Asantehene and Africa’s Progress

17 November 2005 at 04:15 | 528 views

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

The Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, Asantehene (King of Ghana’s largest ethnic group,
the Asante), courageous lecture, "Chieftaincy and Development in
Contemporary Africa: The Case of Asante,” at Harvard University in the
United States challenging Ghanaian and African governments and the
international community to help open up Ghanaian/African values for
progress underpin the emerging renaissance in Ghana’s development process
by involving traditional rulers, key carriers of development values.

The Asantehene’s candid statement that the Ghanaaian state (and for that matter,
African states) should involve traditional rulers decisively in the
development process reveals how figures like him, who are in the forefront
of re-thinking and awakening Ghanaian values in her progress, are
struggling to right many an historical wrongs in Ghana’s progress.

The Asantehene’s thought of involving traditional rulers in the development
process, emanating from his experiences and African culture, has come
about because of long-running inability of African elites to re-think the
historical wrongs done by the colonialists in Africa’s progress. In “The
Plight of the African Chief,” Dr. George Ayittey, of the American
University in Washington D.C, USA, argues that “Traditional
African rulers (chiefs and kings) were perhaps the most persecuted group
after independence. During colonial rule, African kings and chiefs, who
did not submit to the colonial administrators were replaced or exiled. The
onslaught against chiefs continued after independence, and they were
betrayed along with the rest of the African population. Additional
humiliation was inflicted upon the traditional rulers when they were
stripped of much of their traditional authority and their powers severely

In this sense, the timing and the consequence of the Asantehene’s lecture
in the United States, the leading centre of the Western world’s
development paradigms and progress and the world’s leading centre of
intellectual culture, not only unveils and showcase the enabling values of
the long-suppressed Ghanaian/African values in her progress but also
encourages the on-going attempts to mix Ghanaian traditional values with
her colonial legacies in her progress. The need to bring Ghanaian values
in the forefront of the development process is a challenge not only for
the public domain but also private ventures and international development
outfits involved in Ghana’s and Africa’s progress.

Practically and psychologically, this is relevant since the Ghana/Africa
area is the only area in the world where foreign development values
dominate in her development process because of colonialism and inept
post-independence Ghanaian/African regimes. Despite this painful
development, the suppressed Ghanaian/African values have been carrying the
imposed colonial values in the development process. This overturns the
colonial thought of civilizing African values because of what the
colonialists called “primitive,” demonstrating the resilience of African
values in her progress. It is, therefore, in this sense that the
Asantehene’s insight that “far from being rivals to State power, chiefs
sustained and supported the State in projecting its reach to the
grassroots level” demonstrates the practical need to mix the imposed
colonial values with Ghanaian values in the development process. Or, as
the Asantehene said, “Chieftaincy should be moved from an institution that
functioned at the default of State effectiveness to one that was
explicating incorporated into State structures at the central and local
levels...My main contention is that traditional authorities are obviously
partners in the development process and governance in Africa that is why
we are partners in progress"

Clearly, as Ghana’s development process shows today, despite the
politicians big talks and all the governments Ghana has come to
experience, most with muddled thinking in regard to Ghana’s progress, in
the final analysis, all the development process’ burdens rest with the
traditional rulers and their values since that’s where every development
process starts and stops: issues of water, belief systems and progress,
democracy and peace-building, sanitation, education, and health, and the
burden of infrastructure development. No doubt, the Asantehene’s
instructive view that “while the elected politician thought of the next
election to be elected to power, the traditional ruler on the other hand
looked at the numerous problems that had rendered his people poor and
found solutions to them” calls for not only the re-awakening of Ghanaian
values in her emerging renaissance and progress but also good mixture of
Ghanaian values and the imposed colonial values in the development
process. The thinking here is not to go back to the ancient, pre-colonial
era but appropriate the enabling aspects of Ghana’s values in her
development process.

For the recognition of his bold and unwavering development process
activities both locally, nationally and internationally, the Asantehene
and his Asante state, heavily influential and a driving force in Ghana’s
progress, becomes a development process laboratory to not only study how
to re-awaken and distill Ghanaian/African values in her development
process but also how to appropriate such values in Ghana’s and Africa’s
progress. Nowhere is this instructive than the Asantehene’s working with
the World Bank, one of the key faces of not only the ex-colonial powers
but also Western development paradigms and progress, which had earlier
wrongly thought that Ghanaian/African values were “primitive,” cannot
bring progress, and need doses of the West’s much more civilized values in
her progress.

Said the Asantehene to his innovative Harvard University audience, "I
broached my concerns about the social and economic conditions of my people
to the World Bank officials in 1999...I charged that the practice whereby
traditional rulers were left out of the planning and management of
projects at the community level was wrong, and indicated that it was not
in the interest of communities for government to sideline traditional
leaders when it came to the management of projects...My perseverance with
the World Bank led to the establishment of the initiative now called,
’Promoting Partnership with Traditional Authorities Project (PPTAP). This
has come from his efforts in educating and convincing the World Bank about
the need to incorporate Asante/African values, through traditional rulers,
in its paradigms.

Added to this, in a Western world that has for long refused to accept the
fact that Africans have innate democratic values and has been dictating to
Africans to democratize, the Asantehene was a civilizing African value in
telling Americans and the Western world how innately democratic Africans
are even in the pre-colonial times, where traditional rulers were not
autocrats and that “an electoral college chose him from a pool of eligible
royals and the institution itself was based on a social contract
predicated on good governance.”

In the Asantehene, Africans need such moral ambition to affirm to the
world that Africans innate democratic values is itself the best
hope and this is reflected, among others, in African chieftaincy system
which “held great resonance for the majority of Africans” and that
Africans succeed by renewing its democratic values within itself and
striving toward it and not imposed from outside. The need to repeat such
occasional innate African values talks by African traditional rulers such
as the Asantehene’s to the world would civilize
the world
about African values and help correct many a historical wrong in Africa’s
development process.

Photo: Asantehene and Queen Elizabeth.