Protesters attempted to remove a statue of Lt. Gen. Robert Baden-Powell last week, finally being stopped by locals who demanded the image of the founder of the Boy Scouts stayed put.
While that was taking place in Britain, Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer donned the “kente” cloth, belonging to the Akan (including the Ashanti) people of West Africa.
And while Baden-Powell was smeared as a “homophobe” and “Nazi” by communist protesters, an investigation into his 1896 diary during the Anglo-Ashanti wars reveals what the British expeditionary forces stood for: anti-slavery.
In his book, The Downfall of Prempeh – the brutal African King who sold his people into slavery – Baden-Powell wrote:
“Briefly, then, we may look on the following as the main reasons and objects for the expedition:–
To put an end to human sacrifice.
To put a stop to slave trading and raiding.
To ensure peace and security for the neighbouring tribes…
King Prempeh, like other Ashanti leaders, had a penchant for human sacrifice which drove his slave trade.
Baden-Powell explained further:
…in no part of the world does slavery appear to be more detestable than in Ashanti. Slaves other than those obtained by raids into neighbours’ territory, have here to be smuggled through the various “spheres,” French, German, and English, which are beginning to hem the country in on every side. The climate they are brought to is a sickly one for men bred up-country.
They are not required currency, since gold-dust is the medium here.
Nor are they required to any considerable extent as labourers, since the Ashanti lives merely on vegetables, which in this country want little or no cultivation.
And yet there is a strong demand for slaves. They are wanted for human sacrifice. Stop human sacrifice, and you deal a fatal blow to the slave trade, which you render raiding an unprofitable game.
As with all history – especially history as poorly kept as that of the Ashanti Kingdom – nothing completely favours one side or another. For example, Irish Nationalist Member of Parliament William Redmond noted in the House of Commons in 1901:
“The treatment of that unfortunate man [Prempeh] had been perfectly scandalous, and it was no excuse to attack his personal character.”
Redmond objected to the fact that upon victory, the British had forced Prempeh into kissing the feet of the British commanders, and forced into exile.
The Liberal Party’s Thomas Bayley MP shot back:
“…his hon. friend, in his impassioned speech, appeared to have forgotten that we were responsible for this protectorate in the eyes of Europe. He had forgotten that in 1896 the King of Ashanti was the most cruel and heartless man this world ever produced.”
The British force in West Africa was often ruthless in its approach to removing oppressive leaders, largely due to their intractability and refusal to end the slave trade and human sacrifice.
And Britain examined its role in the conflict extensively, concluding repeatedly that while errors may have been made in terms of the offense caused to King Prempeh I and his supporters, the moral imperative of ending slavery was not one to be ashamed of.
In 1923, decades after the Anglo-Ashanti wars came to an end, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, William Ormsby-Gore, declared: “The Secretary of State sees no reason to doubt that Prempeh’s deportation was necessary in the interests of Ashanti.”
In relation, the donning of the kente cloth by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer would raise eyebrows if they were Republican politicians and the cloth belonged to some far-right or colonialist leader.
Indeed it is worth noting, on this point, that Baden-Powell was a socialist and late in life expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf. History is never clean cut.
Baden-Powell was 81 and two years before death when he expressed such thoughts – something many in British establishment life would do at the time.
And while the kente cloth also belongs to the wider Akan people, Pelosi and Schumer shared, across history, a moment of visual fealty with King Prempeh I: a man who routinely sold his own people into slavery. More often than not, for human sacrifice.