Feature Article of Wednesday, 11 January 2012
UNSUNG HERO-MICHAELKOFI AMEKO
On 24th December 2011, news came out that one Mr. Michael Kofi Ameko, a former ambassador and a great Nkrumahist had passed away. Many were there in the general populace who wondered who this man was and what made him so special man in the history of Ghana and Africa. Those in the know, many who were “in the trenches” with him know what contributions he made to Ghana’s development. First he was a pioneer teacher and Vice Principal of the Government Secretarial Schools in many towns in Ghana. We also know that this great man contributed during in his lifetime to foiling attempts of the British to usurp our lands in Ghana and through that in other British colonies, and he was also once a Deputy Director of the Bureau of African Affairs, proceeding to be Ghana's Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary to East Africa (Rwanda-Burundi) during the Nkrumah regime; through that he was instrumental in the liberation struggles in East Africa under Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah. He was also instrumental in making the TUC what it is today; Comrade Ameko was a leading trade unionist alongside John Kofi Tettegah and others. His Comrades therefore decided that even if he had not been honoured publicly during his lifetime, it was not too late to honour him in death. Mr. Ameko (like his mentor Nkrumah) believed in the ability of the Ghanaian and African to manage his own affairs and espoused self-reliance, self-sufficiency and industrial development- just as Osagyefo had dreamed of when setting up numerous industries in Ghana.
Mr. Michael Kofi Ameko was born on 23rd July, 1926 at Aburi in the then Gold Coast, where his father worked as a horticulturist in the Aburi Gardens. In 1932, the family settled at Dzake, Peki, their ancestral home town, in the region of Ghana then known as Trans-Volta Togoland.
Ameko began his elementary schooling in 1935 at Dzake. He was found to be very bright and was promoted straight from class one to class three in 1936. After his elementary school education he proceeded to the Presbyterian Senior School at Peki Blengo. He passed the Standard Seven Examinations at the end of 1943. During his Senior School years, Ameko took an interest in shorthand, which he studied in earnest in self-study, buying books from Accra. Within a few months he had become proficient, writing with speed.
He proceeded to Accra in 1944 to start his next stage of education. It known at all, but it is a fact that Mr. Ameko was de-facto one of the pioneering students of the West Africa Secondary School (WASS), because he attended Tettey’s College of Commerce in 1944, which later became the West Africa College of Commerce established by two natives of Peki, (Mr. Ameko’s hometown) namely, the late Rev. J.C. Tettey and Mr. Emmanuel Addo, and in later years it became the West Africa Secondary School WASSS. At Tettey’s College of Commerce he learnt typewriting, and perfected his stenography. He also gained admission to Achimota College on half-scholarship, but due to his father’s meagre resources Ameko opted to remain at Tettey’s College of Commerce to complete his business education.
EARLY ADULTHOOD AND FIRST WORKING EXPERIENCES
After school he was employed as secretary to the manager of S.C.O.A. at Sekondi/Takoradi, and later to Palm Oil Estate Managers of Lever Brothers Limited (UAC) as secretary to the British Manager at Sese. There, he worked from 1946 to mid-1949 and gained great experience in trade unionism, when he joined the Trade Union and became its Assistant General Secretary, representing the Gold Coast Plantation Workers Union at meetings of the Gold Coast Trade Union Congress in Sekondi.
While in Sekondi he began to receive a monthly London publication titled ‘THE NEW AFRICA’, which contained thought provoking articles by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, which he and other “Comrades” read secretly, away from the view of the British manager. 1947 was a momentous year for Ameko. In November of that year, a message came to him that Kwame Nkrumah had arrived and would give a public address at Takoradi, in front of Love All Canteen. It was a Sunday and he attended and for the first time saw Kwame Nkrumah, who gave the audience an electrifying speech. When Ameko returned to work on Monday at Sese, he was asked by the British manager, J.A. Douglas Mead, whether he had seen the “rascal”, a reference to Kwame Nkrumah.
