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You can’t negotiate patriotism—Theodosia Okoh

BY: Rosalind Amoh
Theodosia Salome Okoh

Can anyone imagine how Ghana would be represented on any world stage and be so easily recognisable? Well, thanks to Theodosia Salome Okoh, your imagination should not run wild.

Through her creativity, the vibrant red, gold, green with the black star has become Ghana’s symbol and identity; one that draws emotions and nolstagic feeling, depending on the platform and occasion.

Sadly, Mrs Okoh is no more as she  kicked the bucket last Sunday, April 19 at the age of 92.

The national flag

An artist, Mrs Okoh chose the vibrant colours to create an identity for the new independent Ghana, even though at that time, she was only expressing herself through her passion.

In a very jovial manner, she teased, “ I bet the designs of the men were dull and filled with motives which would have been difficult for non-artiste to draw. The design I had was simple and anyone and anybody at all could replicate it.”

The national flag, as she designed it in 1957 for Ghana’s independence, stood for these: The red colour reflects the blood of those who died in the country's struggle for independence; gold/yellow which symbolises Ghana’s rich natural resources, green, representing the green vegetation and fertility and the black star, the five-pointed lone star is the symbol of African emancipation and unity in the struggle against colonialism.

Asked how she became involved in the designing of the flag, Mrs Okoh said, at that time, the patriotism fever was catching up with almost everyone. “Anyone who was capable of playing a role was just driven by the wind to be involved and so for me, there was no negotiation on that.

“I saw the advertisement in the local paper asking for a design for a national flag. As an artist, I gave it a try and submitted my work, which eventually won.

 “Of course, I was happy that my design was chosen, but the joy and satisfaction of knowing that I had played a role in the ‘new’ Ghana was far more rewarding than any physical cash I would have been given”. 

No contribution is  insignificant

For her, patriotism and nationalism is as important now as it was then. It is that which drives the progress and well-being of a nation. Without it, there is no focus and she believes it is the lack of this recognition that has sparked such apathy to national issues.

“We as individuals make the nation. Our contributions in our different ways make it. If we don’t do this, our country is doomed. As we go about our duties, we should recognise that no contribution is insignificant”, she said.

Strength of a woman

A source of great pride to Mrs Okoh was being born female. “There is no creation that is complete without a woman. Womanhood is the symbol of life. Nothing can be procreated without the female. Since they were created first, men always believe they are in charge. Men believe and behave as if they should always be in charge, but women are the main drive.

“Consider a home without a mother or a woman; consider an office without a female presence or just imagine this world without a woman. Impossible!” 

Those were Mrs Okoh’s take on being a female in one of the last conversations she had with this reporter last year.

Frail as she looked, her voice was quite strong and she did not shy away from expressing her opinion.

Recounting all the roles women played, she confidently leaned back and with a smile said: “Unless God found another way, there would have been no life without a female.”

After losing her husband, Enoch Kwabena Okoh, Head of Civil Service during the Nkrumah regime, Mrs Okoh experienced the challenges of single parenting and was full of praise for women who found themselves in that situation but managed to weather the storm.

“When men lose their wives, often, they are encouraged to remarry so they can have someone take care of the children, but when women lose their husbands, they hardly remarry but rather channel all their energy into looking after their children”, she said.

It was difficult not to see her as a mother, grandmother and mentor. Educated and trained in a Basel Mission school, she was a disciplinarian who would say it as it was without being apologetic, adding that it was the lack of such forthrightness that had affected the moral fibre of society in this generation. 

“Instead of letting people know that they are wrong about the bad things they do, excuses are rather found for their behaviour and that has affected discipline and morality,” she said.

Mrs Okoh was also worried that gradually, children were losing their command over Ghanaian languages since parents have adopted the habit of speaking English with their children.

“You ask someone her name and she says I’m Nhyira, Ayeyi, Adom and all the names that you people have adopted for them because you don’t want to give them Christian or English names. 

“ Yet, try to speak Twi with them and they struggle, but will comfortably answer in English. So what is the point? The modern-day woman is missing this important point. It is their duty to teach their children the local language. That is why it is called mother tongue. It is our primary duty as mothers to teach our children our language.”

Passion for hockey

Mrs Okoh earned the nickname ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ of Ghana hockey for her role in the development of the sport. From her Achimota schooldays, she took an active part in the sport and went on to captain the national team.

After school, she maintained her interest in the sport and became the Chairperson of the Ghana Hockey Association (GHA). Her passion for the sport meant that she channelled a lot of personal resources into its development at a time that  such support was hard to come by. To date, she remains the only female to have held that high position. 

But for her efforts, the nation would have been without a national hockey stadium since she warded off stiff challenge by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to take over a parcel of land she had acquired for the GHA. 

Now, that courageous stance has bequeathed to Ghana, another important monument, the national hockey stadium, the only one the nation can boast of and which has been deservedly named after her.

Her immense contribution to sports earned her a place among the prestigious list of patrons for the Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG); a position she held until her death. 

Asked how she would want to be remembered, Mrs Okoh took a very long, pensive breath and said: “Different things mean differently to people. How people think of me would depend on how they perceive me. For me though, I hope I was able to be a good mother to all the children I took care of, fulfilled my mission for being on this earth and truthfully, I have no regrets.” 

Mrs Okoh would have turned 93 on June 13. She is survived by her three children: E. Kwasi Okoh, Stanley Kwame Okoh and Theodosia Amma Jones-Quartey.