of individuals as well as groups to incorporate into the Ndebele
society. However, European observers emphasized the existence of captives as down-trodden
slaves among the Ndebele. Such literate observers like Cooper-Chadwick, Kirby and Posselt
mentioned Ndebele raiders commonly came with children and women as captives. These
captives are said to have had their hands tied behind their backs to ensure that they did not
escape.94 The captives were first of all brought and paraded before the Ndebele king in the
capital. The Ndebele king had the duty to distribute the captives. The females who were old
enough to be married were immediately distributed among their captors, especially chiefs. The
king took a percentage of well-selected captives to reside in the capital and to work as royal
servants. These selected captives were termed imbovane.95 Those who remained at the capital as
servants of the king received the best treatment, which led them to be fanatical supporters of the
Ngwabi Bhebe noted that any Ndebele man of substance such as amaqhawe (those who
excelled in the military duties) who wanted to have a young captive, female or male, could ask
for permission from the king. Permission was granted only on full understanding that the
applicant had the means of looking after a captive. The king was really concerned about the
welfare of the captives. If the request was successful, the applicant would take the captive to his
own home where the latter became, to all intents and purposes, a member of his 'master's'
family rather than a slave.97
Thomas Morgan Thomas described the social conditions of the captives in the Ndebele
society as very humane involving being given good food and being allowed to establish a
family and to marry just like all other people.98 Giving credence to Thomas is Ngwabi Bhebe
who noted that even some captives enjoyed being Ndebele to the extent of voluntarily
translating their totems from Shona to Sindebele. He gives examples of the Shumbas who
changed to Sibanda, Nyangas who changed to Nkomo, Gumbos who changed to Msipa, Shiris
who changed to Nyoni, Dzivas who changed to Siziba, Shokos who changed to Ncube and the
Moyos to Nhliziyo.99

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84 I Ndlovu-Gatsheni

Thomas Morgan Thomas who worked among the Ndebele through the Matabeleland
Mission from 1859 to 1870 noted that among the Ndebele, "the African slave is almost his
master's equal, and enjoys from the beginning the privileges of a child; and looks upon his
master and mistress as being in every respect his parent again".100
Thomas added that in the Ndebele state servitude did not "convey the true idea of a slave"
because the captives could leave their patrons and live wherever they liked within the Ndebele
kingdom and could even be masters on their own right.1'1 Captured boys, instead of being kept
as slaves as they grew up, were drafted into Ndebele amabutho and underwent the same stages
as any Ndebele boy. Captured girls too grew up into womanhood in the same way as other
Ndebele females and were either married by their own adopted fathers or by other men. They
were similarly regarded for lobola (bridewealth) purposes as the daughters of the captor.102
The issue of the existence of slaves in the Ndebele state becomes an issue in early colonial
law records, including instances of the Ndebele keeping as slaves people captured on the
Zambezi as well as disputes concerning the slaves brought into the Ndebele state by the Gaza
queens who were married by Lobengula. Some later colonial civil cases concerned the slaves of
chief Mabikwa.103 However, the fact that this issue appears from the early colonial law records
reflects that the precolonial Ndebele traditional forms of oppression and domination of some
group of people over others were now designated as slavery. Even some forms of patron-client
relationship between the royalty and their captives could now be seen and interpreted as a form
of slavery.
The other issue to consider is gender relations as an aspect of governance. The Ndebele
state was a male-dominated society and as such women were perpetually considered to be
minors (abesintwana).104 Their custody before marriage was vested in their fathers or eldest
brothers where the fathers were deceased. Upon marriage, the custody of women was
transferred to that of their husbands. Women were always subordinate to men.105 Women were
not allowed to partake in national issues such as war and they were not represented in the
public forums such as umphakathi and izikhulu where national issues were debated and
discussed. Politics was a preserve of men. Women could however affect national policy and
politics in general indirectly through their husbands, brothers and sons who were prominent in
the Ndebele state.106
Women were not a monolithic group of dominated and oppressed people in Ndebele
society. The categories of women followed the pattern of the social division or stratification of
the Ndebele society into Zansi, Enhla and Hole. At the top were royal women such as the sisters,
wives and daughters of the king. There were daughters, sisters, and wives of amaqhawe and
other prominent men such as chiefs who were also influential. There were also daughters,
sisters and wives of Enhla men as well daughters, sisters, and wives of the Hole men. At the
lowest level were captives who were still undergoing probation. Within the top ranks of
women, there was also the hierarchy of senior and junior wives. Taken together, these divisions
afforded women different rights and privileges and were affected differently by male
domination and oppression.107
The royal-affiliated women, like their male counter-parts, received reflected power though
not equal to that of their royal brothers.108 It is unfortunate that the mothers of Mzilikazi and
Lobengula died before their sons had become kings, so that we do not know about their

