Ashanti was a monarchy with a bureaucracy financed through taxes. The sys¬tem of tax collection was one of apportionment among the levels of the social strata that were required to bear the tax burden.
Accounting controls over funds which finally reached the coffers of the monarch involved boxes.
The operations and uses of Adaka Kesie (the Big Box) and Apim Adaka (the Box of Thousand) could be likened to a current account and a petty cash account respectively.
Ghana evolved through amalgamation of three separate units — the Colony, the Ashanti Region, and the Northern Territories, known as the Gold Coast.
Prior to British colonisation of the Gold Coast it was inhabited by various tribes, and civilisation flourished in the forest and savannah regions.
States like Ashanti, Akwamu, Denkyira, Akim, Kwahu, Fanti (known collectively as Akans) developed in the forest region, and Mossi and Tallensi in the savannah region.
Each of these ethnic groups developed a monarchical and civilised form of government, with the modern facets of adminis-tration, completely independent of any European influence. What is relevant with respect to the government of these nation-states is their finance, and more specifically their taxation — the raising of revenue to carry on the numerous activities of government.
They never developed a complex system of taxation by modern standards; however, they established systems that served their needs.
This paper concentrates on the sources of revenue available to Ashantis because, first, it was representative of the Akans and secondly, it was the most advanced system of government in the
Gold Coast. Less important, Ashantis dominated the history of the Gold Coast for many years.
A good understanding of the sources of revenue and financial administration of Ashanti calls for a comment on the political structure of Ashanti.
Political Structure of Ashanti1
Ashanti was a confederacy and had a decentralised bureaucracy. The head was Asantehene (King of Ashanti), and below him were Divisional Chiefs. The state was composed of tiers of authority, and its lowest and most characteristic unit was the village.
The villages are normally composed of clans. Within any village the clan con¬tained a number of families, traditionally the descendants of one female ancestress; each clan recognized a head.
The State was composed of a hierarchy of sub-chiefs and divi¬sional chiefs under a paramount chief (Omanhene). A typical Ashanti division was made up of a hierarchy of positions.
Under each divisional chief were two senior sub-divisional chiefs — the Kontihene and Akwamuhene. Other sub-divisional chiefs were Adontenhene, Nifahene, Benkumhene, Kyidomhene and Akobia-hene. Each chief was assisted by a queen-mother, a council of elders, officials and palace attendants.
SOURCES OF REVENUE
This bureaucracy had to be financed. Rattery had categorised the revenue sources of an Omanhene into death duties, (Ayibuodie), trading (Batadie), court fees and fines (Aseda and Atitodie), and mining (Asikadie). According to Rattery, this represents the order of their productivity.
- Death duties were paid by the family of the deceased. The rooms of the deceased were locked in order to facilitate the assessment of the value of the deceased’s estate. The amount to be paid was left invariably to the discretion of the relatives of the deceased. It appeared, therefore, to be a voluntary contribution.
The system of alt was Osei Tutu (founder of the Ashanti Kingdom) who created two captains, which he called Kontihene (created because of war) and Akwamuhene (in memory of Akwamu where Osei Tutu spent some of his youthful days), and which ranked as the most senior subdivisional chiefs.
This sub-division emphasised the military strategy of Ashantis. Adontenhene was commander of the main body of troops. Nifahene was commander of the right wing of the army. Benkumhene led the left wing. Kyidomhene was leader of the rear-guard. Akobiahene was responsible for the safety of the State.
collecting death duties might have been open to abuse, but much reliance was placed on the loyalty of the subjects to make the system work.
2. In ancient Ashanti, trading (Batadie) used to be the monopoly of the “stools”; the subjects were therefore, prohibited from trading. This fruitful source of revenue was short-lived, however, because trading later became an unrestricted activity in which any subject could engage.
3. Another good source of revenue was from court fees and fines (Aseda and Atitiodie). Aseda payments served a dual purpose.
First, they were thank-offerings paid by an innocent party to the officials who constituted the court, and this was the manner in which the court officials were paid.
Aseda money never enriched the chief since it was dividedd in some predetermined proportions among members of the tribunal present and various divisional chiefs and palace attendants. Secondly, Aseda payments served the purpose of securing witnesses to attest to the judgment of the court should the decision ever be questioned.
This was an in¬genious way of making litigants pay for the cost of settlement. Atitiodie was “blood-money” accepted by the chief in certain cases in lieu of the death penalty. The whole amount was paid into the chief’s treasury.
4. The chief also received revenue from gold-mining (Asikadie). One-third of the proceeds went to the actual tenant on whose land the mines were worked.
The remainder went to the head-chief of the division. There was a small mine at Soko4 which was said to have yielded 2,000 ounces of gold some months, and at other times not more than 700 ounces.
Apart from the sources enumerated above, there were mis-cellaneous sources of revenue. The conquered states like Fanti and Akim, to mention a few, had to pay annual tribute in human beings, cattle, poultry, and native manufactured cloth.
Of the human beings, some were kept for domestic purposes, others were used as soldiers, and the rest were sold to meet public expenses.The stool symbolises the hereditary office of a chief and embodied the spirit of the ancestors.
The Position of the Chief in the Modern Political System of Ashanti, 1928 p. 81: “The aseda was distributed among the chief, his Abusua-panyin (elder of the royal lineage), the queenmother, the Okyeame, the elders, females of the royal lineage, stool-carriers and keepers of the mausoleum, the sword-bearers, the treasurers, children and grandchildren of the chief, gun-carriers, and even strangers of the public who happened to be present at the trial.”
