Staying true to the heritage



Tribes and how they evolved

The San and Damara (the first two groups to settle in Namibia) as well as the Nama who only settled in southern Africa and southern Namibia during the first century B.C occupied Namibia until the great Bantu migrations in the 15th and 16th Centuries caused Bantu tribes to move into Namibia from the North East. After about 1600, the Ovambo migrated from Central Africa into the northern part of Namibia and settled on the river Kunene. Today, the Ovambo are the largest ethnic group in Namibia.

During the 18th century, the Herero tribes settled in Central Namibia. They had come from the Kaokoveld in the North West and moved further into the country.

During the first half of the 19th century, the Orlaam filtered into Namibia. Around 1868, the Baster settled south of Windhoek, in the region of Rehoboth. The Baster were, as the name indicates, a people of bastards from Boors and Nama women who were pressurized by the Boors, south of the Oranje River. The Baster were the last pre-colonial immigrants.

European Influx

In 1486, Portuguese explorer and seafarer Diego Cão raised a stone cross on the Namibian coast of the Atlantic Ocean, today’s Cape Cross. Cão sailed under orders of King Johann II of Portugal. He was to sail around Africa on the sea, however he did not succeed. In 1487, Portuguese captain Bartholomew Diaz also erected another stone cross in what is now Lüderitz Bay.

As early as the 17th Century, the lagoon of Walvis Bay was used as a shelter for European whaling ships. In 1793, the Dutch government occupied the Cape Region, Walvis Bay, Angra Pequena (now Lüderitz Bay) and other coastal regions.

In 1893, German warship captain Becker discovered the cross erected by Cão and had it replaced first by a wooden replica, which he replaced two years, later by a replica made of granite. Today, the original cross is exhibited at the Museum of German History in Berlin.


Having already occupied the Cape of Good Hope in 1795, the British Crown occupied the islands on the Namibian coast in 1867 and in 1878, took over Walvis Bay.

In 1883, salesman Adolf Lüderitz from Bremen, through his agent Heinrich Vogelsang, acquired large pieces of land around Angra Pequena (Lüderitz Bay) from Nama chief Joseph Fredericks. Lüderitz planned the foundation of a German colony in South West Africa, in order to prevent the growing flood of emigrants from being completely lost to other countries. Later, he also acquired the big strip of land from the Oranje.

When Britain failed to protect German settlements in South West Africa, Germany interpreted this as an abandonment of British tenure on the Herero and Nama areas and in 1884 declared South West Africa to be a German protectorate. The German Empire showed its preparedness to protect the region by sending three warships to the African coast On the Berlin Congo Conference in 1884, Germany, Portugal and Britain settled for arbitrarily set borders of Namibia.

In 1889, the first German protective troops under Curt von François were sent to South West Africa. The troops were set up in police fashion and was not meant for combat. The Hereros’ hostile position was a special problem for the Germans.

In 1890, Curt von François made Windhoek the capital of the German administration. The protectorate troops were continuously increased. The Nama and Herero fought the Germans several times as well as the ethnic wars in the country but after 1907, the Nama and Herero tribes were as good as exterminated. Between 20,000 and 30,000 Herero had died up to that date. About 2,500 Germans had lost their lives in the fights. All Black people were denied the right to own land or cattle, the tribal areas and occasional property were confiscated. Many members of the tribes died in concentration camps, survivors were “resettled” in reservations. Tribes in more remote areas like the Ovambo, Damara, Himba and the Rehoboter Baster were affected by this development.

During World War I, on September 9th, the South African Union declared war against Germany. By October, the Union’s troops had not only occupied the south of the country but Lüderitz Bay and the North East of the Caprivi Strip, as well. On March 20th 1915, the protection troops cleared the South of the country, on 7th of April, they cleared the centre and Windhoek. On the 9th of July, the Germans under Oberstleutnant Franke signed a ceasefire. Five weeks later, the complete area was occupied by Union troops. In the peace treaty of Versailles of 1919, Germany lost all entitlements to colonial property. South West Africa became mandatory territory of the League of Nations. After numerous evictions, 6,700 Germans were allowed to remain in the country.

In 1920, the League of Nations made Namibia mandatory territory of the South African Union. The mandate came with some conditions: South Africa was not allowed to erect military bases in the country or to recruit natives into military service. They also were bound to support the economic and social development of the country.

However, South Africa seamlessly continued the German habits and considered Namibia a colony. The black population was repelled further into reservations. There, they received no help at all to develop or prosper. The Black population’s right to own cattle was limited, their access to pastures was made difficult. White settlers from the Cape were coaxed to move there with economic enticements and they came and claimed huge areas of it.

In 1946, South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts called for an incorporation of Namibia as the fifth South African province. The UN rejected this demand and pointed out that South Africa only held Namibia in trust. In response, South Africa denied to acknowledge the UN as the rightful successor of the League of Nations, which had mandated South Africa, the administration of Namibia in 1920. Even a sentence of the International Court of Justice did not change South Africa’s opinion on this subject.

