New York Times feature on Kwaku Bonsam: ‘The Devil Is Running for a Seat in Parliament’

A radio talk show broke the news on Oct. 28: Nana Kwaku Bonsam will run for a seat in the Parliament of Ghana in 2016.

Mr. Kwaku Bonsam, a well-known traditional fetish priest in Ghana, was the subject of a Metropolitan cover article in July. He spent a year in the Bronx, in part for operations on his face to repair the scars from third-degree burns suffered in a childhood accident.

Members of the city’s large Ghanaian community — particularly those from the Ashanti region, where Mr. Kwaku Bonsam grew up — quickly embraced him. He attended meetings of a local Ashanti cultural group, treated Ghanaians for a variety of spiritual ailments and even handed out several awards at the Miss Ghana USA Pageant in Manhattan in June.

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Nana Kwaku Bonsam worships traditional African gods and tends to the needs of their followers. At right, a poster outside one of Mr. Kwaku Bonsam’s houses in Kumasi, Ghana, last month.

Near the end of his stay in New York, rumors that he was dead began to swirl back in Ghana. When radio presenters announced his arrival in Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region, on Aug. 12, hundreds appeared at the airport to greet him, bearing a giant banner that read: “Welcome Home Nana Kwaku Bonsam.” (Bonsam, a name he adopted, means “devil” in the Twi language.)

The joy of arrival was short-lived. In late August, an article appeared in the tabloid Spy Ghana under the headline “Kwaku Bonsam Turns to Jesus Christ.” Mr. Kwaku Bonsam, who believes in traditional African gods, vigorously denied the allegations, claiming that he had simply attended the ordination of a former classmate at a Catholic church.

“They were just trying to sell papers,” he said in a recent interview in the remote city of Sunyani, an airy, picturesque town where he had gone to recuperate further from his surgeries, which still cause him pain.

Of greater concern is the condition of his estate in the city of Akomadan Afrancho, where he runs a free primary school, a vegetable farm and a sprawling shrine complex. In his absence, enrollment in the school plummeted along with his annual yields of corn, cassava and plantains. The school’s bus also broke down and was sold for spare parts.

“I have no money,” Mr. Kwaku Bonsam said as he drove his spotless black Cadillac CTS through the streets of Sunyani, occasionally waving at stunned passers-by. He pointed at a For Sale sticker on the windshield. “I have to sell this car to support my school.”

He added that his relationship with his third wife, a law student in London, had come to an end. He is now embarked on what he called a “worldwide search” for a new wife.

Still, Mr. Kwaku Bonsam spoke about politics as the logical next step. “Eventually, I would like to become minister of foreign affairs,” he said. For now, he is eyeing the parliamentary seat for the Offinso North District.

He became animated whenever the subject of his 2016 parliamentary run came up. “The members of parliament are corrupt,” he shouted. “The government has given them money for toilets, water and roads, but they use it to buy cars for their girlfriends instead.”

And he spoke fondly of his year in New York City. There, managers work as hard as laborers, he said, and sometimes even harder, which he could not say for Ghana. The police were also extremely friendly, Mr. Kwaku Bonsam said. Once, after he got lost in Lower Manhattan, a police officer gave him directions all the way back to East 157th Street in the Bronx.

“In some countries,” he said, “you see the police and you run.”

Originally Published by the NYT

 

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