Chaplain Nana E Kweku Bassaw, a Major in the United States Army currently serving in Iraq faces a tough decision. Continue serving until he is eligible for retirement in eight years, or return home to Ghana and serve as King of the Sekondi region.
Major Bassaw has served as a Chaplain the US Army since 1996 and planned to continue until his retirement, however as nephew of the former king, he has a hand in the ruling body of Sekondi, one of the largest regions of Ghana. Sekondi-Takoradi is the third largest city and capital of the Western Region of Ghana.
In his native Ghana, of which he has dual citizenship along with the United States, he is the king-elect of one of the country’s largest tribes. His official title is paramount chief of the Sekondi region, which includes about 500,000 Fanti tribe members.
Bassaw is expected to be coronated after he completes his 15 month deployment to Iraq at Forward operating Base (FOB) Hammer. He was selected as the tribe’s new leader last year by a council of elders and will be carried through the city before the people.
Known for years as the Gold Coast until granted independence from the United Kingdom in 1957, the name Ghana was chosen from the name of the old Empire of Ghana, one of the most advanced sub Saharan civilizations in history. In the language of Ashanti, another historic empire geographically located in Ghana, it means "Warrior King," a fitting name for a powerful African nation, that at it's height could field 500,000 troops.
The Fanti are but one group of the Akan people, which also includes the Akuapem, the Akyem, the Ashanti, the Baoulé, the Anyi, the Brong, and the Nzema peoples of both Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire (the Ivory Coast.) The Fanti themselves are descendants of the Fanti Confederacy, an allied group of the British in the wars fought between various European and African groups of mixed allegiances in the 18th century.
Major Bassaw may be a modern "Ghana", Warrior-King, but he is more peaceful than most warriors. As a Chaplain in the Army, he is actually a Non-Combatant according to the Geneva Conventions, serving as a religious counselor, regardless of a soldier's personal religious conviction. On a personal note, while serving in Iraq, I spent a great deal of time speaking with Chaplain Tate, a Baptist Chaplain, even though I myself am not Baptist. I enjoyed the theological discussions, and I enjoyed his non-judgmental attitude. They don't just perform Sunday Service, Chaplain's must console the sick and injured, provide mental health style counseling to distressed troops, and serve as a representative between soldiers and anyone that soldier may need a liaison for, just as you might ask your "priest."
To become a chaplain, you must have some form of military training, theological education, usually involving a degree, and be nominated by your faith for inclusion in the US Armed Forces to serve in a chaplain capacity. Chaplain Bassaw attended a military cadet academy in Ghana and attended seminary school at Drew University in New Jersey. Serving as a chaplain seemed natural since he has a family background in both the ministry and the military.
Obviously, serving as a Chaplain is one of the noblest professions in existence, however when faced with the sheer responsibility, Major Bassaw weighs his options carefully, “The conflict I have is whether my people can wait for me,” Bassaw said. “This is the dilemma. One of the things I need to think about is how many people I’m impacting."
“We want him now. He has the right background and education. He understands exactly what we need to change the lifestyle and economic situation of our people,” Ebo Haizel-Ferguson, who is representing Bassaw back in Ghana during his absence, said by phone on Tuesday with John Vandiver of Stars and Stripes.
Paramount Chief of the Sekondi Region Bassaw has high hopes for his future rule, and a clear plan. First he wants to develop a concrete factory to aid in construction. He also wants to launch a dairy farm to provide for his people and help create a better diet, as currently his area has none. He also wants to develop agribusinesses such as fish farms, shrimp farms and mango fields. And an old Dutch castle on the coast could serve as a tourism resort, he said.
With untapped resources and a lack of infrastructure, “I see parallels with what we’re trying to do in Iraq,” he said.
To accoplish all this, Chaplain Bassaw is looking to attract about $50 million in venture capital and met with a group of investors during a trip home shortly before deploying to Iraq.
“I want to make Sekondi the economic capital of the country,” Bassaw said. “I want to turn my town around. We have perfect weather. But we rely too much on imports. We have no excuse to not do better in that part of the world. I want my people to have jobs — good paying jobs.”
But first, Bassaw must see if a team of experts and representatives he has assembled can administer things effectively in Ghana while he is gone. If they can begin to implement his economic plan while he is gone, may be able to remain chaplain until retirement.
With typical humility of a man of the cloth, Paramount Chief of the Sekondi Region Bassaw speaks of his home little with his fellow soldiers. “It’s not really something I talk about,” Bassaw said. “People would say, ‘What are you doing here?’”
"This is my calling for this moment and this place and time. This is what I’m committed to,” Bassaw said. “To bring hope, that is what I want to do every day.”
Originally reported by John Vandiver, Stars and Stripes