In the years immediately following the Second World War, the phrase, a phrase that was often on everyone’s lips was “the peaceful settlement of international disputes.”
The memory of the awful slaughters brought by the Second World War was fresh in the minds of most of the population of the world, and so, “peace” was treasured. Even in my “remote” location in Akyem Abuakwa, it was deemed an insult to be described as a person who enjoyed “war-war” actions!
When children of different ages were playing together, in my village, a bully would be shunned when everyone’s older relatives warned: “ennko gyegye no!”
Literally, “ennko gyegye no” means “Don’t go and provoke him!” But “ko gyegye no” has a softer meaning than “provoke” or even “taunt.” It takes into consideration, the circumstances under which the potential “provocation” might take place – one might only intend to “tease” the fellow a little bit; or irritate him in some “small way”. But because he was a bully by nature, he would only focus on the fact that one had caused him displeasure.
Indeed, if one was not lucky, one’s mother might give one a slap or two on the bottom to drive home the lesson that a bully was much better avoided. Can you imagine getting beaten up by a bully and the beating being supplemented by one from your own mother? Yes – bad-tempered boys were to
be shunned at all costs.
The reason why this lesson was important for us growing boys was that in the wide world, there are people who can become easily irritated.
That’s one of the reasons why in every Akan society, the Chief is not allowed to speak directly to an audience in public, but only through his Ɔkyeame [or official Spokesman]. As soon as a Chief gets up to speak, he prefaces what he has to say with, “Ɔkyeame wɔ hɔ? Tie na amanfoɔ nte sɛ…” [“Is the Spokesman there? Listen and let the people know that….”]
As the Chief is speaking, the Ɔkyeame will be tossing everything the Chief says in his mind, and editing out everything that is contrary to custom, tradition, history current practice!
The philosophy behind this behaviour of preventing the Chief from uttering contentious words in public, is a proverb which says, “Woto me a medi, na sɛ annka me nso a ɛ?” [“If you fire a gun at me, I shall survive [the injuries] but suppose the gun misses me altogether?”] In other words, ”We don’t want problems!” Or “prevention is better than cure!”
Now, at the same time as preventing a Chief’s potentially explosive words from taking on the mantle of an official declaration, and thereby provoking a riposte that could be as vehement as the statement uttered by the Chief, the Ɔkyeame would note that the Chief had a bone to pick with whoever he was addressing. The Ɔkyeame would, thereafter, find a way of getting the Chief to thrash out whatever was causing him concern, to be officially discussed by the council of elders. Their decision on the issue would become the official policy of the state, not that of the Chief alone.
Hence, before European laws came to distort what we considered permissible in law and social behaviour, we managed, by and large, to maintain peaceful relations within our traditional entities, as well as with foreign elements that conducted business and other relations with us.
I have often wondered (for instance) if the Yaa Asantewaa War of 1900 would ever have taken place at all, if the British Governor, Sir Frederick Hodgson, who “insulted” the people of Asante at a durbar in Kumase, had had an Ɔkyeame who knew that no-one ever sits on a “Stool” in Asante, without first being installed as the Chief who should sit on that Stool? Just imagine how many lives could have been saved if Hodgson had realised that he could not possibly be “sitting on the Golden Stool this moment!” (as he demanded to do!!
Now that I have mentioned Europe, I would like to state my opinion that both President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine have failed their peoples, by conducting relations between their two countries in such a way that the whole world is now threatened with nuclear war.
Why can’t they practise the wary relationship between potentially antagonistic nations, based on the principle of “co-existence”, that has – willy-nilly – saved us from world war since 1945?
A little knowledge of human psychology would have told President Zelenskyy that a man like Putin, who was indoctrinated with KGB ideology from a very early age, would be highly resentful of the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, and that the existence of countries like Ukraine and Georgia would serve as a constant irritant to his ego as a patriot who knew the history of “Great Russia.” We have a term that has no exact equivalent in English to describe how he must have been feeling about such countries: “wɔn ho yɛ n’ahi!” [they irritate him!”]
Now, being irritated by someone, in both the Twi and English meanings, doesn’t need to have an active cause. It’s a state of generally resenting someone’s existence or behaviour and can grow to such an extent that if that someone even does one a favour, one can distort the motive to mean that he/she is mocking at one, and believes that he/she is “better” than one!
Mr Zelenskyy should have known that making Ukraine brazenly offer herself to the Western nations grouped in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as a member, would make Ukraine cross “a security red line”, in Russia’s strategic thinking. .
What about President Vladimir Putin? He too should have realised that the need to get out of the shadow of a Great Power is a natural one. It is that feeling which made Cuba offer her territory to the Soviet Union as a missile sit in 1962, thus taking the world to within a Soviet submarine commander’s push of a button, to blow up the entire world with thermonuclear weapons. Russia had the opposite experience with countries like Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia!
Just as the Cubans fought off the American-created army at the Bay of Pigs in 1960, so will the Ukranians and their allies who inhabit territories that have borders with Russia, continually fight to rid themselves of what they consider “Russian domination.
Now it is something called the “balance of terror” that has enabled nations, small and large, to live together, with the occasional bust-up, all painfully aware that a misstep would take the world close to the threshold of nuclear war.
A ”balance of terror” is, of course, not pleasant to live with. But that’s all we’ve got.
Let no-one ever forget that. Fortunately, the United Nations Organisation still exists to facilitate the peaceful relationships between nations for which the UN was formed after World War Two.
The UN just needs “refuelling!” For that it needs NATO’S co-operation. And it also needs tactful behaviour from all the former members of the “Soviet Empire”.
By CAMERON DUODU