I consider it a great pity that we have lost to death K.B. Asante, retired civil servant, diplomat, sometime minister of state in the Provisioal National Defence Council (PNDC) era, and an extraordinarily conscientious public servant who gave his best to his country without counting the cost or seeking praise.
He had the courage of his convictions and never wavered from his deep belief in our capacity to transcend our circumstances and become a better people.
If I may characterise K.B. Asante’s place in our society as a griot of our times, it would be as a person with the power to reshape and retell old ideas as if they are new.
If Chinua Achebe could be described as the storyteller of our traditional, pre-colonial past, then KB’s was that for our imperial and colonial heritage, recasting the dessicated and old-fashioned ways, and raising serious and timeless questions about the enduring virtues of duty, punctuality, sincerity and truth in public life in independent Ghana.
Lessons from independence
But perhaps we may take solace in the fact that he lived to a ripe old age and even around the age of 90 years, still found the time, strength and memory to teach those behind him, the valuable lessons of his extensive experience in the government and politics of our dear country Ghana, since our independence 60 years ago.
The life of the mind was a lifelong passion, and many of us may have drawn or renewed our interest in imbibing the lessons our political and social conditions teach us from his readiness to share and impart his own version of events in his writings as a columnist in our leading newspapers for decades under several aliases.
In this heartfelt tribute to this quintessentially patriotic Ghanaian, I may be permitted to begin with the story of the start of my association with him.
I first met K.B. Asante in 1965 when, at the end of my legal education, all graduates were required to undergo some period of training and familiarity with the public administration of Ghana before their placement in the public and civil services, at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA).
That was the focus of GIMPA then, quite different from the present where it seeks to rival neighbouring Legon in awarding degrees.
This was in July 1965.
Law graduates, however, were required to do only three months of this essential course spanning twelve months.
However, this truncated tenure did not prevent my cohort from electing me as the president of the Students Representative Council at GIMPA, obviously due to the fame, or notoriety I had gained from my tussle with the authorities and short detention following the death of Dr J. B. Danquah in February 1965, when I was president of the Junior Common Room (JCR) of Commonwealth Hall at the University of Ghana.
It was E.V. Mamphey, principal of GIMPA, a senior civil servant and close associate of President Kwame Nkrumah who introduced me to K.B. Asante, then at the African Affairs Secretariat.
KB was visiting GIMPA on a recruiting and familiarisation tour and met the student leadership.
KB of course was aware of my Danquah experience, and said something like; ‘’Mr Sarpong, you have been elected as president of the students council.
Congratulations. I have heard about you and you will have a great future.’’ I thanked him.
Call to the Bar
We were called to the Bar in the first week of October 1965 by the Chief Justice, His Lordship Julius Sarkodee-Addo when my uncle’s lawyer, Victor Owusu was the acting bar president.
Some of my mates who have distinguished themselves in Ghana and elsewhere were J.C. Amonoo-Monney, retired Supreme Court justice, Charles Agbenu, formerly a chief state attorney and practising in Kumasi, and S.K. Osei-Nyame, also still practising, the late Sam Baddoo of the Supreme Court and the late Colonel Maximus Atta-Fynn.
At the end of my GIMPA course on December 18, 1965, the Attorney General, A.N.E. Amissah, sent me to be Assistant State Attorney in the capital of lawyering in this country, Cape Coast, and thus began my love affair with the city in which I eventually established my own law firm.
The next time I came into contact with KB was in early 1979, when the Trades Union Congress, KB and others formed the Social Democratic Front (SDF), led by Tamale lawyer Ibrahim Mahama, when he came to seek my support.
I had to decline as I had already pledged my support to Victor Owusu’s Popular Front Party [PFP] on whose ticket I entered Parliament during the Third Republic as the Member of Parliament for Asante-Akim North constituency.
My next period of interaction with KB happened to be the most enduring, fruitful, collegial and comradely in our long association.
On April 4, 1988, we were both appointed Secretaries of State for health and education respectively, the usage being the one preferred for Minister of State in the military regime of then Chairman Jerry John Rawlings of the PNDC.
But KB had joined the PNDC in its earlier stormy days, and had been dismissed after being mercilessly hounded by the zealous revolutionary cadres from the student and labour fronts, who accused him and others of unfounded anti-revolutionary tendencies.
The others included my Trotskyite compatriot from Agogo, B.B.D. Kwabena Asamoah, who preceded the late P.V. Obeng as the first Chairman of the PNDC Committee of Secretaries. However, they did not abandon the boat. So when KB returned to the government in April 1988 with me, he was ‘KB Ababio’’ or KB the Second to his ministerial colleagues.
We interacted constantly in our respective duties in those days because of the close association of our two portfolios. I record here with profound gratitude his active engagement in the establishment of the University for Development Studies in Tamale.
So too was the late Professor Kofi Awoonor, another champion of the UDS idea.
UDS Medical School
Surprisingly, KB and I were of the view that the medical school to be attached to UDS be modeled on the Cuban model of training medical personnel which would have made possible the training of more personnel in that field to meet our national requirements than the existing Legon model.
However, we were not successful in our advocacy, the reason being that those who had to implement these ideas were all trained on the prevailing Legon model.
Our novel position was in fact supported by Chairman Rawlings then, but UDS medical school has become just another Legon.
I disagreed with KB, however, and strongly too, with his idea to convert some of the more established secondary schools into independent, autonomous institutions. Probably he was romanticising his Achimota experience.
He had peculiar problems at the education ministry which made Chairman Rawlings complain about the lack of progress on some fronts in the ministry.
Later, when he found himself at the Court of St. James as our High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, we had a memorable dinner when I made a stopover in London on my way from a Paris meeting, ‘’ruminating over the strange mutability of human affairs,’ over good food and wine, to quote the English novelist Charles Dickens.
Now K.B. is gone. At the ripe age of 93, he was a mere seven years short of clocking five score years on this side of eternity.
At that advanced age, he had become an ancestor to whom libation is poured, a position reserved for those whose good life is worth emulating by surviving and oncoming generations.
His was a life filled with unstinted service to his country and his beloved Ga Dangme people.
He was a patriot to the core, an unabashed Nkrumaist and a proclaimed man of the left in our politics, though I must add of a mild pleasant sort.
He worked with all governments up to the end of the Rawlings regime in this country, and never once was cited for any underhand dealing or improper personal conduct, a record of rectitude that the younger generation involved in public affairs must seek to emulate.
He was therefore a gift to all of us from His Creator.
We are all bereaved.
I extend my condolences and profound sympathies to his immediate family and to the wider extended family.
May he rest in perfect peace.