A Swami of diplomacy from Mfantsipim passes away
BY: Collin Assamuah
kofi annan mfantsipim
The sad and unexpected passage into eternity of Kofi Atta Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the first black person to hold the highest diplomatic position in the world, brings to mind several anecdotes related to our collective and fond memories of a personality who brought honour and justifiable fame to his homeland Ghana, all people of black descent everywhere and indeed all the oppressed the world over.
He represented them all with quite and respectful dignity.
For me personally, as a fellow twin, I have lost a senior brother who I never met in the flesh. This will surprise many and seem strange because we shared the same alma mater, Mfantsipim School in Cape Coast, and he had honoured many old students association programmes faithfully throughout the years since he left office over 10 years ago at home and outside the country.
I had planned to meet him way back in November 1997 at our annual speech day festivities when he was billed as the guest of honour having left school 40 years previously. But is was not to be, as he was called away to an emergency meeting of the Organisation of American States [OAS] and could not make it.
The first thing I noticed at his funeral were the local commentators trumpeting that he attended ‘’the elite Mfantsipim School in Cape Coast’’, an accurate description the Pharisees will deny endlessly and fruitlessly, but which the reporters picked from foreign news reports and online biographies of this illustrious son of our land.
A similar thing happened way back in late 1979 when I remember our then new Foreign Minister in the President Hilla Limann regime and former Achimota Headmaster, Dr Isaac Chinebuah, being interviewed on the BBC, and the forthright answer he gave to the question whether as a former Achimota headmaster he was also an old Akora, as old students of that fine institution call themselves he sharply retorted, ‘’I went to a far better school.’’
But Kofi Annan was actually the second old student to reach the pinnacles of world diplomacy as Dr Alex Quiason-Sackey became the first African President of the UN General Assembly in 1964, though this post is of lesser significance than the chief executive position Annan reached.
Again, I recollect that in July 1996, when I published my review of the book on Mfantsipim School by the late Prof.
Albert Adu Boahen, I predicted that Kofi Annan would be the first black person to be UN boss, months before it actually happened later that year.
That review was published in this very paper and I gave due honour and recognition to three other products of Mfantsipim School whose exploits will ring far and wide long after they had left us. These were Kofi Busia, Isaac Abban and Prof. Albert Adu Boahen himself.
Kofi Annan also happened to be the first Ghanaian to grab the coveted Nobel Prize with the UN for their joint efforts to improve our world. The nearest a Ghanaian had come to a Nobel was another old student and contemporary of Dr Busia in school, Dr Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe, in the late 40s or early 50s.
It is, thus, accurate to describe this institution as elite though one would struggle to find any old student exhibiting arrogance and empty haughtiness.
He was real
The first and most abiding proof was that Kofi Annan spoke English with a distinctive Ghanaian mid-Atlantic modulation. He was completely bereft of the affectation ridiculed as LAFA, ie locally acquired foreign accent, in spite of decades living and working abroad. He was the real deal.
The second was that he spoke so calmly and deliberately that his delivery was like a cooling balm on hot tempers and unstable situations. He was indeed a man of peace in his speech, being and conduct. Third, in spite of the first consideration, I never saw Senior Kofi Annan in cloth, as if he was the traditional palace clerk of the world, which in reality he was.
Founded in April 1876, that is two years after formal colonisation of the Gold Coast by the British, and in operation since then, Mfantsipim School is the oldest senior high school in this country.
The story of its founder, the Rev. James Picot, who was a 17-year-old brother of the white Wesleyan Methodist missionary, Thomas, is enough to inspire in these grim times of confusing educational initiatives by the government. It is only sufficient to note that among the foundation students were the first Ghanaian barrister, John Mensah Sarbah, and his colleague Joseph Ephraim Casely-Hayford, both early and significant nationalist politicians in colonial Gold Coast.
It is obvious from the snippets we are regaled with of his school days that Kofi Annan was undoubtedly a bad boy or troublesome student. But he never failed to be grateful for the excellent grounding he received in school, and his later life is abundant proof that all stones can be shaped into gems by skilful sculptors and instruments.
That instrument for him, was Mfantsipim, and the sculptors his devoted teachers, especially the famous Francis Bartels who was the headmaster throughout his school days, whom he never failed to praise at every appropriate opportunity.
Fortuitously, Mr Bartels was alive during the whole period his most famous student served as UN boss, living to be over a 100 years old.
Let me herald Busumuru Opesaw Annan to eternity with the timeless poetry of stanza six of the school anthem, in Methodist Hymn Book 832;
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest,
Senior Kofi Annan, you will never be forgotten. May he rest in peace.