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Opinions of Monday, 12 October 2015

Columnist: Jon Benjamin

The return of a King to Seychelles

Opinion Opinion

On Friday, September 25, 2015, there was a solemn gathering at the Manhyia Palace in Kumasi when the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, hosted a select audience of 250 people for the premiere of the television documentary, The Return of a King to Seychelles.

The 40-minutes documentary reflects events of 120 years when the Asantehene, Nana Agyeman Prempeh I, was exiled by the British colonialists with 54 of his elders, chiefs and others to the Indian Ocean Islands of Seychelles. The Asantes had resisted colonial rule for years and had engaged in wars with the British.

The 1896 arrest and exile first to Cape Coast in the Gold Coast and then to Freetown in Sierra Leone before Seychelles, eventually led to the Yaa Asantewaa War of 1900 or what in Europe is referred to as The War of the Golden Stool. Yaa Asantewaa was also exiled after the war to Seychelles where she died but Nana Prempeh I returned to Kumasi after 27 years, a period equivalent to Nelson Mandela's Robben Island experience.

Invitation to Seychelles
In April 2015, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II travelled to the Seychelles on the invitation of the government making him the first Asante king to do so . The Return of a King to Seychelles reflects events of 120 years ago and Otumfuo's visit has subsequently led the remaining descendants of Prempeh I living in Seychelles to visit Kumasi last week.

Ironically, the British High Commissioner to Ghana, Mr Jon Benjamin, was the guest speaker at the premiere in Kumasi. And this is what he had to say:
I am honoured to be invited to add a few words to this important occasion, particularly given the history we are marking today.

Between 1823 and 1901, there were five separate conflicts between the Asante and British Empires, both before and after the British Gold Coast was formally constituted, the last of those led on the Asante side by the courageous Queen Mother of Ejisu, Yaa Asantewaa.

It is, therefore, no secret that our common past had some extremely difficult episodes and moments of real sadness. Unfortunately, history cannot be rewritten, much as we might wish otherwise, though that is all the more reason we should rejoice in the successful, modern 21st Century relationship the UK and Ghana enjoy now. But we know that the Anglo-Asante wars and the forced exile of your King were defining events in your history and we must never forget them, knowing for our part that the memory of them still causes pain as we all reflect on them today.

So, allow me first to express my sorrow at what happened here over a century ago.
Times and the way our countries are governed have of course changed hugely and hugely for the better, since then. However, I believe that we can’t develop to the best of our potential in the future, if we are unfamiliar with our past.
Properly recorded history.

Of course, lessons are much more easily learned from and about history, if it is properly recorded. And that is precisely what Ivor Agyeman-Duah has achieved in his two television productions focusing on Anglo-Asante relations from the last quarter of the 1800s to the first quarter of the 1900s.

His previous documentary, the award-winning Yaa Asantewaa: The Heroism of an African Queen was produced in 2000 and premiered at The Royal Institute of InternationalAffairs (also known as Chatham House) in London.

It greatly helped increase interest in post-colonial studies in the UK, in wider Europe and the United States. His sequel to that film is The Return of a King to Seychelles, which is what brings us together here today. I am glad to say that, alongside the story of exile, this documentary also reflects the brighter side of subsequent relations between the House of Windsor and Manhyia, which today can only be described as excellent.
UK-Ghana relationship.

Since 1957, the UK’s relations with Ashanti and with the Republic of Ghana as a whole have grown from strength to strength, particularly in trade where Britain remains one of Ghana’s largest partners, just as we proudly remain one of its main development partners too.

In that time, we have seen visits here from Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh who famously met with the then Asantehene, Otumfuo Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II in 1961, which was reciprocated when the Asantehene, Otumfuo Opoku Ware II had an audience at Buckingham Palace during his visit in 1972.

Subsequently, Queen Elizabeth II visited Ghana again in 1999. Other princes and princesses from our Royal Family have visited this wonderful palace too. And both I and my many predecessors have conferred countless times with Ashanti kings right here, always receiving wise and helpful advice.

The present King, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, was received at Buckingham Palace soon after his enthronement in 2000, as we also see in The Return of a King to Seychelles, a marvellous and compelling documentary which I can’t recommend too highly.

My wife, colleagues from the British High Commission and I personally are delighted to be in Kumasi in peaceful times to see the premiere of this historical documentary which we very much hope will also soon put the Ashanti Region and Ghana’s name up in lights at international film festivals around the world.

Written by Jon Benjamin, The British High Commissioner

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