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Installation of a new Wenchihene, can he bring Brongs and Ashantis together again?
The Queen mother of Wenchi has nominated Professor Albert Owusu Sarpong formally a lecturer at Kwame Nkrumah university of Science and Technology to be the next Omanhene of Wenchi. Most people knew him probably because of his famous late father from Agona Mr. Victor Owusu of the UP tradition. Most people who knew him at KNUST probably did not know much about his maternal genealogy until you visited his house and saw the traditional stool given to him by his late Uncle the Omanhene of Wenchi, Nana Abrefa Mbore Bediatour IV as a symbol of his royalty.
The new chief will succeed his late uncle Nana Abrefa Mbore Bediatou IV the man who was my uncle and a great influence on my knowledge in history and culture. As a young boy in high school, I remember the many days I spent with him during school vacations when he would gathered us all his sons, nephews, nieces and, grand children to teach us about the history and culture of Wenchi state. I remember once asking him where he got his name Nana Bediatuo from and I recall watching him struggle to tell me a very poignant period of Wenchi history.
The devastation this kingdom suffered at the hands of the invading Ashanti army choked him as he narrated Wenchi history to me. Nana Bediatuo was the name adopted by his great uncle Nana Abefa Kwadwo I after his state was overwhelmed by the invading Asante army. He told me that when it came time to choose his own stool name, he could only remember the pain, suffering and anguish his great uncle Nana Aberfa Kwadwo I went through. His stool name Nana Abrefa Mbore Beidiatuo IV always reminds me of the Bono tragedy. Bono the peaceful nation with beaming smiles on its people and welcoming arms that beacons to the stranger; Come, you may stand upon my back and face your distant destiny.
The people will never see peace again after the Ashanti invasion. “Ahwenekoko” the ancient principality of Wenchi people with it legendry 77 street was razed to the ground the day the invading Ashanti army attacked. The fear in their eyes of its citizens was palpable by the directions they fled. To the west, some crossed the Tain River and ended up in present day La Cote d’ivoire. To the south, some sought refuge in Akyem and Nzema lands. Some crossed the Volta and ended up in the central plains of present day Volta region for fear of capture and enslavement.
When Dr. Kwame Nkrumah told Ghanaians of his ancestry from Wenchi in the run up to Ghana’s independence, many thought it was political ploy to win votes from his biggest political rival Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia’s home turf. But was Dr. Nkrumah really using political gimmicks to win votes by claiming a Wenchi ancestry.
Why does some Nzema culture resemble so much that of Wenchi if there were no such relations? The name of the head of the royal family of Tarkwa Nsuem goes by the Nana Anyeamanpong Tabraku the name happens to be the name of the third Omanhene (Chief) in the dynasty of Wenchi. When Nana Ackah Nyanzu (Dr. Ackah Blay-Miezah) died, Wenchihene Nana Abrefa Mbore Bediatuo VI as custom required was the chief mourner at his funeral.
Again when Dr. Kwame Nkrumah body was flown from Bucharest to Ghana, Wenchihene was asked to perform the end of life pacification rites as custom required. I went to Wenchi in 1971 to live with my father for the first time and I saw some to the Nzema natives who came with their chiefs to retrace their native ancestry in Wenchi.
Another Bono state that saw devastation from the Ashanti invasion was Techiman whose terrified citizens fled in all directions as well to escape the capture and death by the Ashantis. To the south they fled, some ended up in Osu in Accra and Fantiland. To the west, some ended up in La Cote d’ivoire. Generations of Bono citizens who ended up in La Cote d’ivoire now form the Abron ethnic community in the mid eastern section of La Cote d’ivoire. But today the guns are silent; Asante the old warriors who sent fear and panic through the spines of their neighbors are today’s the peace makers of Ghana. They traded their guns and arrows for hoes and cutlasses as a symbol of a break with their past behavior.
