The dismal failure of the country's pioneering premier, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, to fully recognize the imperative need for the modernization, development and integration of chieftaincy into the constitutional apparatus of post-colonial Ghanaian society continues to reverberate with ominous implications for the future of the country. And this patently unsavory state of affairs may be witnessed in the intemperate and outright boorish rhetoric that has emanated, in recent years, from such cynical parliamentary opposition leaders and political party hacks as Messrs. Alban Bagbin and Tony Aidoo. The former, for instance, has gone on record as an incessant castigator of Ghana's ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) for what Mr. Bagbin terms as the undue prominence accorded traditional rulers in post-colonial Ghanaian politics by the NPP, spearheaded by President John Agyekum-Kufuor. Among the charges leveled by the parliamentary leader of the main opposition party, the so-called National Democratic Congress (NDC), is that the two most prominent Ghanaian traditional rulers, the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei-Tutu II and the Okyenhene, Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori-Panyin II, have been allowed to frequently trek the globe, particularly the rich, Western industrialized countries, negotiating contracts and soliciting technical and development aid almost as if these “natural” Ghanaian rulers had official or constitutional legitimacy to undertake such ventures.
Indeed, as this writer observed in an earlier article in the New York Beacon late last year (2004), the august offices of the Asantehene and the Okyenhene have diachronically, or historically, contributed far more than any others towards the creation and development of Ghana as we have come to know it. Furthermore, contrary to what the Bagbins and Aidoos of the Ghanaian political landscape would have their supporters and sympathizers believe, well-educated traditional Ghanaian rulers such as the Asantehene and the Okyenhene have far more legitimacy as rulers of our country than patently unorthodox and nondescript constitutional hijackers like Flt.-Lt. Jeremiah (Jerry) John Rawlings, the founder and chief opposition mouthpiece of the National Democratic Congress. And what is more, organic politicians and astute statesmen like the Asantehene and the Okyenhene tend to be more sociopolitically enlightened and better educated than the gadfly likes of Mr. Rawlings and his coordinate predecessor-dictators. Consequently, any misguided attempt to render our traditional rulers politically effete and otiose is likely to redound to the cultural, intellectual and moral regression of our country. And it goes without saying that this is exactly what has been happening in the nearly half-century that Ghana has been a post-colonial sovereign state.
Recently, Otumfuo Osei-Tutu II, the traditional emperor of the Asante Nation, hit the proverbial nail right on its head when His Majesty issued a stern warning to those anti-Asante micro-nationalists – or tribalists – to desist, forthwith, from resorting to any action that is wont to bring the nation to the brink of disaster. In brief, as the Asantehene aptly maintained, the sui generis – or stand-out – status of the Asante Nation among the constitutional, multi-national that is post-colonial Ghana is not a sheer act of happenstance. Rather, noted the Nana Osei-Tutu, it reflects the relative political genius of illustrious pre-colonial personalities such as King Osei-Tutu I and Asante national chief priest, His Royal Holiness Okomfo Anokye, of Akuapem-Awukugua (Ghanaweb.com 5/20/05). The Asantehene had made the preceding observation in response to a firestorm of jaundiced protests that greeted the recent remarkable courtesy call on His Majesty by President Patrick Mwanawasa, of the southern African Republic of Zambia. And for those who might have missed their high school African History lessons, the Asantehene graciously seized the occasion to remind his apparently, woefully under-educated critics of the fact that throughout much of the colonial era, the erstwhile Gold Coast was virtually recognized – both at home and abroad – as being coextensive and synonymous with the Asante Empire, with a few historiographical exceptions, of course. Indeed, the Asantehene, had he so wanted, could also have added the fact that his geopolitical sphere of influence has historically played a central role in the recognition accorded the remarkable cultural and technological achievements of pre-colonial Ghana – particularly regarding such cultural and commercial benchmarks as the creation and manufacture of the globally renowned Kente Cloth and the celebrated Asante Gold Weights. Unfortunately, during much of its historical existence, the Asante Empire and its people have been erroneously portrayed as inordinate war-mongers and extortionate imperialists.
