In memory of the perfect gentleman — Dr Kofi Dsane-Selby, 1931-2017
‘’The golden evening brightens in the west, Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest, Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. Alleluia.’’
Today this column is devoted to a tribute to a man whose funeral takes place this morning at the forecourt of the State House, and who I was privileged to call my friend and elder brother.
All of us, his relations, friends, colleagues and acquaintances and young old boys like me will say farewell to Dr Kofi Dsane-Selby, medical practitioner, a leading Ghanaian Freemason, a founder member of the Progress Party in 1969, the Popular Front Party (PFP) in 1979, and now the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) in 1992, and a football and golf enthusiast.
Not the least, he was also a very well-known old student of the first senior high school in this country, and therefore vintage leaven to the rest who came after. He was also a devoted Methodist, and decades ago, an ex-officio member of the Conference of the Methodist Church of Ghana when he was Director of the Wenchi Methodist Hospital. In addition, he served on the governing board of the Wesley College of Education.
These attainments are more than sufficient unto all men, but he was of distinguished bearing, and added a spirit of gentleness and civility of speech and conduct that made his life worthy of our attention today, if only of emulation in these crude and coarse times.
Attempts at Presidency
Not surprisingly, he twice sought the presidential candidacy of the NPP, losing both times, the first to his Mfantsipim classmate [Class of 1950], and famous historian and my own professor at the University of Ghana, Professor Albert Adu-Boahen in 1992, and then to Mr J.A. Kufuor in 1996.
I fully supported his bid on both occasions. I do not regret it one bit, because I knew that Dr Dsane-Selby represented that level of personal escutcheon and sophistication and political civilisation the country needed to settle down to the hard and taxing business of development of her peoples and her resources.
From the point of view of his involvement in national politics, it is only appropriate to observe at this juncture that until recently, he was living and working in Kumasi, the heartbeat of the historical United Party and now the NPP, the tradition he belonged to all his life. To understand the person called Dr Dsane-Selby, it is only necessary to appreciate the coarseness in public life inaugurated by military intrusions into our politics, and what could have been if these had not occurred.
Where do I start from? As a former soccer enthusiast myself, I was aware of this gentleman who had become one of the first acknowledged professional chairmen of my team, Asante Kotoko, in the late 1960s but saw him first in the flesh at a PFP rally at the Victoria Park in Cape Coast in January 1979, when I was in Upper Six. It was at that rally that Mr Victor Owusu, who later was elected party leader, said he had taught another party leader, the Action Congress Party (ACP) strongman Colonel Frank Bernasko, at Adisadel College. But Mr Owusu said something else extremely spicy about the perception of Wesley Girls’ High School students at Empire Day celebrations that got us all laughing that I cannot repeat in a tribute.
Working for a merger
Later, far later, I knew that somewhere along the line, Dr Dsane-Selby had been appointed by party leader Victor Owusu with lawyers C.B.K. Zwennes and S.A. Odoi-Sykes, MP, to represent the PFP in the successful negotiations leading to the merger of the minority parties in 1981, but the December 31 coup of Chairman Rawlings prevented this example of a workable political merger to work.
I got to know him better in the 1980s in the succeeding military regime of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) when a few of us, old boys of my school, used to meet regularly, I think monthly, at the headquarters of the Methodist Church, which incidentally happened to be my own father’s office.
Dr Dsane-Selby always came down from Kumasi to take part in the meetings to revive the then moribund old boys association and I recall other regulars such as J.V.L. Phillips, E.D. Kom,Yaw Aidoo, the famous former Passport Director, T.K. Impraim, Rev. J.W. deGraft-Johnson [the oldest, Class of 1926!], A.S.K. Hayford, G.K. Agama, J.E.K. Aggrey-Orleans, Prof. Adu-Boahen and a few others who never missed meetings in defiance of the strictures on socialisation brought on by the PNDC.
My brother and I were the youngest old boys at those meetings. Once, we were given a fright when Wing Commander Richard Forjoe, then Kotoka Airport Co-ordinator during the PNDC era, attended our meeting as a bona fide old boy, in combat uniform!
