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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 June 2006

Columnist: Fordwor, Kwame Donkoh

Tribute To Prof. Albert Kwadwo Adu Boahen

By Kwame Donkoh Fordwor, An Admirer


Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

Prof. Adu Boahen died on his birthday, May 24, 2006. He was 74. I consider it appropriate to preface my tribute to him with a poem that he loved so much. The poem, by Lord Alfred Tennyson, describes the author?s placid acceptance of approaching death. Tennyson uses the sand bar as a metaphor for the barrier between life and death or, to put it differently, crossing the bar for him represents leaving the safety of the harbour for the unknown. The sand bar is a ridge of sand built up by currents along a shore. In order to reach the shore, the waves must crash against the sandbar, creating a sound that Tennyson describes as the ?moaning of the bar.? The other significant image in the poem is the Christian connotation of ?crossing over? into the next world. Finally, he links the metaphorical with the spiritual when he expresses the hope that he will ?see his Pilot face to face?? It is also my hope that Adu has now seen his Maker face to face, and that he was ready for the encounter.

Professor Adu Boahen was, of course, a prominent politician of Ghana. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that he has been one of the most well-known politicians in the country during the last two and a half decades. But he was a politician of a special kind. He was different in several important respects from many of his contemporaries, including both his political opponents as well his allies. Lord Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, Chancellor of Oxford University (1660/67) once said:

?A man of spirit and intellect should go into politics So as to have something to contemplate on and To apply himself to a magnanimous activity.?

In my view, Professor Adu Boahen fully embodied the qualities and elements so succinctly described by Lord Edward Hyde. For, although he was a politician, he did not enter politics for what he expected to gain for himself, but rather for what he hoped to be able to contribute to his country and to his generation. If history had taken the course that Adu had once wished, he would have had the opportunity to give even more to the country than he was able to do; and we would surely be mourning today a Head of State who left a concrete political and economic legacy for us and for future generations. However, that was not to be. Alas, politics is an unpredictable venture; and dreams of high political office are not always fulfilled. But, regardless of the official status that Adu Boahen occupied at the time of his death, there is no doubt that Ghana is today mourning a truly political great. For we cannot forget, and we dare not forget, that Professor Adu Boahen made a unique contribution to politics in our time. And we have good reason to pay tribute to the one person who, in one of the most difficult periods of our history, gave us the courage and the voice to claim our dignity as a nation and a people, at a time when the Conspiracy of Silence was holding us in thrall to a brutal dictatorship. I sincerely believe that there are very few, if any, people in Ghana today who will not readily acknowledge and accept that Professor Adu Boahen has been one of the most prominent and influential characters in the political life of Ghana in the 25 years prior to the ushering in of the third millennium.

Adu Boahen was first and foremost a man of supreme courage and integrity. He was willing and able to walk in where the angels feared to tread. He had the guts to ask the questions that needed to be asked and answered. He often asked questions for those who did not have the voice or the opportunity to do so. He was so much at ease with himself that, without intending or knowing it, he made others feel uneasy. He tried to help build a Party in which all would be permitted, encouraged and if necessary required to be civilized and civilizing.

To me personally, perhaps the most remarkable of Adu?s many qualities was his honesty in financial dealings. This was particularly so during the 1992 Presidential Campaign. In the many years of my association with him, and the many transactions I had with him, involving little and large amounts of money, I never had the slightest cause to doubt his word on any matter involving money. This was also true of his dealings with other persons, which I witnessed. In many cases, he discussed with me issues and amounts involved in detail. In every case, Adu?s concern was always to make sure that he was able to account truthfully and correctly to the last penny. After more than thirty years, I still marvel at his consistent and transparent honesty in every transaction, no matter how minor it might have been. I marvel because I am only too aware that this kind of honesty is rare at the best of times; and is almost non-existent in our contemporary society. To Adu, however, it was as if honest dealing was second nature to him. For that alone he should be fully deserving of our admiration and respect.

It is not only by comparison with the political pygmies and the many small-minded men and women who crowd or populate our current political landscape that Adu appeared such a towering figure. In any age, his sharp mind, intelligence, talent and drive would have made him outstanding. Broadly speaking, there are three types of people in any political grouping. The first, and naturally the most numerous, of these are the rank and file or the ?grassroots? who, although they are very important, can also be a problem because they tend to be fickle and easily manipulated. The second group consists of the time-servers: in general they cause little trouble because they follow where the wind is blowing. But, precisely because of this they hardly ever achieve anything of significance. The third group is made up of those few who join the party with the objective of creating something or making a change. Adu Boahen was, without a doubt, a member of this last group.

