We are all here as family to bid farewell to Kojo. We know that many, many more would have wished to be here today, but his clear instructions were for the privacy of family. That was him.
Each person here carries unique ties to him. Many share blood ties and, of these, some walked closely with him over parts of his life’s journey. For those who knew him as a young boy growing up in Keta, he remains, simply, “Brother”. A couple of people here were in school with him in those childhood years in Keta; someone here plucked and ate guavas with him one day in Ho in 1949, leading to a lifelong bond; another has known him as a revolutionary with a sweet tooth who also loved poetry! Another was drawn to him as the young military officer among a circle of intellectually and politically active young Ghanaians who used to get together, sharing dreams for our nation, in that first decade of our independence. There are a few who were classmates at Achimota. A couple of us, as little children, were held by the hand by him, including to the neighbourhood store at Official Town, Adabraka, in Accra to buy us balloons to replace one that burst while he was blowing it for us!
Some here have encountered Kojo on the international stage, as a comrade in arms, as someone deeply committed throughout his life to the building of nations, – particularly in Africa. There are many here who worked with him, -especially in those years when he was at the side of Flt-Lt Jerry Rawlings, – while he was immersed in the task of rebuilding Ghana from the depths to which we had sunk, re-establishing our international presence and image, ultimately, in establishing and consolidating this Fourth Republic. There are memories of hours of conversations on his porch that many among us can share. Some here have been friends of Kojo’s for decades. He valued friendships and was extremely loyal to his friends.
I simply invite each and everyone to draw on our memories of him and what he meant to us. We can also let our minds roam over what he signified for others who are not here but whose lives too were touched by him.
From his student days at Achimota during that critical decade in the struggle for Ghana’s independence, he began to identify with the PanAfrican vision of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and thus prepared himself for a lifelong commitment to the liberation struggle and the construction of a new Africa.
Military training was an important element in his formation. From the Military Academy and Training School at Teshie, he was selected to continue at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where he distinguished himself, being recognized as the Best Overseas Cadet of his year. There is a certain irony in how such an anti-imperialist fighter was trained in institutions established by colonial Britain to maintain her imperial power.
Reflecting on that irony also enables us to begin to appreciate how, for most of Kojo’s life, he has been the target of powerful forces who found his revolutionary commitment to the liberation of the African continent threatening. He was supposed to be like others, acquiescing in the dominance of these powers and even being a cog in the neo-colonial wheel. That would have been a comfortable life, but he refused that option. This refusal would forever define him and make him the subject of covert and overt operations designed to blunt his impact and, even, silence him. In the face of these, he would not be intimidated; he simply strategized quietly and kept a step ahead of the plans against him.
As a young officer in the Ghana army, he was part of the Ghana contingent of the United Nations forces in the Congo, sent to secure the independence of that country. The complexities of the situation in the Congo, the limits to his ability to make needed interventions, and the murder of Patrice Lumumba left lasting impressions on him. Unsurprisingly, not long afterwards, he left the Ghana Army and joined the MPLA in their struggle for the liberation of Angola from Portuguese colonial rule.
Kojo’s life has been truly internationalist. Across the length and breadth of this continent -from Algeria to South Africa, from Senegal to Tanzania, his stature is acknowledged. Across the ocean, in Cuba, the Caribbean, South America, and across the world, he established deep bonds with people who shared his anti-imperialist and revolutionary convictions.
There have, however, been desperate attempts to sully his image with totally false and wild allegations. He confronted these situations in his usual calm manner, refuting falsehood with detailed factual accounts. The truth of his accounts will stand.
As we say farewell to him today, we who knew him well and who know the truth about him, must be willing to stand up for the truth. We must bear witness to this extraordinary life, lived with such self-effacing humility. We must not let his gentle, calm, and caring nature, his generous heart, his razor-sharp intellect, his indomitable spirit, his bravery and his determination to make the world, particularly this continent, a better place, be lost in the din of falsehoods.
Kojo was given high state honours in Angola and Cuba which he accepted with characteristic humility. He rejected national honours in Ghana and did not mince words in his brief statement on 23rd June 2008 after an announcement of such honours that he saw through clearly as just part of a cynical, political manoeuvre!
He lived with integrity, and modestly, not seeking personal wealth or glory. His has been an inspiring, uplifting, but totally humble life. We who cherish his example cannot forget what he lived for and was prepared to risk his life for.
I love the picture of him with that characteristic smile, the children of his Angolan comrade-in-arms, Lucio Lara, on his lap. The little boy, Paulo, grew to become a General in the Angolan army. Encouraging and guiding younger generations has always been a pre-occupation of Kojo’s.
We, gathered here, I am sure, have -in our hearts and minds and, perhaps, in our photo albums -many, many images similar to those with the Lara children.
“Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures;
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
(Psalm 90, – A prayer of Moses- verses 10, and 12)
At 85, Kojo, you have earned your rest.
Dzudzor le nutifafa me.
Rest in perfect peace!!