There were a number of ways of replenishing the treasury on special occasions. Ayituo was a levy to cover the expenses of a chief’s funeral.
Fot’obo was a levy on the installment of a new chief. Omantuo was a contribution for some specific purpose, for example, to cover the expenses of a new palace. Asasetuo was a levy on land which was paid in foodstuffs, game, and fish.
If one swore the oathe of Kormante ne Memenada (in memory of the death of Osei Tutu), the fine was one hundred and ten peregwans. Traders who passed through Ashanti from the north to the south and vice versa paid a levy of £0.30 or £0.40 in gold dust.
Cocoa and kola plantations were established, the produce of which went to the chief’s treasury. Farms established solely for the generation of revenue have persisted to this day.
COLLECTION OF REVENUE
The collection of revenue was decentralised. Every chief of any standing possessed his own local treasury under the official generally known as the Sanaahene (head of the leather bag).
All revenue eventually paid into the chief’s treasury was collected through and by these sub-treasuries, each unit collecting only from those under his direct control, and paying the lump sum into the treasury of its immediate overlord.
The chief’s council or the Birempong (Elder’s) council decided on the amount of levy to be collected. The total amount was divided into two equal parts — the Omanhene was responsible for one-half and the Birempong was to collect the other half. The Omanhene’s share was further divided into five equal parts.
He took responsibility for one-fifth and the remainder was taken up equally by the Kontihene, Akwamuhene, Adontenhene, Kyidomhene and Gyase-hene (in charge of the chief’s household). The Omanhene’s one-fifth was sub-divided into two equal parts and distributed among the heads of nine groups of palace officials.
Thus, it was a system of apportionment and reapportionment which ultimately was paid by the ordinary subjects (nkoa).
There was an ingenious and effective system of accounting, and strict control of public funds. For revenue and expenditure, there were two boxes — Adaka Kesie (the Big Box) which was partitioned into three compartments, and a second box called Apim Adaka (the Box of Thousand).
The three partitions of the Adaka Kesie contained packets of gold dust, each to the value of one peregwan. For purposes of control and effective accounting, nothing less than a peregwan was deposited in this box, and nothing less than that was taken out.
The Apim Adaka (Box of Thousand) was meant for expenditure. This was occasionally replenished by a paregwan (£8) taken out of the larger revenue box (Adaka Kesie). The money was weighed out in small packets to enable the Sanaahene to pay for purchases. Payments were recorded by cowrie shells, which were put into the Apem Adaka anytime a packet was withdrawn.
The Sanaahene had another box in which smaller amounts were kept. When there was enough to make a peregwan, it was weighed out and put into Adaka Kesie.
The keys to the Adaka Kesie were in the care of the chief, the Sanaahene, and the chief of the “bed-chamber” known as Daberehene, and kept under the chief’s bed. This system resembles modern banking practice, where more than one person is required to open vaults where money and valuables are kept.
The Adaka Kesie and Apim Adaka have been likened to a Capital Account and a Current Account respectively.7 The available literature on the operation and uses of these two boxes would suggest that the Adaka Kesie was a Current Account while the Apim Adaka was a Petty Cash Account, because a fixed amount (one peregwan) was taken from the Adaka Kesie as reimbursement for payments which had been made from the Apim Adaka. One is, therefore, in¬clined to conclude that the operation of Apim Adaka was along the lines of the imprest8 system of petty cash.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
Ashanti had a well-organised government; it was, therefore, necessary that they develop a good fiscal system to finance the government. The main sources of revenue were tributes from conquered tribes, death duties, land taxes in the form of food-stuffs and game, trading, dues paid by traders, proceeds from stool farmsg, and special contributions.
Stool farms were plots of land cultivated by the subjects for the upkeep and financing of the monarchy. These were usually in the form of cash crops such as cocoa, coffee and kola nut plantations, and food crops like cocoyam, cassava and plantain.
The stool farms call for special comment because they show that the need for state participation in economic activity in competing with private enterprise, and as a source of revenue, was recognised by Ashanti long ago. And in most Akan areas of Ghana, stool farms still provide much revenue today, but the proceeds from these farms are used solely by the chief.
Collection procedure left much to be desired and could easily be manipulated by greedy and frivolous chiefs. Certain sub-chiefs avoided tax by collecting more than was required from their subjects, thereby shifting their tax burden wholly on their subjects, and ended up making gains for their treasuries.
Though Ashanti had an effective accounting system, the controls were weak in matters respecting collection of and accountability for taxes. The system was only effective in respect of what actually reached the treasury and was disbursed by the treasury.
It has been suggested that the system worked well because destoolment of chiefs for miappropriating “stool funds” (which was one of the charges) was very rare before the period of the British Administration of Ashanti.
Most of the taxes levied have persisted until today. From 1974 to 1978 the Asantehene (King of Ashanti) levied a tax on Ashantis in order to build a new palace. However, these taxes have lost their significance because the sanctions of customary law have become ineffective because of alienation, detribalisation, and emigration.
On the whole, the system may have generated funds to finance the government in the old days, although rudimentary by modern standards.
Most people complied out of fear, especially in the case of conquered tribes, since refusal to pay tribute often led to war. Others might have complied out of reverance for the Asantehene.
One would have thought that these taxes would have been taken over and developed by the local governments for the benefit of the communities.
The fact is, however, that local governments have never generated enough revenue to undertake development, and therefore they still look to the central government for supplementary funds.