The current traditional king of Ghana’s Asante people, the Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II celebrates 20 years on the Royal Stool. His conduct is in sharp contrast to that of the now-deposed Sudanese ruler, Omar al-Bashir. Writes Baffour Ankomah
For once, in a long while, I am going to do something journalists don’t normally do: give praise when praise is due. Our professional calling enjoins us to point out wrongdoing most of the time, and therefore we unwittingly get stuck in that groove, forever whining and whinging about wrongdoing and never seeing the good the land has produced. God should forgive us, for it is a sin that modern journalism, especially its African version, has honed into an art form, to our eternal shame.
Thus, this month, I am going to break tradition and give praise because praise is due to one individual – a traditional ruler in Ghana – who has conducted himself and his high office with such aplomb that he deserves acclaim.
I am even more inclined to do so because of two recent events. The first was the shameful manner in which Sudan’s recently-dethroned President for 30 years, Omar Al-Bashir, finished his tenure (sorry, was made to finish his tenure) and carted away into prison – with the whole of his cabinet and government members in tow – like cattle on the way to market.
It spoke volumes that, as the trucks carrying them drove away, Bashir and his lot were stoned and had sand thrown at them by a cross section of the people they had so badly ruled for 30 years. It must be a lesson for other African leaders.
What did it for Bashir & Co was the widely reported discovery of an obscene amount of money hidden in his residence. According to reports, the money amounted to a disgraceful $351m. €6.7m and S£5bn (the equivalent of $105 million).
When I first saw the report in the Sudanese publication, DabangaSudan, I thought it was a mere propaganda stunt. But there were photographs of the cash in 20-kg sacks. How can one person want to have all that money in a nation where millions of people could not afford the increased price of bread, which led to months of demonstrations that finally truncated Bashir’s long reign?
But contrast Bashir’s end with that of another ruler of 30 years – Japan’s monarch, Emperor Akihito.
As Bashir and his officials were being carted away like cattle, Emperor Akihito was handing over royal power to his son Naruhito. The ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne was so seamless that the new Emperor, Naruhito, 59, expressed gratitude for the work his parents had done, saying he felt solemn at the thought of the burden he was taking on.
Naruhito pledged to “always think of the people, and while drawing close to them, fulfil my duties as a symbol of the Japanese state and the unity of the Japanese people in accordance with the constitution.” Saying so with a small smile, he added: “I sincerely hope for the happiness of the people and further progress of the country, and for world peace.”
Chalk and cheese
The contrast between Bashir’s end and Emperor Akihito’s could not have been starker. Some may argue, correctly, that Bashir’s was political and Akihito’s monarchical, so comparing the two is akin to comparing chalk and cheese. Well, let me bring a monarchical comparison.
I am writing this from Kumasi, the capital city of the Asante people of Ghana. In this city resides a monarch, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, who has ruled over the Asantes for the past 20 years. As I write, the 69-year-old monarch is bringing to a close a two-month joyous celebration of his 20-year tenure.
I have known the King very closely, and thus fully agree when one publication describes him thus: “Even in the pantheon of the most illustrious kings of Asante, the current Asantehene, the 16th in the line of fine kings, will still stand tall, if not taller, purely on the merit of his achievements of the past 20 years…
“His record as an inspirational leader, a man of action and not merely of theory, his ability to work closely with all the governments of Ghana of the past 20 years and still maintains their respect, the first Ghanaian and African traditional leader to gain the support and funding of the World Bank to do community projects, the peace and progress he has brought not only to his people of the Asante Region but to Ghana as a whole, all combine to make him an exceptional Asantehene, even though as a human being he has his faults… but his record so far trumps his debit side as he has shown extraordinary resilience in the face of adversity.”
For two decades, this Asantehene has operated out of the box, doing community and other development projects that his predecessors never thought of. In the process, he became the first traditional ruler in all Africa to receive World Bank support and funding to do projects in the educational sector (building 42 primary schools and giving bursaries to bright students from poor backgrounds who would otherwise not go to school). By 2009, his Otumfuo Educational Fund was supporting over 4,000 students across three levels – primary, secondary and university.
The King also initiated a Water Project, which was again funded by the World Bank to bring borehole water to 1,000 communities across Ghana. Currently, he is investing in two shopping malls in Kumasi and in other projects beyond the city to brighten the lives of his people. He is also raising funds for the translation of the Bible into all the Ghanaian languages that do not have translations already.
In a detailed interview I did with him in 1999 to celebrate his 10 years on the Golden Stool, the King eloquently expounded on his worldview, especially why he has a problem with Africa’s blind import of the so-called Westminster and American types of democracy.
As he put it: “We have fashioned democracy without looking at our own peculiar system of administration in Africa. We borrowed wholesale from the Westminster and American types of democracy without looking at our own peculiarities as Africans.
“What was the political system we were operating before the coming of the Europeans? How did we live? How did we govern ourselves? Who decides the 4-year and 5-year term limits of today’s democracy? Is it the people of Africa or have we borrowed it because the Westminster type of democracy has a 4-year or 5-year term for the prime minister?
“This is where the confusion is. We need to look at all these systems of governance in relation to our own African systems. Democracy had existed in Africa for eons before the coming of the Europeans. We had our own system of governance which gave everybody the chance to air their views, people would call their own witnesses in judicial matters, we had our own systems of administration at the community and nation-state levels.
“Therefore, in fashioning this democratic system or whatever it is now, couldn’t we have looked at the circumstances within the African continent and designed the kind of democracy that best suited Africa?
“In the olden days there was no way that even the king who had absolute power would have the right to say so-and-so should wake up at this time or be sentenced to a prison term without consultation with the people. The majority carried the vote at that time, just as we have today in the parliamentary system. So where do we draw the line?
“The people of Africa should decide in the context of the peculiar circumstances of their country which system best suits them, instead of copying blindly from the West…”
“Our priorities are wrong. And we need to sit down as Africans to evaluate the system, look at what has gone wrong and where we are now, so that we can correct it. We are still confused. For example, if we say the African personality, what does it mean? To me, it means all aspects of the African. It doesn’t matter if other people say we are primitive, but if that is what makes us unique and comfortable, why not?”
That is my King. For 20 years, he has proved himself worthy to lead. Long may he reign.