His greatest satisfaction was in being his own man, in never pretending to believe what he did not believe in, and never supporting a cause unless he was fully convinced that it was a just one. In short, he was never prepared to pretend to be what he was not. His enemies portrayed this trait as arrogance. To him, however, it was nothing more than what his innate integrity and self-respect demanded. But it appears that in the politics of our times those with integrity must be prepared to bear the charge of arrogance. Thus, what was considered by some to be a vice and the reason why he did not reach the top of the political ladder was, to those of us who knew him well, one of the most positive aspects of his character and personality.

Some would say he had many faults. They might say that he was impatient, quick to anger and dogmatic in his views. Some might also say that he was hesitant in taking positions and, perhaps, too conventional in his thinking to be an effective leader. These may or may not be faults, depending on our respective views of what a political leader should be. But, even if these were faults, they were hugely outweighed by his many unquestioned virtues: decency, honesty, rectitude, courage and tenacity. Words sometimes failed him, his memory occasionally betrayed him, and he might not always have made the right decisions in particular situations. But his vision never faltered: it was never myopic; it was large and clear. When he saw new possibilities, he had the courage to act on them. This is a trait which was uncommon among his political contemporaries.

He was a leader beyond the confines of his own party. As a leader he drew authority and influence from his personal makeup. In many ways he was a walking compendium of the qualities expected of a leader and inspirer in the Ghanaian political scene. He could be a gentleman to his fingertips ? one who could be respected, trusted and genuinely liked by his colleagues. Above all, he was unfailingly courteous. He showed great loyalty to those who worked with him and generosity towards those with whom he disagreed. And although he shared close friendship with only a select few, his circle of acquaintances was wide and mixed.

His first significant foray into party political activity began with his decision to leave the Progress Party to join the United National Convention (UNC). There are some who have questioned the wisdom of his decision to break from the Progress Party to help establish the UNC, and who condemn the negative impact that the break made on the fortunes of the Progress Party at the 1979 elections. There is little doubt that the division contributed to the failure of the Progress Party at the 1979 elections. However, it must also be admitted that the loss of the elections served a useful purpose. It helped to galvanize the party, by drawing serious attention to the need for internal democracy if the party was ever to win and retain political power.

It is not possible to say for sure if Adu Boahen could have successfully led the Alliance to victory, if he had won the flagship of NPP in 1996. As it turned out, it appears that he had become alienated from some sections of the party because of the accusation that he and UNC were the cause of the failure of the Progress Party to win the 1979 elections. But this was based on a serious misunderstanding of the man and his political thinking. Adu Boahen was essentially a man of the people, without much taste for narrow party politics. As a result, although he had good relations with most of the rank and file of the Party, he was out of sympathy with many of those who claimed to be the true successors to the Danquah/Busia Party and who were unwilling to have anything to do with the former members of the UNC. This was, of course, an unreasonable and unjustifiable position which ran counter to the clear and general agreement to unite all members of the Danquah/Busia tradition. Indeed, the main reason for the decision to adopt the name of New Patriotic Party was to make it clear that it was intended to embrace both the Progress Party and the UNC.

Adu Boahen was, perhaps, too much a man of principle and self-respect to want to aspire to the highest post of the land with a Party that was divided and in turmoil. So, although he and many who knew and appreciated his remarkable talents strongly believed that he would have won the nomination of the Party in easier times, they readily accepted the verdict of the Party to bestow the mantle on other shoulders. But, ever loyal to the Party to which he had contributed so much, he did not abandon ship when he lost the flagship of the Party. Rather, he campaigned actively and enthusiastically for the NPP until victory eventually came our way. Unfortunately, he was forgotten after the great victory; although good counsel eventually prevailed and his contribution was finally acknowledged. Thus, after he had been struck down with a stroke, the NPP honoured him on August 28, 2002 with a Citation which read as follows:



Prof. Albert Adu Boahen

You emerged when we as a nation desperately needed men of valor to call up our minds, our hearts and our souls to the evil nature of tyranny and oppression. Your weapon was not the lie or blasphemous use of propaganda but that of logical exposition, free from hatred and abuse.

The NPP is very proud of you, Professor Albert Adu Boahen for your contributions and achievements to your party and nation because you served both with honour not for honour

In the face of this public affirmation of his important contribution to the country, it came as a surprise to many when they noted that Adu Boahen was not included in the long list of people who had been earmarked for various national awards in July 2006. Happily, following an outcry in the media, a correction was quickly issued. A letter from the Castle stated that the President had nominated Adu Boahen for an award in the Category of "ORDER OF THE STAR OF GHANA" (MEMBER) for distinguishing himself in ACADEMIA AND STATESMANSHIP. It is to be hoped that the Medal will be presented at an appropriate time, even if posthumously. In the meantime, it is worth recalling that many national and international awards have already been bestowed on Adu Boahen. Among these may be mentioned the African Heritage Studies Association Honors Award ?for outstanding contribution to the Preservation and Enrichment of the Heritage of peoples of African Descent in the world?; the Ghana Book Award; the Seventeenth Noma Award ?for Publishing in Africa ?Mfanstipim and the Making of Ghana, 1876-1976?? and the UNESCO Avicenna Silver Medal ?in recognition of outstanding contribution to the General History of Africa?.

