a1 Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham
The present paper is one in a series of essays on the political economy of the West African forest kingdom of Asante (Ashanti), now located in the Republic of Ghana. In general terms it surveys and explores aspects of the crucial issue of control over subjects and land within the Asante social formation. At the broadest level, it seeks to offer a description of fluctuations in the ability of central government in Kumase to mediate and to preside over the distribution of these resources between the foundation of the state in the early eighteenth century and the present day. It is argued that until approximately the middle of the nineteenth century the history of Asante is the history of the embedding, expansion and triumph of central government control. Thereafter, for a number of reasons that are discussed, matters changed. In terms of these changes the crucial decade was the 1880s, and the paper demonstrates how, in the closing stages and the immediate aftermath of the civil war (1883–8), a revolutionary reversal was effected in the general developmental thrust of Asante history. That is, at a meeting in Kumase in 1888, and at an oath-taking ceremony at Ahyiamu in the following year, the historic control of central government over subjects and land was challenged and substantially liquidated. That the implications of this revolutionary change were distorted in a number of ways was due to the imposition of British colonial rule at the close of the nineteenth century. The remainder of the paper attempts briefly to demonstrate how, in the twentieth century, and in the context of changing socio-political conditions, the battle over resources between central government in Kumase and its opponents remains a live and complex issue.