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Opinions of Sunday, 28 March 2010

Columnist: Antwi, Eugene

Unraveling The Asante-Akyem Rivalry Myth In NPP

Some of us, with respect for history, are getting increasingly exasperated by the selfish disregard for facts and history by those who have manufactured a perception of Asante-Akyem rivalry within the Danquah-Dombo-Busia tradition.

The contest between John Agyekum Kufuor and Nana Akufo-Addo in 1998 and Nana Akufo-Addo and Alan Kyerematen in 2007 and now have been deliberately narrowed by some political narrators as a contest between the Akyems and Ashantis for control of the New Patriotic Party. To inject some forced legitimacy into this, they trace it to the Popular Front Party (PFP) and United National Convention (UNC) rivalry of 1979 which saw power slipped from the jaws of the Danquah-Dombo-Busia family to the meek and unfancied People’s National Party of Hilla Limann.

As a liberal Ashanti politician who spent some memorable moments with the late Victor Owusu, presidential candidate of the PFP, before his death in December 2000, I would want to find out from Dr Richard Anane ( leading proponent of the Asante-Akyem rivalry myth), who has been quoted by Dr Arthur Kennedy and the March 2010 edition of AfricaWatch. It can be recalled that Dr Anane was the same under-siege Minister who in 2006 told the country, through his constituency office, that his removal from office was an Akyem conspiracy involving the Okyenhene, Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin, Foreign Minister Nana Akufo-Addo, Statesman Editor Gabby Otchere-Darko, and constitutional lawyer Nana Asante Bediatuo. Incidentally, all three are nephews of the late William “Paa Willie” Ofori-Atta, presidential candidate of the UNC.

Since then, Dr Anane, a staunch Kufuor loyalist and a protégé (like myself) of Victor Owusu, has been ruthlessly persistent in preaching an anti-Akyem politics in the NPP. Like his mentor and others before him, Dr Anane has allowed his personal issues to distort the destiny of the NPP. So intense is this rivalry that some well-meaning Ashantis have even suggested that Nana Akufo-Addo takes step to appease the ghost of Victor Owusu, who died a bitter man. It is as if Nana Akufo-Addo was a member of the UNC and personally did some wrong which led to the Progress Party split into PFP and UNC. But, how true is the Asante-Akyem split?

First of all, results after results have shown that Ashanti voters have nothing against Akyem Akufo-Addo. Indeed, analysts point out from election results and other indicators that Akufo-Addo’s strongest support base is in the very Region that is his party’s strongest support base – Ashanti. If the recent Ashanti Regional Conference was a straight contest between Kufuor/Alan and Akufo-Addo, then why would the Ben Ephsons of Ghanaian politics not give up on fanning this ridiculous ethno-political myth within the NPP? The Frederic Fredua Antoh ticket, which was supported by Akufo-Addo, swept the regional office positions against the Robert Yaw Amankwa slate, supported by an Ashanti, Alan.

Even with the so-called Akufo-Addo slate reportedly winning about 80% of the national office positions, magazines like AfricaWatch and analysts like Ben Ephson have interpreted that to mean a ‘deepening’ of the Asante-Akyem factionalism within the party! It is like drawing a conclusion and manufacturing facts to fit that conclusion, however ludicrous the exercise is. The March edition of AfricaWatch interpreted the results of NPP National Conference that saw only one Ashanti and no Akyem elected as evidence of the old ethno-political rivalry that dates back to Victor and Paa Willie. But, how true is this live perception that the PFP was Ashanti-based and the UNC, Akyem?

The “conservative Ashantis” within the NPP could do well to find time to educate some of us on the critical roles played by the leading Asantes notably, General Afrifa (Mampong); R R Amponsah (Adidwan); J Y Manu (Nsuta); Judge Isaac Richard Aboagye (Nsuta) and; Justice Nicholas Yaw Boafo Adade (Boankra & Konongo), in the breakaway and the subsequent formation of the United National Convention (UNC) who carried the internecine feud from the National Liberation Council (NLC) in 1966/69 to 1979.

