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Opinions of Saturday, 19 December 2020

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

Tribute to Oheneba Jones Ofori-Atta (Akwasi Jones)

Jones Ofori-Atta Jones Ofori-Atta

Akwasi Jones exuded charisma as if it was being emitted by the very carbon dioxide that emanated from his nostrils. His ready smile, lowered voice and unfailing good humour, made him an unforgettable personage.

When I got to Kyebi Government Senior School in 1951, he had already left for Achimota School. But such was the glorious reputation he had etched upon his contemporaries at Kyebi that his name was often on their lips – especially when the occasion arose for expatiating on the “brilliant” performance of past “breaks”.

Apparently, Jones had exhibited superlative prowess in my own favourite subject – English language! I vividly remember one of my classmates, Kwadwo Asirifi, telling me that “Akwasi Jones de? na ?te Br?fo oh! [Jones is very good at English] You and him would have got on very well!”

I learnt from other sources that the father of Jones, the late Okyenhene, Nana Sir Ofori-Atta The First, made sure that he sent those among his numerous children, whom he discerned to be gifted, to Kyebi Government School.

So, when Jones obtained a scholarship to Achimota School, no-one was surprised. He shone at Achimota; it was whilst reading the Achimota School magazine at Asiakwa (which I had cadged from a female student who used to holiday with us there) that I first came across the name, Jones Ofori-Atta.

He'd written a very amusing article, in which he revealed some of Achimota's “code-names”: for instance, that fried plantain, a favourite dish, was called “dotch” by the students! e had a very good sense of bringing out the unusual in daily life.

Jones seemed to appear in every issue of the magazine I managed to lay hands on – an early indication that he was going to be a great communicator in future. And in later life, he did become a prominent Columnist for the Free Press weekly newspaper and other publications.

From Achimota, Jones went to the University of Ghana, Legon (1958-61) where he obtained his B.A. Degree. Naturally, he established a reputation at Commonwealth Hall – as a great debater but also, as a keen sportsman.

From Legon, he left for Canada, where he studied for his PhD at the University of Ottawa. He bagged that degree in 1965. He then taught for a time at the University of Manitoba and also became a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Manchester, England, from 1966 to 1967.

I met him shortly after his return home in 1965. As editor of Drum Magazine, I had befriended his prospective sister-in-law, Frederica Nanahene Adi-Darko, and it was while we were enjoying ourselves at the Lido Night Club in Accra with Jones and Nanahene's younger sister, Maud, that Jones demonstrated to me, what a strong-minded character he was. Out of the blue, he told us he was going to stop drinking from that night. AND HE DID! To everyone's astonishment.

Eventually, Jones married Maud, and they had three brilliant children – Duke, Earl and Nanayaa – to add to his eldest, Ken Ofori Atta, Ghana's current Minister of Finance.

All the children have had to live abroad at one time or the other – the “reward” for being born by a father whose brain won't allow his country to retain his services for more than a few years at a time!

Yes – Jones did use his brain on behalf of his country. In 1967, while lecturing in economics at Legon, he became embroiled with the Commissioner for Industries of the National Liberation Council (NLC) Mr Sylvan Amegashie, over a proposal by the latter to allow a private American company, Abbott Laboratories, to acquire the State Pharmaceutical Industries, bequeathed to Ghana by the overthrown regime of President Kwame Nkrumah.

At a televised public debate held at the Ambassador Hotel, in Accra, Jones and some other panellists tore into what became known as the “The Abbott Agreement” and denounced it as a sell-out! Abbott left Ghana with its tail between its legs.

From that moment on, Jones had secured a permanent place in the Ghanaian book of folk heroes. So, in the 1969 general election, he easily won a seat for the Progress Party in the Begoroh Constituency.

The new Prime Minister, Dr K A Busia, appointed Jones as Deputy Minister for Finance and Economic Planning. In that position, Jones came to face with the biggest problem Ghana was facing at the time – how to obtain good terms of repayment for the enormous external debts that the Nkrumah Government had bequeathed to its successor governments.

Jones assisted his Minister, Mr J H Mensah, to work out a well-constructed proposal to present to Ghana's creditors for debt relief, relying on the fact that a World Bank Commission – the Pearson Commission – had, in a report entitled Partners In Development, warned the West against overburdening weak economies with huge external debt repayments.

The Ghana Government's arguments were, however, rejected by its supposedly friendly Western creditors, and the Busia Government had to devalue the Ghana currency by 48.3 percent in January 1972. The Government inevitably fell – on 13 January 1972.

However, Jones was re-elected to Parliament in 1979 – after the military had again handed power to a civilian government...But when military rule once again intervened in Ghana's governance in 1981, and that Parliament too was dissolved, he went into exile.

Fortunately, his talents were spotted by the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, which recruited him for Uganda, in 1986, as Economic Advisor to the Governor of the Bank of Uganda.

On his return to Ghana, he set up as a private economic consultant.

Jones Ofori-Atta died on 30 November 2020., at the age of 83. He left a widow -- his second wife, Ellen [Maud had predeceased him] four children and 10 grand-children.

May he rest in peace. Truly, Ghana has lost one of its most engaging personalities.