They have committed themselves to live at peace and in harmony with old foes to build a new nation called Ghana. They have applied their ingenuity on the battlefield to the area of trade and commerce. Culturally they (Ashantis) are fierce protectors of private capital and individual freedoms and they resist anyone who take power by coercive means and tries to curtail their freedoms.
Their political philosophy is rooted in free market enterprise with a belief that governments exist to provide the space and condition for trade and commerce to flourish. They promote politicians who espouse their political believes irrespective of where they come from. Dr. Kofi Abefa Busia first went to the constituent Assembly (parliament) through the magnanimity of the Ashantis because they offered him a seat to run under Asanteman Council. Ashantis took the little Cocoa seeds brought to this country by Teteh Quarshie and led an industry that sew Ghana, this little country along the Equator as the world’s leading producer of cocoa beans.
They watched as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah used the proceeds from their hard labor to provide free education to northerners and other disadvantaged communities but never uttered a word in protest. But their patience and investment in Ghana has paid off; The North South divide along poverty, education and religious lines that is tearing apart many of our neighbors in West Africa has passed us by. Ghana is now seen as the beacon of hope, tolerance, religious harmony and good governance in the whole of African continent.
What has eluded Akans throughout our history is peace among the sub-Akan ethnic groups. Akan has been so bisected by suspicion, mistrust and bad blood that if care is not taken very soon the name Akan will exist in name only to be used during census season in Ghana. But does the Otumfuo, the occupant of the Golden Stool have any role to play in uniting the different groups that form the Akan tribe.
The answer is yes. Has the difficult Akan history got anything to do with this state of affairs and it sits at the root of our disunity. I strongly believe it does and I believe we should first identify these problems before we can work on a holistic solution to our disunity. On March 16, 2010 for instance Otumfuo Osei Tutu II stirred up the hornets’ nest when he angrily threatened to kidnap Techimanhene in retaliation to his treatment of his subject the Omanhene of Tuobodum. As I watched this crisis ensued with irate Ashanti youth trouping to the Kings Palace austansibly to receive their marching orders to attack Techiman I felt a deep sense of shame and sadness not only for my tribe but for black race of Africa.
That a small conflict between Techiman and Manchia palace for close to two hundred years continues to cause death and destruction for people and property is a serious indictment on our culture and values. It shows the lack of leadership and conflict resolution capacity in our society. That day, I said to myself if these young men had only known why they have assembled at the Kings palace with war instruments ready to match on Techiman, what if they knew the history behind this conflict will they still be acting the same.
What is Tano Subin conflict and why will nine desolate outpost villages become so contested that it will finally lead the breakup of Bono (Western Ashanti) from Ashanti Confederation. To understand this crisis, one needs to know a little bit of Akan history. This history dates back to the beginning of nineteenth century at the height of the Ashanti empire. Much of what is Bono today was conquered and became vassal states of the Ashanti monarchy, their chiefs paid ransom in gold and money yearly to Ashanti monarchy.
One notable reality of the new vassal states was that its able bodied men became virtual cannon fodders to the subsequent numerous Ashanti expansionist wars. This epic event happened around 1818 during the reign of Otumfuo Osei Asibe Bonsu when Ashanti went to war against Gyaman state. As the war dragged on the Otumfuo called for reinforcement from Techiman which was readily obliged.
Techiman lost many fighting men but in the end succeeded to defeat the Gyaman army and declare victory for Asantehene. Otumfour Osei Bonsu was so impressed about the bravery of Techiman men that he invited Techimanhene Nana Kofi Kyeremeh to join him in Kumasi to celebrate his victory. When the Techimanhene arrived at the durbar grounds he was preceded by seven deity carrying fetish priest representing seven villages of Techiman state.
Techiman has since suspected that the King might have been told the deities represented the power or the wealth of Techiman state for one week after the ceremony was over, Techimanhene received Otumfour’s palace linguist from Kumasi with a surprising message. “From that day forward the Otumfor Osei Kwame Asibe Bonsu has decided to seize those villages and would henceforth exercise direct control over them”.
