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He was Otanka, I was Addo Dankwa. These were the names our respective fathers called us from the beginning. So, they were the names we called each other all through.
I first met him in 1950, when I was 6. Uncle Tsebi, Emmanuel Obetsebi Lamptey, the iconic “Liberty Lamptey” of the independence movement, and his beautiful Dutch wife, Auntie Margaret, brought him to Betty House, my parents’ residence in Korle Wokon, Accra Central, to visit. Even then, he was taller, although it turned out that he was, in fact, only 4, i.e. 2 years younger. We became and stayed friends until his sad departure on Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016, in London.
Our lives were truly intertwined.
Our fathers were friends, professional colleagues and political associates. They were among the Ghanaian patriots who gathered at Saltpond on that seminal day of 4th August 1947 to launch the United Gold Coast Convention, UGCC of blessed memory, that set our people on the road to national freedom and independence. They were both members of the legendary Big Six, who are now commonly regarded as the founding fathers of the Ghanaian nation. They were both members of the Opposition in the 1950s and 1960s, which sought to develop an alternative vision and direction for the Ghanaian people from that of Kwame Nkrumah’s CPP government. Uncle Tsebi paid bitterly for his part in the Opposition, by dying in prison without trial as a detainee in Nkrumah’s time. This event had, understandably, a traumatic impact on the young Otanka’s life. Our fathers’ friendship came, thus, to an abrupt end.
The friendship between our mothers was also strong, so strong that it was Auntie Margaret who persuaded my mother to name my younger sister Marigold, later Goldie to all and sundry. Their relationship was enhanced by the national crisis of 1948, when the ex-servicemen’s demonstration over their grievances led to the 28th February Christianborg Crossroads shootings and the national uproar they engendered. Their husbands, amongst, in Aitken Watson’s words, the six directing minds of the UGCC’s Working Committee, were arrested by the British colonial authorities and imprisoned at an unknown location. The two of them worked in concert to harangue the colonial authorities to reveal the whereabouts of their husbands and the others, and the nature of their treatment. More transparent arrangements were then made by the colonial power for the detention of the men who came to be eulogized by the Ghanaian people as the Big Six. That was part of our mothers’ contribution to our nation’s history.
In 1954, at the age of 10, my parents sent me to prep school in England. Almost inevitably, the following year, his parents sent Otanka and Afadi, his younger brother, to the same school. We had our basic education, primary and secondary, in England, strengthening further the bonds between us. One of them was a great love of cricket, about which we had endless discussions!!
The adult Otanka had a varied and colourful life. After a successful career in broadcasting in the late 1960s, having been one of the first stars of the then newly established Ghana Television Service, he went into advertising, very much a fish into water. Initially, an employee of the Unilever subsidiary, Lintas, he and his trusted business partner, the late Peter Hasford, joined together to buy Lintas from Unilever. He became its chief executive, and, over the next two decades, made Lintas the most renowned advertising, or rather, in today’s language, PR company in the country. Thus, in 1992, when the New Patriotic Party was established, he was the obvious choice to head its Publicity Committee, which managed to help impose the NPP brand in the political market place as the other principal brand of Ghanaian politics. He was particularly keen on branding the NPP as the private sector party, for it was his unshakeable conviction that an empowered Ghanaian private sector was the most effective vehicle for promoting the rapid social and economic development of our nation.
His party career was exemplary. Creative chairman of the Publicity Committee; the Greater Accra Regional Chairman during whose tenure the party won the majority of seats in Greater Accra, going from 9 to 16 seats; Campaign Manager of the historic, victorious campaigns of 2000 and 2004, which led to the much-acclaimed two-term NPP administrations of President John Agyekum Kufuor; and National Chairman who presided over the party’s attempt to return to government in the 2012 election, which ended up in the Supreme Court with a highly contested verdict in the celebrated election petition. Passionate believer in the values of the Danquah-Dombo-Busia tradition, the advancement of the party was the centrepiece of his life, and he was prepared to do whatever was legitimately possible to attain its goals. The NPP owes him a lot.
His period in government was equally commendable. He held various important posts in the Kufuor administrations. The first Minister for Presidential Affairs and Chief of Staff, he had the heavy responsibility of assisting the new President Kufuor to put his government firmly on the ground. After that, he went to the Ministry of Information, and ended up finally at the Ministry closest to his heart, the Ministry of Tourism and Modernisation of the Capital City. He discharged his duties with distinction, and was certainly one of the bright talents of Kufuor’s government of all the talents, who served his beloved Ghana to the very best of his abilities.
Gregarious, good natured, fun-loving and tolerant, he made friends easily and had little difficulty interacting with his political opponents. A voracious consumer of books, he was one of the best-read persons of his generation. A bon viveur with a healthy appetite, he loved good food, drink and bright conversation. In sum, he was excellent company.
He married three delightful and beautiful women – Sharleen, his first wife, who died tragically early and left him a lovely daughter, Charis; Jeanette, the vivacious Liberian, who bore him another lovely daughter, Rachelle; and finally Esther, the rock on which he built the latter years of his life, and who was an indispensable and invaluable helpmeet. He doted on his daughters and grandchildren. They, like all those of us who had the benefit of his acquaintance, will miss him sorely. Perhaps I more than most, since, in this critical year of trial for the party and myself, his astute analysis and political feel would have been most welcome.
Jacob Otanka Obetsebi Lamptey was an outstanding Ghanaian patriot. Uncle Tsebi would have been proud of him. The work he, Danquah and the others began, in trying to build an open society in Ghana, governed by democratic institutions which respected human rights and the rule of law, and which relied on individual initiative and enterprise to inspire the rapid economic growth of the country, had been given a significant boost by his son and like-minded colleagues of their generation. His sacrifice had not been in vain.
My wife, Rebecca, and our daughters join me in extending our deepest condolences to Esther, his daughters, Charis and Rachelle, his brothers, Afadi and Nii Lante, his sister, Naa Ayele, Charles Taylor and his entire family on the great loss.
May God bless him and give his soul peaceful rest until the last day of the Resurrection when we shall all meet again.
Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo
Accra, 11th April, 2016.