Indeed, the rivalry that led to the PFP/UNC split had very little to do with ethnicity or politics. The feud was principally on two levels – firstly, between General Afrifa and Victor Owusu in relation to General Ankrah’s resignation and the way and manner General Afrifa allegedly went about aggressively usurping the leadership of the National Liberation Council (NLC). Secondly, it was about two personalities within the legal profession, who also happened to be prominent figures in the Danquah-Dombo-Busia front. The fight was principally between Victor Owusu and N.Y.B. Adade about ‘who was who’ in the legal profession in the Northern sector comprising the Ashanti, Brong-Ahafo, Northern and Upper Regions, from the 1950s onwards. But the evidence corroborates Victor Owusu’s seniority both in age and at the bar, hence no basis whatsoever for the competition.

According to the late Victor Owusu, it was upon the advice of these leading Ashantis – General Afrifa, R R Amponsah, J Y Manu, Judge Isaac Richard Aboagye and Justice Nicholas Yaw Boafo Adade that Dr Busia appointed Colonel I K Acheampong (Judge Aboagye’s friend from Takoradi) as against Victor Owusu’s golf partner, Brigadier David Asare (a Fante) to the position of the Commander of the First Infantry Brigade – the Southern Command. Six weeks later, it was Acheampong, the Ashanti they could trust, who overthrew the Progress Party in February 1972.

Incidentally, it was these same Ashanti political stalwarts who were behind the formation of the United National Convention and managed to convince Paa Willie to lead it. The largest prominent ethnic group within the leadership of the UNC was not Akyem, but Ashanti. To describe the UNC as an Akyem party because of Paa Willie is to describe the CPP as Nzema because of Kwame Nkrumah. Notable Akyem politicians like Dr Jones Ofori-Atta and Nana Akufo-Addo did not follow their brother and uncle respectively to join the UNC.

Let me refer to some of the publications that have helped to fuel the mythical rivalry. Mike Adjei’s book, “Death and Pain – Rawlings Ghana- The Inside Story’. Chapter Ten – The 1979 Elections And Beyond - on page 290 and 291 reads in part – “Back to the divided PP front. Realising belatedly that they could lose the election if they did not patch up their differences, frantic moves were made to bring all supporters under one roof. Victor Owusu agreed and said he was prepared to step down for Paa Willie to lead the main PP party now called the Popular Front Party (PFP). A date was agreed for such an announcement to be made at Kyebi. It never happened.

The differences seemed to be much deeper than was thought. What seemed to have rankled Paa Willie most was what he considered the ultimate of insult from his opponents in the PFP when the impression was given that even a sheep was more intelligent than him. What happened? A PFP supporter had dressed her sheep in the party’s colours to a rally held in front of the Okyenhene’s palace at Kyebi. The animal attracted a lot of attention, but the UNC thought the gesture was meant to insult its leader”.

The book reads further, “General Afrifa and Victor Owusu met the Asantehene at the Manhyia Palace where their differences were thrashed out. It was agreed that Paa Willie would assume the leadership of the PFP because Victor was prepared to step down for him. Within minutes the good news was all over Kumasi city and supporters could look to the political future with some confidence again. When General Afrifa got to Mamponten a few hours later, however, he told an admirer that: *‘Mene wo beko, me ne wo beko, ye de daa daa funu’*. In essence whatever was agreed with the Otumfuo was so much words. In Ashanti tradition that was akin to treason. Certainly not when the Otumfuo himself had opened a bottle of schnapps and called all the ancestral spirits to witness the amicable settlement of the issue. When he was later informed that the General had gone back on the agreement, the Asantehene did not take kindly to it. A few weeks later General Afrifa was shot at the firing range by the AFRC. How much of the reasons for his death could be attributed to his character, how much to fate and how much to scheming political enemies remains to be seen”.

