Restoration OF Asante Confederacy

January 31st 1935 – Day Of

Restoration Of The Asante Confederacy,

Its Significance And Role In The Socio-Political Development Of Ghana.

ByOheneba Adusei Poku –Akyempimhene of Kumasi

Asante in pre – 1896

King Prempeh I was effectively governing Asante on his enstoolment as the thirteenth monarch of the Kingdom when the British intervention in its affairs gave birth to complicated political difficulties.

Disagreements between the British Colonial authorities and the Asante King could not be resolved amicably.  These disagreements turned into hostilities.

But by virtue of advanced material civilization and superior arms the British held the trump card.

Thus in 1896 in order to avoid, as it happened in 1874, bloodshed and, a possible defeat King Prempeh I surrendered to the British forces.  In that same year he was exiled to far away Seychelles off the coast of East Africa.

Like Cicero of Roman fame, he shared his fate by braving and sailing on unchartered seas to a far away island to begin life in exile.  The defeat of Ashanti in 1901 following the Yaa Asantewaa war was the final straw which broke the camel’s back.  The defeat was de-moralising disheartening and the exile of the King combined to disintergrate the long established confederacy.  Thus for close to forty years, Ashanti did not have an Asantehene.

The nature of the former Ashanti Confederacy:

The founding of the Asante Empire was in the main the work of King Osei Tutu I with the assistance of his confidant, adviser and chief priest Okomfo Anokye.

First, he continued with and completed the formation of the union of Akan states who were within a twenty-five mile radius of the area under his lineage the Oyoko clan.  He next provided the Union of states with a national capital town, Kumasi, as well as a national festival, namely the ‘Odwira’.

Before embarking on campaigns to expand and fortify the Union it was thought imperative to cement the bonds of unity among the states.  It was with a view to making this Union a permanent one that Okomfo Anokye conjured from the sky the now revered and sacrosanct Golden Stool.

They urged on the assembly that the stool embodied their soul, strength, vitality, unity and their very survival against the threat and dominance of Denkyira.  It was, therefore, to be guarded at all costs.  It was further agreed that its occupants were to be recognized as the Asantehene, the supreme political and religious head of the union.

It is worth emphasizing that to date the Golden Stool has remained the soul and symbol of unity of the Asante nation and it is still being guarded with the same unalloyed devotion.

By skillful diplomacy and brute coercion King Osei-Tutu and Okomfo Anokye got the Assembly to agree to a ‘constitution’ for the union and to celebrate the annual Odwira festival in Kumasi, the union’s capital.

The constitutional arrangement was designed like a pyramid, with the Asantehene as its head, who was also the head of the Kumasi state or division.  Below him were the Kings or Amanhene of other component states, all of whom had to recognize the court of the union as the “Supreme Court”, next in line were the divisional chiefs or abrempong; quasi-divisional chiefs, then adikrofoh (headmen).

It was mandatory to attend the annual Odwira festival where all suggestions were debated and adopted as national policy.  It was also compulsory to contribute a contingent of warriors and pay tribute in case of war of national emergencies.

The assembly agreed through a combination of tact and duress to seek recognition from the Asantehene by swearing the oath of allegiance to him and give up the right of waging war on a member Omanhene at their pleasure.

According to Captain Rattray in his epic work “Ashanti Law and Constitution” the adoption of the ‘constitution’ though primarily a military measure for wars of conquest and expansion, its implication went beyond a purely military alliance.

The various tribes, hitherto politically unconnected became indirectly linked to each other from a common center i.e. the Asantehene, thereby making his position unique.  From occupying positions of negligible importance with respect to all the component states (amanhene), many of the elders of the Kumasi division became the ‘friends at court’ or intermediaries (adamfo) of these amanhene.

The immediate effect upon the amanhene was to reduce their status from that of wholly independent chiefs to a position in relation to the Asantehene more or less analogous to that to which they had hitherto relegated their own nobles, their subjects in turn coming indirectly under the Asantehene.

Captain Rattray expounds that by acceding to the constitution the following were implied:-

a)      The taking of an Oath of allegiance by all the Amanhene before the Asantehene, which in a way conferred legitimacy.

b)      The acknowledgment that his vassals held office, stools and land from the Asantehene and could be removed by him.

c)       The right of every subject to appeal to the king’s court by making the “great oath” of the Kumasi division supreme.

d)      The curtailment of the power of the amanhene to declare and wage war upon each other at their own pleasure.

e)      A restriction on the right of the amanhene to inflict capital punishment in cases, even where their own subjects were concerned.

f)        The right to impose certain imposts (e.g. aseda, ayibuadie, oman tuo etc) on the amanhene.

         Inspite of these far-reaching measures the Asantehene could

 not be described as despotic.  As argued elsewhere decisions

 of the union and of the Kumasi Division were always arrived at

 after thorough discussions and were by consensus.  Rarely

 were decisions taken by head count.

