Adu Boahen, The Olympian – Farewell
By Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo
Scholar, teacher, colleague, leader, presidential candidate – these were the various aspects of his life which made such a considerable impact on my own.
I first came across him in my late teens at the beginning of the 60s at my father's hotel, the Ringway Hotel, when the much lamented, late Kofi Batsa was, in between the first and second phases of his political career, its manager, curiously at the persuasion of my father. Kofi Batsa attracted a host of vibrant young Ghanaians to the hotel in those early, heady days of independent Ghana. I met there the young philosopher, Johnson Wiredu; the aspiring young public servant, Kwabena Tufuor; Cameron Duodu, youthful journalist, who was already well-known; the radical young soldier, Kojo Tsikata; and a host of others, several of whom were to become life-long friends and acquaintances. Adu Boahen was one of them.
Easy manners, quick to laugh, engaging personality, he was good company, and, like all the best people, ever disposed to engage younger people, like me, without condescension. The love of his chosen discipline was infectious so that it was a joy for those of us, who went to Legon in the early 60s, to sit at his feet at his heavily patronised history lectures. His mastery of his subject was obvious, but what was particularly arresting was the refreshing, confident assertion that, far from being an episode in European history, involving her “discovery” by European explorers and subsequent colonisation by European soldiers and adventurers, Africa had her own independent history of which the period of European conquest was a chapter, significant perhaps, but, nevertheless, still a chapter. His famous textbook, “Topics of West African History”, remains as popular and as academically sound as when it was first published some 20 years ago. Those who were privileged to hear him at first hand, “live” in today's parlance, were permanently marked by his teachings.
It was no wonder, then, that when, in 1970, UNESCO, at the time under the leadership of its Senegalese Director-General, Amadou Mahtar M'Bow, decided to sponsor a “General History of Africa” and gathered Africa's leading historians to undertake the 8 volume project, one of the most important in modern African scholarship, Adu Boahen was chosen to edit the volume (No. VII) of the series headed “Africa under Colonial Domination”. It was as emphatic an endorsement by his peers of his standing and views as anyone could wish. He was one of the great scholars of his generation, respected worldwide, who spawned several disciples amongst succeeding generations of historians.
After Legon, our paths crossed intermittently until after my return in 1975 from my sojourn as a lawyer in France to practise law at home. A visit to Kumasi to do a case in August of 1977 changed that. I found a message at the High Court from my senior at the Bar and the former Ambassador to Morocco, the late Kwaku Safo, that Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa, he of the momentous events of 24th February 1966, wanted to see me at his home in Krobo, a village beyond Asante Mampong. This was just after the military government of Kutu Acheampong had given in to the powerful pressure mounted by the professional bodies, led as always in these matters by the Bar Association, and the students, organised under the auspices of NUGS, to demand the restoration of democratic rule in the country, because of the spectacular mismanagement of the national economy by the National Redemption Council government. The NRC had agreed to hold a referendum in April 1978 to test whether the proposal to entrench military rule in our state under the guise of “Union Government” had popular support.
Akwasi Afrifa, reading the tea leaves in Krobo, had decided that the opportunity had been created for the democratic forces in the nation, those who opposed military government and wanted a multi-party state for Ghana, to unite to press their case. He was prepared to act as the pole around which this unity could be forged, and the battle fought. He believed a significant “No” vote could be mobilised. Was I prepared to be his first recruit?
I did not hesitate because of its far reaching implications for the revival of the democratic movement in the country. If so, I should, in my turn, on my return to Accra, recruit Adu Boahen, Jones Ofori-Atta, Nii Amaa Amarteifio (“Mr. No”). and subsequently the great Komla Gbedema, Paa Willie Ofori-Atta, A.K. Deku, Sam Okudzeto, Obed Asamoah, K.S.P. Jantuah, F.A. Jantuah and Johnny Hansen. This was the genesis of the historic People's Movement for Freedom and Justice (PMFJ), the broad-based political movement that worked so effectively to galvanise popular opposition to military rule, and of my first close association with Adu Boahen in a common political cause. In the next eighteen months, we were constantly in each other's company at Krobo, at his Abelenkpe residence, which came to be the Accra base of the Movement, for Akwasi Afrifa stayed there when he was in Accra, and at several other places around the country.