A staunch believer in democracy and the supremacy of a constitution, Adu Boahen defied the views of the students of Cape Coast University and challenged the legality of the 1972 coup which toppled the legitimate government of the late Dr. K. A. Busia. Adu Boahen stated categorically that the coup was unnecessary and illegal. To him the abrogation of the Constitution by military action was a betrayal of the people of Ghana and had to be condemned and challenged. Had Ghanaians listened to him, the sad history of Ghana might have taken a different course.

But who was this man of courage and constitutional propriety, Professor Albert Kwadwo Adu Boahen? The third of seven children, Adu Boahen was born at Osiem in the Eastern Region on May 24, 1932. His early childhood was spent in Osiem where he attended primary school. In 1943, Adu joined his uncle in Juaben, Asante where, like most children in the rural areas at the time, he had to walk eight miles each day to and from school. He entered Mfantsipim Secondary School in 1947 and passed the Cambridge School Certificate Examination in 1950. Between 1951 and 1956 he was in the University of Ghana where he graduated with a BA (Hons) degree in History in June 1956. In October 1956, Adu entered the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University and pursued a Ph.D. programme in African History. He was awarded the Ph.D. (African History) in September 1959.

Adu Boahen was appointed a lecturer in the University of Ghana, Legon on October 1, 1959. By February 1, 1971, a period of less than twelve years, he had become a full Professor of History by dint of hard work. In October 1990 he was made a Professor Emeritus in recognition of his contribution to knowledge and the growth and development of the University of Ghana.

In addition to his teaching load, Adu undertook many administrative responsibilities in the University and on the national scene. Among many others, he served as the head of the History Department, Dean of Graduate Studies, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Ghana News Agency and President of the Historical Society of Ghana. He was a member of the Council of the University of Ghana and a member of National Executive of the Association of Recognised Professional Bodies and Honorary Secretary of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Adu Boahen was a visiting Professor to Universities in Australia, the United States and Great Britain. He also worked very closely with some Universities in Nigeria, the Sudan and the West Indies. Since 1971 he was a UNESCO consultant of African History. He was President of the International Scientific Committee for the preparation of the eight- volume UNESCO History of Africa. His performance earned him fellowship and membership of learned societies in Ghana, Great Britain and the United States.

Adu wrote eleven books, fourteen chapters in other works, and more than forty published and unpublished articles. At the time he was taken ill, he was working on two major publications, namely, ?A General History of Ghana? and ?A History of Dwaben?.

In view of the colossal stature he had gained through his excellent work, most people especially, University students were often much unprepared for the unassuming affable and very humorous man when they first met him. But then Adu Boahen was at heart, a simple Ghanaian, as comfortable among his people on the farm as he was on the University campus.

Adu Boahen was a Christian, but he respected other religions. He built a Church at Osiem, Eastern Region.

Adu retired from the University of Ghana, and went straight to his farm in Charleskrom near Dunkwa where he embarked on serious farming in the production of cocoa, palm nuts and citrus fruits. Working among the people, Adu became keenly aware of problems facing the rural folk. The absence of potable drinking water was of such concern to him that he helped to sink a well in the village for the use of the community.

The inaccessibility of many villages to motor vehicles made marketing of farm produce difficult. He also discovered that farmers were not being paid fair prices for their farm produce. He was saddened by this because he believed that the country?s economic salvation was in the agricultural sector especially in the production of food and agricultural raw materials to serve industries.

Adu entered active politics, in defence of democracy. He was a founding member of the People?s Movement for Freedom and Justice (PMFJ) founded in 1978. The PMFJ?s aim was to end the military dictatorship of the late Gen. Acheampong and return the country to constitutional rule based on multi-party democracy. Adu was a founding member of the United National Convention, (UNC).

Through his direct involvement in the PMFJ and the UNC, Adu added a political dimension to his vast trove of knowledge and experience and, above all, to his personality. He was already known as an objective critic and soon added the title of ?fearless champion of democracy?. The stature of Adu could be measured by the response of Ghanaians to his J. B. Danquah Memorial Lectures, the series of lectures he delivered in February 1988. The topic of the lectures was ?The Ghanaian Sphinx: Reflections on the contemporary History of Ghana, 1972 ? 1987?.

