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Opinions of Saturday, 4 October 2008

Columnist: Adomako, Appiah Kusi

Tribute to Baah-Wiredu


Appiah Kusi Adomako, Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, London

On the 22nd November, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Texas, it caused an early closure of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to prevent stocks from further downward spiralling and a subsequent market crash. The fear descended onto every trader at the stock exchange such that the London Stock Exchange felt the tremor of the death of the man who held the blazing touch of hope in a world torn between the West and East, and North and South, the rich and poor, Jew and Gentile.

When JFK was assassinated, the New York Times carried a front page headline titled: KENNEDY IS KILLED BY A SNIPER. Other front page titles read: WHY AMERICANS WEEP. Yes and indeed, the same could be said of every Ghanaian when news of the death of Hon. Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, MP for Asante Akyem North and Minister for Finance and Economic Planning was announced last week Wednesday. Everybody was shocked about the death of Ghana’s financial engineer. From the market woman at Makola to the butcher in Bolgatanga everybody was shocked such that radio and television stations in the country devoted more than two days of their prime time to pay a glowing tribute to the indefatigable Baah-Wiredu. Even whilst the NPP was in opposition, the late Baah-Wiredu made giant contributions to the legislature. He toured his consistency often, personally financed a scholarship for brilliant but needy students in his constituency. When NPP was elected to office in 2000 and he became the Minister for Local Government and Rural Development, he made the concept of local government a working reality in the country. Within two years he had toured all the then 118 districts, municipals and metropolitan assemblies in the country, something which Ghana’s longest serving Local Government Minister- Kwamena Ahowi may have taken some five years to complete.

When he became the Minister for Education, Youth and Sports, he led Ghana’s bid to win 2008 Africa Cup of Nations. He did well to improve the quality of teaching and supervision especially at the primary and secondary level. One of my friends recollected that when he was teacher, Hon Baah-Wiredu visited the primary school where he taught in the Atwima District Education Directorate unannounced. He did not even go to the District Education Office nor did he come with a Toyota Land Cruiser. Rather, he packed his land cruiser at the Abuakwa Police Station, hired a taxi cab with his special assistant and personal body guard. By the time he came to the school where my friend was teaching, the headmaster and most of the teachers were not around. It was later told that people got to know that was he what was doing anytime he visited any educational establishment. He did not join the ranks of other ministers and directors who always publicised their visit such that the hard-core absentee teachers would come to work just to pretend that they were at post.

In January 2005 when he became the Finance and Economic Minister, he worked hard to improve the gains chalked by his immediate predecessor, Honourable Yaw Osafo Marfo. He was able to evolve prudent policies which resulted in taming inflation, increasing Ghana’s foreign reserve and others. He was able to get government economic policy for the next fiscal year approved before the commencement of the fiscal year. He negotiated for more loans and led government to divest itself of some non-performing state owned enterprises.

Even the humble manner with which he talked was able to calm down striking doctors and other government workers on industrial action.

Baah-Wiredu was humble, a good listener, team player, very understanding and his doors were always open to all. It is difficult to find words to even describe him. He portrayed himself as more of a unifier than a partisan person.

Former President Jerry John Rawlings could not allow the politics of the day to colour his feelings. His statement which was released read: "Throughout his political career he exhibited an element of humility which is lacking within our current political dispensation and which endeared him to his colleagues and political opponents alike”.

Throughout his political career, the late Baah Wiredu built bridges of consensus and sought for common ground. He firmly believed that lions and lambs can lie down together, none will be afraid, and there will be peace in the valley. To some this may sound impossible since lions eat lambs and lambs sensibly flee from lions. Yet even lions and lambs can find common ground. Why? Because neither of them will want the forest to catch fire and neither can survive drought. If lions and lambs can find common ground, surely as a nation we can as well.

In parliament, whether in committee meetings or on the floor, he worked with all to achieve consensus. It is therefore not surprising that that news of his death shocked everybody in the country- the angels above and demons below, Pharisees around and Sadducees within. Ghanaians have seen that the demise of Baah-Wiredu is a loss not only to his family and the party but the nation and Africa as a whole.

Whenever I think about his death I ask question like: why should God allow the good people to die early? My tears have been many. But alas, my tears have been truncated by the inspiration I derive from the Bible which reminds us of resurrection and New Jerusalem. It was Elder Lucius Seneca, the Roman orator and writer who said that the day we fear as our last day is but the birthday of our eternity. Rev Martin Luther King Jr reminds us that death is not a full stop that ends the great sentence of life but rather a comma that punctuates it to a lofty significance.

Baah-Wiredu had paid his dues to his God and his nation. He visited the sick; he clothed the naked; he fed the hungry and visited those who were in prison. He had played his part exceedingly well. Now the curtain falls; he has moved through the exit; the drama of his earthly life comes to a close. The coffin is too narrow to contain his body; the grave is too low to hold his spirit; no epitaph can summarise his earthly pilgrimage and greatness is too small a word to describe this humble genius.

May his soul rest in perfect peace.

Appiah Kusi Adomako, is an international freelance and professional speech writer and writes from London. He can be contacted through: