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Opinions Mon, 23 Sep 2019

History, politicians and Otumfuor's UN address

The recent speech by Otumfuor Osei Tutu II, the Asantehene, at the UN General Assembly’s High Level Forum on Peace, has generated controversy.

Now let us begin with some facts that will help contextualize the issues in contention.

The Otumfuor means literally the owner or source of power.

He has another title, Busumuru, “He who is like a deity”.

Interestingly, Ghana’s Chieftaincy Act 1971, section 41 specifically mentions “the Asantehene and Paramount Chiefs”; Divisional Chiefs; Sub-divisional Chiefs; Adikrofo [plural]; and such other Chiefs not falling within any of the preceding categories,” as types of chiefs.

The Chieftaincy Act 2008 (Act 759) makes a special provision for presidency of the Ashanti Regional House of Chiefs thus, “….in the case of the Ashanti Regional House, [the president shall] be the Asantehene”.

These suggest the Otumfuor, whoever he is, is unique.

On the other hand, Otumfuor is Chancellor of a university (KNUST); an institution that must necessarily thrive on academic freedom – freedom to offer scathing or searing critique based on facts, evidence and reason.

Has anyone ever imagined the furore that will erupt if an academic from KNUST were to critique the Asante origin myth or the eternal stability of Anokye’s implanted sword?

Or these are no go or forbidden areas of inquiry in the university?

Or are we to ignore the fact that Western influence on the coast of present day Ghana preceded Asante by at least 200 years thus making the former part and parcel of our tradition?

The current debate about what the Otumfuor said at the UN can be understood and perhaps resolved by careful and sober reflection along several lines.

One, ground zero for infallibility is the Catholic Church – the dogma of papal infallibility (which is restricted ONLY TO DOCTRINE) was first pronounced in 1870 (by the First Vatican Council) after centuries of debates, heresies and Inquisitions. Even so, papal infallibility has been invoked only a handful of times.

Two, traditionally chiefs make formal comments when they sit in state, and speak in the language of the stool.

It will therefore be helpful if the Manhyia Palace could clarify for all of us, in what capacity Otumfuor spoke at the UN; did he speak as a king, priest, prophet, academic, motivational speaker, cultural activist or as a private citizen of the world?

Three, what are we to make of the provision in the Ghanaian constitution that states categorically that chiefs….and errh kings/monarchs should not meddle in partisan politics?

Four, the Asantehene’s speech was about how traditional methods and culture could be used to engender peace in the Ashanti Region and Ghana. In the main, he delivered to expectation.

Should he have mentioned what other chiefs also did to promote peace?

Speech writing is a delicate matter; and a speech once delivered becomes part of the public record.

It should and will be examined, dissected and commented on in a robust but civil manner. That is what enlightened people do.

For the record, to point out inaccuracies in a public document does not equate to denigrating the character or personage of anyone, period.

Given the controversy generated, Ghana’s serious problem with getting an accurate historical record of important national events is now confronting us. We cannot postpone definitive solutions.

Perhaps this highlights a need for a sealed accurate archive of important sensitive national events and the discussions pertaining to important national decisions.

Do we have one?

My mentor argues “Such a sealed archive should only be made public 30 years after the event. Examples abound in other countries”

Such a project was suggested a generation ago for Ghana. At that time the Valco Trust Fund was going to provide the resources but alas……

“The controversy brings to the fore, the urgent need for such a sealed archive,” my mentor states.

It will certainly help us to avoid the acrimony, raw nerves and tension so far generated in the country by aspects of Otumfuor’s UN address.

That no one is entitled to their own facts is certainly something we can all agree on.

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Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah