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An African Chief from small-town Saskatchewan

While increasing numbers of newcomers are arriving in Canada from Africa, Rod McLaren's journey has taken him the other direction. In 1971, Saskatchewan native Rod McLaren took a two-year contract with CUSO (then Canadian University Service Overseas) to teach in Ghana's western region. He left Ghana with mixed feelings after his contract ended and returned several years later to marry a woman with whom he had a relationship, Comfort Yaa Sewaa Amaoako. The couple then moved to Canada and raised three children in small-town Saskatchewan, on Canada's prairies. They made regular visits to Ghana and during one visit in the mid-90s, Rod and Comfort each noticed that the economic fortunes of the country were improving and they started talking about spending more time in Comfort's homeland. In 1999, they purchased land in the beach resort community of Busua, west of the city of Takoradi.

Comfort (left) and Rod McLaren participate in the cocoa harvest festivities in New Edubiase in Ghana`s western region.

Even at that point, they did not envision fulltime residence in Ghana. But the move became a reality in 2001. They built a small resort hotel – the African Rainbow, designed by their son, Akwasi, an architect who studied at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. To their surprise  –  and great pleasure – Rod and Comfort's three children decided to follow their parents to Africa. Their son Akwasi is building an eco-lodge down the coast from his parents' village, while Sewaa manages the African Rainbow resort. The youngest child,  Tia, completed her university studies in Ghana and now lives in Zanzibar.

In 2004, Rod was installed as a the Nkosuhene (chief responsible for development) of the Edubiase Traditional Area in the Ashanti region. He was given the name Nana Akwasi Amoako Agyeman II.  The next year, Rod and Comfort also established  the Africa Sankofa Fund to support a daycare and health facilities in the town of New Edubiase.

His duties as a chief of the Ashanti people include attending council meetings, ceremonies and dispute hearings. But his real passion is promoting the arts in western Ghana. From the time it opened, the African Rainbow has featured both traditional and popular music at the rooftop bar. While there, I had the chance to perform with Rod's daughter Sewaa, her partner Bill and the United African Spirit band.

Rod has also written several books of poetry and he writes a blog about the arts and issues affecting Ghana, particularly the western region, where he lives.  These days his concerns include the presence of foreign trawlers vacuuming up fish stocks off Ghana's coast and the possible impact of the oil industry on the western region. The first oil is slated to be pumped from an offshore well near Cape Three points not far from Busua. Like many in Ghana, the McLarens are hoping that oil revenues will be a force for positive development in the country and not a curse leading to corruption and violence – the fate of many oil-producing African nations.

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