In 1951, South Africa enforced its politics of racial discrimination by expanding South African Apartheid laws to Namibia.

After calls by UN for South Africa to withdraw from Namibia failed Angola and Cuban troops aided PLAN (the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia) founded by SWAPO the current government to defeat South Africa. The parties resolved that the United Nations’ resolution No. 435 should become effective on November 1st 1988.

In 1989 elections proceeded calmly, SWAPO got an absolute majority. Sam Nujoma was nominated for President. Late in 1989, the elected parties introduced a blueprint for a constitution. In January 1990, March 21st of the same year was pronounced Independence Day, Sam Nujoma was elected first President of Namibia. A democratic constitution was passed in February 1990.

In order to achieve also economic independence from South Africa, Namibia introduced its own currency, the Namibian Dollar, in 1993. It was linked to the Rand for a transitory period.

In 1994, South Africa gave Namibia back its enclave Walvis Bay. This gave Namibia access to its own economically important sea harbour.

Pre – Independence Media

The first newspaper established in Namibia was the Allgemeine Zeitung which was founded on 22 July 1916 under the name “Der Kriegsbote” (The War Envoy). This paper reported in German and mainly on the events of the First World War. After Germany was defeated and lost German South-West Africa (now Namibia) to South Africa the name was changed to Allgemeine Zeitung on 1 July 1919. After this change the focus was still on publishing for the German nationals in Namibia.


In the year of 1937 the Newspaper was bought by the publisher “John Meinert Ltd.” Who were already publishing the Windhoek Advertiser, a daily English language newspaper established in 1919 in Windhoek to promote the activities of the British in the region (Today, it the Democratic Media Holdings owns some shares). Then the newspaper was released daily, except for Sundays, with a circulation of 1,800 copies. Most readers were Germans from Windhoek and surroundings. At that time the tagline was changed to indicate the intent to support German national interests. From 1939 for a short while the Newspaper was released under the name “Deutscher Beobachter” (German Observer).

At the same time, smaller newspapers were released, such as Der Farmer (The Farmer), “Das Volksblatt” (The People’s Paper) owned by the Workers Association of South Africa, the “Karakulzüchter” (The Karakul Stockman) founded in 1933 and the Heimat (Home) a German paper for Africa’s evangelical community.

In 1987, Diether Lauenstein became the new owner of Allgemeine Zeitung, before the Newspaper was sold to Democratic Media Holdings (DMH) in 1991. The managing editor since 2004 has been Stefan Fischer who modernized the design leading to an increase demand. DMH also prints and releases Die Republikein, which is a daily Afrikaans, English, and German language newspaper, established in 1977 in Windhoek, Tempo, a German and English language newspaper, established in 1992, published in Windhoek on Sundays and the Namibian Sun.

The pre-independence media in Namibia was mainly used to propagate and prop up the apartheid policies of the Pretoria regime. News was used to demonize those seeking to bring about a more democratic society, and penalties were in place to punish those who violated the minefield of laws designed to protect those in power and to shield them from the spotlight of relentless media scrutiny. During the days of South African control, all forms of media were restricted. Various laws, including those governing defense, prisons, the police, the ubiquitous Internal Security Act, as well as emergency regulations, severely restricted what journalists could report, publish, photograph, or record. They could not report prison, police, or military stories or anything about unrest or guerrilla activities or SWAPO. Anything considered likely to undermine the Pretoria regime was also untouchable as far as journalists were concerned. The Pretoria regime deliberately tried to use the print media, just as it did with radio and television, as part of a total onslaught campaign against SWAPO. The media was ruthlessly gagged.

Foreign media was not allowed to operate. The only media given access were South African newspapers, especially the pro-apartheid publications. The media that operated in Namibia was subjected to the same restrictions and obstacles faced by their counterparts in South Africa. At that time, being found in possession of foreign publications, especially those from communist countries, could result in a prison sentence.

Independence & Post Independence Media

Some newspapers in Namibia today

Everything changed with Namibia’s independence. Its constitution guaranteed press freedom, including the ownership and publication of privately owned newspapers. There is an explicit guarantee, under Article 21, that freedom of speech and expression includes the press and other media. However, the government has the power to restrict these freedoms in the interests of public order, decency, morality, national security, contempt of court, or defamation.

Because of the power government has in this law there has been some clashes between the government and the private media. Several times, critical journalists were admonished and also the judiciary has been brought into play a few times in the past to suppress unpleasantly critical articles.

After independence most of the newspapers that existed before independence still exist in Namibia. Namibia boasts of other newspapers apart from the ones named to have existed before independence like: The Namibian, an independent English and Ovambo newspaper based in Windhoek, the Namibian News, a government newspaper published by the Ministry of Finance in Windhoek, the Namibia Economist and the government-owned Namibian News are the country’s most influential newspapers. The “New Era” and the party publication “Namibia Today” are both government owned weeklies with a small readership.