Even before today’s “wikileaks” affair, Ameko caused a patriotic “Whistleleak”; at one time a letter came from London to his boss, that the Sekondi / Takoradi region was being considered as a vast palm oil producing area for Britain. Takoradi and Sekondi were to be formed into a purely white township. Mr. Ameko gave the letter to the postal agency Assistant Chief Clerk, Jacob Webber de Heer, the elder brother of Nana Tsibu Darku (the then Omanhene of the Assin Attandasu Traditional Area), before the manager saw it the next morning. There and then, de Heer whistled the contents in code (probably our indigenous whistling-communication used in the rural areas in the farms and when hunting) to his brother who was a member of the Legislative Assembly. Nana Tsibu Darku raised the question on the issue with the colonial Governor, which was then a top secret. The matter being then in the open, the Governor denied openly and it came to a close, because the Gold Coast people would have risen up if they became aware of it. If Mr. Ameko had not revealed the letter to the de Heers, the colonial Government might have had its way and usurped lands in the then Gold Coast to establish it as its palm oil production base, Gambia would have been its groundnut production base and Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya would have bee the sisal-hemp production base for post-war Britain. Our independence and independence in other African countries would have been more difficult to attain.
By 1948, Ameko was looking to broaden his horizon. An opportunity presented itself when the then new University College of the Gold Coast (now the University of Ghana, Legon) was in need of qualified staff to man some of its administrative departments. He quickly applied, was called for an interview, which he passed and was employed as a stenographer to the manager of the Maintenance Department, the Engineer, K. H. J. Eichenberg, who was once a German-Jewish high ranking officer under whom Hitler served as a corporal during the First World War. In addition Ameko was in charge of labour. He was thus one of the pioneering staff of The University College (Legon).
His years at the University were exciting for him, as those were hectic political years. He and a friend, Noble Nkrumah, would walk all the way from Achimota to West End Arena and back, whenever there was a political rally. He enrolled as a member of the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) in 1949 taking keen interest in the activities of party, including the “Positive Action”.
In December 1951, Ameko accompanied his boss, K.H.J Eichenberg to Kumasi where the latter had been given a new appointment as Director of Building Construction of the new University of Science and Technology that Kwame Nkrumah wanted built as a matter of urgency. He arrived in Kumasi on the morning of 24th December 1951 to begin work; he modified with his boss, who was not perfect in English, contract books and drawings from the Public Works Department (PWD) for the first phase of the University (the University College of Science and Technology-now KNUST).
SCHOLARSHIP TO ENGLAND
In early 1953, he was one of six persons chosen (from more than fifty expert stenographer applicants) to be sent by the Government of Britain to train as teachers and return to teach in the Government secretarial schools. The five others were; David Bosumtwi, later Ambassador, Peter Agyekum, private secretary to Minister Kojo Botsio, Doku from the Civil Service, Ebenezer Baidoo, from the United Africa Company Limited, Tetteh from the Ministry of Education.
In London Ameko was first admitted at Pitman’s College, where he underwent rigorous training in secretaryship. Then at the beginning of the academic year in 1953, he went to Garnett College at Elephant and Castle, which was part of University of London Institute of Education, where he studied Educational Psychology and Philosophy as well as the practical application to Secretaryship. In June 1954, he sat the Teachers Examination of the University of London and qualified further at Pitman’s College thereafter.
At the end of 1954 he and his group of five arrived back to Accra from London. Ameko was appointed lecturer at the new Government Secretarial School in Accra. He met his first wife, the late Adelaide Abdallah, who was then a student at a secretarial school established by the late Madam Nkulenu, (later Mrs. Okloo), the renowned industrialist. A period of courtship blossomed into marriage. Ameko was later posted to the office of A. L. Adu, Director of Recruitment and Training for a few months, then to the Kumasi Branch of Government Secretarial Schools for three years – 1955 to 1958. In that same year he was again posted to the Government Secretarial School in Sekondi, where he taught until 1962, including testing of the secretarial Class of the Civil Service from Winneba to Axim. His marriage to Adelaide was blessed with two sons, Stephen Dzifa and Selassie Komla.
POLITCAL LIFE AND FOREIGN SERVICE
His political life took off when Ameko joined the CPP in 1949. During his working years in Kumasi between 1955 to 1958, at the height of the National Liberation Movement and Ashanti nationalism, Ameko kept a low political profile. From Kumasi he went to Sekondi, where he engaged in some political activities: he was chairman of a ward branch of the CPP.
