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Opinions of Thursday, 22 June 2006

Columnist: Botwe-Asamoah, Kwame Dr

The Fallacies of J. B. Danquah's Heroic Legacy (II)

Dedicated to Krobo Edusei’s Sister who was murdered in her yard by the NLM thugs, while preparing food for her Children.


When the unrefined boxer faces a refined boxer (like Mohammed Ali) in the ring, the former’s only hope to win the fight is to relentlessly hit below the belt of his trained opponent. And when he cannot defend himself against the punches of his superior opponent, he removes his gloves and starts fighting the fans, referee and his trainer. Such are the brute tactics of the acolytes of Dr. J. B. Danquah, whenever the facts of history are brought into the open. Danquah’s politics in Ghana were completely driven by his commitment to strengthening and maintaining the rule of the Ofori Atta’s dynasty and the draconian “Chieftaincy” system (indirect rule via the native headmen) introduced by British colonialism. As Kofi Awoonor notes, Ofori Atta I, in particular, “was a classical example of a chief removed from the bounds of the original African democratic system and exalted to the British colonial master’s table.” With J. B. Danquah as Ofori Atta's “Attorney-General” (legal advisor), the latter manipulated the indirect rule system to acquire political power and personal wealth through unpopular destoolment of his opposing sub-kings, physical punishment of protesters, taxations, tribunal system, money laundering and land policy. This was one of the many reasons why Danquah was defeated in the 1954 and 1956 general elections in the Akyem Abuakwa Central constituency. In his bid for the presidency in 1960, the “Doyen of Gold Coast Politics” got 10% of the total votes; Volta Region was the only province where Danquah won.

Who are the Akyems?

My interviews (ethnographic research into Akyem history) with some Akyem traditionalists, including Osofo Nana Kwadwo of Kofi Gyemprem Shrine, Osabarima Adusei Peasah IV of Tafo and the late Professor Adu Boahen did not yield any conclusive result regarding the etymology of the name “Akyem.” But, based on Rev. C. C. Reindorf’s account, the name Akyem was given to the Akyem kingdom by the Adanse-Asante for being suppliers of salt (enkyen) into the interior. According to Osabarima Adusie Peasah IV and Reindorf, the Akyem migrated from Kwaman under the leadership of King Okru Banin. As Osofo Nana Kwadwo told me, they first settled on the bank of River Birem at Bunso, where Okomfo Asare emerged from the depth of the river on Tuesday with a palm frond in his hand. Hence, Ohum (Akyem festival), the names Bunso (bun no so), Beremu, (Birem) Birem Abena and the expression, “Akyem kwaa onom Beremu.”

The Akyem (including Begoro kingdom), Reindorf points out, was the parent group of Akwamu. Reindorf further points out that Akyem was an equally powerful nation, on par with that of Denkyira. But until the arrival of the refugee Abuakwa people, under Kuntunkruku, migrated from Adanse and begged to settle in Akyem, the Akwamu had submerged its ancestral Akyem kingdom. Hence, the saying in Tafo is that, “Abuakwa be too Akyem,” meaning “before the arrival of the Abuakwa (from Adanse) there was Akyem.” That explained why Danquah spoke of rehabilitating the image of Abuakwa so that it could lead the nation, after his failure in obtaining a stay of execution of death sentences for the convicted murderers of Akyea Mensah. So, why would Ofori Atta and Danquah turn around, harass and label the Juaben, Ga, Shai, Krobo, Ewe, Akwapim, Northern and Kwahu people in Akyem as “atubrafoo”—“stranger-settlers,” to borrow Busia’s expression?

The Origin of the Tyrannical Rule of Danquah’s Brother, Ofori Atta I According to Reindorf, Jarle Simensen and oral tradition, the first batch of refugees from Adanse to settle in Akyem was led by Kuntunkruku, who later became the first Omanhene of Akyem Abuakwa. Ofori Panin, who died about 1730, led the next batch of Adanse (Abuakwa) immigrants. The reign of Ofori Panin marked the turning point in Akyem history, as it was the period of wars for kingdoms. It was their defeat of Akwamu Empire in 1733 that brought towns like Asamankese, Akwatia, Tafo, Maase, Apedwa, Apappam and Asafo under Kyebi dynasty. In spite of this, there was hardly any land in Akyem, which came directly under the Kyebi royal stool. Therefore, when Ofori Atta came to the throne in 1912, and to prevent the Omanhene from being “reduced to the position of a beggar,” he devised a “centralization of land control” policy, in order to draw land to the royal stool. But, the policy as Mensah Sarbah, Casely-Hayford and Kobina Sekyi argued, was a breach of the general Akan land law in which public or stool land was attached to the stools of divisional and village “chiefs.” And the towns with big lands were Tafo, Begoro and Asamankese. The only means for Ofori Atta to achieve his goal was through judicial and political authority over the Akyem state with the backing of the Colonial Government, especially the District Commissioner W. J. A. Jones.