Listening to him during the three lectures, one was reminded of the famous song composed by Dr. Ephraim Amu, the renowned Ghanaian musician: ?Asem yi di ka, edi ka, hena beka, me ara oo me ara, enye obiara oo me ara? (meaning ?these delicate issues have to be discussed; who will initiate the discussion, none other but myself?). To describe the lectures as a brilliant academic performance would be an understatement. But what left an indelible mark on the minds of those who had the privilege of listening to him was the great moral courage he displayed. He dared to discuss and challenge some of the issues which were almost taboo at that time.

In the first two lectures, Adu analysed the effects of recent military interventions in the political life of the country and their dire consequences on the political, social, and economic lives of Ghanaians. He condemned the harsh manner in which civilians were being handled by soldiers as well as the murder of the judges. He condemned the hasty manner in which educational reforms were being introduced and implemented. He then analysed the causes of the prevailing ?culture of silence?. In the last lecture, Adu offered suggestions on how to correct some of the wrongs he had discussed in the previous lectures. The lectures on the Ghanaians Sphinx helped to break the culture of silence. Ghanaians awoke from their political slumber.

When the National Commission on Democracy (NCD) decided to go round the country to collect views on the type of Government Ghanaians wanted, Adu and some concerned Ghanaians formed the Movement For Freedom and Justice (MFJ) in August 1990. He was the Interim President of the MFJ. The aim of the movement was to work towards the return of the country to constitutional rule under party political system. On his return from the USA early in 1991, he learned about the Danquah Busia Club, which had just been set up by Attakora Gyimah of blessed memory and others, and he immediately became a founding member. The immediate aim of the Club was to open branches all over the country, with a view to being converted to a national political party as soon as the conditions permitted.

Towards the end of 1991, Adu was requested by some supporters within the Club to contest the Presidential nomination. He yielded to this pressure. However, in view of the interest that other very competent members of Club had shown in the Presidential nomination, Adu declared ?I am a democrat and will accept the decision of the congress and will co-operate with whoever is selected to be the candidate on the proviso that the elections are clean and fair.?

Those who supported Adu believed that Ghana could achieve its full potential under a democratic Government. They also believed that Ghana needed a leader with strong moral courage who would be an example to his colleagues and would not be afraid to enforce discipline when the need arose. Adu?s supporters realised that to be effective, the leader chosen should understand the complexities of international politics and economics. He should be able to hold his own and also make an impact in world bodies like the Commonwealth and the United Nations Organisation. Last, and most important of all, the leader should be prepared for jeers and boos and, if necessary, even for death in pursuit of the well being of the country.

Adu Boahen proved beyond all doubt that the confidence of his supporters had not been misplaced. He demonstrated his high qualities in the Presidential Election of 1992, as has been documented in the NPP Stolen Verdict. He could not go beyond 1992. For me there was a very simple explanation for this.

While Adu had always wished to conquer, he was never prepared to stoop. His dedication to principle, combined with his natural reluctance to offend colleagues and opponents, contrasted sharply with the approach of his competitors. These, on the contrary, adopted what they considered to be a more ?pragmatic? view of political life and were prepared to use all the tricks of the game in their search for political power and preferment. In short, Adu did not have the taste for the ruthless in-fighting of politics. He lacked what has been described as the ?killer instinct?, the special political trait that, unfortunately, is often necessary for achieving high office, especially in politics. I believe however, that those who knew Adu Boahen well as a person and as a politician appreciate that, although he was not ruthless in seeking to vanquish others to reach the top, he made a major and, in many ways, unequalled contribution to our country and its moral and political heritage. It is my sincere hope that we shall learn to appreciate some at least of the good that Prof. Albert Adu Boahen did for us all and for our country Ghana, particularly at the time when the vital message that he was trying to convey appeared to come from a voice crying in the very remote wilderness.

I cannot end my tribute without taking the opportunity to say a big and sincere ?thank you? for the yeoman?s job that his wife Mary has performed for him, especially during his long illness. No portrait of this profoundly civilized man, Adu Boahen, can omit his wife Mary. For so many years she was the bedrock on which Adu rested. Without her there is some doubt if Adu would have been able to exert all the influence that he had. She came into his life at a time that he seemed to be losing his way. She was the sparkle that Adu needed at a very critical period in his personal and family life. It was she, more than anyone, who rekindled his confidence, channeled his prodigious energies and mothered him with the kind of ambitious and smothering love that brought him into the open. She was single-mindedly devoted to him. This she showed by her willingness to give up her otherwise flourishing business interests so that she could attend to his needs. She never regretted that decision.

Mary, Ayeekoo. All friends of Adu and myself join you in wishing him the Peaceful Rest that he so richly deserves.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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