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Opinions of Monday, 14 September 2020

Columnist: Clara Beeri Kasser-Tee

Clara Beeri Kasser-Tee: My tribute to Prof Yaw Benneh – Down memory lane

Prof Emmanuel Yaw Benneh was a senior lecturer of Law at the University of Ghana Prof Emmanuel Yaw Benneh was a senior lecturer of Law at the University of Ghana

I was in shock yesterday. I still am. When I received the news in the morning of yesterday about your death, I did not want to believe it. I decided in my mind it was some other person, (forgive me, but the pain is hard to bear, and you know this. You too may have been in this position sometime).

The person who broke the news noted it was my very lecturer that I know but not some other person. My mind still found it difficult to process. I continued in denial. The denial was not possible after the news became public and his pictures in the public domain and on the social media platform. So I had to confront reality. This hurts. I go down memory lane.

My first encounter with Mr. Benneh as he then was, was as my interviewer when I applied to read law. I however remember him more clearly on the interview panel when I was interviewing for International Relations. As a girl, I usually wanted to do a number of things, will plan for that number of things, and eventually settle for the one I liked the most, if I was compelled to choose, otherwise, I did them all. It was same with the law.

I applied to read international relations at the same time I applied to read the law. My plan was to do both. Why not, I said to myself. I remember my friend would complain – I knew you wanted to do both. You are always like that. And I would retort “And who or what does that offend?”

The interview at the Legon Law Faculty was first. Mr. Benneh was on that panel. Then was the interview for International Relations. Initially, I did not realise Mr. Benneh was on that panel too because they were many – there were a lot of them from where I sat. I however concentrated on my own job, which is to persuade them on why they should give me an admission.

I was in full flight and the panel attentive. Several people asked me questions and I answered. It was Mr. Benneh’s turn to ask a question. He looked at me and said “I am shocked at the way you are able to speak to issues on international relations. Very impressive. But that is what also puzzles me. Just the other day, you spoke so passionately about …” I recognised him at once, and cut in before he could finish with, “I hope you are not going to tell anyone on this panel where and how we met”.
This rather peaked the panel’s interest. They then started saying they deserved to know how we met. I, in the meantime insisted, openly, forcefully, and naively that “It is our little secret and you must keep it as such – our little secret”.

Inwardly, I was angry at myself, and reprimanding myself for what to me was my second mistake of the day of the interview. My first mistake was that when I got to the interview venue, I interacted with other interviewees. Then I saw this huge man, (huge because I was petite) reading a newspaper. I walked up to him and asked for his newspaper when he was done. I then told him that I was nervous because I hadn’t listened to the news that morning and so would probably be found wanting if I was asked questions on current affairs. I had assumed he was one of the interviewees.

The man smiled, handed me the newspaper and said I would be fine. I gratefully took the newspaper and read it. I didn’t see the man again to give him back his newspaper so I asked if any other interviewee wanted to read a newspaper and passed it on. When I was called into the interview room, there was the owner of the newspaper on the panel. Imagine how I felt! I however managed to put myself together and focused on what was before me, rather than the past I couldn’t undo. I would later get to know that that man I had assumed was one of the interviewees was the Director of LECIA. He is was of the kindest persons I would later get to know. I digress.

Mr. Benneh wanted to tell everyone how we met, with me protesting and cutting it. He persisted, and I relented. So he told them “this lady came for an interview for admission to read Law at the Law Faculty. She spoke passionately about human rights. So I am just amazed at how deftly she is speaking about international relations”, (I had done some work in this area during my national service, so I was conversant with some of the issues). I cut in again and said “ the two, (human rights and International Trade issues) are not mutually exclusive”.

I spoke about how International Trade can be conducted to benefit poor countries and poor and vulnerable people. It may not be called human rights law, but as far as I am concerned, ensuring that international trade is conducted in a manner that benefits the countries described as poor so that vulnerable people have decent lives, access to food and health enhances human rights, rather than takes away from it.

“So if anything, I have shown this morning that I am consistent”, (I used ‘countries described as poor’ rather than ‘poor countries’ because I had disagreed that African countries are poor. That is a matter for another day though). Mr Benneh agreed and so did the panel members – that the two were not mutually exclusive.

The panel then asked me the dreaded question “So if you get admission to read law and we also give you admission, which one will you choose?” I told them this was why I had wanted Mr Benneh to keep our meeting a secret. I told them I would not make a choice on the interview seat, and that I would cross that bridge when I got there. They insisted on me answering the question, and I refused to answer it, while asserting my right to be treated on the basis of my performance at that interview, without consideration of what happened at the interview at the Law Faculty. I was still hoping I might be able to read both at the same time.

I received my admission letter from the Faculty of Law. A few days later, I received a call. It was from Mr. Benneh. He was calling to tell me he knew I had been offered admission to read Law. They were in the process of sending out letters to successful candidates to read International Relations, and I was one of the successful ones. He wanted to know if I still wanted to read International Relations, and if not, they could pass the opportunity to someone else as they were admitting only a few people. I abandoned my initial idea of reading the two, and informed him that I would go to Law School instead so the opportunity could be offered to someone else.

I would meet Mr. Benneh again at the Law Faculty. He taught me International Law. A consummate academic, teacher and researcher. He was personable, helpful, generous and loved. He was a kind man. The one who took his life, has taken the lives of many.

I wanted to say may the perpetrators be apprehended, but those words fail me. And that, is what is scary. I say them all the same.
I am numbed. Confused.

To anyone who has ever taken a life and who plans to take a life, know that no matter who that person is, s/he is loved by other people. When you touch one person, you touch so many others. And guess what – dead people do not learn lessons – there is no tuition in the grave.

This has been difficult. It still is. May the perpetrators be found and may they pay for this.

Prof Benneh, you may not have gone in peace. But may you rest in peace. So many hearts have been broken on your passing and so many more pained at the manner of your passing.


The writer is the Founder and Head of Chambers of Kasser Law Firm, and a Lecturer at GIMPA.

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