Ofori Atta I was born in 1881 to Akosua Buor Gyankromah (the first cousin of Omanhene Amoako Atta I) and E. Boakye Danquah (nephew of the Omanhene of New Juaben). Danquah, on the other hand, was born at Bepong in Kwahu in 1895 to a different mother. In 1903, A. E. B. Danquah (later Ofori Atta I) was called to Kyebi together with his brother A. E. A. Danquah (a police officer) to form the core of a new secretariat at the palace of Amoako Atta II. This was after A. E. B. Danquah (Ofori Atta I) had served as a sergeant in the British volunteer force in the 1900 British war against the Asantes. After the successor to Amoako Atta II was dethroned less than one year on the throne, A. E. B. Danquah was elected Omanhene in 1912 with the stool name Ofori Atta. As indicated above, there was no extensive land attached to the Paramount stool. But with the indirect rule, political power became the main source of wealth for the new Kyebi dynasty. Ofori Atta introduced his own financial policy through arbitrary tribunal income and various forms of political tribute in connection with installation of kings and queens, festivals and other forms. The new Omanhene soon found the District Commissioner (Jones) as his influential mentor, and appealed to the Colonial Governor to aid the Omanhene in containing the internal conflicts of the state and solidify his position as the new traditional aristocrat. It must be pointed out that it was during Ofori Atta’s regime that the Gold Coast became the showcase of British indirect rule. Ofori Atta accepted British supremacy and became proud of his citizenship in the British Empire. As Simensen points out, Ofori Atta “gave eloquent proof of his loyalty to the Empire” by “contributing large sums of money “to cover the cost of an aeroplane during the First Imperial War (WWI). In appreciation of this, “a war plane was christened “Akim Abuakwa,” and on receiving his C. B. E. in 1919, Ofori Atta was presented with a linguist stick with silver mountings and a miniature aeroplane on the top. This large financial contribution to Britain in its imperial war for world domination (including the Gold Coast) could have been used to develop Akyem Abuakwa. But no, Ofori Atta just aimed at securing greatest possible advantage in terms of economic benefit and political power for himself, his family, the royal lineage and the town Kyebi, with Danquah as his legal wizard. The Omanhene “had about forty wives and more than eighty children who naturally came to represent an important resource for him, both at the local and national levels” (Jarle Simensen, 95). It was one of these children, Aaron Kofi Asante Ofori Atta of Tafo, that defeated Danquah in the 1954 and 1956 elections. There is also a well documented rumour that Ofori Atta desired to have one out of every man’s wives brought to his palace to serve him (see “Akyem Abuakwa and the Politics of the Interwar Period in Ghana,” an anthology of papers presented at two seminars at Legon in 1971).