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Who Ruled by the Spear? I 85

privileges. With a focus on the Zulu amakhosikazi, Jennifer Weir has shown that royal women
actively participated in state institutions. She noted that among the Zulu, royal women were
placed in positions of authority in the amakhanda and were invested with a degree of authority
and autonomy, because of their age and freedom from ritual constraints. Weir built her case
from the works of Sean Henretta who is one of the modern researchers to take exception to
andocentric interpretations of pre-colonial leadership, and Carolyn Hamilton who challenged
the view of women as a homogenous group marked by universal subordination.109
The general insights drawn from other Nguni societies such as the Zulu and Ndwandwe,
makes it clear that the mothers of Shaka and Zwide had privileged positions in society. When
Nandi (the mother of Shaka) died she received a state funeral whereas Ntombazi (the mother of
Zwide) was renowned for keeping the heads of the kings whom her son had killed. Helen
Bradford was very critical of the dominant attitude among previous researchers to simply view
Nguni societies as models of hierarchical patriarchy in which men dominated both domestic
and public affairs. She was also very critical of the tendency to see royal women as mere
mothers, aunts, sisters, and wives of kings and chiefs. Bradford pointed to the dangers of taking
at face value andocentric versions of the South African past. Bradford concluded that the
consensus on female subordination and powerlessness was a twentieth century creation.110
In the Ndebele state, we learn of some few exceptionally influential women like
Lobengula's sister, Mncengence who enjoyed reflected power and authority from her brother,
though she was eventually accused of witchcraft and killed. She stayed in the capital, and
possessed a lot of cattle just like men. She was consulted on Lobengula's matrimonial affairs
and as a favoured sister of the king, she had the privilege of advising the king on state
politics.111 The other influential woman was Lozikheyi Dlodlo, a senior wife of Lobengula.
Marieke Clarke who is working on a full biography of Lozikheyi, has pointed out that she was
as powerful as any man in the Ndebele state. The king trusted her to the extent that she was
given control over the sacred state medicines. Lozikheyi lived in the capital where she was the
head queen. She led other queens in dances during crucial national ceremonies. Lozikheyi was
also a renowned rainmaker. During the fall of the Ndebele state she played a crucial role in the
resistance of 1896 through making war medicines. She became a focal point of Ndebele
opposition to British rule. The place known as koNkosikazi in Matabeleland North was named
after this powerful woman.112
The king's daughters were another group of women who enjoyed privileges beyond that of
ordinary women in the Ndebele society. The daughters of both Lobengula and Mzilikazi
enjoyed some privileges far above other women. It was in line with the wider stratification of
the Ndebele society for them to be married to the Zansi and more so to wealthy chiefs.113 Royal
women were widely used for political purposes by their brothers and fathers. Both Mzilikazi
and Lobengula deployed their daughters in the creation of alliances between the powerful and
wealthy chiefs and the royal house.
Even alliances between powerful states were cemented through the use of royal women. A
case in point is that of the alliance between the Ndebele royal family and the Gaza royal family
made by Lobengula and Mzila. Mzila sent more than ten women to be married by Lobengula
including his daughter Xwalile. Mzila in turn married women from the Ndebele state.114

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86 I Ndlovu-Gatsheni

The Enhla women enjoyed the 'privilege' of being married by the influential and rich Zansi
men, although the Enhla men were not allowed to marry Zansi women. Zansi and Enhla men
generally looked down upon Hole women. However, the social stratification that divided the
Ndebele society did not succeed in stopping the proud Zansi men from having illicit
relationships with Hole women and subsequently produced belittled offspring termed incukubili
(half-breeds).115 It is crucial to note that both Mzilikazi and Lobengula's policies of state
expansion and consolidation emphasized increments to their population and social harmony
within the state. This entailed encouraging intermarriages among different people of the
Ndebele society.116
The underlying idea of marriage among the Ndebele was that marriage was not a contract
between two people, but rather a pact between the families of the man and the woman which
formed a bond of friendship between the members of such families. At times pre-arranged
marriages were made although they were rare.117 The lowest grades of women in the Ndebele
state were the captives. They did not enjoy the privilege of being married to men of their choice.


