Who is an Akan?

Who is an Akan? The Akans and Blackstool

Who is an Akan? The Akans and The Blackstool

Reflections: The Treaty of Versailles; Political Competition and Ethnic Identification in Africa


According to Adu Boahen(1975); linguistically, the people of Ghana are composed of two principal sub-families. These are the Gur and Kwa groups of languages found to the north and south of the River Volta respectively. “The Kwa group, to which most of the languages of the peoples of West Africa belong, is further divided into the Akan, the Ga- Adangbe and the Ewe sub-groups. Among the Akan speaking peoples who constitute about 45 percent of the entire population of Ghana, there are eleven groups: the Asante, the Fante, the Ahanta the Guan, the Bono, the Akyem, the Sefwi and the Nzema. Among the Ga-Adangbe, who form about 9 per cent of the population, are the Ga, the Shai or Adangbe, the Ada, and the Krobo(or kloli as they call themselves). The Ewe constitutes a single linguistic group and form about 13 per cent of the entire population of the country. Living among the Ewe, especially those of the north are some small groups who speak languages different from Ewe. They include the Akpafu, the Lolobi, the Likpe; the Sontrokofi, the Nkonya, the Avatime, the Logba and the Tafi.”[1] Yet the issue of Akan arose on Thursday, 20 February, 2014, in a radio morning show phone-in, hosted by Kwame Nkrumah Tekese3 where the NDC National Organizer- Yaw Boateng-Gyan, sought to describe the Akan as those of Asante-and-Akyem stalk, who speak- mesee, but not med3, mese or the otherwise?


In their research article: “Political Competition and Ethnic Identification in Africa”; Benn Eifert, Edward Miguel and Daniel N. Posner(2010)[2] write that ethnic identities are believed to be powerful motivator of behaviour in Africa but the source of their salience in political and social affairs remains debated.  This perspective holds that ethnic identities are salient in Africa because they reflect traditional loyalties to kith and kin. By this view, ethnic identities are hardwired- intrinsically part of who people are- and their salience follows, directly from their link to people’s natural makeup. A country perspective argues that ethnicity is salient because it is functional- “The world is a competitive place, proponent of this position hold, and, in that world, ethnically serves as a useful tool for mobilizing people, policing boundaries, and building coalitions that can be deployed in the struggle for power and scarce resource. By this view, the salience of ethnicity is intrinsically bound up in political competition.”

This is why in the Ghanaian political sphere, ethnic diversity is increasingly being seen as a flopped national agenda that promotes inter-group segregation and historical distortions and employed strategies that unearth ancient ethnic animosities and segregations that fashioned well in the continues creation of communities such as Zongos and Ayigbe Towns in our era, thereby undermining the modern intergroup relations that celebrate culture in diversity and where knowledge and skills, but not ethnic or religious beliefs, ought to be the standard scale on which one’s political know-how, fame or trust, is measured.

It is now understood, why statesmen such as Ex-President Jerry John Rawlings; Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, not forgetting incumbent President John Mahama, had to communicate in vocabularies best understood by their targeted audiences during political electioneering campaigns all in an attempt to outwit their political rivals. Under Kufuor’s NPP-led government; Ex-President Rawlings was also speculated to have said that Ewes or the peoples of Volta Region, were being treated like fourth-rate citizens under the then ruling NPP. Then came 11 November 2012, where Radio XYZ [3] quoted NDC candidate John Mahama as saying: “Our brother Aliu Mahama was Vice President for 8 years. I was Vice President for 3 and half years. For almost 12 years, we have tasted Vice Presidency. It’s no longer exciting. It’s no longer what we want…if the NPP wants votes from the northern part of the country, then they should put up Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia in number one and let two of us contest and then they will get something from here.” This was paraded at the heels of the controversial Y3n Akanfuo rapport.

Journalist Affail Mooney wrote this about Nana Addo, the NPP 2012 presidential candidate on GBC website [4]: “The spikes are out and the race is on. Indeed, the race for the presidency in 2012 has taken off but in a manner which leaves millions of well-meaning and peace loving Ghanaians wrestling with worry over the security of our nation and the future of our democracy. This worry was ignited by the famous or infamous ‘ALL DIE BE DIE’ … In analyzing the ALL DIE BE DIE statement Nana Akufo-Addo might be perceived to be urging party faithful to see election 2012 as an altar on which they should sacrifice their lives to make victory sure. But one does not need any superfluity of intelligence to conclude that both the context and the vehemence cannot support the statement. Nana shot the gun in the wrong direction. Election 2012 is not and should not be a do and die affair…” In Koforidua, where this was said, Nana Addo touched on ethnic bravery spirits of Akanfuo and the UP founding- traditionalists.

