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Otumfuo’s visit and Legon’s nightmare


By Kwesi Yankah 

Saturday, 8th June, history was made when Otumfuo Osei Tutu II came down to Accra to pay a rare courtesy call on the Ga Mantse, Nii Tackie Teiko Tsuru II. The ceremonial pomp and pageantry displayed in a dialogue of cultures was a beauty to behold, even as the nation was consoled in the search for peace, tolerance, and harmony in an election year. I watched the grand ceremony on TV and heaved a sigh of relief, looking back on a dim past when a fuming Labadi chief and elders reprimanded Legon for daring to invite Otumfuo to the University of Ghana, Labadi land. 


The year was 2003. Otumfuo had spent just a few years on the Golden Stool. I was Hall Master of  the great Mensah Sarbah Hall, whose credentials at the time included ‘the only hall of residence named after a human being.’ Our dream as Sarbah alumni was to propel the University’s youngest Hall far ahead of its peers, and one ‘plot’ we hatched was to invite  ‘King Solomon’ to be Life Patron of Sarbah Alumni, and lead a fund-raising ceremony towards the construction of a Viking Alumni Hostel. The new hostel, which was eventually opened for student occupancy in 2023, indeed has a haunting history that is founded on inter-ethnic tension.

Why a new hostel? Legon had a huge accommodation problem, and Sarbah alumni were anxious to show the way by lightening the burden on Government.  Our delegation to visit Otumfuo at Manhyia and extend the invitation was a high-powered one, including the following: Kwaku Kyei, former IGP who was alumni president; Nana Adade Boamah (Tom Sawyer); Kofi Dua Adonten; Yaw Afriyie Nketia; Gloria Akuffo; Ursula Owusu; Betty Mould Iddrisu; Adu Gyimah (Castro); Lee Atoms Ofei; Ivy Heward Mills; Agyeman Badu-Akosah; Yaa Osei Brempong; Margaret Insaidoo; Maxwell Opoku Agyeman; Rosina Kyeremateng; Nana Twum (king of mpusuo); etc., indeed a whole bus load of distinguished Vikings. Happily, the Viking delegation was graciously received by Otumfuo at Manhyia and even pampered with a sumptuous dinner.

But why Otumfuo Osei Tutu as Special Guest of Honor?  He had hit the ground running as the new King of Asante in 1999, having shown remarkable interest in education. Furthermore, his inner circle was a virtual Viking enclave.  His wife Lady Julia (Amaning) was a proud Viking;  the occupant of the Asante silver stool, Nana Osei Bonsu II (alias Gyimah Kessie) was a Viking, and so was Otumfuo’s special aide, Mawerehene, Dr Baafuor Hyeaman Brantuo. Even though Father for all, Otumfuo was a Viking by osmosis, so we proclaimed. Our diplomatic move was indeed meant to enhance the aura and dignity of Mensah Sarbah Hall, plus this other benefit we only whispered:  Our impending ceremony being a fund raising event, incidental windfalls could drop as we rubbed shoulders with the kingdom of gold. 

While we were all set for the historic event, the shocking news came: the Labadi stool would not tolerate the visit of Otumfuo!

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An anti-climax was in the offing; the well-publicised event could be called off, and the Hall hit with the shame of setting our targets too high. But why would a visit by Otumfuo to an autonomous university or any part of Ghana be considered a breach?  Did the King of Asante need a visa to visit Accra? While the answers were not clear, we sent a delegation to the Labadi chief and elders; strategically among our envoys was Professor Irene Odotei herself from Labadi. The Labadi palace was crowded that day, peering eyes flaming with rage. The query posed was simple: why had Otumfuo Osei Tutu been invited for a role that could be played by the Chief of Labadi? Our delegation exchanged curious glances, but the bouquet of answers we rattled was unacceptable: ‘Otumfuo is our Chief patron…the Chief of Labadi has also been invited…the hall has hosted other chiefs in the past, etc. Those ‘booklong’ responses were not enough to cool tempers. We returned to Legon frustrated, but did not surrender.

Days of negotiation continued between Legon authorities and Labadi youth and elders. Quietly behind the scenes were moves by former Regional Minister for Ashanti, Hon Kojo Yankah.  Then came a major initiative by ‘King Solomon,’ who sent a special emissary to whisper in the ears of Labadi chief, ‘my own brother’ in the words of Otumfuo. Grounds started softening, only for tensions to rise from further agitation by the Labadi youths.

The sod-cutting event eventually came on, but under a thick cloud of tension and tight national security, with angry Labadi youths lurking at the margins and reporting proceedings by phone. I was the master of ceremonies that day, prancing back and forth and narrating the Asante history of conquest, which had given way to a war against illiteracy! Otumfuo had taken Legon by storm that day, with a huge retinue of chiefs and elders coming down from Kumasi. University of Ghana had somehow survived the fury of Labadi, leaving only a residue of suspense.

If Otumfuo Osei Tutu last Saturday paid a successful courtesy call on Ga Mantse, it can be truly said that we have come a long way as a Republic. The King of Asante, after all, needs no entry visa for a formal visit to Accra. 

Legon still remembers.

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