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Opinions of Sunday, 4 December 2011

Columnist: Agyei, Kwaku T.

RE: We mourn the sudden sad end of Ghana’s High Commissioner in Canada

In an attempt to pay tribute to the memory of Ghana’s High Commissioner to Canada, His Excellency, Dr. Richard Benjamin Turkson, the Ghanaian News wrote an Editorial which when dissected, renders one sad, ashamed and cold. The said Editorial can be found on page 5 of Vol. 15, No. 11 of the November 2011 edition of the paper. The Editorial was also posted on ghanaweb on 27th November, 2011.

Let me say from the outset that I find the Editorial to be irresponsible, infantile, insensitive, and in fact, un-Ghanaian. At a time of deep sadness and sorrow, the Ghanaian News decided to malign and attack the late High Commissioner all with misinformation and disinformation. In the said Editorial, the Ghanaian News provided that “the late High Commissioner did not make himself fully available and known to the Ghanaian community during his two years of duty tour of Canada. Apart from one or two short trips to some community events in Toronto, the rest of the Ghanaian community outside of Ottawa never got to meet him. In other words, Dr. Turkson did not really reach out to the larger Ghanaian-Canadian community.”

Let me say that this is completely false. Beside the two or so visits that the Ghanaian News credits Dr. Turkson to have undertaken to Toronto, he (Dr. Turkson) also is on record to have visited, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, and Charlottetown. And he visited some of these cities more than once. Dr. Turkson certainly visited Toronto more than twice but at this point, that is inconsequential.

Furthermore, at his behest, the Consul-General in Toronto, Mr. Kodjo Mawutor, and Mr. Francis Kotia of the Mission in Ottawa visited Halifax and Winnipeg respectively. If anybody is in doubt, they can call residents of the above-mentioned cities to verify.

The Ghanaian News purports to speak for the entire Ghanaian community in Canada, from coast to coast to coast but any critical analysis of the length, breadth, and depth of its coverage will reveal it has neither the track record nor the credibility nor, for that matter, the authority to do so. The paper is without doubt very Toronto-centric and thus should not present itself as what it isn’t: a paper that is well-informed on issues across all of Canada.

In Ghanaian culture, whenever a tragedy like death strikes, people put aside their differences and come together to work for a common purpose. The least that can be expected in such circumstances is for one to maintain a respectful silence, if at all there was anything brewing before the incident. It is never considered prudent or wise to talk ill about the deceased, let alone to peddle falsehoods about them.

I do not, and will never advocate that people sweep the evils or errors that men commit under the carpet when they pass. All I am saying here is that there will be a time to do so if truly any evils have been committed. I must submit that it would also have been a different ballgame if the assertions were to be true. But quite sadly, they are based on falsehoods.

In the penultimate paragraph, the Ghanaian News writes “It is all talk, talk and talk; pretensions and hypocrisy and no action. We wish to offer our very heartfelt condolences to the family of the late Dr. Richard Turkson, the government and people of Ghana on this loss.” The paper seems not to know what it is about. Otherwise, how on earth does it offer its very ‘heartfelt’ condolences just as it says that it is all pretensions and hypocrisy? I am tempted to think that this might be due to some flawed professionalism at the paper.

The way the Ghanaian News wrote it, you would think that apart from the two or so visits to Toronto, the man didn’t travel anywhere else. The paper concedes that he was at some two community events but that does not seem to be adequate. It appears the paper would have loved to see him at every community event in Toronto. That is not only unfair, but also unreasonable.

It is important to point out that of all the regions in Canada, Toronto alone has an Office of the Consul-General, headed by a Consul-General, specially posted from Ghana with the full complementary staff. The Consul-General is supposed to take care of business in Toronto and I fully believe he does that. If the people in Toronto are not pleased with that arrangement, it is the responsibility of the Ghanaian News to explain things to them and not to cheerlead on any misconceptions.

Dr. Turkson was arguably the most community-oriented High Commissioner that we have had in Canada. I say this with some palpable and solid evidence. I am the President of the Ghanaian Association of Ottawa, and apart from the staff of the High Commission, I can confidently say that I am the one who worked most closely with him in the community. He encouraged anybody he met to visit the High Commission.

Fact is, the High Commissioner is not and can never be a community liaison or organizer for the Government of Ghana. Yet he did his part. In Ottawa, where he lived, like any High Commissioner before him, he attended our events whenever he could. He attended our independence parties, outdoor events, and churches. In fact, he was billed to preach at the Ghana Methodist Church in Ottawa, the immediate Sunday after his demise. If this is not community involvement, then what is it? At GhanaFest 2011, which Emmanuel Ayiku, the publisher, proprietor, and Editor of the Ghanaian News also attended, Dr. Turkson was there for almost the entire day. He stayed around, talked to people, bought items for sale and watched our game with folks from Nigeria before leaving. So he did what he could.

In the final paragraph, the Ghanaian News writes “We will, in conclusion, appeal to the government to consider seriously the idea of posting relatively younger persons to its top diplomatic positions abroad since the work is rigorous and demanding. We do not know whether that was a factor in the death of the High Commissioner but it would certainly have helped if he had spent the last few years of his life enjoying his retirement in the comfort of the warm weather in the land of our birth.”

Dear Ghanaian News, it is not your business to suggest when and where Dr. Turkson should spend his retirement. That is his personal decision. His age, in my view, shouldn’t be an issue. Younger folks have served in the post of High Commissioner and never connected as well as Dr. Turkson did. Besides, death is no respecter of age: the young as well as the aged can die, and indeed, do die.

Dr. Turkson’s health may not have been the best, but he had earned the right to serve Ghana in the capacity that he did. Some of us traveled abroad to study and never went back to serve Ghana. And we have the full right to do whatever we please. Dr. Turkson, unlike some, came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to do his Masters and to Queens University, Belfast, Northern Ireland to do his Ph.D., then went back home after his studies. He stayed and worked in the country all along subsisting on the paltry pay that was given to lecturers of the time. He, together with some others, helped to educate many, many lawyers and other professional who are today spread all over the world.

Unlike Dr. Turkson, Emmanuel Adinortey Ayiku came to Canada and studied architecture at the University of Ottawa. In search of greener pastures he refused to go back home and I have nothing against that but I would expect him to be circumspect and respectful to those who sacrificed by going home. Dr. Turkson, with his many years of sacrifice to Ghana, had earned the right and privilege to represent the country.

Finally, I find the act by the Ghanaian News to be dishonourable, in the sense that I met Emmanuel Ayiku a number of times in the same location as Dr. Turkson and he seemed to have a great deal of respect for the man. If indeed, he had no regard for him, or had so many beefs against him, why was he behaving the way he was doing. Is it because he needed some favours? I for one, if ever I were to have anything against someone, I will not wait till s/he dies before I pour it out: at a time when s/he would not be in a position to defend him/herself. Simply because that will be dishonourable.

Kwaku T. Agyei Ottawa, Canada