January 31st 1935 – Day Of
Restoration Of The Asante Confederacy,
Its Significance And Role In The Socio-Political Development Of Ghana.
By Oheneba Adusei Poku –Akyempimhene of Kumasi
Today, January 31st marks the 75 years of the Restoration of the Asante Confederacy – It is indeed a Diamond Jubilee Celebration of the Confederacy which must be recognized and celebrated with all the pomp and pageantry in Ashanti.
Asante in pre – 1896
King Prempeh I was effectively governing Asante on his enstoolment as the thirteenth monarch of the Kingdom when the British intervention in its affairs gave birth to complicated political difficulties.
Disagreements between the British Colonial authorities and the Asante King could not be resolved amicably. These disagreements turned into hostilities.
But by virtue of advanced material civilization and superior arms the British held the trump card.
Thus in 1896 in order to avoid, as it happened in 1874, bloodshed and, a possible defeat King Prempeh I surrendered to the British forces. In that same year he was exiled to far away Seychelles off the coast of East Africa.
Like Cicero of Roman fame, he shared his fate by braving and sailing on unchartered seas to a far away island to begin life in exile. The defeat of Ashanti in 1901 following the Yaa Asantewaa war was the final straw which broke the camel’s back. The defeat was de-moralising disheartening and the exile of the King combined to disintergrate the long established confederacy. Thus for close to forty years, Ashanti did not have an Asantehene.
The nature of the former Ashanti Confederacy:
The founding of the Asante Empire was in the main the work of King Osei Tutu I with the assistance of his confidant, adviser and chief priest Okomfo Anokye.
First, he continued with and completed the formation of the union of Akan states who were within a twenty-five mile radius of the area under his lineage the Oyoko clan. He next provided the Union of states with a national capital town, Kumasi, as well as a national festival, namely the ‘Odwira’.
Before embarking on campaigns to expand and fortify the Union it was thought imperative to cement the bonds of unity among the states. It was with a view to making this Union a permanent one that Okomfo Anokye conjured from the sky the now revered and sacrosanct Golden Stool.
They urged on the assembly that the stool embodied their soul, strength, vitality, unity and their very survival against the threat and dominance of Denkyira. It was, therefore, to be guarded at all costs. It was further agreed that its occupants were to be recognized as the Asantehene, the supreme political and religious head of the union.
It is worth emphasizing that to date the Golden Stool has remained the soul and symbol of unity of the Asante nation and it is still being guarded with the same unalloyed devotion.
By skillful diplomacy and brute coercion King Osei-Tutu and Okomfo Anokye got the Assembly to agree to a ‘constitution’ for the union and to celebrate the annual Odwira festival in Kumasi, the union’s capital.
The constitutional arrangement was designed like a pyramid, with the Asantehene as its head, who was also the head of the Kumasi state or division. Below him were the Kings or Amanhene of other component states, all of whom had to recognize the court of the union as the “Supreme Court”, next in line were the divisional chiefs or abrempong; quasi-divisional chiefs, then adikrofoh (headmen).
It was mandatory to attend the annual Odwira festival where all suggestions were debated and adopted as national policy. It was also compulsory to contribute a contingent of warriors and pay tribute in case of war of national emergencies.
The assembly agreed through a combination of tact and duress to seek recognition from the Asantehene by swearing the oath of allegiance to him and give up the right of waging war on a member Omanhene at their pleasure.
According to Captain Rattray in his epic work “Ashanti Law and Constitution” the adoption of the ‘constitution’ though primarily a military measure for wars of conquest and expansion, its implication went beyond a purely military alliance.
The various tribes, hitherto politically unconnected became indirectly linked to each other from a common center i.e. the Asantehene, thereby making his position unique. From occupying positions of negligible importance with respect to all the component states (amanhene), many of the elders of the Kumasi division became the ‘friends at court’ or intermediaries (adamfo) of these amanhene.
