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Order and Conflict in the Asante Empire: A Study in Interest Group Relations

  • Agnes A. Aidoo

Extract

Conflict and change in precolonial African societies excite considerable scholarly interest, but historians have yet to produce a very useful theoretical framework for analyzing them. This is certainly true of the study of conflict in Asante, one of the best known kingdoms in precolonial Africa.

Beginning around 1700 as a small confederation of segmentary, matrilineal chiefdoms, Asante rapidly expanded in the eighteenth century along lines of economic, political, and strategic advantage. Through conquest and various processes of differential incorporation, it succeeded in establishing its control over all its neighbors. A smashing defeat of a British-led army of coastal Fante and allied states in 1824 crowned the long imperial enterprise. To Thomas Bowdich, a British commercial agent and visitor to Kumase in 1817, Asante was “indisputably the greatest and the rising power of western Africa” (1819: 341) By 1820 the asantehene's power and influence extended over an area perhaps one and a half times the size of modern Ghana, with a population of some three to four million.

Without any doubt, one of the most impressive aspects of Asante history is the systematic development of a national ideology and the elaboration of complex social and political institutions for the management of the society's affairs. Outstanding early rulers like Osei Tutu (ca. 1695-1717), Opoku Ware I (1717-1750), Osei Kwadwo (1764-1777), and Osei Bonsu (1801-1824) created an elaborate military organization and a sophisticated centralized bureaucracy to ensure order, stability, and effective administration in the huge empire.

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