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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Must Kotoka Not Go?

By Alhaji Abdul-Rahman Harruna Attah

“It seems easier therefore to declare a Founder’s Day holiday than take a bolder decision of renaming the main gateway to Ghana… Airports all over the world are named after the most exalted of citizens…”

The celebration of Nkrumah’s centenary has been overshadowed by Mabey and Johnson. It’s almost as if it never happened or as if it’s over, but it’s supposed to run through to 2010!

On Monday September 21 2009, shortly after leading Ghanaians to celebrate the maiden Founder’s Day Holiday in honour of Ghana’s first President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the current President, Professor John Evans Atta Mills, flew out to New York to attend the 2009 Session of the UN General Assembly. He has since returned home.

He flew in and out through the VVIP lounge of the KOTOKA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (KIA). In his address to the UN, the President specifically announced the first president’s centenary to the august assembly showing how ennobled that name is to the Republic of Ghana. But the man who overthrew him General Emanuel Kwasi Kotoka has the most prestigious monument in Ghana named after him:

The international airport. Kotoka welcomes anyone coming to Ghana and says goodbye to anyone leaving Ghana.

General Emanuel Kwasi Kotoka, then a colonel, who together with others overthrew Dr. Nkrumah’s 9-year old government on February 24 1966 declared in his radio announcement establishing the coup that Nkrumah was corrupt and a dictator.

From the contemporary records available, some Ghanaians believed the General and took to the streets to express their solidarity with Ghana’s first coup maker(s). The verdict of history now seems to have overturned that verdict.

Kotoka was subsequently murdered in a counter coup attempt and to honour him, Ghana’s refurbished international airport in Accra was re-named KOTOKA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. It has remained so all these years.

There’ve been some grumblings to have it renamed, not just because it offended the memory of Ghana’s first President, but because coups have become totally discredited as means of changing governments. But this is one cat that no Ghanaian government, both military and civilian has had the courage to bell! It seems easier therefore to declare a Founder’s Day holiday than take a bolder decision of renaming the main gateway to Ghana.
The irony could not have been lost on President Mills as he emplaned at the Kotoka International Airport to the US barely 24 hours after he had been the celebrant-in-chief at the beginning of the Kwame Nkrumah centenary celebrations. The celebrations would take the better part of a year into 2010.

Significantly, it was during the very long run of the PNDC/NDC from 1981 to 2000 that the international airport could have been renamed. That it could not be done at that time, according to some sources was that the PNDC chairman/NDC founder, Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings, resisted it.

Was he an admirer of Kotoka? Did he support Kotoka’s coup? Indeed, Rawlings has even been quoted as taunting Nkrumah’s independence achievement as merely a flag and anthem independence not worth much.

He has also been quoted as saying that February 24 1966 is to him one of the glorious days in Ghana’s history – the day of the overthrow of Dr. Nkrumah. Before then, the PNP government of Dr. Hila Limann (1979-81), a direct descendant of Nkrumah’s CPP did not make any moves to remove Kotoka’s name from the international airport. Ex-President Kufuor and his NPP administration, in power for eight years, also studiously shied away from it…

After instituting a national holiday in honour of Nkrumah, President Mills may yet come round to expunging General Kotoka’s name from the international airport, but he would have to carefully choose his words to explain why.

What would the charges be? That because Kotoka overthrew Nkrumah? That because Kotoka was a coup maker? Any reason advanced could call into question the legitimacy of his own party’s founder – a taboo subject!

But perhaps due to political expediency, now that Rawlings is a “Founder” himself – of the ruling NDC – he is ready to play along with whatever honour is given Nkrumah and hope that sooner or later he would also have a day set aside for him as the “founder” of an aspect of Ghana’s history and would agree for Kotoka to go.

But the question still remains: Can Kotoka and Nkrumah share the same pedestal on Ghana’s honours list? For Ghana’s main gateway to be named after him, Kotoka arguably occupies the more prestigious national monument than Nkrumah …Airports all over the world are named after the most exalted of citizens…

In another development concerning monuments, Sunyani, the Brong Ahafo capital, has for the past month or so been struggling with its own political conscience regarding the bust of Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia, Prime Minister of the Second Republic at the Jubilee Park, formerly called the Nkrumah Park.

Mr. Kwadwo Nyamekye Marfo, the regional minister’s remark that the park would be re-named after Dr. Kwame Nkrumah has ignited passions all round. It has become a highly divisive subject in a region where the former prime minister came from. An attempt to uproot his statue was met with a court injunction and people are quite divided.

Naming of monuments in Ghana has most times been at the whims and caprices of governments. When Captain Thomas Sankara, the military leader of Burkina Faso was assassinated by his own comrades-in-arms in the eighties, the PNDC immediately named a circle after him:

Thomas Sankara Circle. When the Circle was changed into an overpass, the Kufuor Administration dropped Sankara for one of the Big Six: Ako Adjei.

Controversially, the Kufuor Administration named a road after former President George Bush and one after former Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has two excellent institutions named after him: The peacekeeping complex at the Command and Staff College at Teshie and the ICT Excellence Centre near Parliament House.

Still waiting to be fully recognized in the national capital are the Prime Minister of the Second Republic, Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia and President of the Third Republic, Dr. Hila Limann respectively.

By Alhaji Abdul-Rahman Harruna Attah

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