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Opinions Wed, 6 Mar 2002

The Day I Saw OSAGYEFO KWAME NKRUMAH

As part of growing up at Atwedie near Dwaaso (Juaso) in the Asante Akyem area of Asante Region, one of the main ‘toys' young boys had to play with, involved sitting by the Acrra-Kumase road and counting the traffic by the number tags. If one's pick of number tag, say "AS" had more cars passing by, than say "EP", one was declared the winner. Those were the good old happy days. In 1960, Atwedie was the first town in the Asante Akyem area to instal electricity throughout the town by levying a taxation of one schilling per a load of cocoa (60ibs) or "Pren Baako"! In fact there were two electricity generating plants in the town. One belonged to Opanying Kofi Fofie (Papa KooFie), who I was told (in a phone call with a boyhood friend) died last month!
The late Opanin KooFie was rather wealthy by any standard. It took a whole day or more, for his Cocoa to be weighed. He opened a night club called Atwedie Broadway Cafe. People from as far away as Nkawkaw and Edweso patronized the dances and the concerts that were performed by groups such as: Onyina; K. Gyasi; Bob Cole; Oppong's Royal Brothers; Akompi's Guitar Band; and countless others at the Atwedie Broadway Cafe. As a boy, I would either fetch water for the bandsmen, or offer my grandma's bench to the concert in order to gain free admission. Indeed, Atwedie was called "Asante Akyem Aburokyire"! The citizens even contracted to have the streets of the town paved with coal-tar. The contractor never completed the job, though he was paid in full. Years later, I brought this matter up with the contractor, when I happened to attend the same secondary school with the his son. The man felt utterly flabbergasted, and ashamed at my revelation.
But what made my sojourn at Atwedie most memorable was that I saw Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, then president of Ghana, countless times. The man whom high-life maestro E.T. Mensah memorized in a song as the "Star of Ghana", passed through Atwedie so many times. Whenever he traveled by car from Accra to Kumasi and beyond, he was either forced to stop by the onrush of the crowd, or slowed down long enough for me to catch a glimpse of Nkrumah. From my infancy, I never supported Nkrumah. I suppose I was turned off by all the arrests of ‘innocent' people that I read about in the papers especially "Nkwantabisa", the Twi monthly publication that was sold in schools throughout Ghana.
I must say however that I admired Nkrumah so much. Words cannot express the figure that he cut. Whenever it was announced that Nkrumah would be traveling through Atwedie, we had to wash our school uniforms and iron them early in the morning. Those who had shoes would wear them to meet Osagyefo the "Showboy". The Young Pioneers were immaculate in their uniforms and hats.
Since no one had the foggiest idea when Osagyefo would pass by, and since none would want to incur the wrath of the ‘authorities', school children would be asked to line the road by 7am to await the arrival of Osagyefo the "Messiah". Amidst flag-waving and patriotic songs all aimed at deifying Osagyefo, we would sing "Nkrumah eee, Kwame Nkrumah Showboy! I want to see you, Kwame Nkrumah Showboy"!! When he was overthrown "Showboy" was replaced with "Thiefman"!!
Even today, I get goose bumps just recalling the words. It was so exhilarating. There was nobody better than Nkrumah. There was nothing that could be compared to His Magnificence. Everything about Nkrumah was deemed to be better than any mortal's. He dressed better; he was more handsome; his wife was more beautiful; his children were smarter; Nkrumah was like a God, to put it simply.
In fact, I recall reading in a book called "Kwame Nkrumah of New Africa" that, when Osagyefo was a mere baby still strapped to his mother's back; he somehow alerted his mother about a danger they faced while crossing a river at Nkroful, his hometown. There was a sketch in the book to that effect. I believed that! In 1966 when Osagyefo was overthrown, I tried to keep a copy of the book but my father who was the head teacher at a school at Atwima Kwanwoma was ordered to burn all such books and photos of Nkrumah under supervision. Such was the practice throughout Ghana in the aftermath of the 1966 coup.
The propaganda that was unleashed on Ghanaians upon the overthrow of Nkrumah was detrimental. It surprised me years later (1983) when I saw bound copies of letters and memos marked ‘Secret and Confidential' exchanged between Nkrumah and other world leaders at a Library on the campus of the University of Maryland at College Park in the USA!
In 1962, however, I had what I considered to be the luck of a lifetime when I saw Osagyefo with my own eyes. This time he was not merely waving from his car; rather he was actually standing upright. This is how happened:
As was the case on previous occasions, school children had lined the road by 7am because it was announced Osagyefo would be traveling through the town to the Upper Region. Nearly everybody in the town was required to be there. The Chief and his elders were there. We waited until about 3pm when Osagyefo finally appeared. But the wait was not boring. In the intervening period, a lone policeman on a motorbike would arrive to shout "Oreba oo"!, at which everyone would jump for joy, though Osagyefo was no where near! It also helped that we were given free beverages and biscuit!
Osagyefo had apparently not planned to make a stopover at Atwedie in 1962. However, as his motorcade slowed down, the people engulfed him. I managed to climb onto a stump of sand and my eyes and Nkrumah's met. That was it, folks! I almost collapsed from the sight of Osagyefo. No wonder Police Constable Seth Ametewee could not shoot directly at Nkrumah when he encountered Osagyefo face-to-face at the Flagstaff House on January 2nd 1964 during an assassination attempt.
When I saw Nkrumah, his faced shone like a ball of fire. I had to retreat. It was even rumoured that the Chief of Atwedie Nana Kwabena Asiedu was terrified at simply shaking hands with Osagyefo. He had to be helped by Opanin Kwasi Darko, the local CPP Chairman. It was said when Nkrumah asked the Chief what development needs his town required, Nana could not utter any words. It was generally believed that one had to have ‘four eyes' (that is extra powers!), in order to be able to encounter Osagyefo. Such was the magic of Osagyefo. As the words of the song said, he was ‘Ogya', he brimmed with hot volcanic fire itself. Mere mortals could not face him without suffering a meltdown.
As I rode the train to work in Washington, D.C., this Ghana Independence Day, I was rather surprised to meet a Ghanaian lady, and share the seat on the train. As we rode along, and realizing that we were both Ghanaian, she muttered: "blaah enne ye independence day". She was so despondent she had to go to work on this day. I had honestly forgotten all about it, though the issue had been discussed the previous day on Ghana Internet sites. Along the way, I re-lived what independence had meant to Ghana. Osagyefo said we preferred self-government with danger to servitude in tranquility. And, Mahatma Gandhi had said earlier that he could not find a people on earth who would not prefer the bad government of one of their own to the good government of an alien people. They were both right. Colonialism was an alien institution.
That day in 1962, when I saw Nkrumah in full view is forever etched in my memory. Another incident of the day is etched in my memory as well. As Nkrumah's car made the impromptu stop at Atwedie, the motorcade behind him continued at top speed unaware that Osagyefo had made a stop. At that time, a car climbed a small hill before Atwedie came into view. As a result, several of the cars following Nkrumah collided into each other. I recall vividly one of the cars as being that of Krobo Edusei. His mercedes-benz 220S (number plate AT 7726) collided into a car that we were told carried Kofi Baako, both top ministers in Nkrumah's government. Krobo Edusei's car was badly damaged and his driver was injured.
The accident, and what happened thereafter, left me with the impression that the African political elite cared very little about the people. Krobo Edusei simply joined Kofi Baako in his car, and the motorcade sped off. The injured driver was left behind. He vomited blood whenever he coughed. He sat by his car which people had helped push to a nearby Petrol Station. When asked why he was not taken to a hospital, he replied that he had to stay by his car until it was towed away!
On that same trip, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was nearly killed by a bomb thrown at him in Kulungugu in the Upper Region on August 1, 1962. I am glad Osagyefo did not die on that terrible August day in Kulungugu. The people of Asankare, the town next to Atwedie who are always lodged in a popularity contest with the more beautiful and resourceful Atwedie; and who never had the privilege of seeing Osagyefo stop in their town, would have concluded that it was a bad omen for Osagyefo to have stopped at Atwedie!!!
For those of you who never had the opportunity of seeing Osagyefo, you missed a great moment. After his overthrow, Nkrumah said in one of his broadcasts from Guinea that Ghanaians will "look for him with Aladin lamps in broad daylight, and will never find him"! Well, I saw Him in broad daylight under the Sun!! There was only one Osagyefo. And there will never be anyone like him.
Happy belated Independence Day 2002.

Columnist: Ellison, Kofi