The phone calls started on Thursday, January 30, and remained relentless and incessant through the weekend: “Kofi, have you heard the news?” For whatever reason, the callers both in the USA and Ghana were seeking confirmation from me regarding the veracity of claims making the rounds on radio and internet pertaining to Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, who ascended the Sikadwa (The Golden Stool) on 26 April 1999. But the calls were not about preparations to mark celebrations commemorating fifteen years of successful reign.
To say that Otumfuo is revered is to state the obvious. Any news about the Asantehene is big news, and spread like wild fire. When some of Otumfuo’s gold ornaments were stolen in October 2012, at a hotel in Oslo, Norway, for example, it was reported prominently by the international media, not to speak of Ghana’s.
However, to even whisper any ill will about Otumfuo is deemed so abominable and repugnant that the Twi word for such unspeakable act against the Asantehene is “hyira’, that is blessing. It is said “obi ahyira Ohene;” or someone has ‘blessed’ the King being the euphemism to explain the unmentionable. In the past, such act of ‘blessing’ would invite certain death, and other forms of punishment against entire families of the perpetrators. Propitiation would have to be done to reverse the curse that might result. Of course, as my school mate Titihoya used to respond at the mention of his ‘guy name’-Time Changes - so, these days people speak without reckoning.
Showing respect to the Asantehene, and not speaking ill will of him, however does not imply Asantes do not criticize their King. Sometimes these criticisms take the form of rumours and other contrivances! Indeed, Asantes are not immune to holding their King and Chiefs accountable. Throughout our history Asantes have not been hesitant to bring charges against their King and Chiefs who perform below the peoples expectations. There is very little docility in the Asante character; notwithstanding Asantes surfeit of goodwill and respect for authority and tradition.
In fact, four of our Kings were destooled for various malfeasance that the people deemed inimical to the growth and welfare of the Asante Nation.
Asantehene Kusi Oboadum who reigned from 1750-1764 was forced to abdicate, abdication being the Asante euphemism for ignoble destoolment. Osei Kwame who reigned from 1777 to 1803, was destooled; his own mother Nana Konadu Yiadom was the lead accuser of his son’s incompetence. Similar fate befell Kofi Kaakari and his successor Mensa Bonsu in 1874 and 1883 respectively. These two men were incredibly corrupt and incompetent. Kofi Kaakari for example earned the derisive accolade “Osape” and “Akyempo,” because of the rather profligate manner he destroyed the Asante national treasury through wanton extravagance and corruption.
These examples indicate that while Asantes may be wedded to their King, whenever Asantes sense that the leader is not providing leadership as they wish he would; or that the King seems to be engaging in acts that may bring disrepute to the body politic, tongues begin to wag. That is the epitome of the bold Asante character birthed and enshrined on that fateful Friday in January 1701 when the Chief Priest, Prophet Okomfo Anokye commanded the Sikadwa or Golden Stool from Heaven, and affirmed the soul and character of Asante on that day. (I get goose bumps relating these facts [or as we say in Twi, ‘awosee agu me’]: let me take a shot of Schnapps before I can continue).
To wit: Kumasi which was called the Garden City of West Africa by the British, has now become, as my nephew told me in dismay, the City of Billboards. These eyesore billboards include outdoor advertisements for all manner of products. Even more distasteful are the huge billboards announcing the death and funerals of the dearly departed. And not only that, there are billboards commemorating the anniversary of people who have been dead a long time. This is totally disgraceful. Now, I am writing this article on February 6, 2014, exactly 10 years to the day that my dear mother departed this life. She would never approve his image adorning a piece of plywood commemorating the anniversary of his death!
That we allow these eyesore to populate the metropolis and other towns underscore the level of retrogression that we have undergone as a people.
I was going to appeal to the civil authorities in Kumasi, until I was made aware that several billboards announcing “Asanteman welcomes Mayor Kojo Bonsu,” populate all the major entry points to Kumasi. I do not begrudge Kwadwo Bonsu’s good fortune, but these billboards must be removed without ceremony.
