Nana Prempeh I
The suggestion that Asante in its present state should come and enjoy the protection of Her Majesty the Queen and Empress of India I may say is a matter of serious consideration, and which I am happy to say we have arrived at this conclusion, that my kingdom of Asante will never commit to any such policy. Asante must remain as of old at the same time to remain friendly with all white men. I do not write this in a boastful spirit but in the clear sense of its meaning ... the cause of Asante is progressing and there is no reason for any Asante man to feel alarm at the prospects or to believe for a single instant that our cause has been driven back by the events of the past hostilities.
—Nana Prempeh's refusal of British Protection
I am not prepared to fight the British troops in spite I am [sic] to be captured by them ... I would rather surrender to secure the lives and tranquility of my people and countrymen.
—Nana Prempeh's answer to his decision not to fight
The Asante nation's resolute and protracted opposition to the British in West Africa was unquestionably one of the premier examples of African resistance to the European intruders. From 1811 to 1874, the Asante clashed with the British seven times. In 1824, the British sent an expedition to Kumasi, which was totally defeated by the Asante. Two years later, the British returned and overpowered the Asante, looting and burning Kumasi in the process. However, the decisive British victory of 1874 set the forces in motion that led to the eventual disintegration of the Asante Empire.
At the conclusion of the war, the Asante signed the Fomena Treaty which stipulated that the Asantehene (the Asante ruler) should: pay an indemnity of 50,000 ounces of gold; renounce all allegiance to Denkyira, Assin, Akyem, Adanse, Elmina and its allied tribes, and all payment from the government in respect of any of the forts; see to it that trade routes and the road from Kumasi to the river Pra were kept open; withdraw his troops from the Southwest; and stop human sacrifice.
The northern vassal states seized this opportunity to break away from the Asante Union and finally, with British connivance, civil war erupted within metropolitan Asante.
This was the state of the Union when, on March 1888, eighteen-year old Kwaku Dua III (later known as Nana Prempeh I) ascended the Golden Stool.
Within three years, Nana Prempeh reunited the nation, but this period coincided with the Scramble for Africa and the British viewed African unity as an impediment to their colonial expansion. Additionally, they wanted to colonize the Gold Coast before the French in the Ivory Coast did. Therefore, humiliating and conquering the Asante would facilitate British supremacy on the Gold Coast.
The British offered protection, which Nana Prempeh firmly but politely refused. He resorted to diplomacy and dispatched a delegation to Queen Victoria. The delegation remained in England for six months but the British government refused to see them.
Meanwhile, the British government instructed the governor on the coast to issue an ultimatum to Nana Prempeh, which demanded that he receive a British resident representative in Kumasi. It was also declared that he reneged on the Fomena Treaty by failing to pay the indemnity and keeping the trade routes open.
Again, Nana Prempeh refused, citing that he was awaiting the return of the delegation.
Under this pretext, British troops marched on Kumasi. Nana Prempeh offered no resistance. Not a shot was fired as the king and his elders came to meet with the governor to accept British rule. On the question of payment of the indemnity, the king offered a first installment of 600 ounces of gold. The British would settle for nothing less than total humiliation. This gesture was adamantly refused, and he was peremptorily told that if he could afford to send a delegation to England, he should be able to pay the full amount.
As the total indemnity was not forthcoming, Nana Prempeh, along with his mother (who was also the Queen Mother), father, brother, two heirs to the throne, and his war chiefs were arrested. After the arrest, they were first sent to Cape Coast Castle and then to Elmina Castle. On January 1, 1897, fearing that the Asante would try to abduct their king, Nana Prempeh and his party were deported to Sierra Leone and then to the Seychelles Islands.
Asante was annexed as British territory in 1902.
During this exile, Nana Prempeh attributed his acquiescence to painful memories of the civil war and his desire not to fight the British for the part they played politically in promoting peace during that period and personally in his subsequent enstoolment.
The people agitated for Nana Prempeh's return. In 1924, he returned to Kumasi as a private citizen. However, the people petitioned the British government to reinstate Nana Prempeh and in 1926 he was enstooled as the king of Kumasi state. By extension, he was the occupant of the Golden Stool, who by tradition was the king of the Asante nation. Nana Prempeh was once again the Asantehene.
In 1931, a giant tree fell: Nana Prempeh died.
In hindsight, Nana Prempeh's diplomatic solution proved to be pragmatic given the military superiority of the British and subsequent encounters with Africans. Under colonial administration, bound by their traditions and the strength of their leaders, they preserved some of their autonomy. The Asante sense of dignity and unity has prevailed up to this day, as they play a vital role in the political, economic and social life of present-day Ghana.
African Glory, J. C. Degraft-Johnson. Black Classic Press, 1986.
Buy it in paperback: Amazon.com
Africans and Their History, Joseph E. Harris. Penguin USA, second revised edition, 1998.
General History of Africa, Vol. VI: Africa in the Nineteenth Century Until the 1880s. UNESCO, 1999.
Cambridge History of Africa, Vol. 2, J.D. Fage (ed.). Cambridge University Press, 1979.
Topics in West African History, A. Adu Boahen, Jacob F. Ade Ajayi, and Michael Tidy. Addison-Wesley, 1987.
The World and Africa: Inquiry into the Part Which Africa Has Played in World History, W.E.B. DuBois. International Publishers Company, 1979.
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