Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, Asantehene, the Asante King, opened his speech Thursday afternoon to a crowd at the University of Memphis by talking about the importance of education.
“It has been a policy, wherever our leaders have taken us, to seek to engage the youth in the educational system,” the king said. “Not only as a reflection of the priority we have put in education but also because of our recognition that creating understanding in the youth is the surest way to ensure the future of the world.”
The speech, titled “Contemporary Challenges in United States and Africa Relations,” was a part of the Memphis in May International Festival, a week-long series of programs to learn about the festival’s “honored country,” which is Ghana this year. Memphis in May first picked Ghana as the honored country in 2020, but the pandemic upended the city’s signature festival and events. Organizers decided to honor Ghana this year with national and local COVID-19 restrictions largely gone.
“Citizens of Memphis, you can be proud of this city for its foresight in establishing the Memphis in May International Festival,” the king said. “…we have traveled several hundred miles from across the oceans, in the very heart of Africa, to celebrate with the city this year and it is only right that we make the most of the opportunity to foster greater understanding as a contribution to the continental relations of the people of our two countries.”
Much of the 15-minute speech focused on educating the attendees on the history and culture of the Asante Empire and Ghana.
The Asante king, who will celebrate his 72nd birthday Friday in Memphis, is the 16th Asantehene and a direct descendant of the first Asante King, who founded the Asante Empire in 1701. A powerful state that resisted British colonization until the very end of the 19th century, the empire’s former territory is now part of modern Ghana, a presidential republic.
The king is not Ghana’s head of state. Ghana is a democracy with an elected leadership and President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo was re-elected in December of 2020, but the king still has significant influence. According to a Memphis in May press release, “His platform as King focuses on furthering peace among the region and developing the education, economy, and health of His people.”
“He invited all the states and said to them ‘we are one people, speaking one language. Why should we continue to exist as little states sometimes quibbling amongst ourselves and sometimes battling other states, when we can unite and become one powerful kingdom against which no other force can stand,” the king said about the first Asante King. “He yelled before them the vision of one kingdom able to defend itself against all others and capable of withstanding and trading with other nations to bring prosperity to all people. The state bought into the remarkable vision.”
If circumstances, such as education, had been different, the king said, the world would be studying the words of the Asante Empire with the same “zeal” it studies the Federalist papers.
“The kingdom grew to become one of Africa’s great warrior kingdoms,” the king said.
The speech also touched on the struggles that come with democracy. The king spoke of the pride he had in assisting in arbitration when it comes to political turmoil.
“As you may know too well, the adversarial nature of democratic politics has a tendency to raise tensions among political combatants,” the king said.
The speech ended as it had started, with the king talking about the vital importance of education, both for Ghana itself and the world as a whole.
“We established the foundation to support the education of children of poor backgrounds,” the king said. “It has become so far the largest private intervention in education in the country and has provided for students who would have otherwise been deprived of a basic education.”