Asantehene: power and self-restraint
By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
“Of all the manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most,” - Thucydides
Both as America’s first African-American Secretary of State, National Security advisor, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell, kept an epigram of Thucydides, the Greek thinker, in his offices. In his years in office, Powell has to deal with complex networks in every foreign-policy squabble. Powell has to deal with North Korea and was alone in Europe's defence scheme; he was dove among hawks on Iraq, and an internationalist among isolationists on Kosovo and the Balkans.
But Powell soldiered on, advising against some un-American tendencies and demonstrating the fact that “might is right” isn’t always right and that self-restraint is the real might is right.
The powerful Powell’s self-restraint practices came to mind when I read about Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, angrily threatening to arrest the Techimanhene, Oseadeayo Ameyaw Akumfi IV,” “if he dares travel through Kumasi… I am closely watching with keen interest and I will arrest the so called Techimanhene and bring him to the Manhyia Palace whenever he storms Kumasi if the government fails to take action against him for kidnapping Tuobodomhene.”
The Tuobodom conflict had claimed three lives, for sheer stupidity, and pitched the big Techiman against the small Tuobodom, and traditionally over how the Tuobodom chief owes traditional allegiance to the almighty Asantehene and not to the tiny Techimanhene, and opened up the deadly old African ancient tribal wounds and rage carried over into modern Africa. Traditionally, by kidnapping and disgracing the Tuobodom chief in public because he is an Asantehene’s subject, the Techimanhene had also disgraced the Asantehene and his people.
In ancient times, the whole Brong Ahafo had been under the powerful Asante Kingdom through conquest, now it is part of the modern Ghana amalgam but the ancient traces still run through, occasionally popping up and disturbing modern Ghana, as the Asantehene-Techimanhene-Tuobodomhene quarrel demonstrates. And if not contained wisely, it can be deadly and crumple Ghana, as other African states’ disasters show.
This has made the Asantehene, unarguably Ghana’s most powerful King, and other traditional rulers entangled in the complexes of tradition and modernity. Unable to disentangle himself from traditional ancient traces, the Asantehene threatened to deal with the cocky Techimanhene, which is unGhanaian, and runs counter to modern Ghanaian laws and global civility, and dents the Asantehene’s worldwide image where the rule of law, and not threats, of which African Big Men are notoriously known for, drives the development architecture, of which the Asantehene has been appropriating shrewdly through the World Bank and other international organizations, for his national development ventures.
The Asantehene’s outbursts tell how that the Ghanaian nation-state is yet to deeply modernized some of the ancient traces of its traditional foundations, especially where traditional rulers have had absolute power and are driven by their primordial caprices. Despite being seem in higher esteem, the regulations of the modern Ghanaian nation-state make the Asantehene, and any traditional ruler for that matter, equal before the law, and democracy, as anti-dote to traditional tyranny that has sent some African societies to flames, effectively cuts the proverbial Big Man to size, making him behave like any other citizen, no matter the person’s station in life.
The Asantehene is by nature a liberal person and has been working to deepen Ghana’s budding democracy, but his Tuobodom utterances expose the fact that the unhelpful African Big Man syndrome is a developmental disease that has to be cured through rigorous rule of law, freedoms, democracy, and human rights. And aside from enforcing modern development principles, part of the solutions in dealing with the conundrum between tradition and modernity may be the Collin Powell practices of Thucydides’ self-restraint axiom. That may be the therapy for Asantehene’s frenzy and Ghana’s progress.