Asantehene, Tradition and Development

Published on 29th November 2005

Why should the Asantehene (King of Ghana’s Asante ethnic group), Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, say that “Africa will develop faster if its leaders, intellectuals and the people rid themselves of the mindset that traditional institutions must be relegated to the background in favor of Euro-centric and western ways of thinking.” There are varieties of reasons ranging from historical, cultural, psychological to intellectual. What is instructive, too, is the forum the Asantehene made the case to appropriate African values in the continent’s development process: the prestigious Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, in Lagos, Nigeria as the Royal Guest of Honour at the seventh session of the Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Lecture Series.

In a continent where her elites cannot think well in relation to her values in the global scheme of progress and where they cannot think within the realm of their values first and any other second in their policy making by consulting traditional institutions and values. Her elites reason more or less within the paradigms of foreign values and not their own, they are helpless and mesmerized in the face of foreign values; their thinking is dominated by foreign thoughts and paradigms. Their formal education system is foreign dominated and mired in foreign examples, the education system is instructed in foreign languages instead of their own, her development paradigms are foreign dominated and it is the only area in the world where foreign development values dominate her development process. The values had been demeaned by the colonialists as “primitive” and relegated in the progress scheme of things and accepted by her elites which have made them not use their core values as the dominant vehicle for progress. The Asantehene’s African traditional values and her progress talks challenges Africa’s elites and their international partners to re-think Africa’s progress urgently.

By heavily relegating African values to the margins in their development process “in favor of Euro-centric and Western ways,” as the Asantehene rightly said in Lagos and indirectly indicated at Harvard University in USA two weeks ago, instead of adopting these foreign values to fit the African environment or as the World Bank is advising today, mix the African values with her colonial legacies in the continent’s progress. African elites have created massive psychological problems in the continent’s progress or as the title of Asantehene’s lecture at Lagos say “The Mindset Factor in Creative Transformation” in which Africans minds have been made to devalue their own values in their development process and admire other foreign development values. Rightly, “African states which abandoned their traditional institutions had nothing to fall back on in times of crisis and tended to disintegrate when the central system collapsed,” as the Asantehene wisely observed.

To buttress the Asantehene’s thinking about how the disruption of African traditional values has had serious consequences in times of crisis, recently I reviewed “A Tortuous Road to Peace (By Festus Aboagye and Alhaji M.S. Bah. Publishers: Institute For Security Studies, Pretoria, South Africa, 2005),” which reveals the historical reasons for Liberia’s collapse – long-running segregation culture by the dominant ex-slaves the Americo-Liberians against the majority native people. I asked one of the editors, the Sierra Leonean Alhaji Dr. M.S. Bah, a recent graduate from Canada’s Queens University; why as a conflict resolution expert, African traditional institutions and values have not been appropriated in resolving the Liberian conflict. He could not give any sensible answer but agreed with me that African values should have been engaged in not only resolving Liberia’s conflict but also other conflicts in Africa. I told Dr. Bah that he and his other experts have not thought about appropriating African values in the continent’s conflict resolution because of the nature of education they have had which does not even indicate an iota of African value in mediating conflicts, of which there are many to use to settle disputes as the Ghanaian-American Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman argues in “Unclogging The Courts: A Look at Mediation as a Viable Option in Ghana.” (, September 23, 2005).

The global relevance of the Asantehene’s advise of bringing African values openly on board, the rigors of the continent’s development process along with Africa’s colonial legacies, is seen not only in the World Bank’s study of mixing African values and her colonial legacies in Africa’s progress but highlighted by the presentation at the same Lagos forum by ex-Brazilian President, the sociologist and neo-Marxist-turned-neo-liberal Dr. Fernando Cardoso, one of the leading thinkers of the Latin American originated development paradigm, “Dependency Theory,” but who later adjusted his sense of the paradigm, as reality demands, as the Asantehene is enjoining African elites to do about Africa’s values and her progress. Dr. Cardoso not only thought that “local bourgeoisies are not a revolutionary force was false” but also adjusted his thinking as President of Brazil by appropriating conventional neo-liberal prescriptions mixed with Brazilian history and culture. Dr. Cardoso, talking from experience and the fact that he is globally praised for helping midwife the increasing progress of Brazil, indirectly agreed with the Asantehene’s culture-progress thought and “advised developing countries to integrate their history and culture into their development process.”

The continent’s development process has come about because of the civilizing mission of the colonialists that resulted in not only violent deaths of millions Africans but also massive demeaning of African values in Africa’s progress, more seriously perpetuated by African elites. The Asantehene’s thought, coming in the wake of similar thinking in Ghana, not only shows the emerging responsibilities needed from African elites in her progress by re-thinking Africa’s values in her development process, but also a psychologising tendency  to enhance the continent’s progress.

Due to the degree of damages done by the colonialists to Africa’s development process in terms of the twisting of her “traditional institutions,” massive psychological work, such as the Asantehene’s talks at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs and Harvard University in relation to Africa’s culture and progress, is needed. This thought is both morally right and conveniently appropriate, as cures for psychologicalised discontent in Africa’s progress via the disruption of her traditional institutions. The Asantehene, more through his on-going development process activities, therefore, becomes a confidence bolster in the awakening of African values in her progress.


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