I respectfully call on Otumfuo Osei Tutu II to use his immense authority and good offices to cause the removal of these monstrosities and condemn them to garbage. The removal of these billboards should be undertaken in all towns and villages in Asanteman, and indeed throughout Ghana, wherever such ignoble practices are in vogue.
Other matters in Asanteman obviously cause concern. Among these is the “Sofoline Interchange,” a road project began in Kumasi under the previous government, then continued at a snail pace by the current government, until left uncompleted, and now totally abandoned. Lest we forget about the construction of the Military Hospital at Kwadaso, Kumasi to cater to serving and retired military and other forces, and the general public in the Northern Sector of our country. That project was abandoned in 2011, I recall watching a military spokesman, a Colonel, being interviewed on television and responding to a questioner -- ‘that order came from above.’
Of course, the abandonment of the construction of the Inland Port at Boankra in the Asante Akyem area invites particular opprobrium. A laudable project started during the administration of President Rawlings is now virtually abandoned. Herds of cattle and indisciplined herdsmen are given free reign in destroying our lands, farms, and trampling our streets. Additionally, there is the destruction of our environment by foreign and criminal Chinese mining enterprise and their Ghanaian cohorts. There is also the ongoing issue of the insidious attack on the life of Lake Bosumtwi, and other river and water bodies in Asante and Ghana, through unregulated "farm fishing." Is nothing sacred anymore in Asanteman and Ghana? There are whispers that Chiefs who must protect the environment are hand in gloves with the perpetrators of these damaging and dastardly acts.
There was a time when our forbears held some things sacred which we seem to have abandoned. Three hundred years ago, trash was burned in Asante as a matter of public sanitation. Three hundred years ago our forbears believed rivers and streams were not to be trifled with as a matter of public policy. Therefore, when farms were made, they left the brush and trees around rivers untouched to provide shade and sustenance for the river. People prospected for gold (now called galamsey) three hundred years ago in my hometown of Asuonwun in the Amansie area of Asante, for example, but it was controlled. In those days, it was against the law, custom, and tradition for the prospectors to work even close to a river or dwellings.
Today, our towns and cities are filled with decomposing trash; and our rivers have been polluted and destroyed through galamsey.
It is evident that serious problems afflict Asanteman and Ghana; and these issues cry for leadership action. Ghanaians have an aphorism that a village without a Chief does not progress. On a wider level, when General Acheampong sought to introduce his atrocious Union Government political idea, the Ghanaian public was much incensed. At the University of Ghana and elsewhere, even non-Asante students were calling for leadership from the Asantehene on that issue. The moral leadership of the Asantehene is immense, palpable, and recognized.
Perhaps Asantes are beckoning for leadership on matters that affect their region and their lives. Perhaps they want to rattle Otumfuo just a little bit. Perhaps that explains why all these contrivances, some unspeakable and unmentionable surface intermittently.
According to news reports and photos, Otumfuo wiped his eyes upon disembarking at the Kumasi Airport. Could be that Otumfuo was genuinely touched by the love and admiration of the throng of people who welcomed him. Or, could it be, as my precocious nephew surmised, Otumfuo’s sadness at the sorry state of the Kumasi Airport where a plane cannot land after 5PM because lights have not been installed to ensure planes can fly to Kumasi at night, compared to what he saw in South Africa.
Aprill 26, 2014, marks the fifteenth anniversary of the reign of Otumfuo Osei Tutu Opemsuo II. I will be at Manhyia to toast and commend Otumfuo. It has been fifteen years of exceptional leadership. And, as honest as my great ancestor Obrempon Firam Gyeraba served him from 1690 (yes right, 1690) until now, I will pray in honesty that Otumfuo begins his 16th year with vim and renewed vigour to continue to endear him to people all over.