He called Ghana his Paradise

Thu, 21 Apr 2016 Source: Elizabeth Ohene

I was not able to write a column last week because on Monday, the day, often the evening, or if the truth be told, the night I usually write, I was in a turmoil.

Paatii was fighting for his life. On Wednesday, the day my column in the Daily Graphic is usually published, he died. I shall no longer be getting calls or messages from various parts of the world with succinct analysis of whatever I had written.

I should have written about Paatii a long time ago. But I was coy; he was family and I did not want to be seen to be blowing my own horn; and now, he is gone. And I know his story must be told.

Where do I start? It will not be at the beginning. It is March 2007 and Ghana is celebrating 50 years of independence. Mr W. Paatii Ofosu-Amaah, the Vice-President and Corporate Secretary of the World Bank Group is in Accra with the then President of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz, for the celebrations.

Wolfowitz did not have a lot of time for the trip but he wanted to go to Kumasi to visit the Asantehene and Paatii decided he would take him by road from Accra to Kumasi and they would then take a plane back.

“We might be able to get something dramatic out of him to help build this critical Accra-Kumasi road. He will be more understanding and sympathetic if he travels on it himself”, he stated.

Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu as Finance Minister always told me every time he came back from one of these IMF/World Bank meetings that my brother-in-law Paa Tii was a most reassuring presence because you knew he would look out for Ghana’s interests and give you a wink or whisper a word at a critical time.

Work at the World Bank

Paatii had a distinguished career of almost 30 years at the World Bank, where he held many senior positions, the last being Vice-President and Corporate Secretary of the World Bank Group, the officer of the bank responsible for board/management relations and strategic decision making.

He was a member of the World Bank Group’s Senior Management Team. He oversaw the legal aspects of over 500 of the World Bank’s project financings in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, including pioneering with colleagues, various legal and judicial reform projects.

Every time he was working on a particular project, everybody around him had to be drawn into the history, the customs and the fashion of the country.

Who would ever forget the Lesotho Highland Water Project when Paatii worked on it? He had been Senior Counsel for bank-financed operations in several countries across Africa, and in China, Indonesia, Jordan, Romania, and Nepal.

He joined the World Bank from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome where he was a legal officer. I am not sure if it was during this time in Rome that he developed his love for Italian suits that became his trademark. Elegant Casual is a term that must have emerged with Paatii in mind; his smart clothes spoke volumes about the meticulous and consummate planning that he brought to everything he did.

Move to African Development Bank

When he left the World Bank in September 2008, he was appointed Special Adviser to the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) up to September 2015, providing advice on wide-ranging development-related matters but focusing on the bank’s strategic directions, suitability for financing of complex public and private-sector operations and general governance and corporate matters.

With the AfDB at the time located at Tunis, this suddenly meant that Paatii came to live on the African continent for the first time in a long while and did he revel in it. He could drop in on us in Ghana more frequently.

I am not sure the then AfDB President, Donald Kaberuka, appreciated fully what he was doing when he asked Paatii to represent the bank to help the African Union with the negotiations between the republics of Sudan and South Sudan. Paatii took to this task with such verve it has been exhausting to watch him for the past five years as he worked with President Thabo Mbeki and Abdulsalami Abubakar on the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan and South Sudan.

Paatii has been through all the highs and lows of the Sudan/South Sudan saga these past five years and so have all his friends and family. When I saw that the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) had written a message of condolence on hearing of Paatii’s death, I was minded to tell them I wish they had made the last two years of his life easier by respecting the agreements he had drawn up so meticulously and had been concentrating on building their country instead of fighting a fresh civil war.

I became so exasperated with the mess in Sudan I urged him countless times to give up on the Sudan but he was convinced the work of the Panel was critical to the peace and development of the Sudan and South Sudan. He managed to maintain the confidence of all the warring factions and all looked on him as an honest broker.

Paatii left Ghana more than 40 years ago, after his law degree from the University of Ghana and got another Law degree at Harvard before he started his working life. His heart never left Ghana and the African continent. It probably helped that he somehow managed to eat fried plantain every day wherever in the world he was.

In the past three years and especially in the past year, he has spent far more time in Ghana than he has done in the last 40 years. He has bought a house and done it up beautifully with items gathered over years of travel around the world. He has told some people he has relocated. He was certainly determined to vote in this year’s elections. He wrote to the Electoral Commission to be informed about the dates of opening the voters register so he could register.

He has been and got a Personal Identification Tax number and he was not impressed when I said he did not need one to be able to vote. I must pay my taxes if I am going to live here, he told me. He proved to us his concept of Ghana as a Paradise was not sentimental nostalgia; he put up with the traffic, the DUMSOR, waiting for workmen, the broadband not working and all the difficulties that define Ghana. Let’s just work at it and we will get it right, he would say when I complain about one Ghanaian moment or another.

He got back to Washington two weeks ago after spending quite a long time in Accra and told his wife, Waafas, and children, Nii Amaah and Naabia, he was back from his Paradise, Ghana, and would be going back soon to register to vote.

W. Paatii Ofosu-Amaah has died three months short of his 66th birthday and yet what comes to mind is the fact he was the youngest among his siblings, all of whom are getting on: Professor Samuel Ofosu-Amaah, founding Director of the School of Public Health; Professor G.K.A. Ofosu-Amaah, former Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Ghana; Mrs May Nartey, who was a Director at the Social Welfare Department before leaving Ghana during the PNDC years and V. Ate Ofosu-Amaah who retired as a Director of the Ghana Commercial Bank.

In a family of high achievers, Paatii, the youngest among that generation of Ofosu-Amaahs, still managed to achieve quite spectacular feats and make a mark wherever he went. His final resting place will be here in Accra; after all, he insisted this was his Paradise.

We shall miss him. It will never be the same again to eat kelewele or “Yoryii” and not save some for Paatii.

Columnist: Elizabeth Ohene