The description of the Asantehene as ‘primus inter pares’ argued by late Prof. Adu Boahene in “Topics in West African History” is in accurate.  The influence the Asantehene wielded when in Council as well as in deliberations of the union was more legal than moral.  His powers are embedded in the ‘Constitution’ which the assembly of the union agreed on the night the Golden Stool was conjured from the sky. The legitimizing power of the Asantehene has never been in doubt, hence the swearing of the oath of allegiance by the amanhene and others.

The suggestion that “the extent of the Asantehene’s influence and power in metropolitan Asante came to be determined not by well established constitutional practices but by the personality, ability and that of the individual Asantehene “is misleading”.

 The ‘constitution’ made him the supreme leader of the union from its inception.  Only some agreed norms acted as checks and balances, i.e. the need to observe the tenets of fair hearing and reaching national decisions by consensus.  But the ‘legitimizing powers’ can never be taken away from him, it is that which makes him ‘The Asantehene, – The King’, The centralizing authority’ Happily the Chieftaincy Act recognizes this role, with the exception of the Asantehene who else can create a Paramountcy?

Perhaps one has to appreciate the wisdom of King Osei-Tutu I and Okomfo Anokye for founding the union, endowing it with a mythical symbol and ‘clothing’ it with a constitution.  This was unprecedented in an era when contact with the outside was virtually non-existent and the Blackman had not been credited with any modicum of intelligence.

It is wonder that against formidable obstacles the Asante Kings were able to build an empire which at its peak was bigger than the present day Ghana.

However from the second decade of the nineteenth century onwards, the Asante and their subjects were targets of British persistent intrigue and subterfuge.  On seven different occasions from 1811 to 1874 the Asante and the British came into a head-on clash.  It was this clash which to a large extent hastened the decline of the empire.

On 10th February 1896, Governor Maxwell addressed an assembly of chiefs in Kumasi, virtually to inform them that the Asante nation had ceased to exist.

In the capital itself the Council of Kumasi was dissolved and a ‘Native Committee of Administration’ was created to advise the new military administration.

This was the situation in Asante till the repatriation of King Prempeh I in 1924.  He was referred to as Kumasihene and recognized as such until he passed away in 1931.

The Era of Prempeh II and the Restoration of the Confederacy.

Indeed when King Prempeh II was enstooled as Kumasihene in 1931 he faced a daunting task.  His must have been the envy of very few brave souls in the Kingdom.

The question that confronted King Prempeh II was not merely one of according official recognition to the office of the Asantehene.  It was rather one of restoring nationhood to a people and making Ashanti once more complete.  For without an Asantehene there can be no confederacy and officially the Golden Stool can have no occupant.

There is nothing which when pursued with systematic assiduity that cannot be achieved.  He was prepared to do anything, even the most forlorn, to get the Confederacy restored.   Their efforts were rewarded when on 31st January 1935, Sir Arnold Hudson then Governor of the Gold Coast, announced the restoration of the Confederacy.  This was a momentous occasion.

The announcement represented yet another eloquent proof that social and political institutions which have been freely evolved by the indigenous wisdom and experience of a people will ultimately triumph over any system, however benign, which is imposed on them.  The litmus test for progress and civilization of any people will be found in what they recognize and claim as representing their history and their national consciousness.

The restoration of the Confederacy enabled the monarchy to operate once again as our founding forefathers had established it.  It also has enabled the chiefs and peoples of Asante to join hands with other ethnic groups in Ghana to forge a new unity and larger political entity.

It is remarkable to note that after the Otumfuo had taken the Oath of allegiance to the people, over one hundred and eighty-five (185) chiefs from all corners of the Confederacy took turns to swear to him.  These included some recent ‘enemies’ of Asante e.g. Dormaa, Drobo, Techiman etc.  To quote the late Asantehene Otumfuo Opoku Ware II of Blessed memory.

“The unity of Asanteman is eternally symbolized in the Golden Stool, and it is the full and unquestioning allegiance to the Golden Stool which defines Asante citizenship.

This emphasis on the dynamic character of Asante unity is of great value and significance in the wider context of Ghana.”

The theme of unity which underpins at all times the celebration of the restoration is that unity is the basis of both the material and spiritual progress of any people, Ghana included.

The Era of the Millennium King – Otumfuo Osei Tutu II

Since his enstoolment as the sixteenth occupant of the Golden Stool in April, 1999, Otumfuo Osei-Tutu II has continued with the policies of his predecessors.

These have been

a)      policy of accepting the geographical boundaries of Ghana as defined by the British Colonial administration in 1901.

b)      policy of peaceful co-existence with the various ethnic communities which make up the population of the country;

c)       acceptance of the administrative boundaries of the ten regions of the country;

d)      Recognition of the republican status of the country’s political administration.

e)      Acknowledgment of the central government as being in control of the political leadership of the country;

f)        Non-involvement in active and partisan politicise.