The Techimanhene protested but to no avail, the great Otumfuo has spoken. Two other villages with fetish gods Agosa and Branam were later added to the seizure. This singular action is what has been the bane causing mistrust, suspicion and open proxy war between Techiman and Manchia to this day. The Asantehene wasted no time taking effective control over the villages and the gods that reside in them.
Supervision of the villages was given to some Kumasi sub-chiefs to rule over them. This is why today there seem to be a duality of competing traditional authorities in Tano Subin over allegiances. The natives, who are the protectors of the gods, still clinch to their Bono roots while most of the chiefs apparently swear allegiance to the Golden Stool.
Asante itself would suffer defeat at the hands of the British and was later incorporated into the British Gold Coast. Prempeh I was excelled to the Seychelles Island in 1896 and with that came the end to the Ashanti Empire. Techiman for a brief period regained control over Tano Subin when Techimanhene signed a treaty of protection and security with the queen’s representative at Nkoranza in 1894.
But in a twist of fate in the ego political realignment of British colonial administration, Tano Subin lands were restored back to Ashanti control. Students of history will recall that the British Colonial administration started experimenting with a governance system called indirect rule to address the extreme mortality among the British expatriate staff in the colonies from Mosquitoes and Malaria disease.
Our part of the world was referred to as the White man’s grave because of the high mortality among White expatriate from malaria and other tropical diseases. Having successfully tried indirect rule in Northern Nigeria, the British colonial office wanted to expand it to Gold Coast. This system of governance required a strong and an influential leader to bring colonial rule to the natives. The Ashanti king now exiled in Seychelles Island was a good fit for this role and it was one of the reasons why Otumfour Agyeman Prempeh I was allowed to return to his kingdom in 1925. Back on his native soil, Otumfuo Prempe I was allowed to exercise control over his now defunct empire in a loose administrative area called Ashanti Confederacy.
Brong Ahafo thus became Western Ashanti within the Ashanti Confederacy. This is how not only Tano Subin but all Bono lands came under Ashanti control again. However Techiman state refused to take part of any Confederacy meetings until all their land in dispute was returned to them. With a new found authority under British rule the Ashanti Monarchy wasted not time in exercising his new authority.
Successive Techiman chiefs were distooled under charges of “maladministration”. A rapprochement between the British Colonial Administration and the Ashanti monarchy for the convenience for indirect rule, is the reason why all legal challenges mounted by Techiman State to recover her lost lands have end up in defeat in court system up till today.
So when a new Techimanhene Nana Akumfi Ameyaw III in 1944 followed his predecessor’s posturing of non compliance with Otumfuo orders at the confederacy meetings, you can predict the severe punishment waiting for him. On February 06, 1948 Nana Akumfi Ameyaw III wrote to the Secretary of the Colonies that he was breaking off all communication with Ashanti Confederacy until his land issues has been resolved.
The response from Kumasi was swift and severe; Techiman was stripped of her Native council (Local Council) status in order to deprive her revenues she needs to run a successful local government. Tax collectors were sent from Kumasi to levy and collect taxes in Tano Subin for the Ashanti treasury. Techiman will be subjected to trade blockade within the confederacy to starve its people into submission. It was his frustration over the confiscated lands of Tano Subin and justice for his people that drove Techimanhene Nana Akumfi Ameyaw III to initiate the formation of Bono Kyempim federation with Dormaahene Nana Agyemang Badu II and others.
The Bono Kyempem Confederacy will eventually expand to unite all Bono states under a single mission to secede from Ashanti confederacy. Like the British before him, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah now the leader of government business did not know much about the Bono question and initially will not listen to their grievances. The militancy of the Bono Kyempim demands however prompted him to appoint a judicial committee under Justice Mate Koley in 1951 to look into the Bono grievances.
Mate Korle committee report was submitted to government in November 1952 with a damning expose of the treatment of Bonos and opened the eyes of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah to the conditions of the Bonos under Ashanti Confederacy. The report cataloged a damming critique of Ashanti treatment of Bono people under the guise of Ashanti confederacy.
