The Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II has expressed optimism in Africa’s ability to overcome obstacles and achieve better democratic outcomes and economic transformation.
Speaking to an audience that included members of both Houses of the British Parliament, the diplomatic community, university lecturers, former Ghanaian President, John Agyekum Kufuor, and numerous Ghanaians at the Palace of Westminster in London last week, the traditional ruler declared that democratic change of governments through “constitutional means of which election is the means and not the end has created a big space for peace and security of nations.”
The Asantehene spoke at the launch of two books, May Their Shadows Never Shrink—Wole Soyinka and the Oxford Professorship of Poetry, co-edited by Ivor Agyeman-Duah, a Ghanaian author, and Lucy Newlyn, a professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford, and All the Good Things Around Us: An Anthology of African Short Stories edited by Agyeman-Duah. Ayebia Clarke Publishing, based in Oxfordshire, published both books. Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka was the guest of honor at the event.
The Asantehene spoke on the topic, “Africa’s Democratic Path and the Search for Economic Transformation.” He stated that the 16 presidential and parliamentary elections in Africa that have taken place this year alone represented an encouraging step toward the consolidation of peace.
He cited optimistic developmental data from African think tanks, which he said have come of age as evidenced in their input leading to policy enrichment, outreach programs and sensitization. He also noted that the emergence of reforms in telecommunication and associated multi-media were safeguarding electoral processes. According to him, African players had created a knowledge-based economy that did not exist in many parts of Africa two decades ago.
He urged adjustment in thinking and a strategy of less dependence on multi-donor budget support and financing of electoral reforms and institutions, stating that such dependence did not represent permanent solutions.
The Asantehene stated that Africa’s journey to development was on course, but remarked that the challenges could be daunting, citing the dangerous situation in South Sudan. The Asantehene also drew attention to appalling conduct by politicians and their surrogates, whether in Kenya where some members of Parliament had to be arrested for inciting ethnic hate or Ghana where radio presenters threatened the Lady Chief Justice and some members of the judiciary with murder.
In his presentation, Lord Paul Boateng, a man of Ghanaian descent who is a member of the House of Lords, praised the Asantehene’s style of traditional leadership, noting the modern outlook and the traditional ruler’s focus on education and agriculture. The lawmaker declared that education and agriculture had served Africa well in the past, but regretted Africa’s agriculture was suffering from all fronts.
Augustus Casely-Hayford, a leading figure in British cultural circles and the well-known BBC TV presenter of Lost Kingdoms of Africa who launched the books, looked into the ancient empires of Africa, their state formation apparatus and in particular their creative minds in the case of Asante. He described All the Good Things Around Us as a volume “of stories from some of our most eloquent and able voices. These are the imaginations to capture this moment of critical cultural shift and existential questioning.” He praised the editor for bringing the voices from across the continent together.
Diane Abbott, shadow Secretary of Health and Member of Parliament for North Hackney and Stoke Newington who chaired the event, spoke about cultural knowledge and understanding, especially literature which leads to identity confidence and better economic diagnosis. She stated that her background as a Jamaican-British person of color has always kindled her interest in issues to do with the arts, identity and politics especially of dispossession, which confront Africa and the developing world.
In his speech, Soyinka stated that all was not lost in Africa, notwithstanding challenges of nation-building and economic difficulties that often lead to violence. He said the current violence in the oil-producing Niger Delta region of Nigeria and the blowing up of oil installations by militants was an example of economic frustration and a feeling of inequality by people who suffer most from the effect of extractive economies.
He disclosed that an international observer group, in which he would be involved, had had preliminary discussions with President Buhari and the leadership of the militants. He added that there would be further consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, some members of the British Parliament, and the Asantehene would be pursued as an international mediation effort to help bring peace to the afflicted region.
The Nobel laureate, who spoke on the topic “Governance and the Literary Arts,” remarked that Africa’s literature is determined by economic choices and consumption patterns. Soyinka told the audience that Anglophone Africa inherited tribalism from the British. He observed that social frustrations were increasingly becoming reflective in literary productions in Nigeria and parts of Africa, adding that African writers were moving away from the romanticism of the past towards confrontation with realities. He described All the Good Things Around Us as a serious work of literature.
In his remarks, one of the editors, Agyeman-Duah, described the Asantehene and Soyinka as Keeper of Heritage and our Cultural Antiphonist respectively. He also described Diane Abbott as one “who still peddles her canoe on a long journey of almost 30 years since that historic election of her parliamentary career.” He added that literature’s “navigation towards retrogression as sources of creativity whether in Nuruddin Farah’s Somali or the moral fragments of Maiduguri could only be shifted to happier centers with better economic choices.”
His editorship of All the Good Things Around Us also contains three of his short stories—one of which, “Dead Leaves on the Beautiful River,” is set in Harlem, New York after the victory of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States; the second story, “The Son,” has its setting in Ibadan, Nigeria, and the third, “The Codicil,” in Kumasi, Ghana.
The other influential and award-winning contributors of the 400 page book of 28 stories from major countries on the continent and with a prologue by the Booker Prize-winning author, Ben Okri, include Ama Ata Aidoo, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sefi Atta, Ogochukwu Promise, Tope Folarin, Chika Unigwe, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Monica Arac de Nyeko, Ellen-Banka Aaku, Taiye Selasi, Faustin Kagame, Yvonne Owuor, Yaba Badoe, Benjamin Sehene, Shadreck Chikoti, and Bridget Pitt.