Other publications include Namibia Review, a monthly English magazine published by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, with a circulation of 10,000; and Abacus, a weekly, free English newspaper with a circulation of 30,000.

It is worth noting that, the government-owned Namibia Press Agency (NAMPA) is the country’s leading domestic news agency. It also works with the Pan African News Agency for receiving and distributing news and information within the country.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is responsible for formulating guidelines on how the media should act. It also runs the NBC, the successor to the South African Broadcasting Corporation; the NBC is responsible for radio and television services and is the sole provider of all electronic media services, a state-owned national broadcaster. Owners of radio or television sets are required to buy an annual listeners’ license. These fees go to the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation, which is subsidized by the government.

Although NBC is also the national radio broadcaster, the government has allowed the emergence of privately-run stations such as Radio Kudu, which specializes in music; Radio Wave, a private contemporary music station; Radio Energy, another music outlet; Radio 99, another private music station; Channel 7, a private religious station based in Windhoek; and Katutura Community Radio, also based in Windhoek, which rebroadcasts some British Broadcasting Corporation programs.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

Since independence, the media in Namibia has enjoyed much more freedom. Foreign publications and journalists are now welcome, as are media and journalists from neighboring countries. The government, however, discourages foreign ownership of the media. The Voice of America, South Africa radio, and the British Broadcasting Corporation are among listeners’ favorites.


NB: A major player in the country’s print media is Democratic Media Holdings, a business enterprise run by the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), the country’s official opposition party. DTA is a grouping of whites and others opposed to SWAPO. South Africa would have preferred to see the DTA win Namibian’s independence elections because DTA was more compliant and more willing to do Pretoria’s bidding. The print media are also concentrated in the capital of Windhoek where at present three dailies and four weeklies are published.

The news mainly deal with local and national topics. Lay-out and printing quality of the newspapers are not fully up to world standards due to small print runs and budgets.

Namibian TV programmes are of a deplorable quality. Many Namibians watch South African TV from SABC via satellite respectively international channels via MNET.


Under apartheid, on all issues concerning prisons or national security, the media deferred to the government. No stories could be reported on those issues without first getting a government comment or denial. This is no longer the case; the media reports freely, for the most part. Under the new political dispensation, the media has become a major player in institution building and in the dissemination of news and information.

The future looks bright for Namibian journalists, except those in the electronic media who remain under government control. It’s common throughout most of Africa that radio and television remains under strict government control. Namibia is not yet an exception.

Considering the overwhelming majority the governing party holds, and the weakness of the opposition, the freedom of the press ought to be an absolutely unconditional guarantee. Public control is, after all, the only remedy against the disease of corruption.

  • Allgemeine Zeitung – profile in short, Retrived March 24, 2016.
  • Carsten von Nahmen: Deutschsprachige Medien in Namibia – Vom Windhoeker Anzeiger zum deutschen Hörfunkprogramm der Namibian Broadcasting Corporation: Geschichte, Bedeutung und Funktion der deutschsprachigen Medien in Namibia 1898 – 1998. Windhoek: Namibia Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft, 2001.
  • Der Märkische Bote: „Weiße Geschichten in Druckschwarz“, last view at 27 March 2016.
  • Hartman, Adam (December 8, 2008). “Namibia: Namib Times Celebrates 50 Years”. AllAfrica Global Media. Retrieved March 29, 2016.
  • Karl Bömer: Handbuch der Weltpresse: Eine Darstellung des Zeitungswesens aller Länder. Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main: Armanen-Verlag, 1937.


Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph. – Haile Selassie.

Egyptian slave master Waswahili slave.jpg
Egyptian slave master & Waswahili slave

Slave trade existed in the African sub-region for a very long time. On the Arabian slave trade there has been divergent views depending on the background of the scholar who writes. This brief piece therefore makes use of where these scholars share same or similar views/opinions.

While Europeans in their trade of slaves majorly targeted men in West Africa, the ‘Arab’ trade primarily targeted the women of East Africa to serve as domestic slaves, wet nannies and sex-slaves in the infamous harems (This is not to say men were not captured). Their children were born free to Arab fathers, and thus would have been heirs to wealth and status, fully and equally assimilated into the population (good for Arabia, bad for African identity). Their mothers received the title of “umm walad”, which was an improvement in their status as they could no longer be sold. Among Sunnis, they were automatically freed upon their master’s death, however for Shi’a, mothers were only freed so long as their children were still alive; a mother’s value is then deducted from this child’s share of the inheritance. These umm walad, attained “an intermediate position between slave and free” pending their freedom, although they would sometimes be nominally freed as soon as they gave birth.

However, Besteman, 1999 reveals that not all African women were raped or used for sex slavery. The Bantu (Hudwick) were less frequently used for sex-slavery as they were not seen as attractive as Habesha (Ethiopian) slaves. The Somali slavers avoided all sexual contact with Bantu slaves due to perceived racial superiority.

Arab enslavement of Africans was radically different from its European counterpart. It was more complex and varied depending on time and place.

