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Opinions of Saturday, 23 October 2004

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The Asantehene Effect

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong looks at the growing effects of the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11, locally, nationally and internationally, and is convinced that the dawn of a new development process in Ghana and West Africa has begun where the burdens of Accra will not only be lessened but complimented in fighting poverty



Ever since Ghana got its independence from British colonial rule some 50 years ago, the impact of traditional rulers in the development process is not anything to write home about. But five years ago when Barima Kweku Duah, well traveled and much exposed globally business executive, with the stool name of Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11, the 16th person to ascend the grand Asante throne as King of the Asante Kingdom of Ghana, mounted Ghana?s most powerful traditional stool, the structure between traditional rulers and the development process has changed dramatically, having impact not only locally but internationally. For his on-going developments projects, such as his Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11 Education Fund, last month, the Asantehene was given US$50 million by the World Bank. And where Accra has failed to do, as President John Kuffour himself hinted to Ghanaians, the Asantehene talked the World Bank in restructuring Ghana?s debt, the first for any traditional ruler in Ghana/Africa.

In a Ghana/Africa which continent historically blame their kings, chiefs and other traditional leaders for much of the problems they have witnessed and experiencing today such as dining with the colonialists, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, corruption, conflicts, and the propping up of bad governments, the Asantehene has open the hidden development process between Ghanaian/African traditional system and the world. Why this? Because when colonialism dawn in Africa some 550 years ago the European colonialists imposed their values or development paradigms on Africa without recourse to Ghana?s (Africa?s) indigenous development paradigms. The result for years have been confused development in the continent, whereby local values are not factored in policy development making and the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank or other international institutions imposing their programmes on Ghana (Ghana is one of the leading blue-eyed World Bank/IMF guys) and Africa without considering their indigenous values in their programmes.

By taking a gamble and floating an ambitious development process rooted in Asante indigenous values and attracting progressive Ghanaians and Africans and respected international institutions into his development programmes, and influencing other ethnic groups to advise their traditional rulers to go the way of the Asantehene?s, the Asantehene has exceptionally changed the center of gravity of the structures of the development process in Ghana/Africa and how international institutions are to deal with Africa in its development process. International institutions are to deal with local forces as they have been dealing with central governments in the development game so as to bring the development process closer to the people. In Asantehene the local is increasingly dancing with global harmoniously in the development process. Still, in the Asantehene the eyes of much-hated Ghanaian traditional rulers have been opened to compliment the development process of Accra.

The Asantehene?s development process, considering the mentality of Ghanaians, here tribalism and the immensely destructive ?Pull-Him-Down? syndrome, was a triumph of timing and temperament, both elements at work under President John Kuffour and his administration, which have not only opened up the development process but also recognized the Asantehene?s efforts and are giving all the encouragement they can for his development ventures. Still, by encouraging the Asantehene, the Kuffour administration has not only let the Asantehene soften or lessen the immense national development process burden for his administration and Ghanaians but has also sent a strong signal to future governments that traditional rulers/prominent citizens who initiate grand development programmes should be encouraged and not blocked or undermined as some past governments have stupidly done to the detriment of Ghana?s development process for political expediency, jealousy, tribalism, and the sabotaging ?Pull-Him-Down? syndrome. The stifling of Dr. Safo Addo?s industrial ambition in concert with the World Bank by the Jerry Rawlings PNDC regime is one prominent case in point.

Aside from African institutions such as the Tunis, Tunisia-based African Development Bank (AFDB), the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia-based Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the African Union (AU) inviting the Asantehene under the auspices of the Fourth African Development Forum (ADF IV) to spread his development process message and interact with other top African traditional rulers, thoughtful Ghanaian traditional rulers, for long with cold feet in confronting the development of their traditional areas, are increasingly warming up, racing to copy the Asantehene?s positive development ventures, and those not getting involved getting reprimand not only from progressive newspapers but also from their ?Big Men? and indigenes to go the Asanthene?s way. Despite the presence of Accra, the Asantehene, a realist, has opened a future for Ghana?s development process enhanced increasingly by diasporan Ghanaians and the international community.