The proximity allowed me to see clearly the qualities that were to propel him to great political heights in the decades ahead. Strong principles, passionately espoused; deep, unshakeable commitment to the cause of individual liberty and free government; matchless courage; rigorous intellectual honesty; impatience with woolly thinking; and a steely determination to confront and overcome obstacles. These attributes were very welcome in the dangerous enterprise on which the PMFJ was embarked, what with the organised violence meted out to us from the various front groups of the NRC. Adu Boahen never flinched. Indeed, he seemed to thrive on danger. Chuckles of “kontopiaat” became even more frequent. He went to detention after the April referendum cheerfully and with great serenity. He had one major asset – his wife, Auntie Mary, who was as fearless, staunch and loyal a consort as could be found. She was a superb companion for him. The tumultuous events of 1978 and 1979 – the ill-fated Unigov referendum, the arrest, detention and exile of the leaders of the PMFJ, the removal of Kutu Acheampong and birth of SMC II, the lifting of the ban on political activities, the June 4th mutiny and AFRC rule, the disintegration of the PMFJ, and the fracturing of the Progress Party into its PFP and UNC components – deserve a historian of his calibre, for the effects of those events continue to reverberate in our history. His own role in that period is somewhat controversial, especially as far as the split in PP ranks was concerned. Be that as it may, there is little doubt that his iron resolve in 1992 to bring victory to the united Danquah-Busia party, the New Patriotic Party, of which he was one of the principal founders, was deeply fuelled by the incidents of those times. He made a tremendous effort, but, alas, in vain.
He gave several phrases to our political lexicon, and helped define an era. His epic lectures on the platform of his beloved Danquah, “The Ghanaian Sphinx: Reflections on the Contemporary History of Ghana, 1972-1987”, the Ghana-Academy of Arts and Sciences J.B. Danquah Memorial Lectures of 1988, opened the way for the restoration of multi-party democracy to our country. Once the culture of silence was broken, the movement towards democracy was inevitable. He gave further impetus to the process by the formation of the Movement for Freedom and Justice (MFJ), clearly modelled on the PMFJ, but this time with himself in the chair. Its courageous activities also contributed significantly to the vitality of the democratic revival in those heavy handed days of PNDC rule. Then came the Annan Commission's attempt to sample the nation's views on a future political system for the country, and the emergence of the Clubs, of which the Danquah-Busia Memorial Club became the best known. Needless to say, he embraced its activities keenly. The final phase in this process was the inauguration of the 4th Republic under a liberal democratic Constitution which expressly guaranteed political pluralism, human rights and the rule of law. In a very real sense, he could be legitimately called the Father of the 4th Republic.
He attempted also to be its first chief executive. His stature and popularity as the man who broke open the door of freedom made him the irresistible choice of the newly formed New Patriotic Party as its first presidential candidate, despite the presence in the competition of such stalwarts and stars of the Danquah-Busia tradition as Kofi Dsane-Selby, Kwame Safo Adu and J.A. Kufuor, the future President of the Republic. Notwithstanding the evident disparity in the resources available to him and his main opponent, the then Chairman of the military government of the PNDC, Flt. Lt. J.J. Rawlings, who had little compunction in employing the full panoply of state power to back his bid, Adu Boahen was confident that the support of the people would be sufficient to even the equation. He honoured me by appointing me his campaign manager for this herculean contest. I have little difficulty in repeating the claim he made – he was the victor in the election of 1992, which was stolen from him. Indeed, “The Stolen Verdict”, the report on the 1992 presidential election compiled by the Party which I edited with the assistance of several persons, including the current Attorney General, Joe Ghartey, MP, was graphic in its description of the conditions of the election which justified Adu Boahen's claim.
The book served another purpose. The details of the report were so comprehensive that they provided an opportunity for substantial reforms of our electoral system. The transparent ballot box, the mandatory presence of party polling agents, accurate electoral lists – these are some of the reforms that emanated from the publication which have enhanced considerably the credibility and transparency of our electoral structure, and thereby strengthened our system of democratic accountability, much to the satisfaction of our people and the admiration of the world. That was Adu Boahen. Everything positive that would advance democracy was easy to associate with him. His maturity and demonstration of unalloyed commitment to the democratic ideals of the NPP were amply illustrated by the grace with which he took his defeat by J.A. Kufuor at the 1996 NPP Congress, a reaction that reinforced the unity of the party as well as the principle of party supremacy. He has left a great legacy for succeeding generations of NPP activists, indeed of all democrats, to emulate. No valediction of Adu Boahen can be complete without mention of his deep admiration of the life and works of the Ghanaian colossus, Joseph Boakye Danquah. His compilation and editing of Danquah's works and letters in “The Ghanaian Establishment” were a true labour of love that has left posterity an invaluable insight into the ideas, thoughts and reflections of the man who gave our nation her name and who above all provided the foundation and inspiration for her freedom.
Adu Boahen goes to His Maker secure in the knowledge that he gave his all to the betterment of the society in which he lived. No free loader, him. He joins the pantheon of scholar-statesmen – Mensah Sarbah, Casely Hayford, Danquah and Busia inter alios – whose pens and mouths have made such indelible contributions to the growth of free Ghana.
Prof, democratic Ghana will never forget you. Farewell and may you find, as you richly deserve, eternal rest in the bosom of Our Lord.
Accra, 5th July, 2006