NB: ‘Arab’ is not a racial group, but an overarching term hugging Arabs who are African and some who are White and Jewish. (Mizrahi, which includes Syrian, Iraqi, Persian, Kurdish, Egyptian, Moroccan, and Tunisian Jews). This makes any discussion of the Arab slave trade problematic using 21st century identity models.

Scope of the trade

Salt was profitable, gold was more profitable still, but no commodity was more abundant and profitable than slaves. There had always been slavery in Africa, but the Arabs brought to the trade a new thoroughness and energy, unsurpassed in its rapaciousness until the mercantilist economies of the West turned their attention to Africa.

The trade of slaves across the Sahara and across the Indian Ocean also has a long history, beginning with the control of sea routes by Arab and Swahili traders on the Swahili Coast during the ninth century. These traders captured Bantus (Zanj) from the interior in present-day Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania and brought them to the littoral. The captives were sold throughout the Middle East. This trade accelerated as superior ships led to more trade and greater demand for labour on plantations in the region. Eventually, tens of thousands of captives were being taken every year. The Zanj were for centuries shipped as slaves by Arab traders to all the countries bordering the Indian Ocean. The Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs recruited many Zanj slaves as soldiers and, as early as 696 AD, there were slave revolts of the Zanj called the Zanj Rebellion against their Arab enslavers in Iraq.

Zanj slave gang in Zanzibar - 1889.jpg
Zanj slave gang in Zanzibar – 1889

During the 19th century, the Arab slave trade took a brutal turn. The Portuguese had destroyed the Swahili coast and Zanzibar emerged as the hub of wealth for the Arabian state of Muscat. By 1839, slaving became the prime Arab enterprise. The demand for slaves in Arabia, Egypt, Persia and India, but more notably by the Portuguese who occupied Mozambique and created a wave of destruction on Eastern Africa. 45,000 slaves were passing through Zanzibar every year.

It’s worth stating that in April 1998, Elikia M’bokolo, wrote in Le Monde diplomatique. “The African continent was bled of its human resources via all possible routes. Across the Sahara, through the Red Sea, from the Indian Ocean ports and across the Atlantic. At least ten centuries of slavery for the benefit of the Muslim countries (from the ninth to the nineteenth).” He continues: “Four million slaves exported via the Red Sea, another four million through the Swahili ports of the Indian Ocean, perhaps as many as nine million along the trans-Saharan caravan route, and eleven to twenty million (depending on the author) across the Atlantic Ocean”.

The most expensive enslaved group in Arabian societies were the eunuchs who were castrated men drawn from Europe but also Darfur, Abyssinia, Korodofan and other African nations. Ironically because of their lack of sexual function they obtained great privileges while African female slaves privileges were due to their sexuality. Young boys, victims from raids and wars were subjected to the horrid monstrous inhumane process of castration without anaesthesia which had a 60% mortality. To stop the bleeding hot coals were cast into the naked wound, which was followed by the most blood curdling alien scream a human could make. If the child survived this brutal act there was to be a life of influence and luxury; silk garments, Arabian thoroughbreds, jewels, were bestowed on them to reflect the wealth of their masters.(Hunwick) Strangely eunuchs were both distinguished and greatly revered as elites in Arab society, despite being enslaved. They served as guards and caretakers of mosques as well as administrators.

One of the biggest differences between Arab slaving and European slaving was that slaves were drawn from all racial groups and they were rarely used as a means of crop production; slaves were not the economic engine behind Arab economies. Social mobility was possible “from slave to Sultan” (Mamluks and Najahid dynasty‎), many Africans were used in the armies of Moroccan sultan (17th century) and also in the Egyptian forces during the early days of Islamic expansion.

Unlike the European trade in enslaved Africans, the physical remnants of this trade are very hard to measure. No one has detailed records of numbers lost, or a full chronology of events.

Slavery, mild or otherwise, is a crime against a human being.




Alexander, J. (2001). “Islam, Archaeology and Slavery in Africa”. World Archaeology. 33 (1): 44–60.

Allan G. B. Fisher (1970). Slavery and Muslim Society in Africa, ed. C. Hurst. London .

Catherine Lowe Besteman, Unraveling Somalia: Race, Class, and the Legacy of Slavery, (University of Pennsylvania Press: 1999).

Edward R. Tannenbaum, Guilford Dudley (1973). A History of World Civilizations. Wiley. p. 615.

Gwyn Campbell (2003).The Structure of Slavery in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia. 1 edition, Routledge, p.ix.

Habeeb Akande, Illuminating the Darkness: Blacks and North Africans in Islam (Ta Ha 2012)

John Donnelly Fage and William Tordoff (December 2001). A History of Africa (4 ed.). Budapest: Routledge. p. 258.

Lewis, Bernard (2002), Race and Slavery in the Middle East, Oxford University Press, p. 93.

Murray Gordon (1989). Slavery in the Arab World. New York: New Amsterdam Books. p. 41.

