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Opinions of Monday, 30 January 2017

Columnist: Attah, Abdul-Rahman Harruna

Serving my country: Good men and women

H.E. Kwesi Awhoi with Ghanaians in Pretoria showing off their new biometric passports

By Abdul-Rahman Harruna Attah

Time does fly. 35 years already…

Early in 1982, I was called up to serve. The Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) had been delivered on the last day of the previous year and was now being midwifed. My good friend Chris Bukari Atim, PNDC Member, invited me to come down to Accra from Tamale to help in the midwifing.

The barrels of the guns that brought about the birth had hardly cooled when I jumped into the fray. Just turning thirty and already taking a political ringside seat. As a result of that original call up, I have witnessed first-hand, sometimes participating in the bouts taking place in the PNDC, NDC and NPP rings.

Crucially, I also have had the opportunity of sitting at the feet of men and women whose ringside experiences go as far back as our immediate pre and post-independence periods.

When you get called up, you do not serve alone. 35 years ago, it was with many others, some since passed on to eternity – remember Ato Austin? My boss at the Ministry of Information. Brilliant chap…

Providentially, I am ending another call up almost at the same time of the year, 35 years later. My most recent call, with others in the service of Ghana’s foreign relations has come to an end, during which time I came face to face with very good people, some of whom had suffered scathing demonization and vilification over the years, while others have remained under the radar all their lives, but all of them patriots through and through…

On the very first day of our orientation, His Excellency Victor Smith, until recently our High Commissioner to the Court of St. James, was the first I met. He hugged me very warmly and remarked that he was quite excited when he saw my name on the list, which he thought was a sign of President Mahama’s forward-looking and inclusive approach.

Emboldened by that, I took my place among the other soon-to-be Excellencies assembling, and to my surprise and joy it was one set of open arms after the other enveloping me, signaling for me the beginning of a highly rewarding working relations with some of the jolliest bands of Ghanaians that I have ever had the privilege of getting close to.

Ignorance and demonization, the two terrible cankers of our contemporary politics have often meant that good people are condemned and vilified and set out to hang in undeserved infamy for no reason other than a difference in political point of view. By the end of the two and a half years of service, the ignorance I was carrying regarding some individuals had melted into unalloyed understanding, appreciation, solidarity and respect….

When we settled into our different posts, we exchanged ideas on just about any issue that caught our fancy but always emphasizing our loyalty to country. Sometimes sublime, sometimes lighthearted, it also brought out the humanity in us as we would celebrate joys and commiserate when tragedy strikes. We would send birthday messages and congratulatory messages on graduations, weddings and births.

We would exchange patriotic greetings on our national days and go into deep collective mourning if anything untoward happened to our country…Through other direct one-to-one communications, I got to know my fellow travellers very well and it is with fondness that I set my own records straight with this random selection…

Since Victor Smith’s name came first in this narration, here goes then! Victor came to public notice as a spokesperson for former President Rawlings. I am sure he will tell his own story about that in his own good time. He was reviled for that in the media but after working with him for these past two years, I discovered how ignorance on the part of his detractors had played a major part in shaping his public image.

He became not just one of my best friends in the group, but in certain matters, a confidante. We would exchange views on this and that and because we shared (and I believe we still do), a normal Ghanaian appetite for guinea fowl, “Komfem” became our common appellation. Quick to laughter, Victor is also slightly introverted and wouldn’t interfere in what is not his business but would defend his position with his 6-foot plus frame passionately – a real gentleman and good dresser…

Some people love to hate Dr. Tony Aidoo, our former Ambassador to the Netherlands, but if only they knew what I discovered during our orientation, they would humbly not only submit to his superior intellect but also enjoy his very restrained sense of humour. I used to sit behind him during the orientation and could not help but overhear snippets of funny remarks he would make under his breath to himself if something was said that did not quite measure up to his incisive scrutiny.

I would chuckle at that, which I think he noticed, and before the orientation ended, I warmed up to Uncle Tony and he did likewise (I believe)…He has a Hammurabi sense of justice (which I discovered long ago when I interviewed him for my newspaper) and if you keep away from him, he would do likewise but if you go for his tooth, you would have to head immediately for the dentist’s chair nearest you! He kept a dignified composure during our orientation and carried it to his tenure at The Hague where to his credit, he did not upset any carts in this diplomatic area with many politically opinionated Diaspora Ghanaians…

Moses Bukari Mabengba!!! He deserves many more exclamation marks! My neighbor to the north of Namibia, Angola… What many ignorant people would not know about Moses is that he is an accomplished mathematician and before his appointment, was teaching mathematics at the University of Winneba.

