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22.01.2004 Feature Article

Fascination with Names of Cabinet Ministers…

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…and other anecdotes. The phenomenon of intensely scrutinizing, focusing and dissecting the names of cabinet ministers of Ghana is not of recent origin. It is the raisons d’etre that have alarmingly changed with time. Recently a contemporary of mine sent me an e-mail with an attachment of the portrait of the first 13-man cabinet of independent Ghana. My pal tasked me to recollect into memory the names of each member. I missed one name. As we started discussing the fate and achievement of each of the pioneer ministers, it dawned on us that though we were fascinated by their names, the ethnic background was absolutely not significance then.

We learned their names, for our civic classes. Until then, we learned the names of Her Majesty’s government based in London. Names of Prime Ministers like Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan were household names. Besides, the name of prime ministers, the cabinet minister of United Kingdom worthy of note, was the Secretary of the Colonies. Our leaders were in perpetual contact with him then, as the fate of our country was being negotiated and discussed. One name that ingrained in our memory was that of Sir Allan Lennox Boyd. He visited the Gold Coast at least once during the turbulent days preceding the dawn of our independence. Such was the level of our understanding of English that some of us could not appreciate the fundamental difference between the words ‘minister’ and ‘ministry’. To me then, they were synonymous. So the Minister of Foreign Affairs was Ako Adzei, the ministry responsible for relationship with other independent states was still Ako Adzei.

The focus of our fascination was who had the more authentic Ghanaian or African name. Kobla Agbeli Gbedemah won with hands down. He was the only minister with three authentic names. Those who were honorably mentioned were (alphabetically arranged): Ako Adzei, Kojo Botsio, Krobo Edusei and Kwame Nkrumah. Archie Casely Hayford and N. A. Welbeck were the least admired because they had ‘colonial’ last names. It was not considered cool then to have European first names let alone European last names. The likes of John Jerry Rawlings would not have been a popular person, nationally. Examples of notable politicians who became icons by virtue of their names included Obetsebi Lamptey, Dzenkle Dzewu, Nii Amaa Ollenu and Mensah Tsuru Yoomobi Akrong Nabi to name but a few. Thanks to such fascination and influence, characters like me dropped our Christian names as soon as practicable. The earliest opportunity I had was when I was registering for my O-Level Examination in 1962. I had not u! sed my Christian or biblical name since then.

The fact that I did not have a Christian or biblical name became an issue when I was admitted to sixth form at St Augustine’s Secondary School, Cape Coast. I was on various occasions arbitrarily assigned biblical first name. I always objected to it. On one occasion, the Headmaster S. K. Oppon, a devout Catholic thought I could be a candidate for the Catholic faith. In a dialogue with me, he wanted to know whether I was baptized into the Christian faith. “Yes. Sir”, I answered. “What is your Christian name, then,” he inquired. “Joseph”, I readily answered. He wrongly linked that to Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary, as being my patron saint. He started lecturing me on the qualities of that saint. I politely and humbly informed him, that my Joseph was not the Joseph of the New Testament, but of the Old Testament. It was the Joseph that was sold by his envious brothers. It was my turn to do the lecturing. Our generation recognized three types of alien first names: Old Testa! ment names like David, Samuel, Esther and Elijah. New Testament names that for lack of better word we referred to as Christian names, examples of which were Peter, Paul and Mary. The third group of names we considered to be the names of pet animals of the English aristocracy. Names that could not be found anywhere in the Holy Bible; representative of such names being Charles, Anthony, Ivy and Richard. I ended my lecture by pointing out poignantly that I no longer use my Old Testament first name, because I doubted how that Joseph could assist me in Ghana now. As a mature person, the headmaster told me I was missing the significance of such names.

Another fascination we had of our political leaders was those who parted their hair and those who did not. Until Nkrumah arrived at the scene, one distinguishing hallmark of a formally educated African male was the parting of the hair. Nkrumah arrived not parting his hair. I do not remember whether he ever assigned any reason for that fashion statement of his. The unofficial word went around that given the nature of our hair, the practice of parting it was a sign of colonial sycophancy. Whites perforce needed to part their hair. This faction statement caught on like wild fire (to use a cliché). As a result, for more than fifty years now, I have not parted my hair. Thanks to Nkrumah. With time however, some things as we should expect have changed and others have not. We still put under search light the names of our cabinet ministers but for fundamentally different reasons.

Now we show our interest and fascination in their names to determine not only the region of origin but worse still the ethnicity of the cabinet minister. Under the present NPP Administration, yet a new and more worrisome dimension has been added: who belongs to the ‘magic circle’ of our President.

As a nation we will be what we will to be. It is only the insane who repeats the same thing and expect a different result. Incidents in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire were not initially intended to be how they ended. The initial steps were imperceptible and appeared innocuous. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Nikoi Kotey
Nikoi Kotey, © 2004

The author has 23 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: NikoiKotey

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