The preceding notwithstanding, we found the caption carrying the Asantehene's warning of his nation's detractors to be rather linguistically unsavory, to speak much less of the patently unbecoming. For starters, the caption which read: “Asantehene Explodes,” and which appeared in several Ghanaian newspapers and other media outlets, including The Ghanaian Chronicle and Ghanaweb.com, appeared to incautiously tap into the stereotypical and largely Eurocentric portrait of the Asante as a brazenly belligerent people. Secondly, there was an unwittingly racist edge to the description of the Asantehene as being temperamentally incontinent, particularly being that His Majesty reportedly issued his warning before the august Kumasi Traditional Council in session at his Manhyia Palace. Thus, the sour taste that the sensitive reader came away with was that, somehow, Otumfuo Osei-Tutu II might not, after all, be as courtly as is required of a person of his imperial status. And, needless to say, we also cast the preceding portrait in terms of the “unwittingly racist” because this is the traditional tenor of gross mischaracterization of Africans and their leaders routinely deployed by European slavers and colonialists. And, indeed, if such patently boorish characterization, on the part of media practitioners, had been meant to intimidate some sections of the Ghanaian populace, particularly non-Asantes, then it interestingly appears that the reporters involved registered a modest modicum of success, for several days later, some members of the Ghanaian public were to be heard discussing His Majesty's purported “explosion” on several local radio stations as well as in newspapers and the Internet. What, perhaps, gave remarkable numbers of Ghanaians the jitters, or a cause for concern, was that the fact that the Asantehene was quoted in the following dour terms: “Don't push us to the wall or we will be compelled to strike.” The preceding, needless to say, made one facetiously wonder where His Majesty's more physically endowed predecessor had been when His-Chameleonic-Excellency Chief Jato June Fourth run the country and systematically tyrannized all Ghanaians, including Asantes, whose last monarch Chief Jato June Fourth appears to have “pushed against, into and over the high walls and windows” of the august Manhyia Palace. Legend, indeed, even has it that so tyrannized and politically de-fanged and tamed that the last Asantehene had become the butt of market-square jokes. Once, this writer even overheard a bona fide Asante youth in a spirited conversation calling the departed old king “Auntie Comfort.” Needless to say, it is to the singular credit of the virtual and abject constitutional proscription of chieftaincy at the commencement of the post-colonial era that today our “organic” and “natural” rulers find themselves engaged in a death-struggle aimed at recovering a fragment of their ancient majestic relevance.
It also goes without saying that the singular significance of the Asante Nation extends far beyond the preceding. And to be certain, the fact that today the Asante Region constitutes a central and integral part of modern Ghana has a lot to do with the inimitable genius of Dr. J. B. Danquah, the man whom the veteran and mercurial politician Mr. Joseph (Joe) Appiah affectionately and reverently described as the indomitable “architect of modern Ghana” and a philosopher-king who was capriciously and ungratefully rejected by his own people (see THE MAN J. B. DANQUAH, Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1974). Indeed, legend has it that but for the creative intervention of the putative Doyen of Gold Coast and Ghanaian politics, the Asante Nation would have been granted political autonomy and sovereignty between 1936 and 1940. And had the latter, indeed, been realized, the history of Ghana as we presently know it would be very different. And, perhaps, the epic story of Danquah's single-minded and single-handed integration of the Asante Confederacy into the modern State of Ghana is best told by Mr. Joe Appiah, a close associate and sometime fellow prison inmate of Dr. Danquah's and a prominent figure in both Asante and Ghanaian national politics: “In hot pursuit of the policy of the [Gold Coast] 'Youth Conference,' 'J. B.' prepared a petition to be signed by the Joint Provincial Council of Chiefs, the African members of the Legislative Council and, hopefully, by the Confederacy Council of Ashanti; the petition sought to persuade the Secretary-of-State for the Colonies to agree to the union [actually re-unification] of the two territories, the Colony proper and Ashanti, under one Legislative Council. The Joint Provincial Council and the African members of the Legislative Council readily accepted and signed this petition. Now, it was the task of 'J. B.' and a small delegation from the Colony, to go to Kumasi and persuade the Asantehene and his Council to accept and sign the said petition. It was at this very period that the British Government was toying with the idea of granting a separate Legislature to Ashanti with the added prospect of full self-government for Ashanti in the not too distant future. The idea was a very tempting one to the people of Ashanti and, consequently, there were many in the Colony proper who believed that 'J. B.'s' mission to Ashanti was bound to end as an exercise in futility. Men of lesser faith would have despaired and abandoned the entire enterprise as a hopeless venture, but not 'J. B.' who could foresee the tragic consequences that would follow the birth of an independent Ashanti State, within the bosom of a single country”(THE MAN J. B. DANQUAH. Tema: Ghana Publishing Corporation, 1974).