Patrick Manning (1990). Slavery and African Life: Occidental, Oriental, and African Slave Trades. Cambridge, UK.

Paul Lovejoy, Slavery On the Frontiers of Islam

Paul E. Lovejoy (2000). Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa. Cambridge, UK.

Talhami, Ghada Hashem (1 January 1977). “The Zanj Rebellion Reconsidered”. The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 10 (3): 443–461.




The presidency of every country across the world is very essential such that the evolving power and enlarging scope of responsibilities have made the modern presidency a very big job.

The fact that more than anyone else, the President symbolizes the country – its people and its beliefs, the founding fathers of the Ghanaian democracy knowing too well the enormous responsibility this job comes with decided to carve a seat which serves as an insignia to represent the power of political leader known as the presidential seat or seat of state.

In Ghana, after the oath of office has been taken by the elected president, the Presidential Seat, a carved wooden seat overlaid with gold is handed over to the president to display the rank of his/her office and is used on special occasions.

The presidential seat (Seat of State) is made up of various Ghanaian traditional (adinkra) symbols and some borrowed ideas.

Kofi Antubam, one of the chief ‘state artists’ of the Nkrumah era crafted The Seat of State in the early 1960s (Hess 2001, p. 72).

Antubam also painted a number of murals and carved wood reliefs for public buildings, among them Accra’s Central Library, the Ambassador Hotel and the main assembly hall of the old Parliament House, and he organised state ceremonies and artistic events for the Arts Council of Ghana.

He was part of a remarkable generation of dreamers and nation builders who developed the cultural identity of Ghana.

His works and performances brought together European representational conventions, ‘neo-Ghanaian’ elements such as the Black Star, and motifs borrowed from ‘traditional’ regional and local artistic styles, preferably from Asante, but also other ethnic groups and regions.

Antubam believed, according to Kojo Vieta, ‘that Art must reflect the values and ideas of a society …, should be applied to utility objects… [and be made] a vital part of everyday life’ (2000, pp. 115−6).

In his published views about what the ‘serious modern Ghana artist’ should create, Antubam maintained that the new Ghanaian artistic identity would be ‘neither Eastern’—a reference to the Soviet Union’s tradition or socialist realism—‘nor Western and yet a growth in the presence of both with its roots deeply entrenched in the soil of the indigenous past of Africa’ (1963: 129, 23, quoted in Hess 2001: 73−4). Ghana’s new art needed to be based on ‘the lasting values of a people’s traditions’, but should also take advantage of the ‘better and more progressive implements, skills, and knowledge’ that the history of European art provided (Antubam 1963, pp. 13 & 129).

A look at the Seat of State reveals that its base is modelled after an Asante chiefly stool. Such stools are regarded as central objects of power that connect the chief with the ancestral world and the power of his predecessors. They often represent proverbs that address the relationship between wealth, wisdom and authority, and other constituents of chiefly office. The specific stool ‘quoted’ in Antubam’s Seat of State is the kotoko dwa, a stool that represents one of the central symbols of the Asante nation, the porcupine (kotoko).

The Asante nation, according to a well-known proverb, works like the quills of the porcupine: when one falls, hundreds of others will come to its aid. The porcupine thus stands for solidarity and combativeness.

The artist’s use of the stool simply depicted his intent to link the Ghanaian President’s authority to pre-colonial traditions of state-making and royal power. The bright golden sheen of the Seat of State and the carved stool at its base evoked, indeed, the Golden Stool, the venerated image of Asante statehood which was, as McCaskie put it, ‘construed as being the enabling instrument, the representation, that all at once underpinned, validated and guaranteed the legal exercise of sovereign right. In Asante political philosophy, the Golden Stool … was understood to be symbolic of the highest level at which power might be exercised’ (1983, p. 30).

The seat also invokes not only African pre-colonial emblems of power, but also European aristocratic imagery. The upper part, and the arm rests which are topped with small golden crowns, are designed like a British monarch’s throne.

It is believed that Antubam must have visited Westminster during studies in London and drew some inspiration from the royal throne in the House of Lords where the British Queen sits when she opens a new parliamentary session and addresses the nation.

More generally, as the long-standing parliamentary clerks K. B. Ayensu and S. N. Darkwa put it in their history of the Ghanaian parliament, ‘Ghana adopted the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy’(1999, p. 119), including most aspects of parliamentary procedure.

The English Coronation Chair may have been another of Antubam’s sources of inspiration because it bears a highly significant ‘traditional’ object of power at its base, known as the Stone of Scone.

One may speculate if Kofi Antubam perhaps quite deliberately placed the Asante stool in a position analogous to the one occupied by the Stone of Scone in the English throne, namely as incorporation of an ancient tradition symbolic of the foundation of power as well as a celebration of the victory of the new regime over the old authorities. Given that Nkrumah had to face, and overcome, quite significant resistance from Asante nationalists and prove himself sovereign over the pre-colonial, and later colonially backed, chiefdoms, this interpretation may not be too far-fetched.