In mid 1962, he was called to succeed Dr. Bosumtwi–Sam as a Deputy to A. K. Barden at the Bureau of African Affairs (established by the famous George Padmore) directly under President Nkrumah at the Flagstaff House; it was responsible for the liberation struggle in Africa. He was assigned to cover East, Central and Southern Africa. His first journey in this connection was at the end of December 1962, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He, John Tettegah, and Kofi Batsa were delegated by Osagyfo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah to cover a conference being organised by the Conference of the Peoples of Central, Eastern and Southern Africa. The Chairman was the then freedom fighter, Kenneth Kaunda. Their mission was to convince him not to create a separate regional entity, because steps were being made to form an Organization of African Unity in 1963 which they succeeded in doing. His work in those days also involved “clandestine” meetings with freedom fighters and arrangement of supplies and funds for them. During those days a codename, “Mizinyawa”, was used for him.
In September, 1963, he was recalled to Accra for consultation. A few days after, he left for Kampala, Uganda. In the last quarter of 1963, Kenya attained independence after the Mau Mau struggles with the British Colonial Government. The British had plans to create an East African Federation, including Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. They also had plans to create a Central African Federation of Zambia, then known as Northern Rhodesia, and Zimbabwe (known as Southern Rhodesia) and Malawi. It was the plan of the British to link the East African Federation and the Central African Federation with South Africa, which was then under the apartheid regime. This grand plan would have given Africa a different outlook. This was unacceptable to President Nkrumah, who was pioneering the organisation of African Unity.
Since Ameko was covering the liberation struggles of East, Central and South Africa at the Bureau of African Affairs, in tandem with Dr. Bosumtwi-Sam, and serving under him as his political attaché, it was natural to assist him in carrying out Osagyefo’s orders to dismantle the two Federations, whilst lending support to the struggle against the racist regime of South Africa. This they successfully carried out. Northern Rhodesia became Zambia under President Kenneth Kaunda, Malawi became detached with Dr. Kamuza Banda as President, whilst Southern Rhodesia remained in the clutches of the immigrant whites, to be tackled by Joshua Nkomo, and finally Robert Mugabe.
In 1963, Ameko was posted to Uganda, under High Commissioner Bosumtwi-Sam, to assist him in organizing the political party of Prime Minister Milton Obote. In that year also Ameko remarried, this time to Joyce Tawia after the dissolution of his first marriage and had three other children from this union, a daughter- Jasmine Afua- and two sons - Kwadzo Oppong and Enyonam Koku. By the first quarter of 1964, Ameko was appointed Ghana’s Ambassador to Rwanda and Burundi.
NKRUMAH IS OVERTHROWN-HIS EXILE IN TANZANIA
On 24 February 1966, Ameko heard on a BBC news broadcast that the Government of President Kwame Nkrumah had been overthrown by the Army and Police in Ghana. He was requested by the new government to return to Ghana. The greatest decision that he ever made in his life was to refuse the order to return to Accra. In May 1966 President Julius Nyerere had invited President Nkrumah to stay in Tanzania. That encouraged Ameko to go to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania with his family, and they arrived on 6th May 1966. Ameko immediately found work with the All-African Trade Union Federation (AATUF) as its Administrative Secretary. Ameko together with Nkrumah, Botsio, Baako, and other CPP stalwarts were banned for life by the NLC government from participating in party politics.
TRADE UNION WORK WITH THE AATUF
His work with the AATUF involved attending meetings abroad at the request of the federation and this afforded him the opportunity to present the case of Ghana under Osagyefo. Whilst in the AATUF, he became the co-ordinator of international trade union education in East and Central Africa. It made it possible for him to also to travel almost every three months to Conakry to visit Osagyefo and receive his instructions concerning the struggle in Ghana.
AS OSAGYEFO’S SOLITARY AMBASSADOR
Another aspect of his interest was with the liberation movements, which had their headquarters mostly on Kwame Nkrumah Avenue in Dar-es-Salaam. Thus he had regular contacts with leaders of FRELIMO (Samora Machel, Marcelino do Santos), Dr. Augustino Neto of Angola and Sam Njoma of Namibia. He took part in the declaration of Namibia’s independence. He made regular contacts also with Joshua Nkomo and Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, and also with leaders of the Africa National Congress; and leaders from Swaziland and Lesotho. In many respects, he continued with the work he was doing whilst at the Bureau of African Affairs. He had had an exciting experience as co-ordinator of liberation movements, a diplomat and an international trade unionist. From 1966 to 1972, he was Osagyefo’s solitary Ambassador and in July 1968 was with Osagyefo in Conakry, Guinea when the latter gave him as a birthday gift a signed copy of his seminal book, “Colonialism, The Last Stage of Imperialism”.