Ever since it is being heavily reinforced, the perception that the NPP, whose strength lies in the Asante and the Eastern, but commands almost half of the voting population, is an Akan party in relation to the selection of its presidential candidates over the decades. Most Ghanaians- mainly the NPP supporters, not forgetting their political rivals, are at arm-length in thinking that the time is long overdue for the Dankwa-Grant-Busia-Dombo to do the honourable thing by accepting the accusations or live with it in perpetual cliché that “disgrace, ought not to be the deserve of the Okani”[Meaning, animguase3 3nnfata Okaniba, right?] It is tutored that the Okaniba will always prefer to die with his/her shame rather than to live with it? The leadership of United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) that UP/NPP traces its roots, was predominantly Akan but had Ga forerunners such as Obestebi-Lampteys and Nii Ako-Adjeis, in its fold.

So what might have happened to warrant NPP functionaries such as Nii Ayikoi-Ottoo, Dr Nyaho-Nyaho Tamakloe and more recently, Yaw Boateng Gyan, to lecture Okay FM listeners that NPP is neck-deep in tribalism and that for denying former Vice-President Aliu Mahama, of the presidency in 2008, it cannot wash it off that easily until presidential leadership baton is allowed to travel beyond the border of Akyems and Asantes. “Within the NDC, we have had our flagbearers coming from the Volta Region, Central Region and currently our leader is from the Northern Region. But this isn’t the same story within the NPP,” said Boateng-Gyan, who appeared politically and ethnically sarcastic by underestimating not only the political role of Professor Kofi Abrefa-Busia within the UP tradition but also, his ethnicity as a royal of Wenchi, in the modern day Bono-and-Ahafo Region- traditionally known as Western Asante.

But this appears not to have come as a surprise. The findings of Eifert, Miguel and Posner [5] lend support to situational theories of social identification which are consistent with the view that ethnic identities matter in Africa for instrumental reasons: because they are useful in the competition for political power and that journalistic accounts of Africa in elections imply that ethnic attachments are simply “in the blood”? In his efforts to make a serious case against NPP which witnessed a malleable resistance from OKAYFM Kwame Nkrumah, not forgetting the somewhat hostile response from MP Anin in rebutting the key issues raised with regards to history, tradition and culture of the Akan, Gyan portrayed how the people in Kumasi, linguistically, used to castigate the late Prime Minister Busia in an unrefined words that probably painted Busia as non-Akan for he was, not Asante-Akyem but a Bono?

Many tongues had been waged against the boldness of Gyan who knew well about what constitutes an Akan but preferred reducing it to Asante-Akyem. This ought to been given a critical scrutiny. However, we mention in passing that it was General Akwasi Amankwa-Afrifa- an Asante, who as history tells us, arguably, projected the premiership-aspiration of Dr K.A. Busia in the electoral hurdles of the Second Republic. Military historians have it that it was the same Afrifa who recommended the then Major I.K. Acheampong to Busia. Acheampong who was to serve as a military anchor of the Progress Party (PP), overthrow it on 13 January 1972, in coup.  History appears sometimes, uncomfortable; if it is not on our side, so, we can just paraphrase what Gyan said in his claims: “I challenge the NPP to remove the shackles of tribalism from their feet by selecting flagbearers from other regions just like the NDC has been doing…As for Effah-Dartey; from Jinjin, near Berekum, he will only continue to sing in NPP…”

At that point, the NDC National Organizer hammered hard on linguistics, regions and personalities- suggesting perhaps, that by virtue of linguistic symphony of the Akan, Captain Effah-Dartey (rtd) cannot successfully be considered for the position of NPP General-Secretary, in Asante-Akyem Party, where three Asantes: incumbent Kwadwo Owusu-Afriyie, Kwabena Agyei-Agyapong and Yaw Buaben-Asamoah, are in the race. Gyan cemented it with half-truth that the UP tradition had been presidentially, led by J.A. Kufuor (Asante) and two Akyems- hereafter, Professor Adu-Boahen and Nana Akufo-Addo.  For whatever reasons, the case of Prof Adu-Boahen was neither challenged by the host nor by the Adanse-Asokwa MP Anin, although we all knew that by the dictates of his final Will, the renowned history professor, was given a final rest in his matrilineal home in Asante Gwaben (Juaben), in Asante Region, when he passed away on 24 May 2006. If Boahen is an Akyem; by the stroke of patrilineality then logically, Nana Addo, is also an Akuapem and accordingly, vitiates the Asante-Akyem argument.