The American thinker-journalist Lance Morrow once quoted Isaiah Berlin as describing American President Franklin Roosevelt as saying, ?So passionate a faith in the future, so untroubled a confidence in one?s power to mould it, when it is allied to a capacity for realistic appraisal of its true contours, implies an exceptionally sensitive awareness, conscious or half-conscious, of the tendencies of one?s milieu, of desires, hopes, fears, loves, hatreds, of the human beings who compose it, of what are impersonally described as social and individual ?trend.??

The lines suggest something about the Asantehene at his best, or about the promise of his character. History may eventually decide that the key to Asantehene?s accomplishment, as he confronts decades long poverty, terrible sanitation, education troubles, water plight, wide-spread ignorance, and the opening up of the culture for progress, lay in his temperament?in his optimism and readiness to act such as responding to criticism about the need for accountability and transparency of the funds for his development programmes by promising to publish records of accounting and programmes undertaken, in his enthusiasm for the suffering people and his curiosity about their unpleasant conditions.

Aside from coming from the sunnier side of a royal family, in some sort of Ghatama Buddha way of life, the Asantehene?s years of struggles living in Britain and Canada in particular, and traveling the world over, has filled in him a more punitive traditions distilled in the wide-spread ?hard? side of life?of poverty, ignorance, diseases, hunger. For this reason, a lot of struggling Asantes and Ghanaians are able to identify with him, seeing diasporan Asante associations rushing to contribute towards his development programmes voluntary without any royal whip. To make things easier and globalize his development programmes, having in mind the growing population of diaspoaran Asantes, the Asantehene and the board of directors of the Otumfuo Education Fund, North America, Inc. has launched a fund, through a web site, set up by the Asantehene to ?support the development of resources, human, physical, and material for the improvement of education in Asanteman & Ghana.? At http://www.otumfuofund.org/, the official website of the Asantehene, not only aims at connecting Asante diasporans in the development process but one can read about the Asantehene?s development programmes, events, history, and contribute funds.

As the Asantehene increasingly brightens Ghana?s development process, traditional rulers from the Volta Region to those in the Central Region to those in the Greater Accra Region and many more, the domino effects of the Asantehene?s development process are vibrating and ills of the ?Pull-Him-Down? syndrome, a disease which has been one of the main inhibitions of the progress of many a Ghanaian individual and community, is been roasted for total discussions in the development process. On September 30, a Volta Congress was minted as a stage to rouse one of the poorest region's ?private sector growth and chart a new and accelerated socio-economic development of the region? took place in Ho, the regional capital, ?with a call on the indigenes, to wage a relentless war against poverty, ignorance and disease? and Togbe Afede XIV, Agbogbomefia and president of the region?s Asogli State Council, calling the ?people of the region to unite to confront the urgent developmental challenges, for an accelerated socio-economic growth.? In Cape Coast, the Chief Justice George Kingsley Acquah, drawing from the Asantehene?s development process, while inauguration the new Oguaaman Union, which aims at bringing together disparate citizens of Cape Coast and those in the diaspora in the area?s development process, observed that ?despite the rich culture and historical importance of Cape Coat, backbiting and the "pull-him-down" syndrome negatively affected the development of the town and the area.?

As the Asantehene?s development process multiply nationally, enemies, or rather mindless ?Pull-Him-Down? syndrome forces, picture him as scheming to expand his Asante throne to be the King of the rest Ghana via his development programmes, and wronged-headed tribalists and loud-mouthed partisan political lazy-heads, ever weak in the face of mounting socio-economic problems, and who for long have not done anything to improve the lives of their people, are talking of ?creeping federalism.? Whatever his adversaries picture him, Otumfuo Osei Tutu 11 has the Asante (and some Ghanaians) genius for progress. Over his five years as King, the Otumfuo has proved himself as an impresario of Ghana?s new development process game in using the clout of the immense gravitas of his traditional throne to change the dynamics of Ghana?s development process, where traditional rulers work alongside the central government to compliment the country?s development process.

In a way, the Asantehene is mounting a new development civilization rooted in our experiences, history, culture, struggles, and mixed with elements of globalization in the march to uplift people from the clutches of poverty. As he grows in age, he is only 53 (he mounted the throne when he was 48), and on his throne, and masters the local, national and international development process game, Ghanaians will improve upon his development magic in the face of poor sanitation, water troubles, poor education qualities and other socio-economic infrastructural challenges motored by youth, energy, luck, ideals.


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