The summary of Mate Korle committee report had this to say “The people (the Brongs) have been regarded and treated with every possible contempt by the Ashantis in the past. There is no gain saying that the so-called historic unity of Ashanti has all along been a unity maintained by a strong suppressing hand at the sacrifice of the freedom and happiness for the non-Ashanit people like the Brong.
I believe that our bid to remove imperialism from our country and to bring freedom and happiness to our people must not be limited only to the foreign forms of imperialism but also to local forms of imperialism Freedom from fear within is as important to the happiness of men as freedom from fear without. To compel these people to continue to subject themselves to humiliation and exploitation from the Ashantis would be the saddest unkindness we would do to them.
This is the reason why we have recommended that they should be given the council which they have asked for”. One month after this report was released, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah visited Techiman to supervise the reopening of the Techiman native council that was closed following the suspension of Nana Akumfi Ameyaw III. As soon as Ghana obtained independence and he was in full control over the affairs of the nation, Dr. Nkrumah instructed his then Minister of Justice and Local Government Mr. A. E. A Ofori Atta to introduce legislation under a certificate of urgency on March 20, 1959 for the creation of a new region called Brong/Ahafo
. Over the years a lot of misinformation has been put out to suggest that Dr. Kwame Nkrumah created Brong Ahafo region out of his hatred of the Ashantis but discerning readers should read the whole Mate Korle committee report before passing any judgement on the motives of our first president. Fifty years after the creation of Brong Ahafo region and with all the pride we heap on ourselves as a functioning democracy in an otherwise dangerous region of Africa, Tano Subin still continues to claim lives and there seem to be no resolution of this crisis.
The 1982 murder of Offumanhene Nana Kwaku Duah and his entire family is a tragedy that I still cannot erase from my memory because some of his children who died that day were my personal childhood friends. There is no rational justification for the gruesome murder of Offumanhene Nana Kwaku Duah and his family that faithful day when irate rival factions forced his family and supporters to retreat into his palace and the palace was touched.
I am told the angry crowd stood at the outer perimeter of his palace to make sure that everyone who attempted to run out of safely was forced back to be incinerated to die a horrible death because of a two hundred year crisis. I don’t think the disagreements of our ancestors or the sins of our fathers make any justification for the lives lost through the passage of time. And so today I cry to the great Otumfuo Osei Tutu II that Akan needs unity and cries to you for leadership. You can continue to rely on a quit pro quo gentleman’s agreement between his predecessors and the British colonialist to hung on to his claims over Tano Subin but that will only prolong the suffering and the internecine communal violence will never end.
And so today as Otumfuo Osei Tutu II sends off a grandson from historic town of Agona to become the next chief of Wenchi I pray that the gods will open his eyes to see what is really represents in Akan land. For there is not greater name in Akan than Otumfuo and the bible says to whom more is given a much more is expected. Whether by faith or an accident of history, every Akan is connected somehow to the Golden stool. The greatest legacy that Otumfur Osei Tutu II can leave for Akans is it not sad that the biggest tribe in Ghana is treated like the minority tribe. It is only through unity that we can live our full potential. Great leaders make peace not war for in the end either war is obsolete or men are
. In the twenty first century, the power of your monarchy is not borne out of the bravery of your men at battlefield but by the values and traditions handed over from generations that is embodied in the office you hold. Values of justice, equality and community are the enduring tenets of Akan tradition that guided our ancestors through the great trek into this country after the fall of the old Ghana Empire.
It is my wish that you seize this moment to bridge this divide and leave a legacy for his Akan. Past mistakes or disagreement of our ancestors are only meant to guide us not to define us. Begin the healing by calling on your grandson Professor Albert Owusu Sarpong to go to Wenchi and start rebuilding Awhenekoko (Bono).
In Memory of Nana Abrefa Mbore Bediatuo IV
Thomas Kofi Kyeremeh
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