What is clear from this systematic rethinking of Ndebele governance is that it was a complex
mix of egalitarianism, communalism, tensions, competition, co-operation, clan/family
intimacies, and mutual assistance. This co-existed with domination, violence of 'big men,'
seniority, authoritarianism, aristocratic and militaristic tendencies. All in turn were
underpinned by patriarchal ideology and an all-embracing ideology of kinship. This complex
situation permitted both respect for human rights as well as their violation. As a result of the
complexity of this system of governance, it defies the simplistic single-despot model. There is a
lot that constituted good governance co-existing uneasily and tendentiously with bad
governance. So, post-colonial African dictators are not justified in claiming to be ruling
according to African tradition. Eurocentric scholars are also wrong in trying to justify post-
colonial crises of governance on the basis of pre-colonial way of doing things in Africa. Perhaps
the crisis of governance in postcolonial Africa has more to do with the legacy of late colonialism
as argued by Mamdani. This needs another study to closely explore it.


1. Fortes and Evans-Pritchard 1940.
2. Chabal and Daloz 1999), p. xvii.
3. Ibid. p. xviii.
4. Ibid. p. 11.
5. Ibid. p. 13.
6. Mamdani 1996, pp. 3-10 and Mamdani 2001a, pp. 4-15.
7. Mamdani 2001c, pp. 63-73.
8. Ibid.
9. Ekeh 1975, pp. 98-103.

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Who Ruled by the Spear? I 87

10. In Benin, the Marxist oriented dictator Mathieu Kereku when challenged to live power
after a long presidential incumbency, he challenged the pro-democracy forces: 'Have
you ever heard or seen a retired king in Africa?' He explained that Africa you can only
see tombs of kings, which means it was a tradition for kings to die in power.
11. Hobsbawn and Ranger 1983 and Ranger 1993.
12. Hamilton 1998.
13. Becker 1967.
14. Bradley 2005, p.1.
15. Bhebe and Ranger 2001 and Simiyu 1988.
16. Mair 1962.
17. Shillington 1995 and Illiffe 1995.
18. Decle 1900; Moffat 1842 and Wallis 1945.
19. Rasmussen 1978; Ranger 1967; Beach 1896; Cobbing 1976; Bhebe 1979; Nyathi 1995;
Nyathi 1996; Nyathi 1999; Msindo 2004; Lindgren 2002; Roberts 2004; and Ndlovu-
Gatsheni 2004.
20. Cobbing 1976.
21. Beach 1986.
22. Msindo 2004, p. 1.
23. Beach 1974.
24. Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2004.
25. Vail and White 1991.
26. Wallis 1945, pp. xi-xii.
27. According the practice of celibacy, a man could not be allowed to marry and found a
family without having proven his prowess in war. Men used to serve in military service
for up to 40 years before being allowed to marry.
28. Thomas 1972, pp. 204-206.
29. Cobbing, 1976 p. 54.
30. Ibid, p. 55.
31. Vail and White 1991, p. 92.
32. Cobbing 1976, p. 44.
33. Cobbing 1976, p. 64.
34. See Mhlangazanhlansi 1944, p. 27. The combined number of AmaHole was estimated to
have constituted 60% of the Ndebele population.
35. Ibid.
36. Beach 1986, pp. 16-20.
37. Becker 1962.
38. Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2004, pp. 62-65.
39. Mncumbatha signed as treaty with the colonial government at the Cape on behalf of the
king, demonstrating how the king trusted this principal of his government.
40. Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2004, p. 80.
41. This is a popular saying among the Ndebele speaking people about the a mutual way of
accepting defeat in an argument and acceptance of popular will to prevail over one
person's opinion and thought.

