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Opinions of Monday, 16 May 2005

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Asantehene and Africa's new development thinking

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong says the Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11, the Asante King, attempts in engaging African traditional rulers in the continent's development process would bring the right balance in development and help mix indigenous values with colonial ones

From South Africa to Sierra Leone, and its ensuing broadcast globally, the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11, king of the Asante ethnic group in the West African state of Ghana, is fast projecting the new face and thinking of Africa's development process, an act whereby traditional values and the colonial legacies are balanced out in Africa's development process. The the development inbalances have occured since independence from the European colonialists who, in their infinite ignorance of Africa's values, imposed their development paradigms on Africa as one of their several ways of civilising the "primitive" African.

Over the years, such erroneous development thinking has created not only distortions, damages, confusion and unwarrented crises but also wrong notions, especially among the so-called African elites who are educated in Eurocentric values, that Africa's values in her development process are inferior to the European ones. Confused for long, and either unable to extricate themselves from the imposed European development values so as to let African values drive their development practices or intellectually weak in mixing their African values with the European ones, as other ex-colonies such as South Korea, Singapore, Japan or Brazil has done in their develoment process, Africa, as Ghana's Dr. Y.K. Amoako, the executive director of the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia-based United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) observes, is the only region in the world where foreign development values or paradigms dominate her development thinking and process to the detriment of her native values. The implications here is that African elites do not understand their environment in their development process despite their high sounding impressions which is worsened by high degree of inbalances in their development thinking.

The Asante King's deep foray into the development process therefore comes amid many international development agencies and donors nations attempting to correct the mistakes of the past where foreign development paradigms was imposed on Africa without considering the continent's values. From the World Bank to the International Monetary Fund to the United Nations to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), all created on European development paradigms and closed to African values, there are growing signs of attempts to mix African values with the European legacies in attempts to break away from the wrong thinking of yesteryears. The Asante King's bold development campaigns which is expected to open up local African values in the continent's development process, is reminiscent of the World Bank's fast transformation "in recent years into hyperactive international aid provided," as Richard Adams writes in the London, UK-based "Guardian Weekly,"and its concentration on the wretched state of sub-Saharan Africa...The drumbeat behind international aid has constantly rapped out calls for openness and accountability."

Recently, Robin McLay, director of democratic institutions and conflict at CIDA's policy branch in Ottawa, e-mailed me having read most of my articles arguing for Africa's culture be factored in the continent's development policies. After some meetings, e-mails exchanges and phone talks on how to involve African traditional rulers fully in the development process, McLay told me CIDA is trying to involve African tradtional rulers in continent's development programs and with the Asantehene's recognition continentally and internationally in Ghana's development process, CIDA, apparently following the footsteps of the new sense of international development wisdom of the World Bank, which has granted the Otumfuo some US$50 million through the development programs of the Asanteman Council, is to start a new African-values oriented development programs from Ghana. McLay later travelled to Ghana (where he consulted with World Bank officials in Accra), South Africa and Uganda, where the involvement of traditional rulers in the development process has gone far.

By telling war-ravaged Sierra Leonean traditional leaders and Freetown that "development projects are the only way traditional leaders can win the confidence of their subject and society at large," the Asantehene was saying credibly durable development ventures starts from the local to the national, and not the other way round, and that in doing this, indigenous values, which are stored in the traditional rulers, will influence the development process and in the process not only balance the local and the national but also the colonially-imposed values. Hence, "Traditional leaders must serve as conduit pipes between their communities and government in partnership that deliver development." In saying "partnership," which is the buzzword throughout the his African development tours, the Asantehene was saying respect between Africa traditional values and the colonially imposed ones in the development journey is the new thinking, is the new mantra, and not the wrong-thinking "African primitive values" earlier spewed by many a Western athropologist or a development expect.

Part of the distortions in Africa's development process have come from African elites since independence, who have not seen traditional institutions or values as complimentary agents of development, thus making Africa's development process not only realistic but also unholistic. The Asantehene's observation in Freetown that "the chieftaincy institution would be good facilitators of development if government saw it as a partner rather than an adversary" and in Pretoria that traditional rulers should partner with politicians in the development process are attempts to reconcile the local with the national and the colonially-imposed development values in the development process. The trick here is that not only should African elites avoid interferring with the growth of traditional institutions in the new development thinking but also international development agencies, non-government organizations and donor nations should help enrich traditional institutions in Africa's development process by letting Africa's values drive the development process.

By visiting the Asantehene last year in Kumasi in his tour of Africa, the out-going World Bank president, James Wolfensohn, superbly heralded the enhancement of African traditional institutions or values in the continent's development process, and effectively erased any disrespect African values have suffered over the past 500 years in the continent's development. Like the issue of corruption and development, an avalanche of research has found that development is weak to effect change in places where society has been distorted by the imposition of foreign values on indigenous values. The Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11, therefore, comes as perfect opener, as a perfect balancer of Africa's development process whereby traditional values are as respected as the colonially-imposed ones in Africa's development process.



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