From Anacostia To Africa: An Outsider Becomes A Queen (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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From Anacostia To Africa: An Outsider Becomes A Queen

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:02
The story we'll hear next is about a most unusual outsider. She's a businesswoman in D.C. who's about to travel to Ghana, but she isn't visiting the West African country to play tourist or to learn more about African culture, no. As Sabri Ben-Achour tells us, Juanita Britton is flying more than 5,000 miles for another reason entirely. Want a little less mundane and a little more majestic.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:29
Juanita Britton's nickname is Busybee.

MS. JUANITA BRITTON

00:00:31
Take this on down, baby, this goes on the back table.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:35
And it's easy to see why...

BRITTON

00:00:36
You didn't read your e-mails or anything?

BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:37
She's at her art gallery in Anacostia wearing a brown dress and gold bangles of all sizes. She's in the midst of party planning and her mind is on food, gifts, music, clothing and life as she weaves between statues of giraffes and tribal instruments from all over Sub-Saharan Africa.

BRITTON

00:00:53
I was given that name by my grandmother. I love simultaneous action.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:59
Britton is from Anacostia. She's a business woman now. She co-owns several Brooks Brothers franchises and a book store. Right now, though, this celebration that she's putting together is her official send-off. She's getting ready to add one more position to her resume.

BRITTON

00:01:13
I am about to instowed (sic) Queen Mother Nana Batwe Adubiya II of Konko Village in Ghana, West Africa.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:24
Yep, she's going to be a Queen.

BRITTON

00:01:26
Turn that up some for me.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:30
So a few months ago, Britton got a call from an ex-boyfriend.

BRITTON

00:01:34
I mean, I'm telling you, it's been 17 years since I've laid eyes him. And to get a call out of the blue, please, come and be my Queen Mother.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:45
There have been a few changes in the past decades.

BRITTON

00:01:48
When I knew him as a 20-something, he was just John Abu, 25 years later, he is King Nana Mosi Botang II and it came to him that I would be a choice to come back and help him with his kingdom.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:11
So this week, she's getting ceremonially installed.

BRITTON

00:02:15
And I will have on a half million dollars worth of Ashanti gold. And I'll be in a big chair, high above the crowd with it on and six men will be carrying me.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:25
But this position isn't all gold and gold, there's something in it for the villagers and the king, too. In a recorded statement from Akropong, Ghana, King Nana Mosi Botang II explains.

KING NANA MOSI BOTANG II

00:02:37
(through interpreter) Whoever becomes chief of this house is responsible for managing the village.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:43
Over the years, the region has declined, he says, ever since a plantation was closed there.

II

00:02:48
(through interpreter) We have tried to protect what's left and since I became a chief, I have decided to redevelop the village. And what we usually do is we contact individuals who are interested in helping and we give them positions, usually a developing king or queen mother. They are usually able to help the villagers improve their lifestyles.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:07
So basically, Britton is going to use her connections and her busy savvy. She has experience with aid projects in Sub-Saharan Africa to be the patron of development for this town of several thousand people.

II

00:03:17
(through interpreters) Schools and teachers, sometimes they need furniture, books, stationary, accommodation, also good drinking water and electricity. Also, sometimes, some of them don't even have different clothing. And also, we are going to teach them about personal hygiene and other things.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:35
And this, it turns out, is kind of a thing that happens in Ghana. Barak Hoffman runs the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University.

MR. BARAK HOFFMAN

00:03:43
It's a big country, becomes more educated and more urban, chiefs are having to look for says to maintain relevance. They need to adapt themselves.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:57
Kings and chiefs in Ghana don't have a formal political role. In fact, they are not allowed to participate in politics. Ghana is a democracy and that's the way most Ghanaians would like to keep it. But chiefs are still extremely popular and can be fairly influential.

HOFFMAN

00:04:11
In the past, right, chiefs were extraordinarily powerful. They could determine who could go to school. That no longer exists. What the chiefs do control is land and that was important for much of Ghana's modern history. It's becoming less so now as the country is becoming more urbanized.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:32
So in many cases, says Hoffman, chiefs are trying to stay relevant by spurring economic development. And in several cases, it's meant bringing in well connected, well appointed friends from the outside.

HOFFMAN

00:04:43
And what these chiefs are bringing are not massive infrastructure projects. You're not bringing in Boeing manufacturing plants. It's much more modest, maybe roads, schools, health clinics, maybe some micro-finance opportunities, things of that nature.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:05:01
But before all the hard work, comes the party. Coronation happens today during the annual Odwira festival marking the Yam Harvest. And that's how, by the end of the day, Busybee Britton will be Queen Bee. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

SHEIR

00:05:18
To check out photos of D.C.'s own busy woman turned Ghanaian queen and to see images and tweets from the coronation, head to our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:05:36
Time now for a quick break but when we get back, the secret stories of D.C.'s consummate outsiders, tourists.

MS. THERESA BELPULSI

00:05:44
And of that one million, about 51 percent are student groups that come here. And that's approximately well over 30,000 motor coach busses that come to the city on an annual basis.

SHEIR

00:05:54
That and more in just a minute on Metro Connection, here on WAMU 88.5.
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