FLAKES FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HAIRS… Asantehene’s Maiden Visit To The Castle 20 Years Ago

What started my trip down this memory lane was the criticism which followed the airing of Komla Klutse’s interview with Yaa Naa Abukari Mahama II at the Gbewaa Palace in the third week of January, 2019

According to internet and social media reports at the time, some residents of the area saw the manner in which the interview was conducted as disrespectful to the newly enstooled  Dagbon Overlord and demanded that he should apologize immediately for his misconduct.

On Monday January 28, the TV3 journalist in a post on his Facebook page subsequently expressed regret saying “I am sorry if culturally, part of my interview with the Yaa Naa offended viewers in anyway. I did not set out to embarrass him nor offend the good people of Dagbon”.

I am glad that his heart rending  apology settled the matter so that he could rest from the anxious moments he had endured since being made aware that what he intended for good had somehow found a way to give offence to people he had no intention of offending.

I shared his discomfiture in April 1999 (OMG, how time flies!) when the Presidency’s communication machinery ran into a similar problem following Otumfuo Osei Tutu’s maiden visit to the Castle in April, 1999.  

It came to pass that when Asantehene, Otumfuo Opoku Ware II, received his summons to the ancestral homeland in 1999, there was general speculation and excitement in the Asante Kingdom and the nation as a whole as to who will replace him.

The time honoured system for electing the Asante monarch seamlessly kicked in and in no time, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the current occupant, a man who has since demonstrated astute leadership, emerged.

After the completion of the traditional imperatives and in consultation with his advisers, it was now time for him to step out to meet the key stakeholders in the nation, beginning with the head of state and President of the Republic, Jerry John Rawlings.

When the request was received by President Rawlings, he enquired whether the monarch’s visit to the national capital would include a courtesy call on Ga Mantse Nii Amugi II.

The President was always conscious that due respect should be given to the Ga chiefs in recognition of their role as custodians of the traditions of the Ga people on whose land the national capital stands.  

When the Asantehene’s emissaries assured President Rawlings that the Asantehene had already made plans to do so, the matter was quickly settled and 11th April, 1999 was set as the date of the visit.

In the two decades of the Rawlings leadership of Ghana, the Castle Gardens, a most valuable relic of the colonial era, with its therapeutic ambiance created by centuries old trees and a variety of chirping birds, amidst the breeze of the Atlantic ocean, was his venue of preference for meetings with his most important visitors.

The Asantehene’s entourage was made up of the heavyweights of the Ashanti kingdom. It included the occupant of the Silver Stool, Mamponghene Daasebre Nana Osei Bonsu and Nana Otuo Serebour II, Omanhene of Juabeng (current Chairman of the Council of State) along with his blood brother from New Juabeng, Daasebre Dr. Oti Boateng, who was a member of the Council of State at the time.

The government’s side included Nana Oduro Nimapau, Omanhene of Essumegya, Nana Aboagye Agyei II, Omanhene of Ejisu and Nana Akuoko Sarpong, Omanhene of Agogo who was also Minister of State.

Also on the government’s side were Prof. Kofi Awoonor, from the President’s monitoring department, Kwamena Ahwoi, Minister for Local Government; Hon Kojo Yankah, Minister for Ashanti and Ambassador Ohene Agyekum, Minister of Chieftaincy Affairs and State Protocol, not forgetting Madam Faustina Nelson and Okumkom Nana Akwasi Agyemang, a former mayor of Kumasi, who had meanwhile been promoted to a nebulous position titled Minister of State for Northern Sector Development. (It is a state secret to name the person who came up with the title!).

As soon as everybody had taken their seats, President Rawlings arrived and immediately the formalities began. This summit between the two political figures was the first time they were meeting in public with their constituencies watching.  It was the desire of both parties that things would go well. Our mandate as media wags at the Presidency was to help make it happen.

It was indeed a very memorable occasion as State Protocol rose to the occasion in response to the full display of Asante’s finest court practices. The flowery language and diplomatic courtesies on both sides were simply amazing.

Otumfuo Osei Tutu II expressed his desire to have good working relations with President Jerry Rawlings and his government and party so as to achieve the developmental agenda that he hoped to introduce in Ashanti during the period of his reign.

President Jerry Rawlings on his part assured Otumfuo Osei Tutu II of his personal support and that of his government to enable the king achieve his objectives for Asanteman.

Holding the Asantehene’s left hand with his right hand in a friendly gesture for the most part of the meeting, President Jerry Rawlings emphasized again and again to the Asantehene that he had nothing to fear from his side.

Quoting an Asante proverb (aboa bi beka woa na efiri wo ntoma mu), President Rawlings indicated to him that he should rather watch the people in his own camp for any source of destabilization to his rule.

The proceedings went excellently well. Everyone was satisfied that the meeting had been a great success.

As it was our custom to do when such important events took place at the Presidency, Mrs. Valerie Sackey, Director of the Public Affairs Secretariat and I watched the major seven o’clock news on GBC together and were satisfied that it was an accurate representation of the events.

We therefore closed for the day thinking we had done a good job of it. It therefore came as a great surprise when early the following morning, we were confronted with reports that some people from Ashanti region had been offended by the alleged shabby manner in which President Rawlings had supposedly treated the Asantehene during his call on him.

Frankly irritated by this development, I started to investigate where this could be coming from and soon found the source of it.

Under President Rawling’s direct orders, the State Protocol officials had arranged the chairs for the meeting, under the venerable trees of the castle garden, in such a way that it formed a circle with the tree branches overhead to cut off the sun thereby creating a cool refreshing atmosphere beneath it.

This gave the meeting a semblance of a family get-together, rather than the usual “their side” and “our side” arrangement that often characterizes meetings of the government machinery.

The effect of this arrangement was that the Asantehene sat to the right of President Jerry Rawlings. It came to pass that as the meeting progressed and the ice melted, President Rawlings would often stretch out his right hand to hold the Ashanti King’s left hand in friendship. This left him with his left hand with which he gesticulated in typical Rawlings fashion.

As it turned out, the image that was captured on Television that evening deceptively showed President Rawlings gesticulating with his left hand, at their new King. The holding of hands by the two political figures in friendship was not captured by the cameras.

 One of the dictums of photo journalism in a bygone era was that “the camera does not lie” (even before the days of Photoshop, this dictum was challenged by those of us who argued that we could make a camera say what is not true.). Here was a classic example – the Camera had lied or at least failed to report accurately.

On hindsight, the first real difficulty was that those of us who had been present at the meeting did not immediately get the point of those who were alleging shabby treatment. Right from the beginning, I attributed the feedback from Ashanti to the usual multi-party squabble between the Umbrella and the Elephant.

My personally view was that interests which were hostile to the possibility of any cordial relations developing between the new King and President Rawlings were behind the complaints so I ignored it at first.

But the voice of discontent, real or imagined, persisted and was now growing with all kinds of associations in Ashanti being roped innocently into the matter to make the accusations stick by all means.

At this point, the late Joe Bradford Nyinah and Mr. Dave Agbenu, who had reported the beautiful event for the Daily Graphic and Ghanaian Times respectively, came to my office and urged me to act to stop the falsehood which was brewing and spreading.

The solution which came to me in the middle of the night (as I brooded over it)  was to give the public a chance to see the pictures that were taken at the function so that the public could see the laughter and sweetness of the occasion.

The pictures were subsequently published in the centre spread of the Daily Graphic. The general public saw that the King had been given the full dignity and respect which was due to his person and the high position he occupied.

The matter therefore died a natural death and I had my life back!

K. Opoku-Acheampong (Nana)

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