To my mind, the sudden demise of the highly respected Paul Victor Obeng under somewhat tragic circumstances has been made worse by his failure to document his rich political reflections in a personal narrative.
Look at the man this way – once considered the defacto Prime Minister of this country spanning a politically turbulent ten year period; a three time Senior Presidential Advisor; Chairman of a University Council; head of Ghana’s development planning commission; a successful professional and private consultant— dies, and all we are left with are well meaning tributes. Tributes, elucidated by friends, comrades and associates about his warm unifying personality and sterling contributions to national development. But the more I read the out pouring about P.V. Obeng’s clout, ability and intellect, the more upset I become at his unchallenged slide into the corridors of the stereotypical African leader for whom documenting history is anathema. Similarly, be not surprised if today’s well-intentioned friends also become tomorrow’s ghosts without writing their own narratives.
As it turns out, his peers have quite an impressive lot to say about the man; Parliamentarians praised him for being “a consensus builder, humble, intelligent and strategic politician”, former President Rawlings called him a “rare gem of a man”, former President Kufuor called him “a man who served his country”, while President Mahama eulogized him as “a tireless public servant, an admirable unifier and giant of our political landscape over the past 30-plus years.” