Akenten Appiah-Menka: Politics was tunnel for service
We are but dust and vapour, yet we leave footprints in the sand of time by the measure of our contribution towards humanity.
Growing up in Bantama, Kumasi, Appiah-Menka was a household name.
In fact, we knew and called him then, as did nearly everyone else in the country, not by his full name, but APINO, the name of the popular brand of detergent soap that was one of the products of his manufacturing company.
APINO Soap was a manifestation of Akenten Appiah-Menka’s entrepreneurial spirit.
His business acumen and enterprise found expression in a willingness to venture into new territory in search of investment opportunity not only to make a profit for himself, but also to contribute to the economy.
APINO, indeed, contributed significantly, by his industry, to the economy of Kumasi, as well as to the larger Ghanaian economy.
My first face-to-face encounter with Mr Appiah-Menka was during my time as a student of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).
I had been elected the President of the newly inaugurated Tertiary Students Confederacy of the New Patriotic Patriotic Party (TESCON) and with my team, we paid him a visit at his Ellis Avenue residence in Kumasi.
He welcomed us warmly, with his characteristic smile and a very firm handshake; then after we had completed the customary courtesies of introducing ourselves and the purpose of our visit, he proceeded to regale us with tales of the political history of Ghana.
Over the course of our TESCON years, we benefited immensely from his intellectual guidance and mentoring and acquired from him invaluable first-hand knowledge of the political history of Ghana and of the Danquah/Dombo/Busia tradition.
He infused in us a great sense of pride for having chosen to be NPP student activists. He saw politics as ennobling and as a means to a yet nobler end, namely the development of Ghana, and encouraged us to continue to pursue this aspiration through service to our party and community.
My membership of the Asante Students Union of KNUST also brought me in contact with Mr Appiah-Menka on numerous occasions.
The development and progress of Asanteman, as of Ghana, was also dear to his heart.
Years later, he and the Chairman of the Global Media Alliance and now Ghana’s Ambassador to China, Mr Edward Boateng, invited me to join a bipartisan group of prominent Asantes that was held together by a common desire to promote the development of Asanteman and whose members, including the Chairman of Fidelity Group, Mr Edward Effah, and the late P.V. Obeng, met regularly at Edward Effah’s office in Accra.
In 2008, I indicated my intention to contest the Bantama primaries for the NPP seat then held by Ms Cecilia Abena Dapaah, now our dynamic Minister of Aviation.
Mr Appiah-Menka was one of a few prominent NPP giants, among others, who counselled me against that move.
Needless to say, I heeded his—and their—timely counsel, an intervention, the wisdom of which was easily demonstrated by later events.
Even though I had had several encounters with Mr Appiah-Menka in my younger years, we became closer and far better acquainted with each other after then presidential candidate, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, appointed him to chair a party/government committee whose task was to ensure a more coordinated and cordial working relation between the party and the government.
As a member of the committee, membership of which included the likes of Sammy Crabbe, Late Kwasi Ankamah and Asoma Cheremeh, I gained an even greater appreciation of the immense value and sheer wisdom of the man Appiah-Menka.
His intellect, statesmanship, patriotism and love for party were palpable in all our deliberations. His leadership skill and forthrightness were critical to moving the committee’s work forward and helped us to fulfil our committee’s mandate of providing timely and sound advice to the candidate.
Serving on his committee gave me unfettered access to him, and I profited immeasurably from his experience and wisdom. He was a most avuncular statesman, taking great joy in passing on to the younger generation his treasure trove of knowledge and life lessons.
Among his many pearls of advice to me was to imbibe the spirit of entrepreneurship as a cardinal principle that should regulate my endeavours in life.
By that, he was alluding to the “can do” spirit; an admonition not to be averse to risk, but to embrace new challenges with an open mind and fierce determination to succeed. He was a good man in every sense of the term, and I count myself extremely fortunate to have had the benefit of his tutelage and, dare I say, friendship.
On June 14, 2015, Mr Appiah-Menka called me to his house.
Although this was not the first time I had received such summons, I could not surmise the reason for this particular invitation. I, of course, answered his summons.
He took me through the story of his life: as a politician, an entrepreneur, and a lawyer dating back to the 60s.
I learned about his humble beginnings in Aboabugya, a small town in the Kwabre District, then to Kumasi, his student days in England, law practice years in Kumasi, his time as a legislator and a member of Prime Minister Busia’s government in the Second Republic and his later adventures as a business magnate, the man behind the Appiah-Menka Industrial Complex.
His was a career of immense accomplishments built on the foundation of honesty, dignity, hard work and integrity.
Listening to him tell me the story of his life, which I surmised was intended as a lesson and guide for my own, was indeed a humbling, as well as an inspiring experience for me, and I left his house on that day more encouraged and motivated in my resolve to work to the best of my ability for the NPP to win the 2016 election.
Late last year, I had the opportunity to accompany the President, Nana Akufo-Addo, to visit Mr Appiah-Menka at his home. He had been taken ill.
Even though he looked visibly weak and frail, he couldn’t suppress his patriotism and his desire for the government to succeed.
He expressed his unhappiness that I had not been able to find time to visit him since the announcement of my appointment in the new government.
I apologised to him and promised to find time to do so at the earliest opportunity.
That was not to be. I was truly devastated when on that fateful Tuesday, the Minister of National Security called me and asked that I inform the President of the death of his friend and brother, Akenten Appiah-Menka.
I felt a sense of guilt and deep regret that I had not made time to call on him as regularly as I would have wished — and as I ought to have done as someone who had drunk so freely from his well of knowledge, experience and wisdom.
Even as I remain pained by the loss, I am profoundly and eternally grateful for the opportunity to know and learn from him and his life.
It is indeed a rare privilege to have been able to sit in his presence. We give thanks to the Lord for blessing and enriching our lives and times with his life on this side of eternity.
Damiri fa due Akenten Appiah-Menka
Rest In Peace Akenten Appiah-