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07.06.2017 Feature Article

Samuel Okae Foster, Former Diplomat, R.I.P.

Samuel Okae Forster, a former diplomat who served Ghana in Egypt, Uganda as well as the United Kingdom, has regrettably passed away at the age of 79, after a short illness. He will be buried at his home-town, Asiakwa, on Saturday, 27 May 2017.

Sam and I first encountered each other in 1950, at Standard 4, at the Asiakwa Presbyterian Senior School. Our teacher was a boisterous, and abusive but extremely intelligent headmaster called “Master Ofori”. He was from Asafo, also in Akyem Abuakwa.

Sam joined my class at Standard Four after we had started the first term; I from the Presbyterian Junior School nearby, and he from the Presbyterian Senior School at Kukurantumi, about ten miles away from Asiakwa.

There was something special about Sam, and that was not due entirely to the fact that he was the son of the chief of Kukurantumi, the Adontenhene of Akyem Abuakwa, Nana Kwabena Kena The Second. That helped, of course, but what was so special about him was his cleverness and how coolly he demonstrated it. Before he came to my class, I'd been the champion in the class. I'd obtained a “High Merit” certificate inn the junior school leaving examination and took it for granted that I would come first in every class examination in the senior school, too.

But then, Sam arrived and I realised my position at the top of the “brains tree” was in danger. In fact, one day, he gave me the shock of my life.

 

We had been divided into two teams for a spelling bee, and since English was my forte, I was sailing along nicely, leading my team ahead of the other team. Then Sam, who was the leader the other team, asked us to spell the word, “Caesar”.

 

Now, I had never heard the word “Caesar” and tried to spell it phonetically.

 

“Ceasar” I spelt.

“No!” Sam said.

“Ceaser!” I spelt.

Again, he said “No!”

Ceazar!”

No!”

 

I looked desperately at Master Ofori, quite perplexed. What trickery had this Kukurantumi “upstart” up his sleeve?

 

Then, Master Ofori asked Sam to spell the word.

 

And Sam spelt it as “C-a-e-s-a-r”!

 

I shouted in outrage, “But that spells “Kaiser!”

 

But Master Ofori upheld Sam's spelling.

I was confused. But I learnt one thing: never assume that you have completely mastered the English language, unless you have read and absorbed the language from as many books as you can. For English has no logic to it: it's only in English that (for instance) you pronounce both “clean” and “Caesar” with a long “ee” soundalthough the vowels in both words are exactly opposite each other in arranged order!

Anyway, I had my revenge in our terminal exam: Sam came second to me! We became rivals in the class, but friendly rivals who admired each other.

Now, the reason why Sam knew how to spell the word, “Caesar”, and I didn't, was that his father was an educated man and Sam had been exposed to books like the works of Shakespeare, with which I had not yet become acquainted. Indeed, I don't recall seeing any Shakespeare story in our Oxford English Readers (up to Book 4, anyway) – our main text book in English. I only got to drink in Shakespeare when I went to the Kibi Government Senior School. There, I had the good luck of obtaining a thorough grounding in English literature, due to the love for the language of my Standard Six teacher. He was a very erudite scholar called Kofi Awuah Peasah (or “Koo-Peahs”) who exulted in the use of the English language and expounded its creative beauty to us. Without him, I doubt whether I would ever have come across the unforgettable quotation from Hamlet: “Frailty! Thy name is woman!”

Sam's mother was called Rose Korantemaa Okrah (or “Aunty Rose” for short). She hailed from both Asiakwa and nearby Saamang. His father bore an unusual surname – Forster. The man was the heir to the important Akyem stool of Adontenhene, so how how could he bear a foreign name, “Forster”, in private life? The “anomaly” arose because Sam's father's father was a Fanti timber contractor called Forster, who married a lady from the royal family of Kukurantumi, and had a son, Sam's father, with her. And, of course, the Fanti man passed his surname, Forster, to his son.

However, when it came to the younger Forster's turn to become the chief of Kukurantumi – as he was allowed to do, paternity having nothing to do with his eligibility to become a chief in the “matrilinial” society of Akyem Abuakwa – Sam's father was obliged to change his name from plain Mr Forster to Nana Kwabena Kena The Second, Adontenhene of Akyem Abuakwa.

But since Sam was born before Mr Forster was enstooled, Sam was christened with the original surname of his father. (Indeed, at the time of Sam's birth, no-one could have known for sure that his father would necessarily be the next Adontenhene, since there are usually several claimants to such important stools.)

Sam actually venerated the name Forster, not just because it was so distinctive but also, because he appreciated his father's peculiar position as a royal of polyglot ancestry. Indeed, I have it on good authority that when he was on his death-bed at a hospital in Accra, Sam had enough strength of mind to insist that they spell his name right! “Forster”, not “Foster” he pointed out! It was a mistake that was often made and which Sam always corrected. And who wouldn't, since it related him, albeit by nomenclature only, to the great English novelist, E M Forster, author of a passage to India? Come to think of it, did some clever geek at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Accra have a joke at Mr Foster's expense by suggesting that “Forster should be given “A passage to India”? (You will see why I'm saying that later!)

 

Another unusual thing about Mr Forster was that as Nana Kwabena Kena The Second, he was unusually independent-minded. He openly supported the CPP, while most of the chiefs in Akyem Abuakwa backed the United Party. I imagine the CPP rewarded him by appointing him to be Ghana's High Commissioner to India! Nana Kwabena Kena's diplomatic career sadly ended in India. He died at post and was flown home for burial.

Sam was fortunate enough to be sent to Accra Academy from Asiakwa Presby. I kept in close touch with him whilst he was at Accra Aca, by amusing him with an irreverent “rechristening” of himself as “Sam Weller” (after the Charles Dickens character) and sending him vivid “reports” of what was going on back home at Asiakwa.

From Accra Aca, Sam he went to pursue Sixth Form studies at the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi (as it then was). Finally, he entered the University of Ghana, Legon, where he read Philosophy. Shortly after his graduation, Sam applied for an appointment in the diplomatic service; was accepted, and thus became the second man in his family to be sent to serve Ghana abroad.

I ran into Sam in London in November 1965, where he was working at the High Commission. I visited his home with a few other Asiakwa friends, but was so anxiety-ridden at the time – because my wife was in labour at a London hospital – that I regret to say that I pissed myself silly that night!

Sam was also posted to Uganda, but did not complete his normal tenure there. He was recalled home when a horrendous anarchy descended on Uganda's national life under the murderous dictator, Idi Amin Dada. Back home, Sam was re-trained at GIMPA and occupied several administrative posts in the home civil service before his retirement just before the year 20000.

Since we met in London on that inauspicious occasion, we hadn't seen each other, until he I caught a brief glimpse of him as he shook my hand t my mother's funeral at Asiakwa in 1998. How come friendships made in childhood tend to fritter away in adulthood so often? If you ask me, the answer lies in one hyphenated word – self-absorption. It ought to be added to the list of the worst obstructions to the survival of friendship that we have created for ourselves. I definitely regret having played a part in that long separation.

Sam was an excellent family man who was married to a fellow Asiakwan called Salome Forster. He left six children – Judy, Kwabena,Vivian, Rose, Naana and Barbara. His grand-children numbered seven.

SAMUEL OKAE FORSTER born 27 April 1937, died 16 February 2017. (May he rest in peace!)

 

 

Cameron Duodu
Cameron Duodu, © 2017

Martin Cameron Duodu is a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a career as a journalist and editorialist.

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