The Ashanti government was built upon a sophisticated bureaucracy in Kumasi, with separate Ministries to handle the state's affairs. Of particular not...
The Ashanti government was built upon a sophisticated bureaucracy in Kumasi, with separate Ministries to handle the state's affairs. Of particular note was Ashanti's Foreign Office based in Kumasi; despite its small size, the Ashanti Foreign Office allowed the state to pursue complex arrangements with foreign powers, and the Office itself contained separate departments for handling relations with the British, French, Dutch, and Arabs individually. Scholars of Ashanti history, such as Larry Yarak and Ivor Wilkes, disagree over the actual power of this sophisticated bureaucracy in comparison to the Asantahene, but agree that its very existence pointed to a highly developed government with a complex system of checks and balances.
At the top of Ashanti's power structure sat the Asantehene, the King of Ashanti. Each Asantahene was crowned on the sacred Golden Stool, the Sika 'dwa, an object which came to symbolise the very power of the King. Osei Kwadwo (1764-1777) began the system of appointing central officials according to their ability, rather than their birth.
As King, the Asantehene held immense power in Ashanti, but did not enjoy absolute royal rule, and was obliged to share considerable legislative and executive powers with Asante's sophisticated bureaucracy. The Asantehene was the only person in Ashanti permitted to invoke the death sentence. During wartime, the King acted as Supreme Commander of the army, although during the nineteenth century, actual fighting was increasingly handled by the Ministry of War in Kumasi. Each member of the confederacy was also obliged to send annual tribute to Kumasi.
The Ashantihene (King of all Ashanti) reigns over all and chief of the division of Kumasi, the nation’s capital. He is elected in the same manner as all other chiefs. In this hierarchical structure, every chief swear fealty to the one above him -- from village and subdivision to division to the chief of Kumasi, and the Ashantihene swears fealty to the State.
The elders and the people (public opinion) circumscribe the power of the Ashantihene, and the chiefs of other divisions considerably check the power of the King. This in practical effect creates a system of checks and balances. Nevertheless, as the symbol of the nation, the Ashantihene receives significant deference ritually for the context is religious in that he is a symbol of the people, living, dead or yet to be born, in the flesh. When the king commits an act not approved of by the counsel of elders or the people, he could possibly be impeached, and made into a common man.
The existence of aristocratic organizations and the council of elders is evidence of an oligarchic tendency in Ashanti political life. Though older men tend to monopolize political power, Ashanti instituted an organization of young men, the nmerante, that tend to democratize and liberalize the political process. The council of elders undertake actions only after consulting a representative of the Young Men. Their views must be taken seriously and added into the conversation.
Below the Asantahene, local power was invested in the obirempon of each locale. The obirempon (literally "big man") was personally selected by the Asantahene and was generally of loyal, noble lineage, frequently related to the Asantahene. Obirempons had a fair amount of legislative power in their regions, more than the local nobles of Dahomey but less than the regional governors of the Oyo Empire. In addition to handling the region's administrative and economic matters, the obirempon also acted as the Supreme Judge of the region, presiding over court cases.
The election of chiefs and the Asantehene himself followed a pattern. The senior female of the chiefly lineage nominated the eligible males. This senior female then consulted the elders, male and female, of that line. The final candidate is then selected. That nomination is then sent to a council of elders, who represent other lineages in the town or district. The Elders then present the nomination to the assembled people.
If the assembled citizens disapprove of the nominee, the process is restarted. Chosen, the new chief is en-stooled by the Elders, who admonish him with expectations. The chosen chief swears a solemn oath to the Earth Goddess and to his ancestors to fulfill his duties honorably in which he “sacrifices” himself and his life for the betterment of the Oman. (State)
This elected and en-stooled chief enjoys a great majestic ceremony to this day with much spectacle and celebration. He reigns with much despotic power, including the ability to make judgments of life and death on his subjects. However, he does not enjoy absolute rule. Upon the stool, the Chief is sacred, the holy intermediary between people and ancestors. His powers theoretically are more apparent than real. His powers hinge on his attention to the advice and decisions of the Council of Elders. The chief can be impeached, de-stooled, if the Elders and the people turn against him. He can be reduced to man, subject to derision for his failure. There are numerous Ashanti sayings that reflect the attitudes of the Ashanti towards government.
"When a king has good counselors, his reign is peaceful"
"One man does not rule a nation"
"The reign of vice does not last"