The Tyrannical Rule of Ofori Atta with Danquah as the “State Attorney General” Soon after the arrival of Dr. J.B. Danquah from Britain with a Ph. D. degree in philosophy, Ofori Atta instrumented the Native Administrative Ordinance of 1927. Between 1927 and 1943, Danquah served as Ofori Atta’s secretary, ambassador, and legal advisor (Attorney General). This was what gave rise to J.B. Danquah’s political career. In 1928, Danquah accompanied his brother Ofori Atta’s rise to knighthood for his meritorious service to the British Empire. It was around this time that Danquah published the two books, “Akan Laws and Customs and the Akim Abuakwa Constitution” and “The Akim Laws Handbook” to impress the British public with the majestic state of Akyem Abuakwa and its ruler. Ofori Atta’s land policy of 1919 and section 123 of the Native Administrative Ordinance of 1927 aimed at securing a large share of the benefits of land commercialization. The land commercialization policy was tied up with the political and judicial authority to control the “immigrant tenants” particularly. J. B. Danquah’s support of the 1927 Ordinance stemmed from his worship of the principle of colonial laissez faire “as the best way to secure both orderly Government and dedication to the British Empire.” This meant “Personal (Omanhene) rights and citizenship (exclusively Akyems) as opposed to Family Rights (the local stool family) and communal ownership of land (held in trust by the local king/queen). Danquah would advance the same argument against the 1951 Local Government Ordinance authored by Nkrumah’s Minister of Local Government, E. O. Asafu-Adjaye. In effect, the 1927 Ordinance gave legislative power to control the sale of stool lands and regulate the financial and judicial position of the “strangers-immigrants.” But this did not only bring conflict between the so-called “settler-immigrant and Ofori Atta,” it also brought conflict between the Omanhene and divisional kings of Tafo, Asamankese and Begoro. These alien policies thus led to major uprisings in Akyem Kotoku and Akyem Abuakwa against the Ofori Atta’s dynasty. And were it not for the arrests and beatings of the protesters by the colonial government’s police force, the Amantoo-mmiensa’s (king/queen makers of Akyem Omanhene) uprising and those of the commoners in Asamankese, Tafo, Asafo and other places, would have toppled Ofori Atta’s regime. In the case of Tafo, the Tafohene (the original Omanhene of Akyem) challenged Ofori Atta’s alien laws. And when the Tafohene challenged Ofori Atta’s notion as to the origin of the Akyem state and customary practice in land matters, Ofori Atta clamped down on him (see Simensen’s work on Akim Abuakwa, Vol. I and II). Nevertheless, the Tafohene’s open defiance of Ofori Atta’s policies foreshadowed Danquah’s defeat in the general elections. Meanwhile, the Amanhene of New Juaben, Akwapim and Kwahu expressed serious concerns about the ill-treatment meted out to their subjects by Ofori Atta I. In 1932, the Konor of Manya Krobo also protested the Ofori Atta’s land declaration as it interfered with the rights of his subjects in the disputed border areas. But in January 1928, Ofori launched an offensive assault on the New Juabens in Akyem Abuakwa with a new by-law. This new bye-law imposed a 1% tax on each cocoa tree owned by all non-Akyem farmers who held their land on a usufruct basis. The Juaben settlers in Tafo led a protest against the law saying that it singled them out for special tax, even though they were willing to partition their farms permanently with 1/3 going to the Omanhene. They also viewed the special tax as an effort to exploit the 1927 Ordinance for Ofori Atta’s personal gain. Their complaint was that since the enactment of the 1927 Ordinance, they (New Jaubens) had being feeling the “iron hands of Okyenhene” (see Simensen, 201). As pointed out earlier, the father of Ofori Atta and J.B. Danquah was the nephew of the New Juaben Omanhene. The next victims of Ofori Atta’s “iron hands” were the Kwahu traders. He ordered his sub-kings “to evict from Akyem Abuakwa all Kwahu traders who did not own their houses in the country.” Subsequently, the Kwahu traders were thrown out of their stores. Besides, Ofori Atta turned down an appeal by a forty-member delegation of the Kwahu traders. And Akyem landlords who showed sympathy with the evicted Kwahu traders were summoned to Kyebi for questioning. Speaking to this, he said “we should not be blamed for selfishness if we try to see in the first instance to the substantial erection of our own National Edifice” (see Ofori Atta’s speech to the Presbyterian Church (N/A Kibi, 11-197-41). In his “An Epistle To the Educated Youngman” in 1927, Danquah echoed Ofori Atta’s lamentation that “Mother Akim Abuakwa is being dismembered slice by slice like bread on a breakfast table,” and “future generations might have to rent from strangers their own ancestral land.” But, when Governor Guggisberg visited Kyebi in February 1922, one Donkor of Fankyereko told the Governor ‘that the bones on the Akim state drums were those of….rebellious sub-chiefs.” Certainly, as the Ofori Atta’s special secretary, ambassador, as well as legal wizard, Dr. J. B. Danquah was an accomplice in the Ofori Atta totalitarian rule and his method of silencing dissidents. Can we imagine what would have happened to rebels, bomb throwers, assassins and coup plotters under Danquah’s premiership?

Certainly, this is not a proud legacy.

Indeed, imposing J.B. Danquah as a “Patriotic Saint of Ghana” is a persecution of the ghosts of the 300 Young Pioneers (children) and Krobo Edusei’s Sister who were murdered by the Danquah-Busia thugs, for following Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.

Kwame Botwe-Asamoah, Ph. D.
Professor of African and African American History
University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260

Dr. Botwe-Asamoah is the author of the Cheikh Anta Diop Award for excellence in scholarship book, Kwame Nkrumah’s Politico-Cultural Thought and Policies, published by Routledge. You can contact this author for a list of readings.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.