These qualities of the Asante Kings influenced the framers of the 1992 Constitution to include Art. 273 in the basic law of the country.

Challenges:

It is expected that in the 21st Century the institution of chieftaincy will face more challenges because the world has become a ‘global village’, with unprecedented technological developments.  But with the tenacity of purpose and the single-mindedness with which our King has approached issues he will surmount every storm.

His appreciation of the political situation in the country and the fact that his role in the country’s economic, social and cultural development can at best be only complementary has re-affirmed his neutrality in politics and enhanced his social standing.  All efforts at economic and social development for example the Education fund, the PPTAP, the Serwaah Kobi Aids Fund and now Otumfuo Osei-Tutu Charity Foundation are all complementing Government initiatives and partnering it in the attainment of stated objectives.

It has never been the desire of Asante Kings to complete with any government in power.  Since the demise of the empire they have never set their ‘eyes on the distant scene’.

Their major concern has always been with the unity and cohesion of the Kingdom and the sanctity of the Golden Stool.  In the ensuing years the test will be the continued insulation of the Golden Stool and the institution of chieftaincy from political rivalries in an era of dwindling resources, competing demands and an incremental interaction with the outside world.

Another major challenge will be the ability of the occupant of the Golden Stool to maintain the purity of the core of Asante culture, tradition and customs.  Asantes have never been scared by change, they have always embrace it and adapted aspects of our culture to modern trends.

We must, however, not lose sight of the fact that the Asantehene has come to represent the country’s national heritage and identity.  He is looked upon as the repository of Ghana’s cultural traditions.

The greatest challenge to the monarchy will be the temptation to be modern and regarded as progressive; But at sometime be able to withstand the assault on the bastions of our culture and traditions.

                LONG LIVE ASANTEMAN!

                LONG LIVE OTUMFUO OSEI TUTU II, ASANTEHENE!

                LONG LIVE GHANA!

31st January 2010 marks the 75th anniversary of the restoration of Asanteman (Asante nation). What was the reason for the restoration? The rationale for the restoration of Asanteman could be traced back to British economic and political interests on the Gold Coast, now Ghana when the historic Asante state founded by Osei Tutu under the spiritual guidance of Okomfo Anokye was perceived to be a threat. The bedrock of British interest was to dominate and appropriate resources in the region of modern Ghana to its own advantage. Asante, by then the most dominant traditional state in the region that became the British-controlled Gold Coast, was seen as an arch rival that had to be either eliminated or tamed. Revealingly, after the prosecution of the Sargrenti War (1873-1874) between Asante and Britain, rather than immediately cashing in to directly colonize Asanteman, the British elected to pursue a policy aimed at weakening and undermining the integrity of Asanteman by encouraging and supporting secessionist activities within Asante.

However, when by the early 1890s, this approach seemed not to be achieving the desired objective, the British charted a new course based on direct engagement. The new approach involved inducing the Asante to voluntarily accept British protection which implied accepting a British representative who would be resident in Kumase. Further implication of such acquiescence was the loss of sovereignty. Asantehene Agyeman Prempe (1888-1931) , the incumbent firmly resisted these British overtures in various ways. First, he responded directly in official correspondence. Nana Prempe’s response to Governor William Bradford Griffith’s offer of British protection quoted below, for example, is quite illustrative of this point.

“The suggestion that Ashanti in its present state should come and enjoy the protection of Her Majesty the Queen and Empress of India, I may say this is a matter of very serious consideration and which I am happy to say we have arrived at this conclusion, that my kingdom of Ashanti must remain independent as of old, at the same time to be friendly with all white men. I do not say this with a boastful spirit, but in the clear sense of the meaning. Ashanti is an independent kingdom and is always friendly with the white men; for the sake of trade we are to bind to each other, so it is our Ashanti proverb that what the old men eat [sic] and left, it is what the children enjoyed.”

The response above was an unambiguous assertion of Asante’s sovereignty and also the central principle of Asante philosophy towards Europeans. This principle was further evinced by Nana Prempe’s invitation to the French firm, Côte d’Or Company Limited to modernise Asante through development of such infrastructure as railway lines and roads and the installation of western-imported equipment and machinery in the mining sector under the aegis of the Asantehene himself. Besides, an official delegation was sent to London in 1895 to present Asante’s position at the Court of St James. The delegation spent about a year in England without being given formal audience by the British Government. Before the Asante delegation could disembark on the Gold Coast, the British Government had surreptitiously dispatched an expedition into Asante, under the guise that Asante had failed to comply with the terms of the Treaty of Fomena that concluded the Sagrenti War. The expedition reached Kumase on 18th January 1896. The British accused the Asante of, among other things, failing to pay the indemnity that the treaty imposed and also persisted in carrying out such inhuman practices as human sacrifice and slavery. Nana Agyeman Prempe and his principal advisors including his mother Asantehemaa Nana Yaa Akyaa, his father, Nana Akwasi Gyambibi, his younger brother and then heir-apparent, Abakomahene Nana Agyeman Badu were abducted and exiled by the British. The abducted Asantehene, his close relatives and advisors were sent first to Elmina for about one year, then to Freetown until 1900 when upon the outbreak of the Yaa Asantewaakoo they were sent to the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. The exiles were moved about because the British feared the Asante would react violently to the imposition.