Yet this inquiry could be carried further if for example, our mouth-to-mouth research on the matrilineal family background checks were to confirm the historical rumours that the true origins of both Ex-President Kufuor and Yaw Boateng-Gyan, lead to Denkyira and Fante, all in the Central Region, respectively. But what could all these findings serve, apart from implying that if this were to be true then democratically, the Asantes had had no indigenous elected President in Ghana? And that whereas the Central and the Northern Territories have had two elected presidents as against the Volta and the Western Regions who could boast of one each, no other region had had duly elected president? If this is accepted then the believers of Asebu Amanfis and the Obiri Mankomas in the Central Region might also complicate history by tracing back to Takyiman; in Bono-Ahafo Region, where most Fantes have their roots, by stating that before Asante and Akyem, was the Bono Manso. The Guans and the Ga-Adangbes might produce unbroken epitome of territorial title by pointing Akwamu, Akyem, Akuapem and the New Dwaben, to Adanse and Asante, respectively. There could be no winner in these historical claims.

It has, yes, been accepted in part that it was only when the victors from World War One(1914-1918); uncharitably, bounced on the defeated nations and Germany, in particular, for the outbreak and the consequences of the war that the World War II broke out. Thus the discussions of the contents of the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28th 1919, after months of “arm-twisting” amongst the said “Big Three” [David Lloyd George of Britain, Clemenceau of France and Woodrow Wilson of America] as to what the treaty should contain and where they did clash over Germany, are not within the scope of this article [6]. But thanks to EEC Treaty, signed in Rome in 1957 which brought together France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries with the aim to celebrate cultural diversity and economic expansion [7].

Indeed thinking about Ghana reminds us of the religious debate over whether: “There Had Ever Been A Black Or African Pope and the mid-1980s, where the Fante-dominated PNDC, was tagged as an Ewe Regime because most sensitive positions such as Defence, the Police, Foreign Affairs and National Security, were perceived as the reservoir of the Ewe, forcing Rawlings, to publish the ethnic origins of personalities such as Forces Commander- General Arnold Quainoo and Foreign Secretary Obed Yao Asamoah. Honestly, this did not purge the regime of its sizeable number of Ewes in the positions of authority such as in the army and the police; where as far as enlistments were concerned, the Ewes and the Northerners appeared more proactive than other ethnic group at the time. But the reasons for this were probably exposed when Hon Anin, told OKAYFM that the nomination forms for the NPP General-Secretary contest, was available and opened not only to Asantes but also, to yes, every eligible member. Having resolved the regional presidential debate, we briefly expand on the question: “Who is an Akan”?

Who is an Akan?The Akans are known for their shared chieftaincy tradition and matrilineal inheritance where unlike the Dagbani, the Ewe, the Ga or the Mamprusi Woman, the Okanibaa [The Akan Woman] and her direct offspring, are the focus.

 The Akan Subgroups

 Having set out under the subheading- “The People of Ghana”; who the Akans are, the author is tempted, but for academic interest, to state that the history, traditions and cultures of the Akan, like most other ethnic groups in our republic, are well-established to be redrafted or revised in this 21st Century. In Ghana and some parts in the Ivory Coast [La Cote D’Ivoire], the Akans are known for their shared chieftaincy tradition and inheritance matrilineal where for example, unlike the Dagbani, the Ewe, the Ga or the Mamprusi Woman, the Okanibaa [The Akan Woman] and her direct offspring, are the focus.  Google Books paint the Akan culture as the most dominant and apparent in present-day Ghana and some of their most important mythological stories being Anansesem which literally means ‘the spider story’, but can in a figurative sense also mean “traveler’s tales also referred to as nyankomsem; ‘words of a sky god’. “The stories generally, but not always, revolve around Kwaku Ananse, a trickster spirit, often depicted as a spider, human, or a combination thereof. Elements of Akan Culture also include but are not limited to: Kente, Adinkra, Sankofa, Akan goldweights, Akan names, Calendar and Chieftaincy.”  [8]

