Opinions Mon, 2 Mar 2009

Founder's Day, darned good idea

E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Ghanadot

The recognition was long in coming. Under Kufuor, we saw a copious appreciation of Nkrumah’s ideas, the capture of some of these ideas, and the implementation and completion of some major projects initiated by Nkrumah, left undone by his untimely departure from office. And, finally, under Mills, we have a proposal for a Founder’s Day to honor this great son of Ghana.

We are late with the honor. The whole world has done so earlier, recognizing his worth even when they were opposed to the ideas he stood for. Now we can safely cash in as country men.

But establishing the Founder’s Day will not abjure the folly of February 24, 1966, a day of infamy for all Ghanaians. We share collectively, regardless of ideology, tribe or religion, in this grand folly.

However, and true to some unreasonable side of our nature, we have also enshrined this folly in the name of our only international airport after the man who was responsible for the February 24 coup – Colonel E. K. Kotoka.

Kotoka’s standing memory – Accra International Airport, absolutely does not juxtapose well to the Founder’s Day idea.

Who was Kotoka and how did he come to deserve this honor of having our only international airport named after him? He came by this honor because he deposed Nkrumah in a coup in 1966 with the help of the CIA. For this infamy, Accra, our capital, the natural and original name of the airport, was stripped off the airport and the name Kotoka was put in its place.

So, now that we have belatedly realized how important Nkrumah was, by proposing to establish a founder’s day for him, do we keep the name Kotoka on our airport or revert to the old name Accra International Airport? And if we were to keep the name Kotoka, what would be the reason for it? It will take a sure twist of logic to come up with that reason.

Up to 1966, very little was known of Kotoka as a soldier. There was nothing that distinguished him from the average officer in the Ghana Armed Forces until he was approached by some minions of the CIA to create a coup. Unlike Sergeant Adjetey of the Christiansborg Cross Road fame, a true hero who was killed in a protest march against the colonials, Kotoka had nothing in his service profile that showed courage in the line of patriotism.

Adjetey, unfortunately, had nothing significant named after him. He was a Ghanaian, from the same tribe whose land the Accra International Airport sits.

There was another soldier of stellar character, Major General Charles Barwah, a Northerner, then Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces, who displayed his loyalty to Nkrumah by standing firm against Kotoka and his band of mutineers. He was shot dead on the spot. The airport was not named after him.

Certainly, there was no lack of military and civilian heroes, going back to ancient times, to name the airport after. But when it was decided to rename the airport, Kotoka was chosen instead – because he toppled Nkrumah.

If Nkrumah was that thoroughly bad a ruler, to the point of needing a drastic measure such as a violent coup by Kotoka to oust him, then why must we honor Nkrumah today?

Kotoka was the leader of a military revolt that condemned Ghana’s support of the United Nations in the Congo; a revolt that justified its action on the assumption that Nkrumah might use the army again and again on the continent to support freedom fighters outside Ghana.

Kotoka, the man whose acts had suggested that he was against disturbing the colonial order, had an international airport named after him by the sovereign state of Ghana. Unbelievable!

Kotoka International Airport and the Founder’s Day idea cannot coexist. No nation honors its heroes and villains with the same breath. There is a memorial for George Washington in the United States. There is none for Benedict Arnold.

Benedict Arnold was the quintessential traitor of the American Revolution. Unlike Kotoka, he had an illustrious military career. He was a general of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Still as a general in the Continental Army, he tried to surrender a very important strategic point to the British and failed. After this he defected to the British side to fight as a loyalist. His name has become the epitome for treason to this day.

In Kotoka, we see a Benedict Arnold. The 1966 coup connection with the CIA has long been established. He was a tool that was used effectively by foreign interests to thwart Ghana’s progress. He asserted by his example the right of the army to interfere with our political affairs. And after him, coups became the order of the day, to end in a tailspin of unbridled violence that would last for two decades in Ghana.

Kotoka was a mediocre colonel at the time of the coup and was made a general after. Shortly after becoming the general, there was a counter coup which resulted in his death. His death should be regretted because it was brought on by the very act which he had initiated; namely, the coup of February 24, 1966.

Kotoka should not be the man to name an important edifice such as an international airport after. The name is a negative narrative of our political systems and growth that need not to be advertised. Anytime a flight flashes on the departure or arrival board anywhere in the world, the curious may know it as the airport named after the man who toppled “the dictator” Nkrumah.

The name Accra International Airport needs to be brought back. Some say that the people of the Volta Region, Kotoka’s home region, would be offended by the removal of his name. But, if tribal or regional considerations are to be taken into account, then there would be the need to understand that the airport sits on a Ga land. For the sake of the national interest, you don’t take land from the Gas in order to confer the honor that comes with on a bogus hero; unless, you intend it as a double insult for the Gas.

That said, we are about to recognize the greatest Ghanaian and the Founder of the nation – Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. We are also about to make a statement about our collective selves as Ghanaians. There should be no room left on this platform of honor for the likes of Benedict Arnold.

E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Publisher www.ghanadot.com, Washington, DC, Feberuary 22, 2009

Columnist: Ablorh-Odjidja, E.