Local chieftaincies in most African countries who are desperate for development for their communities following scare support from local and central governments have, in recent times, introduced offices of development chiefs.
In many localities in Ghana and elsewhere, these offices are increasingly being awarded to whites, turning the office ‘foreign’, unfortunately for many people.
Most of these ‘white chiefs’ who are often men, tend to have functions and roles that are exclusively dedicated to local development, but for Marie-Claude Lovisa, who has been reigning as queen over a village in southern Togo, she is often doing more than that.
Fifteen years ago, Lovisa was crowned “traditionally, with all the ceremonies,” as the queen of Takpla (later renamed Lovisa-Kope in her honour), a move that was extraordinary for a European, or a white woman in Togo. It was also exceptional in a conservative country where female chiefs are rare, a report by Reuters said.
Decades earlier, she had arrived in Togo in search of a warm climate to ease the pain of severe rheumatism. Little did she know that her humanitarian works in Takpla for children would get her a crown, a throne, and a village named after her.
“I have been inducted for 15 years in November, it is true that I am the only white person who has been traditionally enthroned with all the ceremonies,” she was quoted in April 2019.
“When I was inducted, they put a wreath on my head, bracelets on their arms, a loincloth, and queen’s shoes, and I have to go out with them all the time,” said Lovisa, who worked as a computer scientist in Lyon, France before her journey to Africa 20 years ago.
Known as Queen Mawulolo, a title meaning “God is Great”, Lovisa, before coming to Togo, was working for a French company as a training director for microprocessing.
But when her rheumatism became too painful, she decided to take early retirement and leave for Togo in September 1998 to spend a few therapeutic weeks in the heat of Lome, the capital of the West African country, a report by AFP said.
The report added that she fell in love with the country, so after her first visit, she returned three months later and ultimately decided to settle in Takpla, about 75 kilometres north of the capital Lome, where she began her humanitarian work.
Takpla, in 2006, had over 4,500 locals who earn a living mostly by farming or grazing. Residents speak Mina, a language spoken in parts of this former French colony where French remains the official language and language of trade, the report by AFP said.
Even though Lovisa had not mastered the language by the year 2000 when she arrived in Takpla, the locals did not see this as a hindrance, and within four years, she had been crowned as queen.
Following her coronation in 2004, the divorced mother of two went on a two-week retreat, during which she took part in a series of rituals. In the process, the village of Takpla was renamed “Lovisa Kope” in her honour, which means village of Lovisa, in the Mina language.
“This woman has enchanted us since she arrived here. She has changed so much and we are so proud of her.” Teko, a village elder in his 70s told the AFP in an interview.
“Thanks to this ‘yovo’ (white woman), our children go to school, we are sometimes given free medical care in a health clinic — and the neighboring villages are jealous of us!”, said another resident.
Lovisa, who never goes out with her crown since she was made queen, has, over the years, been taking care of orphans and paying for the education of most children in the community.
She also built the settlement’s first health centre and recently embarked on a campaign to stop locals from engaging in voodoo activities. She has been able to do this, despite little funding, she said.
“I am from a poor family. I got the projects going thanks to my retirement money and the sale of my homes in Lyon,” she said in an interview after her coronation.
“I have a major proposal for providing micro-credits to help women, and I will fight for free schooling for all children, as well as free health care.”
“God is really great, why he sent us this queen who is white skin but by the African heart and soul,” a resident said.
“The women here, we are proud to have a woman as village chief. She has done a lot for this village. She is our sister,” said another resident, Amah Eklou.
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