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Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey—His Politics And Development Vision

31 March 2016 | Tributes & Condolences
By Akyaaba Addai-Sebo

A couple of days after the December 2000 national elections, Mr. Kwesi Pratt called me in London complaining bitterly about Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey as he felt used and disrespected by the NPP that he had strenuously helped to win state-power on a run-off. Kwesi explained that he had called Jake over 30 times and Jake would not pick up his phone or return his calls. Kwesi said that the evidence was stored on his phone.

Kwesi was deeply upset. Kwesicontinued that he served as a “firefighter” deployed all over the place to help put out fires of discord and discontent and also to mount platforms in furtherance of the NPP’s aim to win state power. He had worked so hard for the unity of purpose arrived at between the CPP and the NPP only to be abandoned at the rendezvous of victory. I felt the hurt and thought it unbecoming of Jake to disrespect the role of Kwesi and so I cooled Kwesi down with the promise that I would call Jake to find out why, which I immediately did.

Jake answered my call and I pointedly told him that he had upset Kwesi and he Jake should callKwesi to make amends as in our culture ingratitude is a curse. Jake agreed to the offence and offered to go on a damage limitation exercise with Kwesi and his CPP colleagues. I reminded him also of Dr. Edward Mahama and the PNC and not to leave them out.

Some months after, I flew in to Accra and sat down with Jake in order to have an understanding of what had led to that deep sense of betrayal felt by Kwesi Pratt and the CPP leadership in their measured alliance to deny electoral victory to the NDC. In the debriefing, Jake was so candid and affirmed that the NPP was unable to deliver on the essential terms of the agreement reached voluntarily with the CPP. This agreement was to offer some key positions to the CPP. Jake accepted that the burden was on the NPP not to burn bridges with the CPP if they were unable to honour agreements. Jake took to heart the apparent breach of trust and asked me to go and speak with Mr. J.H. Mensah, which I did.

JH explained to me that the terms could not be comprehensively fulfilled because in trying to do so would have brought a seismic revolt within the centre of the party that would have destabilised the NPP regime as jobs had to be provided for partisans. Simply put, the NPP could not risk satisfying the CPP at their own expense. JH hoped thatKwesi and the CPP would understand their difficulties.

I cautioned JH Mensah in the same way I had done with Jake by reiterating that “ingratitude” is a curse you visit upon yourself. I reminded him that this was the second time Kwesi Pratt had felt betrayed by the NPP. The first was during the 1996 elections when Kwesi Pratt, standing for parliament on the ticket of the PCP on the strength that Sheikh I.C. Quaye of the NPP would stand down to pave way for Kwesi to win the constituency seat.

Here again I had a desperate call in London from Kwesi asking me to intervene with JH for I.C.Quaye to withdraw from the race. I then went through history to recount the trail of broken treaties and agreements that characterised the encounter between Europeans and Africans and Native Americans and so it was therefore uncanny for the NPP to visit the same on the CPP and more so if the CPP and Kwesi Pratt had honoured their part of the bargain.

J.H. Mensah and I have a special relationship as we worked so hard together in London in the campaigns against the (P)NDC regime. I was the chair, at one point, of the combined opposition movement and JH was the vice-chair. Our home and neighbourhood community centre at Battersea became the meeting place. It was all a common-purpose campaign that cut across political affiliations thus embracing personalities such as vice-president Joe deGraft-Johnson, AhajiKwaw-Swanzy, Lt. Gen. Joshua Hamidu, Major Boakye-Djan, Lt. Col. Ekow Dennis, Capt. Baah-Achamfuor, Uncle Asabre, Chris Atim, Napoleon Abdulai, Nyeya Yen and several others who gave of their best to the cause of exposing the greatest political, economic and ideological fraud, in the function of the (P)NDC, corrupting all areas of national life and polarising the otherwise Ghanaian secular society along tribal and mediocre lines.

In my association with Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, I found him quite engaging, forthright and an honest person with a sense of mission. He sought and fought hard to regenerate and beautify Accra and to promote the value of tourism and the preservation of historical and ecological sites. He saw no reason why Ghana could not rise up above the current state of underdevelopment stupor which has become an eyesore to visitors.

For example, he could not accept why Ghana had only a single airport in Accra to boast of. Had he a magic wand, Jake would have wiped out the shame of this state-sponsored underdevelopment and replaced it with an uplifting vista of modern but culturally synchronous development that enriches the mind and fills the heart with pride. With Jake, his political call was a national development call.

