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Opinions of Friday, 10 March 2017

Columnist: Africanus Owusu-Ansah

The speechfulness of a presidential speech

By: Africanus Owusu-Ansah

“Love of freedom from foreign control has always been in our blood. 870 years ago we struck against the attempt of the Arabs to impose a religious slavery on us in Ghana. We left our homes in Ghana and came down here to build a new home. But there is one thing we brought with us from our ancient Ghana. We brought with us our ancient freedom. Today, the safety of that freedom is threatened…we must fight with the weapons of today, constitutional, determined, persistent, unflinching, unceasing, until the goal of freedom is attained.”

J.B. Danquah: 4th August, 1947. Speech at the launch of the UGCC, the first political party in the Gold Coast (Ghana)

K. GYASI IS A HOUSEHOLD NAME that does not need any introduction, except to say that our paths met at the University of Ghana, and I had the privilege of drawing on his inspiration and his authorship to write my Long Essay on ‘Vandalism’ in Commonwealth Hall. Our paths met again when as the Headmaster of Ahmadiyya Senior High School, Kumasi, and a tutor of English, we would huddle together at the Examiners’ Conferences to discuss the ‘Marking Schemes’ for English. Did I add that our paths met again as contributors to the newspapers: Daily Graphic, The Mirror, The Chronicle and Daily Guide? Sometimes he would call me for convivialities; at other times, it could be on serious issues—so that, admittedly, I get haunted when he calls; he has a calm way of chastising me, especially when I go wrong grammatically. He would chastise me for writing ‘tempering’ instead of ‘tampering’ with a vehicle’s chassis number. He would call ‘Peace FM’ and advise them to say: ‘lying – in – state’ NOT ‘laying – in – state’, despite someone else’s query over whether the dead body ‘lies’ there himself or is ‘laid’ by someone else. That person thinks:” The dead body cannot lie down…someone has to lay them somewhere. From where cometh the ‘lie-in –state’. I am still researching”. (You know; an idiom is an idiom. We say ‘More grease to your elbow’. We cannot alter it to read ‘More grease to your elbows’ because a person has two elbows. I.K. has retired from active service, but he is not retarded. Thus when immediately after the Presidential speech at the Independence Square Mr. Gyasi called me, I was thinking aloud: had I.K. detected any wrong line, be it anomia or paraphasias (phonemic or verbal) or agrammatism. Had the President plagiarized? Rather, he asked me the adjectives I would find fit to describe the Presidential speech. Antithetically, I asked him for his and he offered: noble, comprehensive, conciliatory, articulate. In my trepidation, I offered only one word, ‘great’ – just because I remembered the great orators like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. He doubted whether anybody could fault the speech for any reason, but quickly added: “Well, as for the Opposition, they are always a check on the government, even if their action is seen as mischief.”

The winsome orator, His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo, delivered a speech which was at once punchy and crisp, fluent and flowery, succinct and learned; it was speechful. It was history and political science correctly re – told. He retraced our journey from ancient Ghana Empire about a thousand years ago and the various processes of colonization. He talked of the Bond of 1844 and stated: “If the signing of the Bond of 1844 marks the formal start of the Gold Coast colony, then the formation of the Aborigines Rights Protection Society on 4th August, 1897 in Cape Coast marks the start of the struggle for political independence”. The President did not fail to mention the notable personalities around the time, including John Mensah Sarbah, Joseph Casely Hayford, J.W. Sey and J.P. Brown.

The President recalled the launch of the UGCC in Saltpond on 4th August, 1947, with the contribution of George Pa Grant, J.B. Danquah, R.S. Blay, Cobinna Kessie, J.W. de Graft Johnson, Francis Awoonor – Williams. He recalled “Danquah captured the mood of the time and set our country on the path to independence – 4th August is truly a sacred and seminal day in the annals of the Ghanaian people … the UGCC leaders decided they needed a full – time person to run the party’s affairs; they set for the dynamic Kwame Nkrumah and he came to join them in December, 1947… in 1949, on June 12th, Kwame Nkrumah broke away from UGCC and formed his own party, CPP. Even as he broke away, Kwame Nkrumah remembered from whence he came and retained the word ‘convention’ in the new name of his new party the CPP”.

The President recalled the chivalrous role of the ex – servicemen, particularly, Sergeant Adjetey Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey, among the 29 who died and the 300 who were injured in the Christiansborg Crossroads Massacre. Names which had long escaped some historians and political scientists were mentioned and these included: veteran Yaa Asantewaa, heroic Otumfuo Prempeh I, education minded Nana Ofori Atta I, composer Ephraim Amu, Kwagyir Aggrey, Philip Gbeho, composer of the National Anthem, Theodosia Okoh, the designer of our National Flag, Kofi Antubam, the artist who put Ghanaian art on the world map, Saka Acquaye the poet –writer who wrote the first African folklore ‘The Lost Fishermen’, J.A. Braimah, the Gonja scholar who wrote insightful publications about the Gonja people, Apaloo, the poet, E.T. Mensah, King Bruce, Jerry Hansen, three musicologists with J.H. Nketia, the authority on African music

He did not fail to mention Professor Adum Kwapong, the first Ghanaian Vice Chancellor, Oko Ampofo, the sculptor and physician who promoted herbal medicine, Dede Ashikishan and Akua Shorshorshor who contributed money to keep CPP afloat.

The 93 year –old Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwean President described the speech as ‘deep’, and that Nana Akufo Addo’s speech was set to re-ignite Africa and Pan-Africanism. Yao Graham, the Executive Director of the Third World Network describes the speech as ‘revisionist’ especially, the part that discusses the independence struggle.

Elements in the CPP find little consolation in the President’s quoting Kwame Nkrumah’s famous speeches: “…The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of the African continent”. So, no consolation from: “We are grateful for his (Nkrumah’s) leadership, and that of his principal colleagues, Komla Agbeli Gbedemah, the organisational genius of the Convention Peoples Party, Kojo Botsio, as theoretician and strategist and the others who occupy pride of place in the history of the nationalist movement”. No consolation in the use of the word ‘dynamic’ to describe Nkrumah.

The UPists (the ‘dommo’ people) will be comforted to hear: “We are equally grateful for those in the Opposition at independence, who, at great personal cost and in defiance of the infamous Preventive Detention Act of 1958, were determined to hold aloft the banner of freedom and who insisted that the multiparty democratic state was the best form of governance for our nation…. Joseph Boakye Danquah, Emmanuel Obetsebi – Lamptey, William Ofori Atta, Simon Diedong Dombo, Kofi Abrefa Busia, Baffour Osei Akoto, Victor Owusu, R.R. Amponsah, Joe Appiah, S.G. Antor, Modesto Apaloo, Ashie Nikoi, Attoh Okine and others. Our generation of Ghanaians have vindicated their stance.” True or False?

60 years of nationhood is no mean achievement. The road has been rough and bumpy. We are proud that Nana Addo has three surviving Presidents: Flt Lt J.J. Rawlings, J.A. Kufuor, John Dramani Mahama. People like Kweku Baako, Bonfrey (Kabila) and Freddie Blay have made such colossal contributions to the success of the NPP that any criticism of the CPP as a party can only be seen as a sign of ingratitude. But let us all say things that will bring all of us together: Ghana has had ‘founders’ NOT ‘a founder’.