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Asante Kings of the Twentieth Century - Nana Prempeh 1 (1888 -1931) K.M.A.C.

The contest for Asantehene in the nineteenth century turned into protracted hostilities and clashes between supporters of the two contes­tants. This lasted from April 1886 till 26th March 1888 when Prempeh, the brother of the late king Kwaku Dua II, was enstooled in the presence of one Mr. Barnett, a British official. Prempeh assumed the stool name Kwaku Dua III. Asante tradition required the presence of the paramount chiefs of Mampong and Kokofu at the ceremony, but they were absent because they were sympathetic to Yaw Twereboanna, the other contestant, and feared they might be killed.

Therefore, strictly speaking, the installation was incomplete and hardly legal. However, their representatives were present and assured Mr. Barnett that they would raise no further objections. It was not until after the final funeral rites for K waku Duah II that the new king with the stool name Prempeh I was traditionally and properly enstooled. This took place on 11th June 1894 and was attended by the new chief of Mampong.

Prempeh's kingship was beset by the gravest difficulties from the very onset of his reign. Despite his youth, he showed great diplomatic abil­ity. He tried to restore the vanished glories of his empire and defend its independence against British interference in its internal matters regarding the exile of some rebels and the succession of some towns including Mampong, Kwahu, Sehwi and 'also against British intentions of bringing Asante under its protectorate. When Prempeh I was asked to accept a British protectorate over his state he rejected it and politely yet firmly replied that the Governor had misjudged the situation. He wrote:

The question of Asante exiles under British protection, security in Kumasi and the annexation of Kumasi to the Gold Coast Colony con­tributed to deteriorate relations with the British. In April 1895 an Asante party left for England to explain the situation in Kumasi to the Colonial Office but the Colonial Office refused to see them. While in England John Owusu-Ansah, one of the members of the embassy, however, managed to negotiate an agreement to accept a British Resident at Kumasi . However, the other members of the embassy realised on their return in Cape Coast that this meant the king had to pay for the cost of the mission, and felt that the king had been deceived, and left for Kumasi . On 17th January 1896 a British expedition including troops approached Kumasi . Asante offered no resistance to the expedition and Prempeh used diplomacy only in a vain attempt to halt their advance.

The Governor at a Durbar on 20th January in Kumasi insisted that since Asante had not observed the terms of a previous Treaty of Fomena, he would not accept any promises regarding the payment of the cost of the embassy to Kumasi . No new treaty would also be concluded unless the cost of the expedition was paid in full or a large percentage of it paid. Prempeh and the Queen mother pleaded to pay about 7,000 ounces of gold and the balance of 43,000 ounces paid in installments.

Governor Maxwell refused and requested that Prempeh and some of his chiefs proceed under escort to Cape Coast . The Governor then arrested the King, his mother Asantehemaa Yaa Akyaa, the father and broth­ers of Prempeh, his uncles, Mamponghene, Ofinsohene, Ejisuhene, the two war-chiefs (Krontihene and Akwamuhene) and some others. They were first taken to the coast and imprisoned in the Elmina Castle . They were later exiled to Sierra Leone in January 1897 and eventually sent to the Seychelles Islands in 1900.

A group photograph of Asante 's taken into exile. The front row include Kwaku Fosu, Akyeamehene, Osukye, Mamponghene, Kwasi Gyambibi, king's father, Interpreter, Prempeh, Yaa Akyaa, Asantehemaa, Akepemhene and Agyeman Badu, king's brother

There were mixed reactions concerning this action. It took the Colonial Office by surprise, as they were not expecting this from the Governor. The Asantes also bitterly resented the deportation of their king. The feeling in Kumasi and surrounding towns such as Ofinso and Ejisu over the removal of Asantehene was bitter and deep. However, it was seen differently in some of the Brong states to the north and northwest of Kumasi who regarded the arrests and hoisting of the British flag as deliv­erance from Asante . As a hero in exile, Prempeh acted as a more powerful rallying point for the forces of Ashanti nationalism than he would have otherwise done physically back home.

The Asantes therefore refused to enstool a new king and still recog­nised the exiled Prempeh I as their substantive king. Indeed, they declared a war of independence to drive away the British in April 1900 under the leadership of the famous Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen of Edweso, which last­ed till about January 1901. The government therefore gave up the idea of securing a new Asantehene on the Golden Stool. Hence, Kumasi remained quite chaotic until the return of Prempeh I in 1924. Even though it was cat­egorically spelt out to him that he returned home as a private citizen, he was immediately recognised by his people as the Asantehene and given the Golden Stool and all stool properties; many Amanhene took the oath of allegiance to him and even celebrated the Adae festival. Governor Sir

Shenton wrote that: .

"In the eyes of the government he returned as a private citizen ... in the eyes of Ashanti it was their Asantehene who had come back to them. The Golden Stool had once more an occupant and the people had once more their supreme spiritual head".

Later on he was, however, recognised as Kumasihene and under­took its reorganisation. He was awarded the King's Medal for African Chiefs (K.M.A.C.) on 11th June 1930 and died on 12th May 1931.

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