Needless to say, the preceding testimony by Joe Appiah, eloquently and poignantly presented during the 7th Annual J. B. Danquah Memorial Lectures, in February 1974, roundly refutes the widely disseminated but glaringly and grossly misinformed Nkruma(h)ist version which seeks to portray President Nkrumah as a unitary integrationist and conversely depict the Danqua(h)ists as pathologically micro-nationalistic and incorrigibly divisive in their ideological thrust. Hence, the unsuspecting reader is often made to believe that the supposedly parochial, ideological orientation of the UGCC-UP camp inadvisably counseled a federalist approach to governance, whilst the more inclusive and proactively unitary Nkruma(h)ist approach envisaged the post-colonial Ghanaian state as an organic geopolitical entity. Needless to say, as with most other familiar cases, the truth lies somewhere in-between. For as the preceding telling abstract from Joe Appiah picturesquely indicates, without the genius, organic initiative of modern Ghana's foremost constitutional architect, in all likelihood, Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah would have inherited, at Ghana's independence, a geopolitical landscape about one-third the size of present-day Ghana. Indeed, so flagrantly cartoonized has Danquah's image become within the Nkruma(h)ist camp that virtually no portion of the preceding historical account appears in any of the standard curricular textbooks issued under the aegis of Ghana's Ministry of Education during the Nkrumah-led tenure of the Convention People's Party, from 1957 to 1966, and even much later.
Indeed, Danquah's enviable and far-reaching initiative to facilitate the organic integration of the Asante Confederacy with the Colony – or Southern Ghana – was meticulously and systematically informed by impeccable scholarship rather than sheer caprice or pure accident. And on this score, once again, Joe Appiah tells a compelling story: “In 1934, following the passage of the Sedition Bill into Law, the 'Colony' and Ashanti decided to send a joint delegation to the Colonial Office, to make representations against the said Law and ask for an improved Constitution for the country as a whole. Naturally, 'J. B.' was appointed…Secretary to this all-important delegation. On the completion of the delegation's mission, 'J. B.' decided to stay on to complete his research in the British Museum on the History and Traditions of the Gold Coast People. It is said that it was at this period in time that 'J. B.' traced our origins to the ancient Sudanese Empire of Ghana. When he returned home in 1936, he propagated the adoption of the name Ghana instead of 'Gold Cost' so successfully that, at independence, we assumed the present name 'Ghana'”(see THE MAN J. B. DANQUAH 12).
In fine, had the Doyen of Gold Coast and Ghanaian politics not swiftly and deftly moved to prevent Britain from balkanizing the geopolitical landscape of modern Ghana, the Asante Nation would, in all likelihood, have attained an autonomous status and sovereignty quite awhile before even the Anglophone Asian erstwhile colonies of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Needless to say, ever since he came into full knowledge of the racial dimension of Western colonial imperialism, this writer has not ceased to be rankled by the fact that the British Colonial Office's agenda for granting sovereign status to Crown Colonies appears to have been largely and squarely predicated upon racial affiliation or ethnicity, with the darker races being ranked last in the queue. The preceding state of affairs almost incontrovertibly has something to do with the period of Africa's colonization by the West, namely, the Age of Craniometry and Africa's intellectual proscription. Theoretically at least, and in view of the recent spate of purported anti-Asante sentiment in Ghana, retrospectively speaking, it cannot be wholly gainsaid that some of those Asantes with knowledge regarding Danquah's deft facilitation of the Asante Confederacy's integration with the rest of modern Ghana are wont to wistfully feel shortchanged. For the Doyen, however, the history of our common heritage immutably dictated that Ghana would not be balkanized. Danquah's attempt to have the Akan regions of the Ivory Coast integrated with Ghana, however, does not appear to have met with similar success.
