The privilege of having known K.B. Asante

BY: Albert Sam
K.B. Asante
K.B. Asante

I have been hit not just because a nation has lost a colossus but also because I have reneged on something I should have done years back.

It will therefore be a fitting tribute to mention this as we mourn the demise of a statesman, patriot, nationalist, diplomat, an educationist and, indeed, accomplished Ghanaian of repute, Mr K.B.Asante.

I had won the Unilever Ghana Limited Journalist of the Year award for 1991 and as part of the syndicated lucrative prize which included a brand-new, fully air-conditioned car, I had to undertake a tour of the United Kingdom and was attached to the Manchester Evening News.

Unilever contracted the British Council headquarters located at Spring Gardens in London to plan and execute the visit which also took me to the Ghana High Commission in London on July 17, 1992 where I had the honour and privilege of meeting His Excellency K. B. Asante, the then Ghana High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

Then hairy, strong, energetic, beaming with smiles and eloquent,  His Excellency welcomed me to his office in a manner which suggested to me that he either knew me or he was enthused with my presence and achievements.

In the presence of the then Press Attaché, Mr Kwamena Anaman, who is my mentor, Mr Asante said he preferred the meeting to be as informal as possible. He began by commending me for my exploits as a journalist that earned me the enviable award and said I was one of the few journalists he admired back in Ghana, especially with my style of writing and the fact that I was an all-rounder, combining both general news and sports writing as well as investigative journalism, something he said was lacking with the profession in Ghana.

Concern for cleanliness

He touched on many areas and then charged me to lead a crusade to educate Ghanaians to keep our cities, towns and villages clean on my return home. He said it was not just and downright awful and an eyesore that: “Everywhere one goes in Accra in particular, kiosks blazon their wares, roads are choked with traders, the young worm their way through traffic to sell their chains, and vans scream their goods to disturb our peace. We are a nation of shopkeepers . . .”

He then continued: “Albert, I think we Ghanaians are a nation of shopkeepers and might have learnt from our colonial masters.” He then went deep into history, narrated how Napoleon described the British as a nation of shopkeepers but countered that by saying that they later led the Industrial Revolution. Maybe, we are not good pupils!

Such was the discourse and an agenda-setting session I had with the eminent Ghanaian diplomat and politician that I promised that I would lead a relentless war on his concerns on my return home.

Then the Ashanti Regional Editor of the Daily Graphic, I returned to Ghana, back to my base in Kumasi. And even though I wrote series of articles on some of the issues he raised and continued even after I was transferred to Accra on January 15, 1993 and promoted to the rank of News Editor, I believe I was not able to carry through whatever I promised to prosecute and execute when I returned home.

Voice from afar

It was no wonder, therefore, that he once told me in the Graphic newsroom that it was partly due to his interaction with me in his office back in London that encouraged him to take actively to writing that culminated in his weekly Monday column in the Daily Graphic c+hristened: “Voice from Afar; Asks K.B. Asante”

As I write this tribute, I am beside myself with shame and abject regret for my acts of forgetfulness, commission and omission; I believe that though it could have been done earlier, it is better late than never.

At this time when the very problems; distortions in our city planning, deliberate siltation of our drains, open defecation along the beaches, absence of toilets in our homes, lack of public toilet facilities in decent residential areas such as Dansoman, Sakumono, Adenta, North Kaneshie and other well-planned locations as well as the highways continue to stare at us, we need to act swiftly. These are some of the unfinished jobs he wanted accomplished. We dare not fail him.

Personally, I learnt a lot from KB; especially during the period I handled the Features Desk and was therefore in direct contact with him for his column. He was frank, open, objective, down to earth and indeed passionate about the filth in our cities as well as the extent of lawlessness and the degradation of the environment.

He was not enthused with the country’s over-dependence on cheap imports.  One issue that KB was obsessed with was the country’s unenviable pedigree as a net importer of even goods we could produce locally. His vision was for us to add value to our primary products to be relevant as a developing country.

Hear him: “We do not import the cheap foreign goods including toothpicks with cedis. We import goods with foreign currency which is obtained by producing and exporting goods to foreign countries. Therefore, if all we do is to import foreign goods with the insufficient foreign currency generated by cocoa and other goods and services, we shall soon find that few of us eat juicy imported steak and chicken but the country has no money to import essential drugs and other necessities.”

Having been laid to external rest at the weekend, I say the nation has lost one of her dedicated and committed statesmen and selfless citizens who throughout his sojourn on earth placed Ghana first in all the things he did.

The country is in mourning for one of her most extraordinary, colourful and influential figures who devoted his inexhaustible energy and his restless, soaring imagination to one overall task that runs through his many creations, demonstrated to people how to use public service to serve the nation, and the people truthfully.

Remember, he distinguished himself as an ambassador, minister of state and held public office without blemish, thus leaving his stamp on the minds of a generation. Except for his close friends for whom he was the gentlest of companions, K.B. was not an easy man, nor did he seek to be. As a statesman he practised rigour and pragmatism. He was hardworking, showed commitment and dedication in everything that he did.

The sea, the poet said, is like the mind of man, full of unfathomable riches. K.B Asante has left many riches behind for the advantage of all: It is a measure of the man that those all over the world who know him think above all of the riches they have lost. He would not have approved.

In discussions with him anytime the name of Kwame Nkrumah cropped up, he said as a nation, we could not forever live on his glorious achievements. Rather, his achievements must help transform our minds, our intellect and the way we do things in the country as people desirous of qualitative and quantitative change, development and progress.

He often accused Ghanaians of doing less and always clinging to the memories of Kwame Nkrumah and admonished:  “Do not live on memories of Kwame Nkrumah or the dead for it is not good that the dead should be a hindrance to the living”.

Ghana has indeed lost a real statesman, a patriot and nationalist and I count myself lucky that I had the rare privilege and the opportunity to have benefitted from his wise counsel.

To the family, I say your loss is the pain of all Ghanaians. I, therefore, hope and pray that as a people and a nation, we learn from KB’s selflessness and the sterling leadership qualities he bequeathed the nation.
Good night; Good Knight!

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