Also, I want to find out from these so-called conservative Ashantis:

* Why Jones Ofori-Atta (PFP) and younger brother of Paa Willie contested the Begoro seat in 1979 against UNC. Jones Ofori-Atta chose to join the PFP but not his brother’s UNC. They were both political and blood brothers - sons of the illustrious Nana Sir Ofori-Atta, the Okyenhene?.

* Where were these conservative Ashantis, when General Afrifa held a meeting at Americana Night Club near Amakom Roundabout in early 1979 in Kumasi to denigrate Victor Owusu by accusing him of opportunism and his conspicuous silence over the People’s Movement for Freedom and Justice (PMFJ) activities? Afrifa, Akufo-Addo, Jones Ofori-Atta, Dr ‘No’ Amartefio and others had formed the PMFJ to force out the military junta and return to Ghana to democratic rule. Certain leading figures in our party today were at that Americana Night Club meeting?.

*Have the conservative Ashantis conveniently forgiven the above-mentioned Ashanti stalwarts for their role in the UNC, but continue to hold the Akyems responsible for the 1979 electoral loss?.

As a liberal Ashanti, upon the sagacious advice of Victor Owusu in 1998 about the leadership of our party. Victor had this to say to me, ‘my son, after the nineteen years of socially-divisive and media manipulative President Rawlings, Ghana needs the moderation of Candidate John Agyekum Kufuor to lead Ghana to bring about stability and investor confidence’. Candidate Kufuor was also, apart from the seminal J.H. Mensah, the automatic person in the eyes of the party to lead it. He went on to advise me to carefully analyse his view on the political landscape and come back to him. I discussed this with many close friends who were touched by one of Ashanti’s foremost intellectual and legal luminary. Based on this sound advice, I fully endorsed and supported Candidate Kufuor in 1998.

Fast forward to the 2007 leadership of our tradition, upon the same advice from Victor Owusu in 1998, I decided after consultation with leading figures and close friends that to ensure unity of purpose, I fully endorsed and supported Akufo-Addo’s succession to our tradition’s leadership. To me, that is the beauty of democracy.

Secondly, quoting from the infamous Arthur Kennedy’s Chasing the Elephant Into The Bush on page 8 -Under Kufuor and Alan – “The last piece of this saga was supplied by the President’s decision to back Alan instead of stay neutral. Before her death, Hawa Yakubu had dramatically turned to the President at a party event and pleaded with him not to take sides in the primary but the President had ignored that advice”.

He went further, “I remember meeting Dr Anane a close confidant of the President in the middle of 2007 at a funeral. I had worked with him during my NUGS presidency and a very good relationship with him. He said that politics in our party would always be reducible to a struggle between the Busia and Danquah factions. He felt that even though we were back together, the divisions that had cost Victor Owusu the elections of 1979 were still there. He felt that in the forthcoming primary, that struggle between the two factions was at play with Alan and Nana Addo representing the Busia and Danquah factions respectively”.

On the flipside, there are certain Akyem personalities fanning this rivalry to ridiculous lengths and making preposterous statements against Ashantis and the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II. I urge them to exercise restraint and circumspection in their actions and utterances. Our tradition’s unity and cohesion depends on how these two tribes conduct themselves and their affairs. The UP tradition has come a long way to rekindle the unfortunate memories of 1979 and its catastrophic consequences.

I, therefore, believe it is a mere contrivance by these so-called conservative Ashantis to re-write the history of our noble tradition to suit their whims and caprices. Juxtaposing the Arthur Kennedy, Mike Adjei and the AfricaWatch March 2010 Edition, I am fully convinced that certain leading politicians from both the PFP/UNC sides keep moving the goalpost as they go along, and I urge them to take a cue from the pain and suffering inflicted upon Ghanaians in 1979, the division and its catastrophic effects unleashed upon the good people of Ghana by losing the 1979 election and ushering the nineteen years of PNDC/NDC.

Eugene Antwi, NPP National Council Member**