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September 2, 2009 | Personal

Tribute to the late Mr. R. R. AmponsahExit of one of the last surviving founders

IF THERE ever was a man who persistently triumphed over extreme adversity during his entire adult life, then surely that man was Mr. R. R. Amponsah. Car accidents, long periods of political incarceration, medical surgeries – this iconic figure of our time consistently triumphed over them all.

Growing up as a child in my father's household during the mid-1950s his name was constantly around together with the other political heroes of the time. Those were the years of political turmoil leading to Ghana's independence. Ours was the home where top politicians of “the tradition” constantly converged from across the country to plan opposition strategy and where the big decisions were taken.

The house was always swarming with people from all walks of life. The other leaders seemed to be in endless meetings with Baffour in the upstairs lounge. They ranged from the grey-haired J.B Danquah (always in suit) to the younger Joe Appiah, Victor Owusu and R. R. Amponsah. When these political figures came in and left, they were the subject of endless adorable conversations among the adults including my stepmothers, aunts, uncles and their friends.

But of all the politicians Papa R. R. was the most frequent visitor. He was R. R. to the literate members of my family and “Wra Wra” to the illiterates who obviously could not pronounce the initials correctly because of the nascent fixation to the nasal sound of the Asante language. I was too young to know then but I grew up to understand that the close relationship between the two men was dictated by their positions in the party they were serving. Baffour was the Founder and leader of the National Liberation Movement (NLM) and Papa R. R. was his General Secretary. For those who may not know, the NLM together with the Northern Peoples Party and others metamorphosed into the United Party (U.P.) - the precursor of the New Patriotic Party (N.P.P.)

The bond which developed between the two men at that time remained strong throughout their lives. Equally significant was that when we grew up Papa R.R. was generous enough to extend his bond of friendship with Baffour, to us his children. He became our adopted father and his concern for our welfare and progress through life never diminished.

I remember the near fatal car accident in which one person died instantly and Papa R.R's driver was so badly injured he never recovered from his head injuries. Yet he himself escaped unscathed. The news of the accident swept through Ashanti like wild fire and was received with such sick in our home. For days all our household talked about was nothing but that accident. And when he was arrested in 1958 on what was considered as trumped up charges, the rage against the Nkrumah regime was overflowing with most people wearing Kuntunkuni to symbolize their grief. This was followed in November 1959 with the detention of Baffour himself and many of the other associates under the Preventive Detention Act (P.D.A.). The rest, one would say, is history.

However, fate was to reveal Papa R.R. to me several years after his arrest and prolonged detention. We were on a trip from Opoku Ware School to Cape Coast Castle in 1965. In the course of the extensive tour of the Castle we came upon a landing yard on the ground floor where the slaves were brought out to exercise before the journey across the Atlantic.

As our guide was explaining events of the Slave Trade to us, my eyes strayed onto a group of men below wearing prison uniform. My enquiries confirmed that these were indeed prisoners. As I kept looking my eyes came to rest on one man and I could not believe what I was seeing. It was indeed Mr. R.R. Amponsah. We were so high up the building no amount of shouting or gesture could have attracted his attention. My emotion suddenly turned from excitement to gloom and deep sadness to see one of my childhood heroes in prison uniform. I came back to Kumasi to narrate what I had seen in Cape Coast. It was around the time of death of J B Danquah at Nsawam and the worrying news of the deteriorating health of Baffour at Nsawam. So the story from Cape Coast triggered widespread shedding of tears in the Akoto household. The coup of February 24, 1966 put paid to all that misery and heartbreak with the release of all political detainees from Nkrumah's jail. I did not have much personal interaction with Mr. Amponsah during the days of the Progress Party since he was busy as a Minster of State and I was studying at Legon.

But our paths crossed again briefly in England in the early 1980's. He had come to London to seek medical attention for illness so serious it could not be treated in Ghana. Through sheer bravery and tenacity he was able to recover fully from the surgical procedure required for his complete healing. My family and I were at his bedside in hospital at the time of the operation.

It was not until 1992 when I returned to Ghana to help prepare for the first NPP Congress at Legon that I tasted the rich political experience of Mr. Amponsah. The legend from my childhood had survived all the vicissitude of life and had emerged unscathed to place his political wisdom and acumen at the disposal of “the tradition” in its struggle to take political power. I was awed in his presence. But he did everything to make me feel at ease. He invited me home at every opportunity and encouraged me to participate actively in the working committees of the fledging NPP. I could see his effort to transfer to me the almost life long bond he had built with Baffour. But I must confess that until his last days I could still shed the shyness which I had derived from the very deep paternal respect I harboured for the great man.

When I became the founding chairman of the Busia Foundation he was delighted and did everything to support me to ensure success. I worked closely with Madame Naa Morkor Busia and her two daughters Abena and Akosua and other trustees. Mr. Amponsah was there to give his encouragement and blessings. Winning the primaries at Kwadaso was the icing on the cake, especially in the face of a prolonged orchestrated internal resistance. The great man was always there for me.

The last time the late Baffour visited Accra was during the month of his 98th birthday, February, 2002. As was his practice he arrived late afternoon. That evening he invited Papa R.R to come over for a chat. Papa R.R. was there by 8am and the two men sat at the balcony to have breakfast. I left them to go to the office and came back at lunch time to find them still deeply in conversation. They saw each other every day of the 4-day visit. As far as I know that was the last time the two men met. Seven months later in September 2002, Baffour had joined the ancestors. I am recounting this last meeting to illustrate that the bond between Baffour and R.R. was indeed life-long. In his tribute to Baffour, Papa R.R. wrote “In his leadership of the NLM, Baffour sought to introduce among the members, especially the youth, respect for knowledge, honesty, hard work, efficiency, discipline and appreciation for performance. He also tried to instill in them some traditional norms such as respect for the elderly and pride in the great noble men of the past.”

After the passing of Baffour I found myself drawing closer to Papa R.R. for paternal guidance and advice. In the last few years I observed with sadness the gradual ailing of the great man. He grew weaker with complaint of a back pain. This contrasted with his mental state which was still alert and as sharp as usual. He could still hold long conversations but beads of sweat and the occasional twitch on his face gave away the pain he was bearing so bravely. With his passing the New Patriotic Party has lost one of the original architects of “tradition”. He served the original party and its progenies with all his might and devoted his life to the cause. The democratic dispensation which prevails in Ghana today is a result of the sacrifices which Papa R.R. and his generation made over a period spanning some sixty years. They achieved this with the weapons of selflessness, principles and humility, imbued with loyalty and forgiveness. Let us learn the examples of these forbearers so that Ghana can continue to prosper.

Papa R.R., thank you for all you did for me and my siblings. May the Lord give you a place of rest which you so well deserve. Damirifa Due.

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