Moses is the funny man of the group. Just name a topic and Moses would conjure up anecdotes that would tickle and tickle and tickle…One of my all-time favourites is the one about the little school girl who used to play with the boys in her neighbourhood climbing fruit trees and the caution her mother gave her and how she (mis)interpreted it…Just recollecting it and I am splitting away!

My grandfather SPY or Sam Payin Yalley, our Excellency in the Land of Mahatma Gandhi… I call him my grandfather because of my surname Attah (twin). He is a twin and so was my paternal grandfather. Not exactly pugnacious, but quite robust in the defence of what he believes in, his legal background often coming in handy in his points of view. A very caring soul, he would accept with grace, if he was convinced he had lost a debate.

He was greatly disturbed when the statue of Gandhi at Legon became an issue and he had to call into play his diplomatic skills to diffuse what could have become a major diplomatic spat between Ghana and India. His Excellency Sam P never shies away from controversy and occasionally would engineer one himself…I would often remark on his Central/Western Region concert party antics! A really jolly good fellow…

His Excellency Kwesi Ahwoi, our man in Pretoria. Gentle and urbane, he endeared himself to many when as Minister of Agriculture he honoured his predecessors (NDC/NPP). Kwesi, like me, loves the outdoors and in Accra we would often meet up at the Plus 233 for a beaker or two! South Africa has a fairly big concentration of Diaspora Ghanaians and so his mission was chosen among five others to pioneer the issuance of biometric passports, which went down very well with his compatriots. The Windhoek Mission benefited from that. Not an ideologue, “Uncle Kwesi”, as some of the younger members of the group (including the Hon. Minister) would call this urbane, suave and polite gentleman, he was treated with much and well deserved reverence…

And my sister Akua “Merkel” Dansua, my colleague member of the inky fraternity, serving in one of the most fiercely partisan Ghanaian Diaspora communities; she trod a very delicate path at her Mission in Berlin. I would occasionally play my commentaries by her for peer review and she never failed me. In my last article she shot back a one-liner telling me that I got the spelling of champagne wrong and I had my hand in my pocket in the picture with the Mayor of Windhoek which, she chided, was undiplomatic! Akua would always refer to me as “Bro” and unfailingly ask after “my sister Nana Yaa”. By the way, the spell check had given me Champaign and I retained it…

Another “Uncle” is His Excellency Kwame Bebako-Mensah of the Holy See. In deference to his seniority, not only in age but also his public service record, we all called him Uncle Bebs. One of the most distinguished and experienced civil servants in Ghana today, I knew of Uncle Bebs when he was an RAO (Regional Administrative Officer) in Tamale many years ago, when I was a rather very young man. He served with distinction under many governments, eventually rising to become Private Secretary to the late President Mills.

Uncle Bebs and myself belong to a mutual admiration society where we share a more than passing interest in classical music…A repository of post-independence Ghanaian history, I hope he would be made use of in academia or other such platform to enlighten us more on some of the finer points of our nationhood that are gradually being eaten away by ignorance and bigotry…

Then the soldier-diplomats: Lt. General Henry Smith (USA), Lt. General Peter Blay (Cote d’Ivoire), Major General Carl Modey (Sierra Leone), Brigadier General Wallace Gbedemah (Brazil) and Lt. Col. Sanda (Egypt). These fine officers and gentlemen brought to our diplomatic group the poise and non-clutter of their military heritage. Generals Smith and Blay were former Chiefs of Defence Staff – the highest any military man/woman can aspire to in Ghana. They added to our espirit de corps with the dignity only senior military people can carry.

My imagination has often driven me to conjure up images of how these military men may have looked as young Lieutenants in their dashing uniforms freshly minted out of the academy not knowing that destiny would eventually lead them to the world of diplomacy... In one of our talks, I remember Lt. Gen. Smith passionately bemoan the issue of youth unemployment and the dangers it posed to society…Lt. Col Sanda as the most junior amongst them was more expansive and exhibited a refreshingly liberal attitude, though he served as a Chief Imam for the GAF before retirement. The soldiers, I must confess were less “boisterous” than us the civilians – it maybe has to do with their very senior ranks!

The career diplomats among us never disappointed. They exhibited the kind of sophistication, knowledge and confidence that make Foreign Service Officers standout in the Civil Service lineup. They would offer crisp opinions on issues that needed expatiation…On the whole it was with a group of people that kept the flag of Ghana flying high that I served with: Men and Women that Ghana should be proud of and hold in high esteem.

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