Dear Allotey Jacobs, I don’t want to be an Ashanti
By James Kofi Annan
Mr Allotey Jacobs, you have made two very important comments that have caught my attention this week. In congratulating Kwamena Duncan, the Minister Designate for the Central Region, you lamented that Central Region elites have failed us. That statement is pregnant, and I wish I had the space and time to adequately respond to you. Don’t worry, I will get back to that subject in due course.
In the meantime, you were on air last week expressing that you wish you were an Ashanti. You were commenting on the richness of the funeral rites of the late Asantehemaa, Nana Afia Kobi Serwaa Ampem II, which was then taking place in Kumasi.
I know that Samson Anyenini and others have questioned the constitutionality of the funeral related curfew the Asanteman Council imposed in Kumasi. Chris-Vincent for instance wrote “what authority, legal backing or constitutional provisions are being used to declare curfew in Kumasi and all that we’ve heard and seen? Are people adhering to the curfew because of fear or intimidation, or do they really believe it ought to be respected as it’s backed by law or well justified?”
Well, I saw the people of Asanteman genuinely celebrating their tradition. I saw the people living in pure reverence to their culture. I saw the adherents in a truly admiring sacred mood, not only in reverence to their King, but also their Ashanti identity. They were inspiring, and the envy of the entire country. They sacrificed every single thing called self, in service to their King, and their Kingdom. Trust me, even if the Asanteman Council had asked for three days curfew, it would have still been observed with pride.
But, Mr Allotey, in your case you forced the Oguaa Traditional Council to prematurely lift the 21 days ban on drumming and noise-making that was supposed to have heralded the Fetu Afahye festival, you obliterated a traditional observance because your party was going to launch its 2016 campaign in Cape Coast.
You used power and influence to dilute the culture that your fathers created for you, because you had power, because you had money, and because our traditional leaders themselves have become vulnerable to your whims, so you manipulated them, and got what you wanted.
Very soon your grandchildren will blame you for the part you played in killing the Oguaa Fetu Afahye festival. They will ask you what happened, and you will have to scratch your head in shame, you will have to struggle to swallow your guilt, the guilt that might have resulted from greed, and your grandchildren will walk away from you, for depriving them of what was bequeathed to you, and you should have preserved it for them; you allowed politics, you allowed selfishness to destroy that which our fathers created, and you got what you wanted. You are not a good son of the land, you are a true infidel.
My brother, you cannot be an Ashanti. They are too pure to be you. You remember when their Queen mother died? Before the death, the NDC and the NPP had both planned mammoth rallies and floats in the Kumasi Metropolis. What happened when the Asantehemaa died? The Asanteman Council banned all public events that came with the making of any form of noise, including the very political floats and rallies that Nana Akufo-Addo and the then President John Mahama were supposed to have organised.
Which of the two political parties would have had the audacity to have flouted the orders of the Asanteman Council? The truth is that the people have preserved and created so much respect for their culture, so much so that, the preservation itself has created a certain level of legitimacy in the minds of nearly everyone else.
If this had been in Cape Coast or anywhere in the Central Region, you would have led the pack to use political power to disregard it. You would have hidden yourself behind some weak traditional leaders to create divisions in their front in order to perpetrate yourself on them.
Of course, I agree that some of our chiefs are undeserving of their titles. They act so shamefully that they bow in adoration of being given bread, and crumbs. There are some who are so rotten that they do not fit to be called the least in their kingdoms. There are some chiefs who openly ask for respect, yet they are so filthy, so rotten, that it would have been a shame to continue to recognize them as chiefs. Chiefs who pledge their stools to political victories, and when it is time to honor their pledges, they hide under stones.
Such chiefs still occupy their stools, but they know that it does not belong to them. In their heads they know that they are not dignified, they know that they are empty, they know that the gods have left them, what they hold on to are the keys to continuous shame.
I respect you for recognizing the extent to which you have failed your grandchildren; wishing to be in another Kingdom, rather than your own. How do you think your children, and grandchildren will feel? That they don’t have any legacy they could be proud of? That you, in your lifetime, could not do anything to preserve the sanctity of Fetu Afahye festival?
How much of what we saw in Kumasi was not the effort of the people themselves, to preserve their own heritage? Do you think if Manhyia had relied on Ghana Tourism Authority to develop their culture, how many of such cultural artifacts would have been stolen from them?
Political expediency is killing everything we have built in this country. Our politicians will stop at nothing; they will shoot, they will kill, they will divide the very people whose mandate they seek, they will do everything to destroy everyone else except their selfish interest.
And as it stands now the hardest hit are our traditional institutions. So far the only traditional institution that has survived the political desecration has been the Ashanti Kingdom. You try to influence who becomes a chief against the established order, you create division so that you can rule them, and these divisions affects their festivals, and that is why our festivals are on survival medications.
We shamelessly sat down for a whole paramount chief of Dagbon to be killed, where was the national security intelligence? And some of us used it profusely for political gains. Divide the people, win elections, and continue to exploit them.
So we won elections with Yaa Naa’s death. There are some people who know that but for the Yaa Naa’s death, they would never have become MPs, they know themselves that they said things about the death of that chief that was not true, but for political expediency, they said what they said, and got elected. You do all these things to our heritage, but when I call you a thief for your corrupt ways, then you tell me I am being harsh. How am I being harsh?
My brother, when your cloth is dirty and you know that that is the only cloth you have, you don’t throw it away, you wash it, you clean it, you wear it, and you become proud again. You don’t reach for another person’s cloth by trampling upon yours when you know that that is the only one left for your inheritance.
I don’t wish I am an Ashanti; I wish that I could leave the culture that my grandfather had left for my father who also left it for me; I wish my son will be able to leave same for his children. I don’t wish to be an Ashanti, but I wish I could do something to improve upon what I came to meet, that I will not allow myself to be an instrument of destruction of what was preserved for me.
I don’t wish to be an Ashanti, but I wish to know that while the Ashanti culture is being preserved, the Winneba culture will also remain pure, that the politicians will take their hands off the Dagbon crisis, and that the people of Dagbon will have their peace, that peace will come to Adaklu, and all of our traditional Kingdoms will have the purity of conscience to celebrate their festivals.
So Allotey, I don’t wish I am an Ashanti, I wish to remain a Winnebarian, from Simpa. I wish to be able to proudly answer the questions that my son will ask me: the part I played in building the society I came to meet. I wish my son will be able to take his son to watch Aboakyer with pride; I wish my son will be able to take his son to watch the Winneba Fancy Dress Festival in its purity. I wish to die a proud father, having contributed to the preservation and the enhancement of the culture that I inherited from my fathers.