While in Cairo, Egypt in early 1972 for a conference, he heard a BBC news report on 13th January, that the Progress Party Government of Dr. K. A. Busia had been overthrown by the Ghana Armed Forces under Colonel Kutu Acheampong. He returned to Dar-es-Salaam after the Conference with the aim of preparing to return home to Ghana for good. On 27th April of that same year, the death of Osagyefo was also reported to have occurred in Romania. On hearing this news he and family quickened their preparation for going home. On 6th May 1972 they landed in Accra.
For a few months in 1972-73, he avoided all political contacts and taught Business subjects at the Nungua Secondary School. Soon after however, he was invited to join and lead the African Youth Command where he was the Continental Co-ordinator-General until 1978, due to his diplomatic experience. After 1978 he again entered the teaching field as a teacher with the Presbyterian Secondary School, Osu. In 1979, he became a founding member of the Kwame Nkrumah Revolutionary Guards (KNRG) and was its Deputy General Secretary. The Kwame Nkrumah Revolutionary Guards and other organisations were working to revive the pro-Nkrumah political direction which was pushed out of Ghana politics through a consensus of the Ghanaian political elite since the 24 February 1966 coup d’etat. There were a number of meetings where these organisations came together to discuss the way forward. One of this was the Progressive Forum convened jointly by Osei Poku (then Editor of People’s Evening News) and S.S. Baffuor Awuah (then General Secretary of the African Youth Command) on 3rd October 1981. When Dr. Liman was overthrown on 31st December, 1981, Kwame Nkrumah Revolutionary Guards (KNRG) came together with the June Fourth Movement (JFM), New Democratic Movement (NDM), People’s Revolutionary League of Ghana (PRLG), Pan African Youth Movement (PANYMO), African Youth Command (AYC) and Kwame Nkrumah Youth League to constitute the Joint Committee of Progressive Organisations which influenced civilian participation in the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC). During this period he was approached by Association of Local Unions (ALU), a grass root network of local trade union officials, to help the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) to gain recognition with the Trade Unions Congress, which under Issifu was proving difficult. This he did successfully.
In 1983, he was called to the Castle on contract, and appointed special assistant to Ebow Tawiah, the PNDC member responsible for the Ministries of Labour and Social Welfare, Transport and Divestiture Implementation Committee as well as the mass organisations of the TUC and Committees in Defence of the Revolution (CDRs). With his experience he ably assisted Ebow Tawiah and also represented the PNDC in the Afro - Asian Peoples' Solidarity Organization "AAPSO", based in Helsinki, Norway. He married the late Sussie Oppong in 1987 in Dzake, Peki with whom he had his last child, Sussie Ohenewaa.
Internationally, he opened the channels of Osagyefo for Ebow Tawiah and the PNDC whenever any conference occurred in any trade union organisations anywhere in the world, sometimes travelling alone representing the PNDC and Ghana as a whole, and writing reports on them. During his travels since Nkrumah’s days and while with the PNDC he also met many heads of States and Presidents, among them Indira Ghandi. He also had the privilege of visiting many countries and noteworthy places such as the Egypt pyramids, The Taj Mahal, Lenin’s Mausoleum and body and The Baikal Sea among many others. His contract at the Castle ended in 1995 and he retired from active service to his country. He is one of those whose involvement with the PNDC and later the National Democratic Congress developed a pro-Nkrumah influence within the NDC.
He later settled in his home town of Dzake, Peki where he lived out the rest of his life, occasionally writing political articles for publication in the newspapers. Ameko died in his sleep at home in Dzake at 10 pm on 24th December 2011 at the age of eighty-five years. He is survived by six children and four grandchildren.
During his lifetime he excelled in many other ways and had lots, and lots of experiences (too numerous to detail in this write-up). He however did not die taking his experiences with him but succeeded in leaving behind a lot of material and information which served as the basis of this article.
THIS MATERIAL HAS BEEN COMPILED WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF COMRADE KOFI AMEKO'S CHILDREN.