Jake was irritated by the annual flooding, filth and mosquito breeding factories/grounds that engulfed Accra with the ever expanding shanty settlements. He felt deep disappointment with the denuded spectacle that the once glorified garden city of Kumasi had turned into with only the Manhyia palace to boast of. Jake could not bring himself to understand why Ghanawould not provide good drainage and sanitation system for the citizens. Jake was forever hopeful that something could and would be done about the potential of the Accra seafront crescent stretching from Labadi to KorleGonno and especially the stretch between the OsuCastle and James Town.

Jake saw no reason why the castles and forts clustering our territorial coastline could not be attended to in order to emotionally reconnect with the African diaspora in the Americas, Caribbean and Europe. It was this stirring national development impulse that drove Jake to launch the Joseph Project (AkwaabaAnyemi) to open up a modern-day triangular investment traffic between African-America, the Caribbean, Afro-Europe and Ghana in the national and Pan-African interest. It was this Pan-African sense of mission that endeared Jake to me

Jake visited me in London to share with me his vision of the Joseph project and his frustrations. He was shaken and frustrated because he had been forced to look outside Ghana for support otherwise the project would die. Jake, the suave communicator and marketing guru, could not get the cabinet then to lend informed support to his tourism and national development schemes.

Jake could not get the cabinet to appreciate the impact of the invisible income generated by tourism on the national economy. Most of his ministerial colleagues wanted to see and feel physical cash inflows pouring directly from tourism income into the coffers of the government. Jake was at pains to admit that his colleagues in government could not see his value and also that of his ministry, if tourism income was not pouring into their hands.

On April 14, 2006 Jake wrote to me thus: “Dear Addai, I must admit I am very close to despair. “Joseph” is getting terrific resonance across the Diaspora. It promises to be the single most important initiative we will have made to generate a sustainable tourism/visiting market. However I have still not been able to get a meaningful financial commitment from GOG. I won’t give up but it often seems to be a futile struggle. Regds. Jake”

I thus became a sounding board to Jake and the reason was this. Jake recognised and respected my contribution to the enrichment of the cultural, political and economic life of the United Kingdom and the role I played in the anti-apartheid struggles. I initiated and saw to the designation of the month of October as Black History Month in tribute to and in celebration of Africa’s contribution to world civilisation from antiquity to the present and in promotion of the cause of cultural diversity and harmonious race relations.

Every year in October, nearly 10,000 events are organised across the United Kingdom embracing civil society, most institutions of government, local authorities, the private sector, schools and universities, museums, the armed forces and police, religious and community organisations. I also run the world’s second largest open air festival held annually in London during the August Bank Holiday period.

I was head-hunted to manage and turn around the operations and fortunes of the Notting Hill Carnival. While in charge attendance increased to a million over two days when the streets of North Kensington and Chelsea were thronged with revellers. Over 60% of participants came from outside of the London metropolitan area to fill the hotels, and spend on food and beverage, memorabilia, public transport, museum visits and general entertainment. The City of London acknowledges the economic importance of the Notting Hill carnival.

Jake was also enthralled by my role as director of Tribute Inspirations Limited based in London. It was Tribute that organised and produced the star studded multi-media global campaign using the combined power of television, radio and artists for 600 million voices in 100 countries to rise up and clamour for the release of Nelson Mandela. The facts of this monumental contribution to the cause of human justice is now recorded in a documentary film, ONE HUMANITY, which I was an executive producer of.

These facts of my life contribution gave me unique cultural and political access in Europe and the US and it was this access that I pledged to Jake in the hope of helping him realise his development dreams for his beloved Ghana. In order to continue inspiring Jake to never give up on his vision, I decided to open his eyes and imagination to a reality dream fulfilled right in the woods of Connecticut in the United States. I planned to introduce Jake to Foxwoods, the world’s largest casino and tourism resort which by 2007 was raking in an annual income of about $2 billion. Foxwoods is owned and run by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.

The then Chairman of the ruling Tribal Council, Michael Thomas, was a political colleague who respected my long term working relationship with the leadership of the American Indian Movement, through whom I was introduced to the Pequot nation because their history and principled struggle against British colonisation paralleled that of the Asante of Ghana. The demography of the Pequot tribal nation is an admixture of Native Americans and Africans who from the seventeenth century combined forces to resist British and French colonial domination.

