For Kwesi Botchwey, A rare farewell by Occasional Kwatriot Kwesi Yankah
I was part of the throng of sympathisers that gathered to see off the man, Dr Kwesi Botchwey, Thursday, 22nd December.
Venue was the forecourt of the State House.
A simple, simple unGhanaian send off. Dress code: nil; no one-week observance, no mourning, no fanfare; a private burial.
Two days before, we had gone to visit his family and sign the book of condolences.
Kwesi’s partner had jokingly cautioned, ‘he said there should be no tears, and that if anybody cries that day, he would wake up and confront the person.’
We all chuckled, but that was part of the relaxed mood Kwesi sought to generate.
One painful interpretation of Kwesi’s wish was that there should be no bodily or casket conveyance to his hometown Agona Asafo, where he was an elder and subchief.
It meant no libation, no special cloth, no funeral committee, no chief mourners. My personal dilemma was the absence of a prescribed dress code. It was nil, or rather open ended. One was thus confronted with several alternatives that morning.
Avoiding black wear and going for white clothing was tempting but also risky, just in case the cause of death had not been determined, and mourners were looking out for possible ‘suspects.’
As it turned out, mourners came in a variety of colors, from black, wine, pink, multi, grey to black/white etc. Most however played it safe, and were wrapped in black.
Even though feeling odd, I was presumably not offensive reading my tribute in orange color. It was great statesmanship on the part of Government, deciding that Kwesi Botchwey deserved a state burial. Nothing to do with Kwesi’s personal friendship with President Akufo-Addo; but something to do with Kwesi’s impact on the 4th Republic, serving Ghana for 13 years.
Never mind if he was the object of mudslinging after every PNDC/NDC budget he did; never mind a harsh structural adjustment policy inflicted; never mind occasional open tension with J. J. Rawlings; and never mind his decision to submit his resignation while his President was away.
My own pen never spared Kwesi Botchwey those days. But I loved his simplicity, and disinterest in material possessions. If I were to choose two top non-materialist politicians in the 4th Republic, it would probably be Kwesi Botchwey and Kwadwo Baah Wiredu, both of them having been finance ministers.
For Kwesi, it was partly ideological. While on the Legon campus as lecturer, he was part of the avowed socialists, a group of Charlie Wote lecturers whose commitment to the ordinary man, attracted them to J. J. and got them immediately enlisted for revolutionary service: Kwamena Ahwoi, the Tsikatas, etc.
In their shadows were a few ‘charlie wotey’ ladies. Last Thursday was a virtual general assembly of Ghana: The President Nana Akuffo-Addo, his Vice Dr Bawumia, the chief of staff, Yaw Sarfo Marfo, past Speaker Mike Oquaye, (with his son walking in tow); but also past president Mahama, Ibrahim Mahama, and a top hierarchy of NDC party officials, including the new Chairman, Asiedu Nketia fortunately not in battle dress, but disguised in suit.
It was also nostalgic seeing the past chief of staff, venerable Lawyer Nana Ato Dadzie, Kofi Totobi Quakyi, Kwesi Ahwoi. And was it Colonel Obimpeh sitting in front?
Great Akilagpa Sawyer was present too, and then Takyiwa Manu, Esi Sutherland Add, etc. And I did see from a distance past Presidential candidate Ivor Greenstreet. Presec old boys were there in their numbers to see off their own, except that there could have been greater order in the school anthem sung; its ending with a piercing solo cacophony got mourners stampeding to cock their ears.
Then of course Mensah Sarbah Hall Vikings were there to see off their colleague. And I was touched by the grand presence of chiefs and elders from Kwesi’s home town Agona Asafo.
Significantly, Otumfuor Osei Tutu II was hugely represented by a 27-person delegation of chiefs, elders, and courtiers, heralded by an ensemble of drum and horn blowers. Asantehemaa, the Queen, was separately represented; her condolences immaculately delivered by a witty spokeswoman.
Traditional Asante showed rare maturity and statesmanship. I was stunned by a growing expression of Asante nationalism beyond ethnic boundaries.
To them the people of Asante hugely benefitted from Kwesi’s dedicated services, and that Ghana’s tears are Asante’s tears as well, uniquely conveyed. Even though Kwesi was not an Asante, Asanteman mourns his departure.
I was flabbergasted. By and large, no party colors, no party slogans, but non-verbal signals spoke louder.
The issue had to do with the MC’s announcement of which dignitary just arrived, and needed a show of formal courtesies by the crowd of mourners. ‘Please let us all be upstanding to welcome So and So who just arrived.’
The level of enthusiasm displayed by the crowd often told the whole story: a quick rise to their feet if the big man announced was a favored one, and a lackadaisical rise or a pretended display of hearing impairment, if the dignitary announced was unfavored.
If I were bold to conduct a quick interview, those who were slow to rise, or chose to give selective sitting ovations, would well have told me it was due to chronic waist pains and related medical conditions.
Tributes were read, a brief sermon was heard, Christian charity followed, and a benediction.
The casket was closed and taken away in military style, and the entire event was over. Burial was private. No final funeral rites, no libation, no chief mourners, no tears, no dancing, and no threat by weeping mourners, that they would accompany the departed, to see his Maker.