Far later, a smaller group within our numbers, unknown to us and led by Mr Hayford, a gifted actuary, laid the groundwork for the eventual establishment of the Methodist University now flourishing at Dansoman and other campuses at Wenchi, Tema and Larteh. He, however, was an active member of his dwindling 1950 year group till ill health prevented his participation two years ago. My condolences to his surviving mates, Lawyer E.A.K. Akuoko, Mr Wontumi and the rest. In 1986, he chaired the 110th Speech and Founders’ days festivities, proof of his devotion to the school.
When my father died in January 1987, Dr Dsane-Selby was the person I called from the home of our neighbour, Maxwell Senchirey, that very night to inform our relatives in Kumasi. He later, with Auntie Rosamund, visited my mother to express his sympathies, and to ask leave to be absent from the funeral because of an engagement in Benin. But he was stoutly represented at that funeral and my mother’s 15 years later. Thank you Doc.
It was later while I was in America in 1991 that I heard that party politics would return to Ghana the following year. Because of the age of our last PFP leader, there was the need to find a replacement and as far as I was concerned, Dr Dsane-Selby as a dedicated party member, an established professional and a resident of Kumasi who hailed from two swing regions, Central and Greater Accra, was the perfect choice for us to face the expected party of President Rawlings and his followers.
Apparently, others thought along the same lines and sounded him out. In the event, I was chosen as the first secretary of the Danquah-Busia Group in the metropolitan Washington DC area with Lawrence Kwesi Prempeh as president. This had unfortunate consequences. Letters from my brother to me in the States were opened and read by followers of rival candidates to glean information as to the strategy of the Dsane-Selby campaign. They need not have bothered. His closest supporters failed to manage or project him properly and he, with the other contestants, were steamrollered by the Adu-Boahen candidacy. The Dsane-Selby campaign was very badly run, without a clear centre of operations or focus, and Dr Dsane-Selby was made to appear weak, effectual and incapable of the hard knocks of a political campaign. With his loss, the country has had to contend, since 1992, with civilian politicians seeking to oust President Rawlings in their mode of politicking, the harsher and cruder, the better, and a sad, lingering proof of the military intrusions in our politics.
I have so many fond memories of him a newspaper column cannot do justice to. I remember him visiting B.J. da Rocha in his Abossey Okai law chambers which served as the first head office of the NPP while I was busy registering the over 200 founder members required by the law for the successful formation of a political party in June 1992 with Lawyer Ben Annan and one Odonkor, two from each district. Any time Dr Dsane-Selby met now President Akufo-Addo in that office, the three, da Rocha, President Akufo-Addo and Dr Dsane-Selby, happily chatted in fluent French.
He belonged to one of the old families in Cape Coast to which his equally famous uncle and lawyer, Dr E.E.K. Kuranchi-Taylor, belonged. This family actually hailed from Saltpond, 18 miles to the east, and well known as the political capital of the then Gold Coast. This means that if he had chosen, he could easily have got himself elected as an MP for Cape Coast, but he rather sought the Subin seat in Kumasi in 1969 but lost the primaries to Dr T.K. Aboagye. In the event, he became our ambassador to France in 1969 in the regime of Dr K.A. Busia, and to Italy in that of President Kufuor in 2001.
As a staunch freemason, he rose to be the district master of the Scottish Constitution in Ghana, just as his professional colleagues also at an earlier, different time, elected him as president of the Ghana Medical Association in PNDC days. All these enviable attainments were acquired before our return to constitutional rule in 1992. We have thus lost a distinguished professional and a consummate society man.
I can only paraphrase a line in the tribute of the Baltimore Sun on the death of Johns Hopkins in December 1863, the Quaker philanthropist who founded my university in America, that ‘’in the death of Dr Dsane-Selby, a life and career has been closed which affords a rare example of unrewarded and unremarked successful energies of practical benefit to his party and nation.’’
Dr Dsane-Selby left us barely a week to his 86th birthday. He would be inhumed in Cape Coast tomorrow at Queen Anne’s cemetery. May he rest in perfect peace among his ancestors.