Forget about working overtime. As ruler of the Ghanaian town of Otuam, King Peggielene "Peggy" Bartels is responsible for the welfare of a population of nearly 7,000 — and that’s not even her day job.
King Peggy became the unlikely West African king who went from secretary to royalty overnight when, in 2008, she got a call at 4 A.M. with the news that the traditional leadership in her hometown decided she would be the next to rule their people, and the first female king ever. Although startled at first, King Peggy took her appointment in stride and now relishes the opportunity she has to make a difference in the lives of so many. She now splits her time between Washington, D.C., where she still works as a secretary in Ghana’s U.S. Embassy, and Otuam, Ghana. Her ascent to the throne and accomplishments as king are chronicled in her new co-authored, eponymous book, King Peggy.
King Peggy chatted with BET.com recently and told us how she enjoys the responsibility of royalty, why she is not a queen and how a woman’s strength is like no other.
Q. How has being king changed your life?
It has really changed me to a point where I’m happy that I’m able to use my energy to connect with my people back home. Before, it was just me coming home from work, and sitting down in my living room and chill out with my little glass of wine and watching the news and talking to my friends, but now all these things have changed because the least amount of time that I get for myself, I have to think of what progress I want to have for my town. I have to talk to them, and I have to think fast how I want to achieve all these goals.
Q. Why aren't you called Queen Peggy?
Queen is in charge of the children’s welfare, while the king is in charge of all the executive work, so the queen normally goes and collects data about the children’s welfare and discusses it with the king. So, knowing myself with my strong personality and how I do my things, if they had chosen me as a queen, I wouldn’t be a good queen. I would be a lousy queen because, for instance, [the queen] collects data for the king and [if] the king doesn’t act on it, I’d be so furious and I’d be arguing with the king. So, I think it’s a good thing that they choose me as a king.
Q. What are your long-term goals for Otuam?
My long-term goal is to make sure that they have a good hospital with good medicine, and also an ambulance in case somebody is sick and they can’t cure the person in the town. Also to bring about a secondary school and to make sure that the town becomes a modern town and at the same time to be able to preserve the culture but not to deviate from the culture if it becomes a modern town.
Q. What advice would you give other women who are stepping into a role that’s traditionally dominated by men?
I would advise them to be strong, believe in themselves and have strong faith and pray because woman has the strength. I’m a childless woman, I haven’t had a child, but I understand it is a very painful thing that women endure when they are going to deliver. So, if we can deliver babies, and we can make a change in people’s lives, especially through me [in Otuam], they can see I’m making a lot of changes in people’s lives. Women have always succeeded where men have failed us. So I urge them to be very strong and believe in what they do and be honest and humble and they will succeed.
Q. It’s Women’s History Month, so as a woman who is now a historical figure, how do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered that here is a woman who came on a mission and was able to empower the women of her town and brought about changes to her people and also helped her people to lead a better life.
Visit www.kingpeggy.com to read about King Peggy's mission and how you can contribute to projects in Otuam.
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(Photo: Random House Publishing)