When military assault could not subdue the will and self-belief of the Pequots, the plundering British introduced biological warfare to decimate the population. By 1973, the Pequot population had dwindled to less than a hundred but through a visionary development path laid out by the surviving matriarch, Elizabeth George and legendry nation builder, Richard Haywood, they recovered themselves.

They could do so by finding and exploiting loopholes in Federal laws which enabled them to claim and secure right of abode and sovereign title to 5.6 km² of marshy land in Ledyard, New London, Connecticut, which became their Vatican-like enclave which they tended in their collective interest. The tribe struck a deal with some Chinese-Malaysian entrepreneurs and built Foxwoods on reclaimed land and by the time of our visit in May 2007 their population had risen in excess of 1000 commanding an annual gaming, entertainment, tourism and visiting income of $2 billion. The tribe then was contributing $200 million per year to the state of Connecticut.

The magnificence of Foxwood is breath-taking – rising out of the serene marshes and maple woods, this picturesque and edifying spectacle boasts of the resort itself and a sovereign township with its own schools, roads and transportation, water and sewerage, fire service, police and security system independent of the state of Connecticut and the hands of the Federal government. What Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah sought to prove that the “…Blackman is capable of managing his own affairs” when left alone has become a living reality in the setting of New England in the United States despite years of broken treaties and incalculable damage done to the original people of the Americas.

Self-liberating and escaping African slaves joined the Pequot nation to fight and resist British domination and acculturation. They inter-married but now it is the African blood and features that are prominent. When Jake met the Tribal Council he was surprised but thrilled to be in the presence of a ruling cabinet of kith and kin akin to what he was familiar with in Ghana. People also of African descent in charge but with an empowering and innovating difference.

It was precisely this historical and cultural symbol of resistance and survival that I sought to link Jake’s abiding vision with in the hope of nurturing a development synergy, particularly with the Asante Kingdom and Ghana as a whole. When I made an advance visit to explain our purpose in preparation for Jake’s visit, Chairman Thomas and the Tribal Council understood where I was coming from and totally embraced the ideals of the Joseph project.

Later, Jake arrived and met me and my wifein New York from where we were taken to Foxwoods in a chauffeur-driven stretched limousine provided by the tribe as we were their honoured guests. We spent three memorable nights at Foxwoods and we were treated like monarchs. Jake, in stature, was like Chairman Thomas and they hit it off at first sight. “Minister Jake, Minister Jake” was the accolade of respect accorded Mr. Obestebi-Lamptey by the tribal leadership and staff.

Minister Jake fell in love with the surrounding beauty and equally the golf course, the best on the East Coast. When Chairman Thomas took us on a tour of the golf course and the Museum and Research Center, Jake could not help expressing that: “The Asante King would love it here.” Jake then turned to me and entreated me to arrange a royal visit. I reflected quickly and answered Jake that President Kufuor would first have to visit to be smitten by such a monumental achievement by his own kith and kin. The reason being that Jake kept questioning himself throughout the visit as to why was it that if the Pequot nation have made it with a bare wood and marshy land what is stopping a proud and endowed nation of Ghana from achieving such development heights with such a land mass too. “If the Pequots have done it, Addai, I see no reason why we cannot do it also.”

What stirred up Jake the most was the magnificent Pequot Museum that takes you on an immersive, eye-opening journey through time (from the ice age to the present) to learn about the land and its original people in an interactive multimedia environment and living art presentation modelling the life drama and values of the indefatigable Pequot people.The museum stirs you up opening up possibilities of your own cultural realm – the reality and power of who you are as per the instruction inscribed by our Glorious Ancestors on the walls of the inner sanctum of the Pyramids – MAN KNOW THYSELF.

Jake, I am recounting this so that your vision and sense of developmental mission will inspire the younger generation to make up, catch up and surpass in order to make our corner of the world a success to behold and live in. Jake, your political call was a developmental call. Jake, you gave of your best to Ghana and Pan-Africa and we uphold your vision and the challenge of its realisation through unstinting personal sacrifice and devotion. But to succeed we must collectively know ourselves first as Africans who built great civilisations and that if we did it before, we can do it again.

©24 March 2016
Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, P.O. Box AT 1231, Achimota Market, Accra.

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