Besides these cultural holdings is the political institution carved around the eight Akan Abusua- Aduana, Agona, Asakyiri, Asenie, Asona, Bretuo, Ekuona and Oyoko or sometimes more than these, which per Google Books, are similar to clans in other societies. “The members of each Abusua were united by their belief that they were all descended from the same ancient ancestress, so marriage between members of the same Abusua was forbidden. One inherited or was a lifelong member of the Akan people lineage, the political unit and the Abusua of one’s mother, regardless of one’s gender and/or marriage.” [8] In the words of Baafuor Ossei-Akoto, the various Akan families are the root of all Akans. “On migration the people were living together as one Abusua or family.  According to oral tradition it is believed that the families Asona, Ekuona and Aduana are the oldest among the eight Akan families.”[9] Scholars such as Eva Meyerowitz and Dr. J.B. Dankwa claim that Akans trekked to Gold Coast from the ancient Gana Empire. But I share the belief that Akans are just an extension of the Northern Territories.

 In 1978 the Akan Orthography Committee (AOC) established a common orthography for all of Akan, which is used as the medium of instruction in primary school by speakers of several other Akan languages such as Anyi, Sefwi, Ahanta as well as the Guan languages, Brono but not Gonja. So it cannot be true when Boateng-Gyan, the nephew of J.H. Mensah and ‘a son’ of Mrs Theresah Kufuor- the wife of Ex-President J.A. Kufuor, summarily reduced the Akan to just the Asantes and the Akyems, all in a bid to describe the main Opposition Party- NNPP, as an Akan political group- bend on welding off its presidential leadership only to the crown prince of Asante or Akyem. [10]   There had been all-forms of tribalism: religious, professional and ethnic. So we condemn not tribalism for the sake of it because even Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed practised it [in the selection of their inner-circles] so as to achieve the religious good for humanity. It must however, be scorned and challenged, where it is perpetuated to dominate, exploit, deny or stifle others the very good for which tribal or ethnic politics is pursued.

Yet as a devout Black Catholic who subscribes to a well-deserved Catholic schools, hospitals or medical centres, does it worth it, investigating, whether: “There Had Ever Been a Black Pope”? For those ethnic majorities and/or the minorities who seek political recognition or power in an ethnically diverse environment, Gramsci’s Prison’s Note on Hegemony and Relations Forces, might be a recommend read. But history has it that the attempt by the Nazi to build a consecrations based on hair-colour, a pointed nose, blue eye-colour and a sheer hatred for the economic versatilities of others, especially the minority Jews, and the many who came to recognise the pains of their ideologies and opposed them in all-force, erupted the European cultural clash and the untold scourge of war: anguish, mysteries and tears of blood.

Asante Fordjour authored this article.



 [1] Adu Boahen (1975)
[2] Eifert, B., Miguel E.; and Posner D.N., “Political Competition and Ethnic Identification in Africa”, American Journal of Science, Vol. 54, No.2, April 2010, Pp. 494-510
[3] “Northerners are tired of playing second fiddle to the presidency – Mahama”, RadioXYZonline.com, 11 November 2012
[4] Affail Monny, “All Die Be Die”, http://www.gbcghana.com/1.293227
[5] Eifert, B., Miguel E.; and Posner D.N (cited at 2)
[6] The Treaty of Versailles, http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/treaty_of_versailles.htm
[7] EEC Treaty, http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/institutional_affairs/treaties/treaties_eec_en.htm
[8] the Akan Orthography Committee, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=zUHzglM3p7AC&pg=PA100&lpg=PA100&dq=Akan+Orthography+Committee&source=bl&ots=WJcsCBXnfl&sig=MJI7ACf9HMe6NABqfnqjNiWsc6I&hl=en#v=onepage&q=Akan%20Orthography%20Committee&f=falsehttp://books.google.co.uk/books?id=zUHzglM3p7AC&pg=PA100&lpg=PA100&dq=Akan+Orthography+Committee&source=bl&ots=WJcsCBXnfl&sig=MJI7ACf9HMe6NABqfnqjNiWsc6I&hl=en#v=onepage&q=Akan%20Orthography%20Committee&f=false
[9] Akan Abusua, http://asanteman.freeservers.com/custom.html
[10] “Only the Asantes and Akyems are Akans”, OKAY FM Morning Show Discussion,  hosted by Kwame Nkrumah Tik3sie, 20 February 2014
[11] Letters from Prison, Lynne Lawner, London, Jonathan Cape, 1975, cited in Simon, Roger (1982)



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