It may also be quite significant to observe that the 1934 Sedition Bill was passed in order to put dynamic and rhetorically trenchant newspaper publishers like Danquah out of business. For nearly a full-generation before President Nkrumah founded his much-touted Accra Evening News, Dr. Danquah had already founded, run and folded up his celebrated paper The Times of West Africa. The latter paper, which operated between 1930 and 1935, is also credited with the enviable record of having been the first daily newspaper ever to be published in modern Ghana (THE MAN J. B. DANQUAH 14). And of the latter, Joe Appiah wistfully recalls: “Those among us today, with long memories, will recall not only the trenchant editorials and their lucidity, but also the profundity of thought, wit and learning which sparkled like gems in them. They testified to the beauty and joy of true learning and made many a youth of those days yearn for knowledge./ Unfortunately, for reasons [that] you and I can [readily] conjecture, the paper suffered an untimely demise – to the joy of officialdom but to the sorrow of his countrymen. 'J. B.' however, continued to deliver public lectures whenever possible. The Cosmo, a famous literary club of Accra in those days, of which he was one of the patrons, was his favourite forum. Like Socrates, the young people loved to sit at his feet and listen to words of wisdom delivered in impeccable English. The Rodger Club of Accra was also another forum for many of his public lectures and debates”(THE MAN J. B. DANQUAH 14-15).
And here, also, we hasten to add that Danquah's successful facilitation of the integration of the celebrated Asante Confederation with Southern Ghana, the Colony, that is, was partly predicated on the fact of the Doyen's Asante-Mampong patrilineage; for as Moses Danquah observes in a biographical note at the end of THE DOYEN SPEAKS, compiled by H. K. Akyeampong, with an introductory “Message” by our subject, “Contrary to common belief[,] Dr. Danquah does not belong to the Asona Royal House at Kibi. His mother belonged to the Asona clan of Adadientam, a village two miles from Kibi [the same as this writer's paternal great-grandmother, Nana Adwoa Apea-Koramaa]. His father, whose mother belonged to the Beretuo [royal] clan of Ashanti Mampong [ again, the same as the mother of the Rev. T. H. Sintim, this writer's maternal grandfather] was the grandson of Nana Juaben Boaten of Ashanti Juaben. His ntoro [paternal religious persuasion or filiation] was Bosompra, with Wednesday as its [sacred] day of sanctification”(DOYEN SPEAKS 53). If so, then it is quite interesting, for while they had been schoolmates at the Akyem-Begoro Middle Boys' Boarding School, during the second decade of the twentieth century, neither Dr. Danquah nor the Rev. T. H. Sintim appear to have been aware of the genetic nature of their relationship. Both men, it appears, had regarded one another with deep affection and remarkable warmth, but only as friends and sons of converted Christian missionaries. And if the preceding has any historical and cultural relevance and, indeed, one is wont to presume as such, then in facilitating the integration of the Asante Confederacy and the Gold Coast Colony, Danquah was actually facilitating a historical integration with himself and the rest of us. And it is on this score that Joe Appiah rightly observes that the so-called [Alan] Burns Constitution of 1946 ought to have, indeed, been named “The Danquah Constitution.” To this end, Appiah tersely opines: “In my view, even if 'J. B.'s' life had ended on this note alone, he would be entitled to the eternal gratitude of a united Ghana”(THE MAN J. B. DANQUAH 17). *Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of eight volumes of poetry and two volumes of political and cultural commentary, including SOUNDS OF SIRENS (2004) and THE NEW SCAPEGOATS (2005), all of which are available from Amazon.com, iUniverse.com and Barnes & Noble.com. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.