Of Monuments and Graves
• The Asomdwee Park was renovated recently
The last two weeks have been quite eventful for Ghanaians. First was the news that the Nkrumah Mausoleum was going to be refurbished to greater tourism standards, only that this time names or items of the very people who opposed him, and some who made attempts on his life, were to be added for good measure.
Second was the refurbishment of the grave/tomb of the only President to have, so far, died in office; Professor John Evans Atta Mills. It was to commemorate ten years of his death. I remember that day. I had woken up early in the Bronx to check on my home back in Accra when I had a call from one of my daughters about his death.
I called Kofi Abotsi of the Voice of America and broke the news to him. He did not believe me. He made a few calls to Accra and got confirmation. My friend, John Dramani Mahama, his vice, had left New York a few days earlier after launching his uto-biography ( My first coup d’etat) in the Big Apple.
I decided to return home to commiserate with Mahama, so I called a cab to take me to JFK. At the JFK departure lounge I sat by an older man when I had a call telling me that John was going to be sworn in as President that evening in Parliament. The man only heard my end of the conversation and asked what was happening in Ghana. I broke the news to him and he told his partner whose reaction drew the attention of other passengers. That was how passengers on that flight got the news. The man was Atta Mills’ mate at Achimota, and he was grief-striken at the news of his death.
If I were Sekou Touré, I would be grieving in my grave for releasing Nkrumah’s body to Ghana. After all, Nkrumah was a co-President of Guinea Conakry at the time of his death so he could have had a state burial in that country. Rather, Sekou was magnanimous to recognise his place of birth and let his remains go. This is Sekou:s offense. Now, attempts are being made on Nkrumah’s death as there were on his life.
No matter what reasons our government has for adding the likes of JB Danquah, Obetsebi Lamptey and others it makes a complete nonsense of the Nkrumah Mausoleum. Though a state monument, it bears Nkrumah’s exclusive identity; nothing more or less. There is nothing wrong for a country to have many monuments; they add to the richness of our culture and tourism potential.
Nkrumah has a unique place in our history and that of the continent and the black race. Let no one tell it differently. To do so will turn our history on its head. The Osagyefo was not an idler in the United Kingdom before he was asked to come home to help in the independence efforts. He was already deeply involved in the Pan-African activities that eventually caught the attention of members of the united Gold Coast Convention (UGCC). They knew and appreciated his pedigree.
So, if the present crop of leaders are minded to honour people they believe are deserving, nothing stops them from building monuments in their honour, but to add anyone to Nkrumah is an insult to the very people they seek to honour. Their subservience to Nkrumah’s stature is sealed by this decision.
What have we done to honour the memory of Paa Grant, the merchant who gave money for Obetsebi Lamptey to go to London and bring Nkrumah down? I am getting increasingly sad that we have come to a point where we cannot build consensus in our national discourse. No nation is built this way. Do we have to mention every single person who plays a part in the preparation of the broth?
Many leaders are known and remembered for great speeches they deliver, but no one is interested in who the speechwriters are. When Nana Addo read a completely plagiarised speech on his first inauguration, he took the backlash; not his speechwriters. The first time I sat back and watched a President read a speech I had written, I felt a sense of deep fulfillment and nationalism even though that President might not know I drafted that speech. I will go to my grave with the joy. No amount of museum in my name can match that joy.
Koku Anyidoho must take praise for his unalloyed dedication to Prof Atta Mills. I recollect when Prof Mills was virtually-orphaned’ after he lost the 2000 presidential bid, Koku, Nii Lantey Vanderpuye and Ludwig Hlodze stood with the Prof, waking up each day to sweep his Kuku Hill offices and run errands for him. This is service; commendable service.
However, no matter our good intentions we have the propensity to do the right thing wrong. This has been Koku’s lot. Might Koku have forgotten that Prof Mills came from a family? Or he just did not care? Even if he loved the late President more than his own family, Koku can lay no claim to his memory above that of the family.
Since the death of Mills, Koku has carried himself as though he is the only person who knew the cause of the president’s death and talks out of turn in that regard. Who is he to demand an autopsy report if he indeed knows what took his boss’s life? He should not cry more than the bereaved.
Koku is the son of the venerated and highly decorated General Anyidoho who saved the country of Rwanda when the rest of the world abandoned that country to its fate during the genocide of 1994. General Anyidoho has stayed away from any public statement, even on security matters, because of his son’s utterances. He fears people will juxtapose whatever he says on Koku’s postulations. I would not want to be in the General’s shoes at this point in time.
I visited the Asomdwe Park a couple of days ago. A pall of great sadness swept through my whole being. I put myself in the shoes of a tourist from Papua. Nothing tells me whose bust I was looking at except who unveiled it and assisted by another inscribed name. Whose bust, I asked me. It is clear Koku engaged in a personal agenda and aggrandizement.
That the state could involve itself in this without recourse to the Mills’ family is a complete failure of leadership. There is nothing wrong to refurbish the Park. It is perfectly in order so to do if the state is so minded. But the one whose grave/tomb is the subject of any attention, left a family behind. Did the state consult with them? Listening to Dr. Cadman Mills deliver his comments at the Atta Mills memorial lecture, it came clear that the state did not consult them. Question is: why?
Either those who advised the President, Nana Addo, on such matters, did not know what they were about or the President refused to take their advice. I believe if Atta Mills was asked where his final resting placeshould be, he would have indicated a private burial in an unmarked grave in his village.
I think there is need for a national discourse on where our leaders choose to be interred. The final resting place for my own buddy, Jerry Rawlings is yet undetermined since the Anlo Traditional Council boycotted his funeral. In one of our numerous encounters I asked Rawlings how he wanted his remains disposed of. I suggested cremation, to which he responded he did not grasp the rationale for that but promised to study literature on that subject.
Great men who chose cremation are at rest from people who would want to capitalise on them. Great minds like Kow Nkensen Arkaah, Prof Kofi Awoonor, Busumuru Kofi Annan and Captain Kojo Tsikata cannot be hounded anywhere for personal glory by anyone. I am not by any means suggesting that Atta Mills should have chosen to be cremated, but what his memory is being subjected to, it might have been a better option for him.
Whatever we do as individuals or as a collective have consequences. The law of retribution is as efficient as it comes. How memories of us will be when we are gone is dependent on what we do today.
By Dr. Akofa K. Segbefia
Writer’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org