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[OPINION] The President Who Never Was… P. K. Sarpong

A fortnight ago I was awakened to think about Ghana, our beloved Ghana – that blessed country set at the centre of the world by the Creator. Like John the evangelist, author of the book of Revelation, I was sent back to the early days of the country’s independence. Whether by act of coincidence, which I call providence since I don’t believe in coincidence, I launched unto a video about the early days of Ghana’s history. I don’t recall who sent it to me and how come I had it, but I watched it, an intriguing video that culminated with the story of the overthrow of the country’s first president – Dr Kwame Nkrumah.

Ghana has been blessed with relative stability and peace. We can and must give God thanks for how far we have come despite the many instances, where through our actions, words, and inactions (as a people) we pushed ourselves to the brink of chaos through tribal, ethnic, and political differences and utterances.

The last few years have seen us change power from one political party to another. Ghanaians since 1992 have voted in the hope of seeing improvement in their lives – social, psychological, religious, economic, etc. But things have not change much to the expectation of the ordinary Ghanaian except for a few people, families, and individuals who continue to amass wealth and property to the detriment of the poor and suffering masses.

In all these, firm leadership, that reveals itself in the virtues of integrity and honesty is what has been lacking. This brief article tackles a few aspects of the Ghanaian leadership with a focus on one personality whose name fell from the lips of one of our country’s long serving presidents, His Excellency, Flt, Lt (Rtd) Jerry John Rawlings. In an interview granted on Sunday 5th July to Asaase radio and posted on YouTube he admitted how he wanted to hand over power to no other person but Peter Kwasi Sarpong, (the then Bishop, now Emeritus Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kumasi).

This brief article will treat some challenges and some perspectives on Ghanaian leadership with a sharp focus on Most Rev. Peter K. Sarpong, who “nearly became a President”. I must, however, state that this does not peruse the details of his wonderful life. It will need a book, and a few weeks, which I am not capable, if not unworthy to pen. I will only bring to the fore, his life as I know as a young boy growing at his own enclave Fankyenebra, which also happened to be my hometown.

I will end with a vision received a fortnight about what we must all expect if we want a Ghana that can stand out among the community of nations.

Previous leadership

I write to thank God for the life of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the nation’s first president and his contributions in seeing our motherland free itself from the chains of imperialism, (1957-1966). We thank God for almost 20-year rule of his Excellency, Flt Lt. (Rtd) J.J. Rawlings, the first of our surviving heads of State. Praise be the Lord, for services and reign of His Excellency J.A. Kuffour. We commend to the merciful LORD, the soul of His Excellency, J.E. Atta Mills and also ask the Lord to bless His Excellency J.D. Mahama for his contributions. Finally, let us ask protection for the current president His Excellency Nana A.D. Akuffo Addo, that he may be achieve that for which God through the Ghanaian people gave him mandate.

I have every reason to thank God for these personalities who gave their lives for mother Ghana in serving her at the highest office. The role they assumed came with its challenges which the Ghanaian people once in a while bring to the fore to appraise; praising where they think the leaders performed and chastising where they think they underperformed. These past leaders have had their good and bad moments – the Ghanaian people are best to judge, and I hope they continue to do so in honest devoid of insults and derogatory remarks. In my own estimation, I believe they could have done better than what they achieved in office.

The challenges they faced still exist and there have been some additions. To surmount them, it will need a strong character, determination, and courage. Among the challenges include a citizenry that needs change badly but isn’t ready for change, a leadership that assumes power and forgets how it came to power; a country that is surrounded by neighbouring countries controlled elsewhere; a world that will come after any brave Africa (Ghanaian) leader and make sure he doesn’t succeed.

a. A citizenry that needs change but does not want change

The Ghanaian people have made and continue to make comparisons with most developed countries in the West. At times these comparisons are unwarranted since we are not ready to walk on the road their forefathers embarked on in securing such a relatively peaceful, advanced, law-abiding environment. Ghanaians dream of skyscrapers, well-kept lawns, efficient security, and justice systems, but these come with a price, with sacrifices from the citizenry. For instance, majority of workers in most of these advanced countries do not jump taxes, institutions like the police are difficult to be influenced on a daily basis, workers are almost always on time, etc. How many of us Ghanaian workers report to work on the scheduled time? (The situation changes when he/ she transfers abroad). Which European security detail stationed on his country’s border will receive 50 euros to issue a document as important as a passport, birth certificate to another person without due process? It takes less than 20 dollars to influence a person in Ghana, yet he/she will be blaming leadership at the top. To acquire a basic and common document that Ghanaian may have to grease the palms of whoever is in charge. This happens in almost every office. We connive we foreigners to destroy our own land and people and yet praise them for upholding these values in their countries.

b. A leadership that assumes power and forgets how it came to power.

Despite these listed weaknesses of the ordinary Ghanaian, he still doesn’t understand why leadership and institutions established to work for his security and progress fail to do so. Cracks on roads that are repaired elsewhere within hours or days will take years to be fixed in Ghana. Road contractors build roads in February, only for the rainy season, in April or June to expose their shoddy work. Yet they travel outside the country and remain stupefied by the same work of their counterparts in Europe and the Middle East are executing. Political leaders steal money and invest outside the country. When it is time for them to be prosecuted, it becomes an ethnic battle, political chess, and nocturnal consultations with traditional rulers to be set free. Worse still some result in prolonged judicial battles that only the beautiful ones yet to be born in the next century will live to witness adjudication.

c. The development and challenges of our neighbouring sisters

Another challenge we face is that Ghana cannot develop without our neighbouring sisters – Burkina Faso, Cote d’ Ivoire, and Togo. It must be a collective effort with leaders of such countries else there will be an influx of elements who thwart the efforts to progress.

d. A world that does want to see the development of Africa (Ghana)

It is a hidden secret that the development of Africa is a threat to the West. As a result, any leader who seeks that strong will to develop and emancipate his people will be put under the telescope of the West. It needs only a strong and fearless character who can stand for his country and cause the necessary change(s) even if he/she does with within one mandate, without necessarily seeking for another term in office. But the biggest question is: will his people be ready to support him? Can an African leader, for instance, call for limitation in imports of rice, sugar, tomatoes while his people cultivate, buy and eat what they produce? The taste for foreign goods, the ‘individual’s right to own, and procure what he desires will cripple these efforts.

Can we try a religious leader – We almost had a President in Peter K. Sarpong?
However nebulous the situation looks, there have been persons here who could rise to this challenge. Have they been discovered? Yes! and NO! We are a people who since the dawn of independence have seen a relatively stable co-existence between our religious, political, and traditional institutions. Our history shows us that, our traditional rulers in the past held, united, and developed their communities, (a few innovative ones are still working tirelessly for the good of their people). Of the three institutions, it is probably only the religious which has not had the opportunity to govern at that highest level when all the other two have already stints in our history.

In an interview granted to Kwaku Sakyi Addo, (Sunday 5th July 2020) the former President Rawlings (political leader) inter alia, admitted that he contemplated handing over power to some competent people since he “I didn’t want to hang unto to power. I didn’t know what to do with it. Honestly…I had in mind those whom I think were good enough… Bishop Sarpong, this that, etc. In Bishop Sarpong’s case, I had not met him, but I read something he had written not too long before this thing happened, and I kept in mind that that’s the kind of person we need…”.

In the above, we could have witnessed the first-ever politico-religious transition. But we know it never happened. Fortunately, both personalities are still alive. For the purposes of the article, I would like to dwell on Peter Kwasi Sarpong (then Catholic bishop of Kumasi). He is the reason I caption this article – THE PRESIDENT WHO NEVER WAS…PETER KWASI SARPONG.

Growing up, I heard numerous stories about the influence of Sarpong in the Ghana society, not only as a prelate but as a social anthropologist, a builder, developer. There were some I lived to see, yes in my own background. All that it takes is to make a short journey from Opoku Ware School down to Apire to see the structures he raised some 40 years ago. For these reasons and others which space and time will not permit me to present a few reasons why Peter K. Sarpong would have been a good leader. Even now the characteristics and personality he possesses can influence any type of leader Ghanaians would like to see in the future.

Peter Kwasi Sarpong, was the ‘church’ and the ‘church’ was Peter Kwasi Sarpong. This was because any time growing up, mention was made of the church in Ashanti, the name Kwasi Sarpong followed. The church in Ashanti and Sarpong became like a hendiadys.

I summarise a few of his achievements that come to mind under these headings:

a. Educational
being a man of the book, he established many educational institutions – from nursery right up to tertiary levels. One of the most prominent primary schools from the 70s till early 2000 stood as the best school in the Ashanti region – Martyrs of Uganda Preparatory School. He also made show people he worked with well-resourced and developed to take positions in helping society.

b. Health
He built a pharmacy, the first of its kind in the Northern sector of the country. He also established hospitals, clinics, etc.

c. Social
He established the Kumasi Cheshire Home, a rehabilitation centre for the disabled. There was a workshop for servicing vehicles, a fuel station, to supply fuel to priests and religious, which probably would have been expanded to cater for the needs of the enclave, a hospitality centre – Christian Village and Samaritan Villa Guest Houses. There are hundreds of projects dotted in the Ashanti region.

Beyond these, he had a great and pleasing personality that attracted people of other faiths and backgrounds. indeed, that would have been a personality to change the fortunes of Ghana.

However, despite all these great achievements, there stood one impediment. As a son of the Catholic Church, he would have needed the permission of Rome. Since the Church does not encourage his sons (bishops and priests) to engage in party politics that would have been a hindrance. In fact, the Code of canon Law Can. 285§3 states “Clerics are forbidden to assume public office whenever it means sharing in the exercise of civil power”. Peter K. Sarpong, thus became the “once perceived president”, who was needed but “President who never was”. Even today, with age catching up on him, his capacity to recollect and his sense of intuition are hallmarks that we must pray the next leader may possess.

Fast forward, he has been a force behind Ghana’s stability and honour both home and abroad. Almost all Presidents of the 4th Republic have sought his wise and spiritual counsel. We can only pray that God fortifies him and raises more personalities like him.

Unfortunately, the type of religious leadership and witnessing he and some of his wonderful colleagues gave and still give seem to be eroded by charlatans, pitiless individuals who under the guise of the cassock and bible are bringing Christianity to disrepute. Under the watch of governments and security agencies, they are collapsing families and businesses through occultic practices disguised as Christianity. Yes, we must respect the independence of our religious institutions but not those that destroying the lives of innocent Ghanaians. If such persons are not sanctioned not even the generations yet to come will ever yearn for a religious personality to influence our body politic in a way that will bring stability, progress, and peace to all lovely and well-meaning Ghanaians.

To end, I call on all my fellow Ghanaians to keep praying for the motherland. I have been given a very joyful and not too joyful message. The former is that Ghana shall surely have a ‘MESSIAH. The latter being that ‘it may not be so soon’. Not in our time. We can and must pray for renewal and a change of mind. It must begin with me, from you, from us. Ghana deserves better.



Source: Rev. Fr. Louis Cecilia ADU-POKU

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