King Peggy: female leader of Ghana

Otuam is a coastal fishing village situated in Ghana, West Africa. In this village, everyone knows everyone. There is no high school, and teenagers who can’t afford secondary school travel to surrounding towns and become street hustlers to survive. Impoverished teenagers also farm or fish to make a living.

At the end of a dusty, rutted road stands the royal palace. Its paint is peeling, windows are broken, and the thirsty ground surrounding it is unkempt.

As a secretary at the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington, D.C. for over 30 years, Peggielene Bartels organized receptions, prepared coffee and answered phones. She followed orders from her male boss, the ambassador. Yet in her work at the Embassy, if people bit her, she would bite back.

But one night, a career-altering phone call awoke Bartels at 4 a.m. Her cousin, Kwame Lumpopo, called from Otuam informing Bartels that her uncle had died and that she had been chosen by the elders and ancestors to be king.

After conferring with the dead ancestors about her new responsibility, she made plans to travel to Otuam and take charge.

In 2008, Bartels took the official title of Amuah-Afenyi VI, and has ruled Otuam as King since 2008.

“This woman here is on a mission, and I’m chosen,” King Peggy told CBS News. “I’m not going to allow any male to run me down. I am going to rule you and rule you right.”

She politely commanded respect in her interview with Erica Hill and Gayle King of CBS News when she asked to be called “Nana” instead of King Peggy.

“It’s (the) name of a woman of stature or a King or a Queen in Ghana,” she said. “It’s a very powerful name.”

King Peggy said that once she sets her mind to do something, she will not let anyone deter her.

“(The elders) chose me as king because they know I have a really strong personality, and I can rule,” said King Peggy. “The King is the one who makes all the educated decisions and (does) all the hard work for the town.”

Her book, entitled “King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village,” details accounts of the town’s funds being stolen and spent by elders who opposed her leadership vehemently.  Elders would not carry out her instructions, attend meetings she called, or give her the same respect they had given to the previous male king.

Even when home in D.C., King Peggy’s duties to Otuam do not end. To help the town improve its unsatisfactory water and hospitals, she sent hundreds of dollars to the elders, but they instead spent the money on themselves.

“(It) was a battle,” King Peggy told TakePart. “They were not used to a woman telling them what to do, so I made it a point to them that I have the strength of a man.”

She said the male chauvinism eventually subsided.

King Peggy has since opened the town’s first bank account to assure that when she sends money to the village, it will be used in the way she intended.  Now, when the town receives money, it is deposited and managed by one trusted official. With the help of Shiloh Baptist Church in Maryland, King Peggy was able to supply the town with clean, running water.  She also  helped the town get its first ambulance. Of all her accomplishments, however, she is most proud of providing funds to educate the children of Otuam.

Her goal for 2013? To bring a publicly maintained lavatory to her village.

King Peggy doesn’t let her influence overpower her though.

“One thing is that I’m always humble,” she said to The Guilfordian. “I’m humble because if you are a leader and you are not humble, you will not accomplish anything. When I go to the office, I do my work as a secretary. When I go home, I do my work as king, and that’s how I program my thoughts.

“All these blessings I’ve been able to (get) for my people, it’s not my might. It’s the might of God. God really blessed me to bless the people.”