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A tradition now firmly established The Prof. Atta Mills lecture by former President Joyce Banda

Author: Colin Essamuah
Former President Joyce Banda

Ardent followers of this column will recall that my very first piece was written in memory of the third President of our 4th Republic, Professor John Evans Atta Mills, who died unexpectedly in office some four years ago in July 2012. My first effort was in early August 2013. 

I noted in that inaugural column, if I recall correctly, that the funeral of President Atta Mills has so far been the biggest and most extensive of any Ghanaian since the Gold Coast was delineated over 100 years ago by the British, and certainly since our independence in 1957.  

The year 2013, therefore, marked the first anniversary of his passage and this was marked by one or two events which did not even feature in my first article devoted to him for this column. I remember the highlights of the very first memorial lecture instituted in his memory and eloquently delivered by the most famous of the four Rhodes Scholars this country has so far produced, and who happened to be a former student, academic and later political colleague of President Mills, Prof. Kwamina  Ahwoi of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA).Another significant thing that happened at the first anniversary celebration, at which I was present, was the cutting of the sod to begin the construction of the President Mills memorial library situated directly opposite the Cape Coast Castle and affiliated to the University of Cape Coast, by President John Mahama.

Therefore, when it was announced that the opening of the completed building would be one of the highlights of this year’s celebration, I took more than a passing interest in the entire range of events slated for the anniversary. I was present at the function, and also attended the lecture by the formidable former President of Malawi, Mrs Joyce Hilda Banda, delivered in the main auditorium of the university the following evening after the opening of the library last Monday.

Before I move to the main meal for today, the President Banda lecture, let me say a few things which have featured sporadically in this column since its inception three years ago, and which are still very relevant in my view. Why had the alma mater of President Mills been so tardy and stingy with honours and encomiums for a former student, long-serving employee and university administrator who managed to be President of Ghana? He was denied an honorary doctorate when he was President, unlike what was done for Prime Minister Busia in 1970 during the life of the ill-fated second Republic. What accounts for this indefensible and infantile exhibition of spite of a person freely elected by the people of this country to its highest office by his professional colleagues?

How come the champions of Dr Danquah and Prof. Busia have failed so spectacularly to do something similar or even better to memorialise the names and achievements of these gentlemen? Is there nothing to really celebrate or memorialise about these men? We must have and sustain the worthy culture of memorialising and collecting and storing the records of our leaders so future generations would have rudders of experience to guide their lives by. Therefore, I take this opportunity to heap all praise and gratitude on the promoters of the twin ideas of the annual Mills lecture series and the Mills memorial library to serve as a permanent depository and lasting source of information on all aspects of the Mills presidency and related people and matters. This is not a partisan issue.

The lecture

Now to the President Banda lecture. As I entered the auditorium last Monday evening, I recalled the only time I was in that very hall, as a young Form Five student who broke bounds from secondary school to be present at the first Kwame Nkrumah lecture series delivered by the formidable Nigerian politician in November 1976, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Admiral C.K Dzang represented the Head of State then General Kutu Acheampong and he gave a very evocative speech about our unique origins as Ghanaians and Africans which still rings in my ears 40 years after the event. As for the colourful but scholarly Chief Awolowo, I still recall his unique analysis of the meaning of the word ‘problem’ as a circumlocution; “a goat is a stubborn goat with four legs!’’

To follow through my thoughts on the subject, I ask when is the next Kwame Nkrumah lecture series also instituted by the University of Cape Coast to honour the most famous African of our time? It has been in abeyance for some time. Like the case of the Awolowo lecture 40 years ago and the remarks of Admiral Dzang, I took away something from the pointed remarks made by the Chairman of the Council of the University of Cape Coast, Nana Sam Brew-Butler, who chaired the President Mills lecture this year.

Nana Brew-Butler, in his opening remarks, made an observation about President Mills which I found to be extremely potent and the character of a true patriot. He said, “Twice he lost the presidential election but he did not write volumes of protests. He did not seek refuge in the law courts nor hoped for power-sharing. Prof. Atta Mills, as a good sportsman, never saw his defeat as a loss but a win as he believed that as long as the people of Ghana had chosen their leader democratically, then it was a win for all. As he always made clear, he was a Ghanaian first before anything else.’’

President Banda is an extremely confident woman, a shameless Christian and the consummate politician who delivered a memorable lecture on the theme of servant leadership in relation to the life and politics of President Mills. As has been the custom with the two previous lecturers, she also knew President Mills personally, in the significant confluence of health and faith involving her husband, whose recounting arrested the attention of her audience.

She dealt deftly and convincingly with her theme, weaving a tapestry of faith, love, politics and human character which glued us to our seats as we soaked in the examples drawn from her own considerable political experience. She was didactic and a worthy inspiration to all women who venture into the turbulent world of politics. Her presence and her participation in this year’s celebration of the President Mills legacy mark yet another milestone in our growth as a democracy and our gratitude for a life worth remembering.


Writer’s e-mail: aburaepistle@hotmail