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Diasporian News of Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Source: Stars and Stripes

Ghanaian Chaplain in Iraq

Chaplain would like to keep ministering to troops in Iraq, but knows a tribe in Ghana wants its king back

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq — Chaplain Nana E Kweku Bassaw joins the small circle of downcast, sun-beaten soldiers. The unassuming Army major slips into the conversation.

Although it is early in the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division’s deployment, and the fighting is yet to start, Bassaw wants to check the spiritual pulse.

“So how are you doing?” he asks one soldier.

“Terrible,” says Pvt. Christopher Soares, who is on his first tour to Iraq and misses his family.

In his role as chaplain, Bassaw, 50, says he likes to take an informal approach with soldiers. Small talk helps him grasp their day-to-day struggles. With this group, Bassaw lightens the mood by shifting the conversation to fishing and jokes.

Bassaw has served as Army chaplain since 1996, and had planned to pursue his calling until retirement in eight years. But another calling also tugs at Bassaw.

“The conflict I have is whether my people can wait for me,” Bassaw said. “This is the dilemma. One of the things I need to think about is how many people I’m impacting.”

What many people within the Baumholder-based Iron Brigade probably don’t realize is that their chaplain is something of royalty.

“It’s not really something I talk about,” Bassaw said. “People would say, ‘What are you doing here?’”

In his native Ghana, he is the king-elect of one of the country’s largest tribes. His official title is paramount chief of the Sekondi region, which includes about 500,000 Fanti tribe members.

The nephew of the former king, Bassaw was selected as the tribe’s new leader last year by a council of elders. It becomes official after his coronation, which involves being carried aloft through the city before the people. The ceremony will likely happen after Bassaw completes his 15-month deployment.

But the question remains: When will he take on his responsibilities in Ghana full-time? Bassaw, who holds dual citizenship, said he’s trying to figure that out.

Ebo Haizel-Ferguson, who is representing Bassaw back in Ghana during his absence, hopes it’s sooner rather than later.

“We want him now. He has the right background and education. He understands exactly what we need to change the lifestyle and economic situation of our people,” Haizel-Ferguson said by phone on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Bassaw is looking to see if a team of experts and representatives he has assembled can administer things effectively in Ghana while he is gone. If an economic development plan he’s conceived can be carried out in his absence, then Bassaw may be able to remain chaplain until retirement.

His goals: develop a concrete factory; launch a dairy farm because his area has none. Agribusinesses such as fish farms, shrimp farms and mango fields are also being looked at. And an old Dutch castle on the coast could serve as a tourism resort, he said.

With untapped resources and a lack of infrastructure, “I see parallels with what we’re trying to do in Iraq,” he said.

Shortly before deploying to Iraq, Bassaw met with a group of investors during a trip home. He says he’s looking to attract about $50 million in venture capital.

“I want to make Sekondi the economic capital of the country,” Bassaw said. “I want to turn my town around. We have perfect weather. But we rely too much on imports. We have no excuse to not do better in that part of the world. I want my people to have jobs — good paying jobs.”

Bassaw attended a military cadet academy in Ghana. After that he attended seminary school at Drew University in New Jersey. With a family background in both the ministry and the military, serving as a chaplain seemed a natural fit.

At his new office at Forward Operating Base Hammer, he talked Tuesday with Haizel-Ferguson. The phone call was brief — a quick update on parliamentary elections and progress on some development projects.

Then it was back to his day job.

“This is my calling for this moment and this place and time. This is what I’m committed to,” Bassaw said. “To bring hope, that is what I want to do every day.”