Fante Confederacy is 150

While I acknowledge that Presidents of Ghana, aided by their party majority in Parliament can pass any law, I do not believe that President Nana Akufo Addo, by his pronouncements in the last few weeks, was preparing the minds of Ghanaians for a re-naming of the University of Ghana after Dr J. B.Danquah.

History will not support it. I propose that if Ghana is on any search for names of its heroes after whom to name institutions, the next in line (after rightly naming the Tarkwa Mines University after Paa Grant) is Jacob Wilson Sey, aka Kwabonyi, the man who, out of sheer nationalist spirit and altruism, not only led a delegation to London to present a petition to the Queen but also single-handedly paid for the entire trip – the sea voyage, accommodation and meals – as well as the legal fees of the British lawyers hired in London to argue our case against the Land Bills of 1896 and 1897 that would have vested our lands in the British crown.

He was totally illiterate, yes; but Kwabonyi was possessed of native wisdom, a human endowment which is in short supply and which this nation stands desperately in need of.

I don’t find Kwabonyi’s name featured in the activities of what became known in the Gold Coast as the Fante Confederation, but it is about this group that I want to write today.

The name itself is deceptive. The Fante Confederation was bigger than the Fante tribes. It included Denkyira, Wassa, Twifo, Assin and Ahanta, and was the first attempt by Ghanaian leaders, since they came under European influence, to plan a policy of self-determination.

When the coastal people saw that the British were failing to offer them help in wars, while the Dutch were encroaching on other lands, they decided on a strong union of states to manage their own national affairs. There was also the urgent need to offer help to the people of Dixcove and Komenda whose lands were under threat of forcible take-over by the Dutch.

So in 1868 at Mankesim, the Confederation was formed. For the first time, most of the states of what is today Central and Western Regions became united under one federal government, with a well drawn up constitution that created a confederal government. This effort is on record as one of the first self-rule movements in Africa.

The ‘Fante’ Constitution established three bodies of state – the federal legislative assembly (Parliament), executive council (Cabinet) and judiciary. The legislative assembly was made up of two representatives from each member-state, namely a king and one educated elite. There was a National Assembly which was composed of the central government of the kings and principal chiefs of the confederate states. From among the kings, one was elected King who presided over the assembly and the administration of the central government of the confederation. He also presided over the federal court which served as the ‘National Supreme Court’, the final arbiter in the settlement of cases. It also set up a ‘Federal Army’.

The confederation was able to generate its own revenue to carry out its activities, including development projects and the salaries of the confederal public servants. It organised and maintained a steady flow of revenue from court fines, duties, road taxes, tolls, poll taxes and as the need arose, from loans or advances. It was able to impose taxes and other duties which were administered by a Poll Tax Commissioner appointed in each of the member-states.

By 1873, unfortunately, the Fante Confederacy was dead.

In medical language, it died from natural causes, one of them being the power-struggle between kings to determine who was to be King. From these squabbles, the British administrators were able to set one king against another. When that failed, the administrators began to jail some of the kings on charges of ‘treason’.

So what are the lessons to be learned from this history?

One: The Fante Confederacy tells us of the benefits of co-existence. Under the combined army of 15,000 soldiers, the confederal army defeated the Dutch, preventing them from taking over Dixcove, Komenda and others.

It is very possible the coastal people could have gone on to achieve mutual territorial expansion, taking a leaf from the Asante Confederacy. The word ‘Asante’ is coined from two words, ‘esa nti’, to wit, ‘because of war’. Having come together because of war, and with faith in unity symbolised by the golden stool, nothing could stop them.

What the Asante Confederacy achieved through wars, the Fante Confederacy could have achieved through education. Perhaps, in a sense, they did; providing much of the intellectual input needed at the time, for the independence struggle. But what has happened after independence? Even Cape Coast is a pale shadow of its accolade as the bastion of education.

So what happens to the “confederacy” concept today? I hear from some quarters that the Fante chiefs and educated elite of today are afraid to be tagged “tribalistic”! That is a shame. Seeing as government is unable to supply the needs of all, what prevents a coming together of states in not only the western and central regions from setting up educational foundations to invest in education of its teeming youth who are going academically astray? We need confederacies in every region. If that is tribalism, I am a tribalist.


Source: Daily Graphic

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