The crescent (or the Osramfa) which forms the actual seat symbolizes the influence of feminine disposition and nature on the well-being of the society and State. The egg or oval shape (Okosuasii) which forms the backrest symbolizes perfection in all that is beautiful in the existence of the society.

The zigzag symbol used on the arm-rest and as a border in the oval shaped back-rest counsels the occupants of the seat on the exercise of prudence and diplomacy in all dealings.

The box-like seat has a red cushion bearing a black Nkyinkyin symbol of selfless service. The red colour stands for youthful life and vigour.

The rectangular hand rests represents Mbensu and bears on the sides a frieze of zigzag motif called Ovu-Koforo-Adobe, symbolizing exercise of wisdom or prudence.

This symbol appears on the sides chair as a way of emphasizing importance of the fact that the Head of State must be an embodiment of the qualities of wisdom.

The side-stands of the seat, which have the form of dome, symbolizes God’s grace. The footstool or rest bears on the front of it a Fihankera, the symbol of a perfect house.

Finally, Antubam decorated the Seat of State with one of Ghana’s most prominent ‘neo-traditions’, as one may perhaps call them, namely the Black Star, the Lodestar of African Freedom, which Ghana also displays in her coat of arms, flag and, very visibly, on the Independence Arch.

For Nkrumah and other CPP leaders, the Black Star therefore symbolised hopes not only for the decolonisation of the African continent, but also for a liberating impact of Ghana’s and other African countries’ independence on racial emancipation in America.



Allman, Jean. 1993. The Quills of the Porcupine: Asante Nationalism in an

Emergent Ghana. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 

Antubam, Kofi. 1963. Ghana’s Heritage of Culture

Ghana Observed: Essays on the Politics of a West African Republic. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Ayensu, K. B. and S. N. Darkwa. 1999. 

The Evolution of Parliament in Ghana. Accra: Sub-Saharan Publishers. Ayensu, K. B. and S. N. Darkwa. 2006. 

How our Parliament Functions: An Introduction to the Law, Practice and Procedure of the Parliament of Ghana. Accra: Sub-Saharan Publishers.

Hess, Janet B. 2000. Imagining architecture: the structure of nationalism in Accra, Ghana. Africa Today 47 (2): 35−58.

Hess, Janet B. 2001. Exhibiting Ghana: display, documentary, and ‘national’ art in the Nkrumah era.  African Studies Review 44: 59−77.

Kimble, David. 1963. A Political History of Ghana. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

McCaskie, T. C. 1983. Accumulation, wealth and belief in Asante history. I. To the close of the nineteenth century. Africa 53 (1): 23−43.

McCaskie, T. C. 1995.  State and Society in Pre-Colonial Asante. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vieta, Kojo T.. 2000. The Flagbearers of Ghana. School Edition I. Accra: ENA Publications.

Wilks, Ivor. 1975. Asante in the Nineteenth Century: The Structure and Evolution of a Political Order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wilks, Ivor. 1993. Forests of Gold: Essays on the Akan and the Kingdom of Asante. Athens: Ohio University Press.


“The black sacrifice in the war in Africa has been forgotten,” -Historian Bill Nasson of the University of Cape Town.

L.P. Hartley in 1953 wrote that “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.

Historians and lay readers alike normally agree with this phenomenon but often lose sight of the word “place” in Hartley’s discussion. Like any other place we can travel to the past and this is most often done through the written word.

So, on a sultry night in Accra where the air smelled of wood smoke, brine from the wet but welcome breezes off the Gulf of Guinea, the chirping of insects, barking dogs and gunning motor scooters, it felt necessary to pen down the reality of four years of total warfare, which cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and affected many millions more, but largely forgotten -the World War I.

The African side of this story remains a footnote, despite huge losses of human lives and major consequences for the future of the African continent.


According to Dr. Daniel Steinbach, all colonial powers promoted the idea of a ‘European civilizing mission’ – that is, bringing the rule of law, order, stability, and peace to Africa. Yet, in August 1914, they showed little hesitation before turning this part of the world into a theatre of war.

The reasons for this are manifold: Britain was initially concerned with the destruction of naval and communication infrastructure that could allow German boats to attack Allied ships in the Indian Ocean, while Germany wanted to prevent an attack or conquest of its African colony by attacking its neighbours itself. Quickly, the patriotic desire to support the war by fighting their nation’s enemy in Africa, combined with the prospect of conquering ‘new territory’, became powerful sentiments among many Europeans living in these colonies. The war rapidly developed from localised bombardments and skirmishes into a full campaign.

When the war broke out in Europe in 1914, English and French troops prepared to seize the four German colonies in Africa (German East Africa, German South-West Africa, Togoland and Cameroon).

In the beginning of the war, the majority of combatants were professional soldiers who served in the respective colonial armies. But very quickly, all colonial administrations began recruiting Africans who were either persuaded, or more often pressed, into military service. While many African soldiers took pride in their service and military professionalism, many others resented the fact of fighting in a war which they felt ‘wasn’t theirs’. So, it was not uncommon for soldiers to change sides from the German to the Allied army or vice versa.

