15.12.2001 Feature Article

A Monarch Of His Time

A Monarch Of His Time
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A remarkable spectacle was revealed the other day at Kyebi, the seat of the of Akyem Abuakwa traditional area. It was Okyenhene (Chief of Akyem Abuakwa) Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin II, running around town in sweathirts and pants! Traditional purists were nonplused. No precedent could be found to this unusual behaviour by a major traditional ruler. But, before the litigious fret around to craft a case against the Okyenhene for breaking royal protocol and customary taboo, let the malcontent be assured that Okyenhene's brave act was done for a rather worthy cause in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, and the responsibility of men in stemming the spread of the deadly disease.
At a just ended conference, the XIIth International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Africa (ICASA) which was held from December 9 to 13, 2001, in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, the laissez-faire attitude of African men towards safe sex was strongly criticized by African women delegates as being a major contributing factor to the spread of the disease in Africa.
The United Nations and other organizations concerned with the spread of the disease in Africa adopted the slogan "I care... Do you?" for its two-year Campaign intended to create a sustained focus on the role of men in the AIDS epidemic. In Ghana, as in several African countries, grandiose official declarations have been made against the disease. What has been largely absent in this national effort, is practical work and approach to addressing HIV/AIDS at the local community level.
As Nana Otuo Serebour II, the Omanhene of Dwaben Traditional Area eloquently articulated to an audience in New York City in September 2000, the era when Chiefs led their people in imperial wars are over. Chiefs now have to fight new wars against ignorance, disease, and poverty. These 'new' wars demand a different approach by the Chiefs.
It was with a view to raising the awareness in responsible behaviour among men in the fight against HIV/AIDS that Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin decided to take to the streets of Kyebi in the company of his subjects. In so doing, the Okyenhene has shown that in the fight against HIV/AIDS, superstitions and customary taboos will not be acceptable excuses for fence-sitting. The Okyenhene has obviously opened a new strategy in the war against the disease by also publicly taking a voluntary HIV/AIDS test. What he did is highly commendable, and worthy of emulation. The Okyenhene affirmed Nana Otuo Serebour II's message that new challenges require different and tough approach to decision-making! The days when our Chiefs became mere appendages to corrupt political leaders, satisfied in only taking bows at presidential durbars are apparently history, thanks to Chiefs like Nana Amoatia Ofori Panin II.
The fight against HIV/AIDS is merely the latest in worthy causes and issues that Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin has added his considerable prestige and the weight of his office to. Apart from speaking on issues of national interest such as accountability and good governance, the Okyenhene has taken the lead in bringing to the national debate the plight of people with disabilities in Ghana. As Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ghana Society for the Blind, the Okyenehene has promised to use his office to impress upon the government to pass a law that will make it mandatory for buildings to be made easily accessible to the disabled. It was only in 1990 that the United States of America passed such a law, and its benefits have proven rewarding for people with disabilities and employers. It may be a novel and a mind-boggling proposition in Ghana today, but this is an issue whose tome has certainly come.
By setting up an environmental fund to educate his subjects on the need to protect the environment, the Okyenhene has again taken up an issue which is nearly overlooked in Ghana. We continue to do so at our own peril. Nana Amoatia Ofori Panin who lived in New York City until his enstoolment as Okyenhene in 1999, seems to be parlaying his rich experience in the United States to the benefit of Akyem Abuakwa in particular, and Ghana as a whole. His exemplary effort recalls another resourceful ruler of Akyem Abuakwa, Nana Sir Ofori Atta I, who as early as the 1920's lectured his people about the need to protect the environment and forest areas.
Nor has Akyem Abuakwa been lacking in leaders whose ideas transcended the narrow confines of locality and ethnicity. The imprisonment and banishment of nearly the entire Abuakwa political and traditional elite during the Nkrumah era contributed to the under-development of the area. Nana Ofofri Atta II, the Okyenhene of the time, was exiled to Accra; he returned only after Nkrumah was overthrown as president of Ghana.
The number of leaders that Akyem Abuakwa has contributed towards national development, belies the generally perceived lackadaisical attitude of the people towards the development of the area. Akyem Abuakwa after all (and alone among others), has a peculiar refrain that invites this seemingly "I don't care attitude" amongst the most able, towards Abuakwa development. When an Abuakwa citizen meets another, the chant is: "Okyeman Yenwhe Ma Ensei", to which the detractor replies "Asei Awie", rather than responding, "Okyeman Te Ase".
It seemed all that was left for Okyeman was a certain boast that they drank from the "source of the Birim river". Alas, since the Birim river has its only source in Okyeman, that boast becomes mere bombast! And, like other once great rivers in Ghana, Birim suffers shrinking, due to environmental degradation; a problem which the current Okyenhene's environmental program seeks to address. Akyem Abuakwa after all, has always been a place where dreams of development tend to stumble and bleed on the rocky ridges of litigation and aloofness. The new Okyenhene's own enstoolment was aided by the presence of some military hardware and men in uniform, due to litigation against his assumption of office!!
As a would-be Okyeniba myself, (though over 300 years removed, due to Okyenhene Nana Owusu Akyem Tenten having given his daughter Gyapomaa in marriage to Nana Firam Gyereba, a friend of Barima Osei Tutu, founder of Asante!), I am rather proud of the activities of the new Okyenhene. It behooves the sons and daughters of Akyem Abuakwa to rally around the Okyenehene and assist in this development effort, to supplement what the national government provides.
Rather, than luxuriating in his palace, Nana Amoatia Ofori Panin II has placed himself at the forefront of issues that can only assist in the development of Akyem Abuakwa and Ghana. He exudes the same confidence and sagacity that enabled his forbears such as Nana Sir Ofori Atta I in putting Akyem Abuakwa on the map. It is my hope that this time around, the people of Akyem Abuakwa will come together to support the activities of their illustrious king, not by merely genuflecting before him in obeisance and pageantry. More importantly, the Okyenhene needs the financial support of his people to transform his ideas into reality. Should the people rally around Nana Amoatia Ofori Panin II, in his quest to modernize Akyem Abuakwa, it will confirm the enduring Akyem Abuakwa exhortation: SUSUBIRIBI!!!

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