Asantehene and Africa’s Progress

Published on 21st November 2005

Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, Asantehene (King) of Ghana’s largest ethnic group, the Asante, courageous lecture, \"Chieftaincy and Development in Contemporary Africa: The Case of Asante,” at Harvard University in the United States called for incorporating trade rules in the development process. The Asantehene’s candid statement that the Ghana state should involve traditional rulers decisively in the development process reveals how figures like him, who are in the forefront of re-thinking and awakening Ghanaian values in her progress, are struggling to right many an historical wrong in Ghana’s progress.

In “The Plight of the African Chief,” Dr. George Ayittey, of the American University in Washington D.C, USA, argues that “Traditional African rulers (chiefs and kings) were perhaps the most persecuted group after independence. During colonial rule, African kings and chiefs, who did not submit to the colonial administrators were replaced or exiled. The onslaught against chiefs continued after independence, and they were betrayed along with the rest of the African population. Additional humiliation was inflicted upon the traditional rulers when they were stripped of much of their traditional authority and their powers severely curtailed.”

In this sense, the timing and the consequence of the Asantehene’s lecture not only unveils and showcase the enabling values of the long-suppressed Ghanaian values in her progress but also encourages the on-going attempts to mix Ghanaian traditional values with her colonial legacies in her progress. The need to bring Ghanaian values in the forefront of the development process is a challenge not only for the public domain but also private ventures and international development outfits involved in Ghana’s and Africa’s progress.

Practically and psychologically, this is relevant since in Ghana foreign development values dominate in her development process because of colonialism and inept post-independence Ghanaian regimes. Despite this painful development, the suppressed Ghanaian values have been carrying the imposed colonial values in the development process. This overturns the colonial thought of civilizing African values because of what the colonialists called “primitive,” demonstrating the resilience of African values in her progress. It is, therefore, in this sense that the Asantehene’s insight that “far from being rivals to State power, chiefs sustained and supported the State in projecting its reach to the grassroots level” demonstrates the practical need to mix the imposed colonial values with Ghanaian values in the development process. Or, as the Asantehene said, “Chieftaincy should be moved from an institution that functioned at the default of State effectiveness to one that was explicating incorporated into State structures at the central and local levels…My main contention is that traditional authorities are obviously partners in the development process and governance in Africa that is why we are partners in progress\"

As Ghana’s development process shows today, all the development process’ burdens rest with the traditional rulers and their values since that’s where every development process starts and stops. No doubt, the Asantehene’s instructive view that “while the elected politician thought of the next election to be elected to power, the traditional ruler on the other hand looked at the numerous problems that had rendered his people poor and found solutions to them” calls for not only the re-awakening of Ghanaian values in her emerging renaissance and progress but also good mixture of Ghanaian values and the imposed colonial values in the development process. The thinking here is not to go back to the ancient, pre-colonial era but appropriate the enabling aspects of Ghana’s values in her development process.

For the recognition of his bold and unwavering development process activities both locally, nationally and internationally, the Asantehene and his Asante state, becomes a development process laboratory to not only study how to re-awaken and distill Ghanaian values in her development process but also how to appropriate such values in Ghana’s and Africa’s progress. Nowhere is this instructive than the Asantehene’s working with the World Bank, one of the key faces of not only the ex-colonial powers but also Western development paradigms and progress, which had earlier wrongly thought that Ghanaian/African values were “primitive,” cannot bring progress, and need doses of the West’s much more civilized values in her progress.

Said the Asantehene to his innovative Harvard University audience, \"I broached my concerns about the social and economic conditions of my people to the World Bank officials in 1999…I charged that the practice whereby traditional rulers were left out of the planning and management of projects at the community level was wrong, and indicated that it was not in the interest of communities for government to sideline traditional leaders when it came to the management of projects…My perseverance with the World Bank led to the establishment of the initiative now called, \'Promoting Partnership with Traditional Authorities Project (PPTAP).”

Added to this, in a Western world that has for long refused to accept the fact that Africans have innate democratic values and has been dictating to Africans to democratize, the Asantehene was a civilizing African value in telling Americans and the Western world how innately democratic Africans are even in the pre-colonial times, where traditional rulers were not autocrats and that “an electoral college chose him from a pool of eligible royals and the institution itself was based on a     social contract predicated on good governance.”

In the Asantehene, Africans need such moral ambition to affirm to the world that Africans innate democratic values is itself the best hope and this is reflected, among others, in African chieftaincy system which “held great resonance for the majority of Africans” and that Africans succeed by renewing its democratic values within itself and striving toward it and not imposed from outside. The need to repeat such occasional innate African values talks by African traditional rulers such as the Asantehene’s to the world would civilize the world about African values and help correct many a historical wrong in Africa’s development process.

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