Theatres of War
On the continent of Africa, there was action along the coast. In the West and South the Allies attacked Germany’s African ports. They attacked Lome (in Togo), Douala (in Cameroun), Swakopmund and Luderitz Bay (in South West Africa).

In the East, German-held Dar-es-Salaam was bombarded. In the North, the main concern of the British was to safeguard the Suez Canal.

German South West Africa was brought under allied control in the first few months. Cameroon took longer to capture and the East African campaign took even longer, with the Germans led by brilliant German General Von Lettow-Vorbeck.

How France and Britain used Africans

In World War I, France more than any other European power used African troops, including Senegalese riflemen who fought in the victorious battle to take the German colony of Togo. France also sent Senegalese troops to fight at Gallipoli in what was to become Turkey.

Between 1914 and 1918,the French had usednearly 500,000 colonial troops, including 166,000 West Africans, 46,000 Madagascans, 50,000 Indochinese, 140,000 Algerians, 47,000 Tunisians and 24,300 Moroccans with most of these French colonial troops serving in Europe.

Specifically the French sent 450,000 African soldiers from their colonies in West and North Africa to fight against Germany on the frontline in Europe. The Cavalry patrol of Moroccan Spahis fought for the French army near Furnes, Belgium in 1914.

The Cavalry patrol of Moroccan Spahis
The Calvary Patrol of Moroccan Spahis

Africans as well joined in the fighting in France, where a memorial to them stands at Delville Wood, near the town of Longueval, commemorating the Battle of the Somme from July to November 1916.

Britain, too, built up its forces with men from Nigeria, the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Sierra Leone, Gambia, Uganda, Nyasaland (Malawi), Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Kenya, but unlike the case of France, these troops all served in the African theater.

Most Africans who participated in the war, however, were recruited or conscripted into labor units, as military service was considered risky — stoking fears that blacks “may get ideas beyond their station,” said World War I historian Albert Grundlingh of the University of Stellenbosch.

The South African Role

South African forces that fought under the British flag were key,especially in the battle for German Southwest Africa, now called Namibia, where the first armistice of the war was signed in 1915, and for German East Africa, which included what are now the countries of Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania.

It is worth noting that during the war, 700 South African black laborers died when their ship, the Mendi, sank in the British Channel in 1917 on its way to France to help in the war effort.

East Africa, The Biggest Loser

The 1st battalion of the 4th Ghurkha Rifles lined up for kit inspection, in Flanders, Belgium, 1915.

1st battalion of the 4th Ghurkha Rifles lined, in Flanders, Belgium, 1915.

Among World War I campaigns, the East African one was the longest of all: as the armistice was being signed in Europe on November, 11th 1918, the last of the German forces were still fighting their British counterparts.

Kathleen Bomani reveals in WW1’s untold story: The forgotten African battlefieldsthat on August 8th, 1914, the British HMS Asteria and Pegasus protected cruisers bombed Dar-es-Salaam, then the capital of German East Africa, taking the European so-called “war to end all wars” to the Eastern African shores. The day before, Anglo-French forces constituted of Ghanaian, Nigerian, Sierra Leonean, Gambian and Beninois troops had invaded German Togoland in West Africa.

In East Africa, the majority of the about 250,000 soldiers involved in this campaign were either Africans – from East Africa, but also Nigeria and the Gold Coast (modern Ghana) – or Indians.

The lack of sufficient railroads in East Africa, or roads that could be used by motorcars meant that the moving armies relied on the most basic form of transport: human carriers. An established system of African porter transport that existed in the region prior to the war. But, the enormous demand for carriers by all armies resulted in an unprecedented number of ordinary people – men, women and even children – being persuaded or forced into porter services. Throughout the war, more than one million Africans carried provisions, military equipment, or soldiers in hazardous circumstances, for minimal or no pay. The porters were forced to leave their homes to march with the armies in areas foreign in climate, language and customs. About 100,000 porters died through illness, exhaustion, or mal- and under-nutrition.

Those civilians who could remain in their villages often saw their property and livelihood destroyed, as passing soldiers demanded food from them or burnt their houses and fieldswhich later ended in famine. In the resulting severe famines, several hundred thousand civilians perished. These were largely unrecorded by the colonial authorities, and unnoticed by the world.There are no accurate figures saying how many people died of hunger. However, the fact that the colonial administrative area of Dodoma in what is now Tanzania lost 20 percent of its population in 1917/18 gives some indication of the deprivation and misery.

Political Impact of the War in East Africa

Dr. Steinbach opines in his piece titled Misremembered history: the First World War in East Africa,

“The immediate political result of the First World War was the transition of control of German East Africa from the defeated Germany to Britain and Belgium. Neither were able to annex the territories (modern Tanzania for Britain, and Burundi and Rwanda for Belgium) outright, but the newly established League of Nations (the predecessor to the UN) awarded them as ‘mandates’. This meant that the mandate powers had to report annually to the League of Nations on the development of the territories and its inhabitants.