A cardinal effect of the British intrusion and imposition was the dismemberment of Asanteman. The British dealt with the constituent aman as independent units. For four years Asante accommodated the British with the anticipation that their sovereign would be returned to them soon and the political situation would normalise. However, Governor Frederick Hodgson’s miscalculated demand for the Asika Dwa in 1900 muddied the waters and ultimately resulted in the last Asante war inspired by the Edwesohemaa Nana Yaa Asantewaa. Although Asante was eventually defeated in this war, it could in a sense also be viewed as the commencement of the vigorous but long and arduous process of the repatriation of the Asantehene and other Asante exiles from the Seychelles. This process was contributed to by Nana Prempe himself from exile and by parties within Asante such as the chiefs and the Asante Kotoko Society (AKS), as well as chiefs and Legislative Assembly members in the Gold Coast Colony. The British instituted a system whereby some of the exiles, including some of the wives and children of the Asantehene himself and dependents of chiefs who died, were repatriated. Nana Prempe and the other survivors were repatriated in 1924. Although the British recognised him as a private citizen, Mr. Edward Prempe, the Asante acknowledged and treated him as their monarch. To appease the Asante, the British established for him the official capacity of Kumasehene in 1926, a position he held till his death in 1931. This was the same position that his successor, Nana Osei Agyeman Prempe II inherited in May of that year. The underlying factor in the creation of the office of Kumasehene was the British refusal to recognise Kumase’s pre-eminent position as primus-inter-pares dating back to the foundation of Asanteman that incorporated such polities as Kokofu, Bekwai, Dwaben, Nsuta and Mampon towards the end of the seventeenth century.

The chiefs and people of Asante, under the leadership of Nana Prempe II and in close collaboration with the educated people, championed by the AKS, relentlessly fought for the restoration of Asanteman. On 31st January, 1935, within the scheme of indirect rule, Asanteman was “restored” after almost forty years of external meddling but only as a Native Authority with the key function of maintaining law and order. Nana Prempe II as the first Asantehene of the restored Asanteman and particularly for his personal role in the process, earned himself the title, Otumfuo, [Almighty or the Powerful One] which has since been adopted by his successors as the official form of address for the high office of Asantehene. The restored Asanteman operated through the Ashanti Confederacy Council which perceived its role to be wider than provision of security and order. In fact, the Council rather defined its core function to include improvement of material and social conditions within Asanteman. Thus, for example, in 1935, recognising the low level of education provision and lack of other social services in Asante, the Council proposed to government the establishment of an endowment fund to provide scholarships to deserving young people, social services and infrastructure for the people. The proposal was to generate funds by levying six pence per load of cocoa sold in Asante to be collected by government on behalf of Asanteman. The Governor refused the Council permission but eventually yielded in 1942 and authorised the establishment of the “Ashanti National Fund”. Every male Asante resident within Asanteman was to be levied two shillings and one shilling from their female counterparts. One-third of the levy was to be paid into the coffers of Asanteman while two-thirds was retained in the Division in which it was collected. The monies thus generated became the principal source of funding for Asanteman Secondary School in Kumase, the Kumase State School and the Division Schools throughout Asanteman that were renamed Local Authority Schools after 1951. Besides, between 1946 and 1952 the Ashanti National Fund also provided scholarships for training hundreds of young Asante in Secondary Schools, Teacher Training Colleges and Universities both locally and abroad to enhance the quality of human resource base in Asante. The passage of the Local Government Ordinance of 1951 resulted in Asanteman shedding its local government duties in the larger interest of forging the modern nation state of Gold Coast. The Ashanti National Fund wound up in 1952.

Asanteman has survived for seventy-five years in spite of numerous challenges that it has had to grapple with including the complex relationship between it and central government; increasing waves of modernisation and external influences. Despite being a traditional body Asanteman continues to chart a course of innovation often commended and emulated by others. These innovations include the creation in 1985 of the office of Nkosuohene, interpreted as Development Chiefs by some and the establishment of the Otumfuo Education Fund in 2000. In spite of the wind of change, the leaders of Asanteman have endeavoured to preserve the most valuable aspects of the culture of its people.