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88 I Ndlovu-Gatsheni

42. Ndlovu, Ndlovu and Ncube 1995.
43. Ibid.
44. This is a common Ndebele proverb warning those who are too politically ambitious to
wait for the reigning leader to disappear from the political scene for them to take over.
Kings never retired. They died on the throne.
45. The Khumalo royal family praise names encapsulated how they came to be rulers
including how Mzilikazi squared up with the feared Zulu king Shaka and defied his
oppressive tendencies.
46. Brown 1966.
47. Gerth and Mills 1958, pp. 22-39 and Wylie 1990 p. 45.
48. Nyathi 1995 and Mahlangu 1957.
49. Jeater 1996, p. 1.
50. Child, 1958, pp. 65-70.
51. Wallis 1945, p. 24.
52. Ranger 1999 pp. 15-20.
53. Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2004, pp. 80-85.
54. Crawford 1970, pp. 5-10.
55. Ibid. pp. 15-20.
56. Sibanda 1981.
57. Cobbing 1976.
58. Ibid.
59. Historical Manuscript TH2/1/1 Thomas Journal, 12 April 18180.
60. Alexander, McGregor and Ranger 2000, p. 25.
61. Historical Manuscript LMS ML1/2/A Robert Moffat to Tidman, 25 December 1862.
62. There is a mountain just outside the city of Bulawayo as one goes to the east where it is
said that as the Ndebele settled in Matabeleland some overzealous chiefs like
Ngudwane Ndiweni installed Nkulumane the eldest son of Mzilikazi as king of the
Ndebele because they thought the king had died. For two years Mzilikazi was missing
with another group of Ndebele followers because their journey to Zimbabwe followed
two paths. One of the reasons given for this somehow rebellious act was that the
Gundwane group wanted to celebrate inxwala ceremony and this could not be done
without a king who is supposed to lead the ritual activities. The narration goes on to
state that Mzilikazi eventually appeared and was very angry that these people had
installed his son as king while he was alive. His response included sentencing a number
of chiefs to death who were then executed in this small mountain. This is the
Ntabayezinduna crisis
63. Mzilikazi is said to have even killed his rebellious son Nkulumane but this was not
supposed to be known by the mainstream Ndebele community. So the popular story
was that the heir apparent was taken to his maternal uncles in line with Nguni
traditions. But when Mzilikazi died in September 1868, Nkulumane was no where to be
found, confirming that he was killed alongside the rebellious chiefs.
64. Cobbing 1976, pp. 155.
65. Gelfand 1968, pp. 237-240.

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Who Ruled by the Spear? I 89

66. Tabler 1955, pp. 198-200.
67. Interview with Chief John Sangulube, Brunapeg, 10 April 1995.
68. Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2004.
69. Ibid.
70. Ake 1991 and Cobbah 1987.
71. Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2007, pp. 160-189
72. Vail and White 1991, pp. 89-92.
73. Ibid.
74. Cobbing 1976, pp. 152-171.
75. This erroneous argument was later used the British conquerors to engage in primitive
looting of Ndebele cattle and Ndebele land on the false basis that they had defeated king
Lobhengula who was the owner of all these properties.
76. Cobbing 1976.
77. Munjeri 1987.
78. Tabler 1955, pp. 198-200.
79. Zambezi Mission Record 1, 1898-1901, pp. 15-18.
80. Baines 1968, p. 45.
81. Ibid.
82. Ranger 1999.
83. Zambezi Mission Record 1, 1898-1901, p. 15.
84. Wylie 1990.
85. Cobbing 1976, p. 57.
86. Cooper-Chadiwick 1975, pp. 107-110.
87. Ibid.
88. Ibid.
89. Ibid.
90. Rhodesian Government Delineation Report, Matshetshe Tribal Trust Land: History of
the Tribe, 1964.
91. Lindgren 2002, pp. 54-60.
92. Ibid.
93. Wallis 1945, pp. 11-15.
94. Cooper-Chadiwick 1975, p. 107.
95. In the 1990s, a new pressure group emerged in Matabeleland under the name Imbovane
YamaHlabezulu led by the late Mr. Bekithemba John Sibindi. Imbovane referred to those
captives who were well selected to work as royal servants. In political terms, however, it
meant a small ant that ate maize through barrowing into it until it gets rotten.
96. Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2004, pp. 80-83.
97. Bhebe 1979, pp. 23-30.
98. Thomas 1864, pp. 235-238.
99. Bhebe 1979, pp. 5-8.
100. Thomas 1864, p. 238.
101. Ibid.
102. Ibid. pp. 230-238.

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90 I Ndlovu-Gatsheni

103. Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2004, pp. 84-86.
104. Guy 1990, pp. 34-45.
105. Mahamba 1996.
106. Decle 1974.
107. Weir 2000.
108. White 1975, pp. 109-112.
109. Hamilton 1985, pp. 42-53.
110. Bradford 1996, pp. 351-370.
111. Mahamba 1996, p. 12-18.
112. Clarke 2000.
113. White 1975, 108-113.
114. Ibid.
115. Ibid.
116. Ibid. The Ndebele public ideology was that umfazi kalaHole, meaning for
marriage purposes men could marry across the social divides with ease.
117. W181/1 Statement of Various Matabele Connected with the Royal House,
November 1973.


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