While this system was set up to stop the most exploitative aspects of colonialism through external control, for most Africans, life in a mandate territory was no different to life in a colony. The war had a huge impact on the social and economic fabric of East Africa, but the political changes for Africans were insignificant, as their contribution to the war did not result in any gain in political power”.

Winnings and Benefits to Africa

At the outbreak of war in 1914, Germany had four colonies: Togo, Kamerun (Cameroon), German Southwest Africa and German East Africa.

The end of German colonization in Africa saw France take over Togo, while a French-British coalition ruled Cameroon. Belgium got Rwanda and Burundi, leaving Tanzania to the British, and Southwest Africa went to South Africa.

One can say that out of the negative implications the First World War gave rise to a crucial change in the relationship between Europe and Africa. Over two million people in Africa made huge sacrifices for the European Allies.

Amid the battles, African cities were taking shape in the first big wave of black urbanization, driven by the demand for labor.

As James Wilson, author of Guerillas of Tsavo, puts it “much more needs to be done to preserve the memory of Africans who fought in the war”.



  • Africa’s role in WWI a forgotten chapter. The Washington Times, Wednesday, July 28, 2004.
  • Bomani K, WW1’s untold story: The forgotten African battlefields. CNN, Friday, August 8, 2014.
  • Das S, 2005. Touch and Intimacy in First World War Literature. Cambridge University Press.
  • Das S, 2011. Race, Empire and First World War Writing. Cambridge University Press.
  • Steinbach D, 2015. Misremembered history: the First World War in East Africa.


amon kotei
Nii Amon Kotei

A look at the dailies reminds me of a retired farmer who told me, years ago, that long before websites and complications like common directional policies by government, the toast of the people was reading about patriotic pieces in the few news prints available.

It is against this background a historic icon, Nii Amon Kotei, designer of the National Coat of Arms of Ghana is eulogized.


Nii Amon Kotei, a Ghanaian artist (sculpture, painter and musician) and a trained surveyor was one of Ghana’s finest artists.  Kotei, was born on May 24, 1915, at La, near Accra, and belonged to the Ga tribe (one of the many tribes in Ghana).

In his early academic life, he studied under a scholarship at Achimota School and later received a scholarship to study art at the London School of Printing and Graphic Art from 1949-1952.  During World War II, Amon Kotei fought for the Royal West African Frontier Force and also worked in the Cartographic Division of the Army. With his background in arts, he drew maps and plans for use by soldiers on the war front.

Amon Kotei later taught at Achimota School and as Independence Day drew near, the need for a coat of arms distinct from that of the imperial power, Great Britain became quintessential. To give a distinctive local flavor to the work, experienced Amon Kotei was asked to put up a sketch for consideration.

For his motives, the painter had the elephant and palm tree. After months of hard work, he finally completed the drawing and after comparing it with other Coats of Arms, he was convinced that it was one of the best, a view shared by Cpt. Hamilton, the British officer who liaised between him and the Osu, Castle. Amon Kotei’s piece was approved without hesitation and presented on March 4, 1957.

Amon Kotei died on October 17, 2011. He received several awards including the State Honour of Grand Medal, Civil Division, Coat of Arms Design that was presented to him on Friday, March 7, 1997 by then president Jerry John Rawlings.

Coat of Arms

The National Coat of Arms, found on all government official letter heads, is composed of a shield, divided into four quarters by a green St. George’s Cross, rimmed with gold. It symbolizes government sanction and it is found at important Government places like the Osu Castle, the Courts and other government offices.

Ghana National Coat of Arms

Crossed Linguists’ Staff and Ceremonial Sword on a Blue Background This is positioned at the top left-hand quarter represents local administration

A Heraldic Castle on a Heraldic Sea With A Light Positioned at the top right-hand quarter representing national government.

A Cocoa Tree is at the Bottom left-hand quarter depicting the agricultural wealth of the country

A Mine Shaft located at the dottom right-hand quarter.It represents the mineral wealth of the country

A Gold Lion is also positioned at the centre of the Green St George’s Cross showing the continuing link between Ghana and the Commonwealth.

Black Five-Pointed Star Rimmed with Gold Standing on the Wreath of Red, Gold and Green Colours With easy identification it’s on top of the shield meaning the lone star of African Freedom.

Two Eagles, Around Each Of Whose Neck Hangs A Black Star Suspended From A Ribbon Of Ghana’s Colours – Red, Gold And Green This can be found supporting the shield on the left and right hand side. It signifies a protector with strength, very clear and attentive eyes keeping watch over the country.

The motto FREEDOM AND JUSTICE is found under the shield. It represents national aspirations.

Recent Criticisms

In recent times critics have raised concerns about the use of a castle in Ghana’s national emblem – the Coat of Arms saying it may no longer be tenable, due to the fact that the Osu Castle is no longer the seat of Government.

However it has not been changed and remains what was originally produced by Amon Kotei.





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