The immediate effect upon the amanhene was to reduce their status from that of wholly independent chiefs to a position in relation to the Asantehene more or less analogous to that to which they had hitherto relegated their own nobles, their subjects in turn coming indirectly under the Asantehene.
Captain Rattray expounds that by acceding to the constitution the following were implied:-
a) The taking of an Oath of allegiance by all the Amanhene before the Asantehene, which in a way conferred legitimacy.
b) The acknowledgment that his vassals held office, stools and land from the Asantehene and could be removed by him.
c) The right of every subject to appeal to the king’s court by making the “great oath” of the Kumasi division supreme.
d) The curtailment of the power of the amanhene to declare and wage war upon each other at their own pleasure.
e) A restriction on the right of the amanhene to inflict capital punishment in cases, even where their own subjects were concerned.
f) The right to impose certain imposts (e.g. aseda, ayibuadie, oman tuo etc) on the amanhene.
Inspite of these far-reaching measures the Asantehene could not be described as despotic. As argued elsewhere decisions of the union and of the Kumasi Division were always arrived at after thorough discussions and were by consensus. Rarely were decisions taken by head count.
The description of the Asantehene as ‘primus inter pares’ argued by late Prof. Adu Boahene in “Topics in West African History” is in accurate. The influence the Asantehene wielded when in Council as well as in deliberations of the union was more legal than moral. His powers are embedded in the ‘Constitution’ which the assembly of the union agreed on the night the Golden Stool was conjured from the sky. The legitimizing power of the Asantehene has never been in doubt, hence the swearing of the oath of allegiance by the amanhene and others.
The suggestion that “the extent of the Asantehene’s influence and power in metropolitan Asante came to be determined not by well established constitutional practices but by the personality, ability and that of the individual Asantehene “is misleading”.
The ‘constitution’ made him the supreme leader of the union from its inception. Only some agreed norms acted as checks and balances, i.e. the need to observe the tenets of fair hearing and reaching national decisions by consensus. But the ‘legitimizing powers’ can never be taken away from him, it is that which makes him ‘The Asantehene, – The King’, The centralizing authority’ Happily the Chieftaincy Act recognizes this role, with the exception of the Asantehene who else can create a Paramountcy?
Perhaps one has to appreciate the wisdom of King Osei-Tutu I and Okomfo Anokye for founding the union, endowing it with a mythical symbol and ‘clothing’ it with a constitution. This was unprecedented in an era when contact with the outside was virtually non-existent and the Blackman had not been credited with any modicum of intelligence.
It is wonder that against formidable obstacles the Asante Kings were able to build an empire which at its peak was bigger than the present day Ghana.
However from the second decade of the nineteenth century onwards, the Asante and their subjects were targets of British persistent intrigue and subterfuge. On seven different occasions from 1811 to 1874 the Asante and the British came into a head-on clash. It was this clash which to a large extent hastened the decline of the empire.
On 10th February 1896, Governor Maxwell addressed an assembly of chiefs in Kumasi, virtually to inform them that the Asante nation had ceased to exist.
In the capital itself the Council of Kumasi was dissolved and a ‘Native Committee of Administration’ was created to advise the new military administration.
This was the situation in Asante till the repatriation of King Prempeh I in 1924. He was referred to as Kumasihene and recognized as such until he passed away in 1931.
The Era of Prempeh II and the Restoration of the Confederacy.
Indeed when King Prempeh II was enstooled as Kumasihene in 1931 he faced a daunting task. His must have been the envy of very few brave souls in the Kingdom.
The question that confronted King Prempeh II was not merely one of according official recognition to the office of the Asantehene. It was rather one of restoring nationhood to a people and making Ashanti once more complete. For without an Asantehene there can be no confederacy and officially the Golden Stool can have no occupant.
