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Opinions Tue, 1 Oct 2002

Asante in 1895; Iraq in 2002: A World History Remembered

As I listened to British Premier Tony Blair present his ?dossier' on Iraq before an emergency session of the British House of Commons, this morning (Sept. 22) on Cable-TV channel C-SPAN in Washington, D.C.; my mind was thrown back to a similar emergency session called by the British Prime Minister in 1895 to discuss the "Asante question". A look at history reveals several remarkable similarities between the two situations, though over a century separated from one another; a few of which are presented here.

In 1895, the British Secretary for Colonial Affairs Joseph Chamberlain pronounced Asante independence an "intolerable nuisance" in a speech at the House of Commons; and in 1896, the Brits led another military coalition that overthrew the Asantehene, call it ?regime change' in contemporary parlance.

Then as now, the British government had earlier led a coalition of British soldiers; various African tribes in what became Ghana; West Indians, Sikhs from India; Yorubas from Nigeria; and assorted Central African tribes to defeat Asante almost 12 years earlier in1874. Twelve years ago Britain and America led a world coalition against Iraq. As happened in Iraq in 1990, where the country was essentially partitioned by a no-fly zone in both the north and south of the country, boxing Saddam Husein into the middle; British defeat of Asante in 1874 resulted in Britain completely cutting off the southern part of Asante control ?south of the River Pra" into the British Colony of the Gold Coast; and later converted the northern flank into the British Protected Northern Territories.

In 1873, Asantehene Kofi Kaakari who on his enstoolment in 1869 had vowed to make "war my main business", had withdrawn his army from Elmina and other coastal areas, though Sadam refused to withdraw his army from Kuwait in 1990.

Just as the proposed invasion of Iraq is preceded by propaganda that reduces Sadam Husein into a beast; the British invasion of Asante in 1896 was preceded by unusual propaganda of highflown imperialist language that reduced the Asantehene and Asantes into "uncivilized", "uncouth bloodsuckers", practicing all manner of "executions and human sacrifice". Though British diplomats (UN Weapons Inspectors, today) found no evidence of such claims. Of course, criminals were executed, just as was the case in merry old England.

The Iraq opposition has found hearing and shelter in Western capitals, and are invited to the American Congress to testify about Sadam's development of "weapons of mass destruction".

In the 1880's, opposition Asante elements found home and support in the British Colony from where they spewed unprintable and unspeakable charges against the Asantehene and Asante institutions.

Their spokesman and leader was a traitor by the name of Yaw Atwreboana who after being rejected for the high office of Asantehene fled to the Colony, made common cause with the British, and undermined the Asantehene and Asante institutions. He and his gang of traitors had the support of educated Fantes, just as the Iraqi opposition has the support of Conservatives in the Western world. These educated Fantes, then spearheaded opposition to Asante by flooding newspapers with stupid lies about the Asantehene and Asante institutions which their mis-education prevented them to offer any respect.

The venomous attacks by these silly propagandists survives today in the manner of writings called titled "Two Tracts"(Dossier on Iraq) written in late 1894 and presented to Governor Sir William Brandford Griffith in Cape Coast. Though the authors were signed as "Ashantis who have run to this Gold Coast", they were assisted by Fante and Asante lawyers, some of whom later founded the Aborigines Rights Protection Society in 1898 to protect "Fante lands" from falling into the hands of Queen Victoria! The notion of a black African (Asantehene) ruling an independent African state had not yet dawned on these misguided, mis-educated anti-Asante propagandists.

Sadam Husein is accused of supporting "terrorist network". Well, in 1896, the Asantehene was accused of being in league with the most wanted Samori Ture ruler of the Mandinka kingdom, and Moro Naba, the King of the Mossi kingdom of Wagadugu, both of whom were resisting French imperialist attacks. These African nationalists were accused of attempting to carve up West Africa among Mossi; Mandinka (Mandigos); and Asante. These African nationalist monarchs were betrayed by their own kind to European imperialist invaders. The Arabs are not supporting Sadam, either!

In 2002, Americans, Brits; Germans; are wondering wether they can actually instal new leaders in Iraq. Well, reading the press of the day (1890's), some Brits wondered wether their government could replace the venerable Asantehene position once the Brits completed their ?regime change' in Asante. In 1896, the British established what they thought would be a quisling 3-man triumvirate to rule Kumase. Much to the disappointment and annoyance of the Brits; the triumvirs refused to carry out British orders; nor did they follow instructions to flout much hallowed and time-tested Asante customs.

Enraged, the British government sent one of their most knowledgeable historian cum anthropologist R.S. Rattray to undertake a study of the Asante people; Asante laws; Asante religion; and Asante history so the British would better understand and appreciate what drives Asante will-power and sense of kinship with their exiled King. Colonel Rattray (he was also a soldier), produced several writings on Asante. Rattrays' endeavour, generated an interest among academics the world-over to study Asante history. As a result, Asante is now the most studied and written about indigenous history in Africa. The University of Birmingham's (England) Center for West African Studies has an endowed Chair in Asante History; the only such academic chair devoted to the study of the history and culture of an African people in the whole world of academia.

The British finally came to their senses and realized that unlike some knee-bending Africans who thumb-printed their independence away, the Asante were a breed apart. The Asante were much confident in their traditional institutions and customs to follow the Brits blindly or kowtow to some racists peddling racism as CIVILIZATION.

This respect for culture and tradition moved the Brits (who affect similar values) so much so that in 1924; twenty-eight good years after exiling the venerable Asantehene Prempeh I, the Brits decided to return Nana Prempeh to his former position in Kumase. Asante remained unbowed, and unconquered at heart. Impressed by such resilience, just as they had done since 1817, any Englishman of note (foreign visitor) who visits the country that became Ghana, goes to Oseikrom to pay homage to the Asantehene for standing up against the British imperialists and preserving a modicum of respect and dignity for the black man in that part of the world.


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


Columnist: Ellison, Kofi