WHAT CAN AKYEM ABUAKWA DO ABOUT GALAMSEY? By CAMERON DUODU
The Akyems are among the most democratic people in the world.
When a meeting is held at an Akyem chief”s palace, anyone can contribute to the discussion – provided he or she knows how to speak in public.
The methodology for speaking one’s mind in public in the society has been refined and made easy.
One does not address the chief directly, but passes everything through the chief’s spokesperson, or Okyeame. So even if one is rude to the chief, the effr0ntery is diverted away from the chief towards the Okyeame!
The would-be speaker says, “Nana Kyeame, I beg [permission] to say that….” And the person will be listened to. Of course, other people are also allowed to take on what that person has said. So the exchange of views can go on — at any temperature.
Naturally, tempers can rise highly at such meetings. The society has anticipated that, and it provides a way of dealing with the most heated of exchanges in a public discussion. If one person knows that what he or she is going to say might upset or even anger other people in the audience, especially the chief himself or his elders, the person apologises in advance. The person prefixes the contentious statement(s) he or she is going to make with the term, “Sebe o, tafrakyer!”
(The only English equivalent I can think of, for this, is from Shakespeare: when Mark Anthony is going to direct the Roman people’s anger at the killers of Caesar, he says, “Pardon me! My heart is in the casket there with Caesar.”) In Akyem Abuakwa, we go even one step further: When what the person is about to say is really likely, in his own view, to cause offence, he multiplies the apologies by saying, “Sebe, mpre aduasa!” (I say sebe thirty times over!)
I don’t know why they chose “thirty times”, instead of fifty times or one hundred times. But the figure 3 [mmiensa] is significant in our symbolism and mythology: for instance, we like to give people gifts in multiples of three, and the accompanying, unstated but onomatopoeic meaning of that is — mmiensa: odo nnsa da! Which is to say, Three of anything tells you that the love with which it is given, has no end. Do you notice that this Symbolic language also has assonance? Our language is rich, you see, though they say we are “illiterate!” Illiterates who play with words!?
Now, I have read that some of the chiefs of Kyebi, the capital of Akyem Abuakwa, were unhappy that President John Mahama described Kyebi as “the headquarters of galamsey” in Ghana. Justifiably so, I’d say! The report I read said:
QUOTE: “Some chiefs in the Kyebi traditional area are unhappy with the President for describing Kyebi as the headquarters of galamsey in Ghana. The President, John Mahama, made these remarks when he visited the Eastern Region this week. He said: “…excuse me to say, Kyebi Abuakwa has turned into the headquarters of galamsey in Ghana. I came here by air and if you see how the land is being destroyed, it saddens me.” The President’s remark has provoked mixed reactions from the Akyem Abuakwa traditional area. Speaking on Eyewitness News, the chief of staff of the Okyenhene, Barima Yentumi Boaman, described the President’s statement as ‘rather unfortunate’ .
[He said] “The minerals are owned by government; galamsey is illegal and we are being told that Kyebi is the headquarters; then one is at a loss as to who made Kyebi galamsey. Is it the owner who should have protected the minerals or the people at Kyebi?” he asked. He insisted that it is unfortunate for the President to make that statement, because the people in the area “are arguably a bit upset.” He likened the description of the area to corruption saying, “corruption goes on everywhere so when you pinpoint a place and say that that place is the headquarters of corruption in Ghana, I don’t think his Excellency was being fair to the people of Kyebi.”UNQUOTE
Now, I say sebe o tafrakyer mpre’ aduasa to my friend, Barima Yentumi Boaman, otherwise known as Commander Ofori Yentumi, formerly of the Ghana Navy, and state that “Nana, it is not President Mahama’s fault that he spoke to the Ofori Panin Ahenfie in the way he did. For all you know (as a military man) the President has access to intelligence of which you may not be aware! Whether, if he possesses such information, it is true or false, or whether he should have used it the way he did, is, of course, a different matter. But he has the discretion to use information supplied to him by state agencies in any way he likes – as you will well appreciate.”
I beg to say also to Barima Yentumi Boaman that sebe o tafrakyermpre aduasa: it is an anathema for him and the chiefs who surround Nana Okyenhene to have allowed a situation to arise whereby an outsider had to travel all the way by plane from Accra, to come, excuse himself and tell them about his “sadness” at the destruction that — he had observed from the air, fiilifiili — had been wrought on their own lands by galamsey operators.
Of course, Nana Yentumi, the minerals belong to the Government, as you rightly observe. But what about the water resources that the galamsey people have destroyed in their quest for gold? Does the water also belong to the Government? Does Birem belong to the Government? Does Densu belong to the Government? Does Supong belong to the Government? Where was the “Ghana Government” when Nana Dokyaa drank Birem water to go and marry Nana Twum Ampofo who drank Supong water at Asiakwa?
The moment the galamsey operations began to touch these ancient water resources bequeathed to our people, it ceased to become a political issue and became a nationalsurvival issue. I have even described it as a war, without fearing that I would be accused of using hyperbolic language. Fir even in our very worst wars, we never fought to retain the use of our water!
Now, our chiefs are our primary means of ensuring our survival at the local level whenever our survival is threatened. It is the people, led by their chiefs, who take the first action to protect themselves when their collective survival is threatened, although, if, in the course of protecting themselves, they realise that the problem is too big for them to handle by themselves, then they are entitled to petition the Central Government, as taxpayers, to lend them its oar.In the past, they formed alliances with other nations to protect themselves.
I am certain that the Okyenhene and his elders are as horrified by what the galamsey operators have done to Akyem lands, as anyone else, including the President. What I am not sure of is – sebe o! — whether the Okyenhene and his chiefs have really done all they can to tackle the problem. Has Nana Yentumi, for instance, in his persona as Commander Ofori Yentumi (retd) prepared an appreciation of the galamsey problem and presented it to the Aktem Abuakwa State Council? If he did, what was the Council’s reaction? If it did nothing, what was his reaction?
The English say that “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” The Akyems have gone one better: they say the same thing with even more directly irreverent language: “Yemmfre wo Ohene kwa. Opanin kwa!” [We don’t call you a chief, or elder, for nothing!]
In an article I published in May 2013, I made my own appreciation of the galamsey situation and concluded that only Okyeman could save itself from galamsey. I said that sebe o! the Okyenhene and the State Council should take urgent measures to revive the asafo institution that exists in every locality in Akyem Abuakwa. The asafo groups should be inspired to resume their traditi0al duty of protecting the land and people.
Since galamsey operators whose activities they might disturb might be armed and thus need to be met with self-protective violence, the police authorities should be invited to accompany the asafo groups on their scouting, preventive and ambush patrols. Everything must be above board, I argued.
The message I wanted to convey with that article was that depending on the Central Government alone to defeat galamsey was to live in cloud-cuckoo-land. I didn’t even know then that we had a President who thought that galamsey operators were driven to do what they do because they “want to earn a living!” Having now heard that statement attributed to the President, my faith in self-protective measures has been strengthened a thousand-fold.
Apart from patrols by the asafo groups, the Akyem Abuakwa State Council should invite sons of the soil who are in the scientific community to undertake voluntary appraisals of the riverbeds that have been ruined, and draw up programmes for dredging the riverbeds and enabling the water to flow down their normal courses once again. Planting of trees on riverbanks should accompany the dredging. Once proficient enables the original courses of the rivers and streams to be redefined, rainfall will do the rest. In a short while, the rivers will resurrect themselves.
Sebe o – I am no scientist. But I am sure that if the invitation goes out from The Etwie (Okyenhene) himself, the “Leopard who shakes the thickets of the woods every time he passes by”, it will land in “good ears.”