There is nothing which when pursued with systematic assiduity that cannot be achieved. He was prepared to do anything, even the most forlorn, to get the Confederacy restored. Their efforts were rewarded when on 31st January 1935, Sir Arnold Hudson then Governor of the Gold Coast, announced the restoration of the Confederacy. This was a momentous occasion.
The announcement represented yet another eloquent proof that social and political institutions which have been freely evolved by the indigenous wisdom and experience of a people will ultimately triumph over any system, however benign, which is imposed on them. The litmus test for progress and civilization of any people will be found in what they recognize and claim as representing their history and their national consciousness.
The restoration of the Confederacy enabled the monarchy to operate once again as our founding forefathers had established it. It also has enabled the chiefs and peoples of Asante to join hands with other ethnic groups in Ghana to forge a new unity and larger political entity.
It is remarkable to note that after the Otumfuo had taken the Oath of allegiance to the people, over one hundred and eighty-five (185) chiefs from all corners of the Confederacy took turns to swear to him. These included some recent ‘enemies’ of Asante e.g. Dormaa, Drobo, Techiman etc. To quote the late Asantehene Otumfuo Opoku Ware II of Blessed memory.
“The unity of Asanteman is eternally symbolized in the Golden Stool, and it is the full and unquestioning allegiance to the Golden Stool which defines Asante citizenship.
This emphasis on the dynamic character of Asante unity is of great value and significance in the wider context of Ghana.”
The theme of unity which underpins at all times the celebration of the restoration is that unity is the basis of both the material and spiritual progress of any people, Ghana included.
The Era of the Millennium King – Otumfuo Osei Tutu II
Since his enstoolment as the sixteenth occupant of the Golden Stool in April, 1999, Otumfuo Osei-Tutu II has continued with the policies of his predecessors.
These have been
a) policy of accepting the geographical boundaries of Ghana as defined by the British Colonial administration in 1901;
b) policy of peaceful co-existence with the various ethnic communities which make up the population of the country;
c) acceptance of the administrative boundaries of the ten regions of the country;
d) Recognition of the republican status of the country’s political administration.
e) Acknowledgment of the central government as being in control of the political leadership of the country;
f) Non-involvement in active and partisan politicise.
These qualities of the Asante Kings influenced the framers of the 1992 Constitution to include Art. 273 in the basic law of the country.
It is expected that in the 21st Century the institution of chieftaincy will face more challenges because the world has become a ‘global village’, with unprecedented technological developments. But with the tenacity of purpose and the single-mindedness with which our King has approached issues he will surmount every storm.
His appreciation of the political situation in the country and the fact that his role in the country’s economic, social and cultural development can at best be only complementary has re-affirmed his neutrality in politics and enhanced his social standing. All efforts at economic and social development for example the Education fund, the PPTAP, the Serwaah Kobi Aids Fund and now Otumfuo Osei-Tutu Charity Foundation are all complementing Government initiatives and partnering it in the attainment of stated objectives.
It has never been the desire of Asante Kings to complete with any government in power. Since the demise of the empire they have never set their ‘eyes on the distant scene’.
Their major concern has always been with the unity and cohesion of the Kingdom and the sanctity of the Golden Stool. In the ensuing years the test will be the continued insulation of the Golden Stool and the institution of chieftaincy from political rivalries in an era of dwindling resources, competing demands and an incremental interaction with the outside world.
Another major challenge will be the ability of the occupant of the Golden Stool to maintain the purity of the core of Asante culture, tradition and customs. Asantes have never been scared by change, they have always embrace it and adapted aspects of our culture to modern trends.
We must, however, not lose sight of the fact that the Asantehene has come to represent the country’s national heritage and identity. He is looked upon as the repository of Ghana’s cultural traditions.
The greatest challenge to the monarchy will be the temptation to be modern and regarded as progressive; But at sometime be able to withstand the assault on the bastions of our culture and traditions.
LONG LIVE ASANTEMAN!
LONG LIVE OTUMFUO OSEI TUTU II, ASANTEHENE!
LONG LIVE GHANA!