Ghana

History has ‘absolved’ me! (1)

As we go about our day-to-day business, it may not often occur to us that important as the pressing matters of the moment might be, worrying about them would probably have evaporated by the time we wake up the next morning; a new day, a mere 12 hours away.

On the other hand, did we but know it, maybe what we had done — or omitted to do — some years ago, could rise up, after such a multitude of sunrises, to enhance our self-esteem, or rob us of any we might have fondly cultivated in the privacy of our minds, over the years. We are our own worst judges sometimes, are we not?

“Obi nnim nna!” (say the Akan sages, meaning: “No-one knows what another day may bring!”)

This train of thought arose in my mind through a casual remark made to me by a friend one day.

We were talking about a poli­tician who had recently passed, when this friend asked me, “By the way, have you read the autobi­ography of Joe Appiah?”

I had to admit that I wasn’t even aware that Joe Appiah had published an autobiography be­fore his death, let alone read it!

So, I answered: “No! Why do you ask?”

“Because Joe Appiah wrote that when General Acheampong over­threw Dr Busia, and he, Ache­ampong appointed Joe Appiah, as an Ambassador Extraordinary, Acheampong gave Appiah a copy of a “secret letter” he had found in the papers Dr Busia had left in his desk, before travelling to the UK on the trip during which he was overthrown!”

“Oh! What was in the secret letter?” I asked eagerly. “Who was it from”?

My friend smiled. He said (rath­er sadistically, altogether making it sound like he was doing me a favour!) “It will be better if you find out for yourself from the book!. I don’t want to spoil the pleasure – and excitement of get­ting to know about it, for you!”

Well, doubtful “favour” or not (I thought) if that was the posi­tion he wanted to adopt, so be it. I would get hold of Joe Appiah’s book as soon as yesterday! First bookshop I saw, it would be my most important purchase.

But in the meantime, I felt slightly resentful that Gener­al Kutu Acheampong had not shown the Busia letter to me, but had given a copy of it to Joe Appiah.

My resentment was based on the fact that everyone knew that I’d had the mother of all political quarrels, in 1970, with Dr Busia, about his policy of carrying out “dialogue”-with apartheid South Africa, over the heads of the country’s African population.

The confrontation with Busia had, in fact, led to my being dismissed from my job as Editor of the Daily Graphic! I was not surprised by the dismissal, for some people believe that if the state “owns” a newspaper, the paper should slavishly support every government policy.

Maybe Dr Busia was one of them. Certainly, his press secre­tary, Emil Adzimah, behaved as if he thought so.

My own attitude was that the government only owned such newspapers as the Graphic on behalf of the populace and that the citizens of a country had the right to form and impart opinions on all matters affecting the public. The state-owned newspapers, more than any others, should therefore subject governmental measures to a thorough, disinter­ested examination, because only the papers in private ownership, they were not circumscribed by any commercial or sectional interests.

In the particular case of my ar­gument with the Prime Minister, I felt strongly that his policy was mistaken and would (as I shall demonstrate later) bring shame upon his own head, as well as that of Ghana.

But, of course, some people thought that I was being reckless in confronting the Prime Minister on, and that I was courting “ca­reer suicide.” To that argument, I said, “Bollocks!” I would do what my conscience told me was right.

Luckily, informed public opinion suspected that the Prime Minister had a vested interest in the “dialogue” policy. They were right. My own view was, “I operated as a freelance journalist before I joined the Daily Graphic. I am not scared by the prospect of not earning a regular salary, as I do at the Graphic. So there!”

This disregard for my personal interest – a position of seem­ing “bravado” on my part – is a type of behaviour that hardly ever takes place in public life in Ghana. It was to make me an unwilling hero.

But neither Joe Appiah nor Acheampong showed that they quite appreciated the importance of the debate on “dialogue”, ei­ther as it affected Ghana’s image abroad, nor its implications for freedom of the press in Ghana, and the principle on which I had sacrificed my job as Graphic editor.

The galling part of the story was that even as the two men were hiding the secret letter from me, I had made Acheampong very popular by broadcasting a news commentary on Radio Ghana in which I used the term, “YENNTUA!” after Acheam­pong repudiated some of Ghana’s external debts.

So, I would have expected Acheampong, no less than Joe Appiah, to try and please me in return!

BY CAMERON DUODU

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