Remembering John Kofi Tettegah: Orator and Organizer of People

Thu, 24 Dec 2009 Source: Adu-Otu, Yaw Asare

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By: Yaw Asare Adu-Otu

WOODBRIDGE, Virginia; Wednesday, December 23, 2009 -- I have been saddened, indeed, by the death of Mr. John Kofi Tettegah, the news of which I read only on Saturday, December 5, 2009 on the internet when he was lying in state, awaiting burial, at the Ghana Trade Union Congress hall in Accra, the capital of Ghana.

Mr. John Tettegah was a self-made man of no parallel in Ghana. He rose through the ranks in the organized labor movement of Gold Coast/Ghana from his initial place of work at the Post Office to become the first Secretary General of Ghana Trade Union Congress (GTUC). Mr. Tettegah caught the eye of Kwame Nkrumah during the intense period of political agitation for independence and the two fed on each other’s ability for organizing and rallying people for action, behind an idea.

I met Mr. Tettegah in person when I was quite young and cutting my teeth, so to speak, in the political knowledge of Ghana. I first met Mr. Tettegah in 1965 at his guesthouse residence in Kumasi, a day after he had returned from addressing the Mine Workers Union at Obuasi in the Ashanti Region. I had listened to part of Mr. Tettegah’s address to the Mine Workers on radio and had been impressed, but was tantalized by his demeanor and his receptivity in person.

Since my initial meeting with Mr. Tettegah in December 1965, he forever remained glued to my mind constantly and toyed with the idea that I could one day be an effective public speaker as he was. Next to Kwame Nkrumah, no Ghanaian has had a more developed public oratory skill in the political realm. John (the name most people around him used) was a born orator and organizer of people.

Subsequent to my initial meeting with John, I visited him at his house in Accra a few times in the company of my inseparable friend Ahmadu Kwesi Acquah who had introduced us. However, a couple of months later, a section of Ghana’s military establishment overthrew the Convention People’s Party (CPP) government led by Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah. John was whisked to jail by the soldiers who had overthrown the CPP government on February 24, 1966, through the instrumentality of renegade agents of United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The relevance of the coup d’etat soldiers sending John to jail was associated with the indisputable reality that in the Nkrumah regime, the GTUC was an integral part of the political sphere of the state, especially after Ghanaians had voted for a one-party state. John Tettegah became a member of the Central Committee of the ruling CPP. Insiders knew that Kwame Nkrumah was gradually, but deliberately, grooming Tettegah to succeed him as President of Ghana. The CPP Constitution provided that the head of the Central Committee of the party, automatically, moved up to become the candidate for president and CPP insiders knew that was where John was headed.

The work of John Tettegah was not limited to fighting for the rights of workers of Ghana or for the CPP governance of the country. Like Kwame Nkrumah, John linked and extended the fortunes of workers of Ghana to those of workers throughout Africa. In furtherance of his Pan-Africanist inclination, John became the motive force behind formation of All-Africa Trade Union Federation (AATUF) headquartered at Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. John served as the first Secretary General of AATUF.

After John was released from his political imprisonment, Kwesi Acquah and I visited him at his house in Accra whenever the opportunity arose, including the mournful day when Kwame Nkrumah died in faraway Bucharest, Romania. I believe the atmosphere at John’s house, the night when announcement of the death of Kwame Nkrumah reached Accra would be remembered by those present.

As affable as John was, and as relatively young as Kwesi and I were, John managed to engage us in serious political discourse whenever we visited with him. John knew his place in the world and considered part of his life as a teacher to the extent I considered him a mentor. The influence of John on me, without knowing it until lately, motivated me to study the United States organized labor movement as a graduate student of political science, to the extent that I chose the subject of job security in the United Automobile Workers Union (UAW) of United States for a dissertation research.

My first meeting with Mr. Tettegah afforded me the opportunity to meet also Prof. Kofi Awoonor who had accompanied him to Obuasi. Later, my familiarity with what Kofi Awoonor did for a living at the time motivated me to consider the journalism profession. In those days, Prof. Awoonor (called George Awoonor-Williams) worked as Assistant Features Editor for Africa Review, a news magazine published by Kwame Nkrumah and edited by Mr. Julian Mayfield, an African-American. Maya Angelou served as the Features Editor of the magazine.

I became enthralled with the writing style of George, especially his poetry. I can say that since my first meeting with John and his buddy George, in December 1965, I don’t think the two parted company, both at work and play. In the immediate aftermath of the February 24, 1966 coup d’etat that brought the National Liberation Council to power, George worked hard at what would have made both Kwame Nkrumah and John Tettegah proud for putting him under their wings.

Akwasi Amankwah Afrifa and George were friends. When Afrifa took over Chairmanship of the NLC, after Major-General J. A. Ankrah had been kicked out, George had Afrifa’s ear. From a base at Kanda Estates in Accra, and with the support of we the young ones, George worked on Afrifa to allow Kwame Nkrumah to return to Ghana to live, but not as president. Afrifa warmed to the idea until the day K. A. Busia walked into his office from self-imposed exile. Eyewitness account indicated that Afrifa welcomed Busia by yelling, “This is my master.”

At the time of writing, Prof. Kofi Awoonor is Chairman of Ghana’s Council of State, while death has put its icy hands on his buddy, John Kofi Tettegah, a son of Ada. Against the background of what I have detailed thus far, I lament that I missed the opportunity to ask John if he knew on September 21, 1997, that then President Jerry John Rawlings was considering taking him for a political ride? On that day, the 88th birthday of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, John Tettegah announced formation of a group called “Kwame Nkrumah Forum” which he claimed was faithful to the Nkrumahist tradition and “…will work under the banner of Progressive Alliance, led by President Rawlings,” according to a news story. (See: “Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s 88th Birthday Celebrated,” www.ghanaweb.com: General News of Tuesday, 23 September 1997).

The news story cited above indicated also that the “Kwame Nkrumah Forum” was the creation of the Liberated Nkrumahist Brigade (LNB) of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), supposedly founded and led by Jerry Rawlings. Yet, in June 2004, former President Jerry Rawlings disclosed through his spokesman that he is not Nkrumahist. (See: “I Admire Nkrumah, But I’m not an Nkrumahist – JJ,” www.ghanaweb.com: General News of Wednesday, 9 June 2004. Source: Chronicle). So, wherein lies “Kwame Nkrumah Form” in association with NDC, relative to the Nkrumahist tradition? I cannot ask John this question and he cannot answer now that he is gone to join Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah. John would also likely meet one of his buddies and admirer Mr. Kenneth K. Acquah, the older brother of Ahmadu Kwesi Acquah.

If I could get through to Alhaji Ahmadu Kwesi Acquah in Ghana from my base in Woodbridge, Virginia, I would say, thank you very much for introducing me to Mr. John Kofi Tettegah for he was a great man, an uncorrupted Ghanaian patriot and a fiery African nationalist.

May John Tettegah Rest in Eternal Peace.

Columnist: Adu-Otu, Yaw Asare