Asantehene: Balancing Tradition and Modernity

Published on 22nd March 2010

Otumfuo Osei Tutu II                            Photo courtesy
“Of all the manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most,” - Thucydides

America’s first African-American Secretary of State, National Security advisor, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell, kept an epigram of Thucydides, the Greek thinker, in his offices. In his years in office, Powell had to deal with complex networks in every foreign-policy squabble. He had to deal with North Korea, was dove among hawks on Iraq, and an internationalist among isolationists on Kosovo and the Balkans.

Powell soldiered on, advising against some un-American tendencies and demonstrating that “might is right” isn’t always right and that self-restraint is the real might is right. Powell’s powerful self-restraint practices came to mind when I read about Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, angrily threatening to arrest the Techimanhene, Oseadeayo Ameyaw Akumfi IV, if he dared travel through Kumasi.

“I will arrest the so called Techimanhene and bring him to the Manhyia Palace whenever he storms Kumasi if the government fails to take action against him for kidnapping Tuobodomhene,” he said.

The Tuobodom conflict had claimed three lives, pitched the big Techiman against the small Tuobodom, and traditionally over how the Tuobodom chief owes traditional allegiance to the almighty Asantehene and not to the tiny Techimanhene. Traditionally, by kidnapping and disgracing the Tuobodom chief in public because he is an Asantehene’s subject, the Techimanhene had also disgraced the Asantehene and his people.

In ancient times, the whole Brong Ahafo had been under the powerful Asante Kingdom through conquest. Now it is part of the modern Ghana amalgam but the ancient traces still run through, occasionally popping up and disturbing modern Ghana, as the Asantehene-Techimanhene-Tuobodomhene quarrel demonstrates. If not contained wisely, it can be deadly and crumple Ghana, as other African states’ disasters show.

This has entangled the Asantehene, Ghana’s most powerful King, and other traditional rulers in the complexes of tradition and modernity. Unable to disentangle himself from traditional ancient traces, the Asantehene threatened to deal with Techimanhene. This dents the Asantehene’s worldwide image where the rule of law, and not threats, drives the development architecture.

The Asantehene’s outbursts tell how Ghana is yet to modernize its traditional foundations, especially where traditional rulers have absolute power and are driven by their primordial caprices. The regulations of the modern Ghanaian nation-state make the Asantehene, and any traditional ruler equal before the law. Democracy, an anti-dote to traditional tyranny that has sent some African societies to flames, effectively cuts the proverbial Big Man to size, making him behave like any other citizen, no matter the person’s station in life.

Although the Asantehene is by nature a liberal person and has been working to deepen Ghana’s budding democracy, his Tuobodom utterances expose the fact that the unhelpful African Big Man syndrome is a developmental disease that has to be cured through rigorous rule of law, freedoms, democracy, and human rights.

Part of the solutions in dealing with the conundrum between tradition and modernity may be the Collin Powell practices of Thucydides’ self-restraint axiom. That may be the therapy for Asantehene’s frenzy and Ghana’s progress.


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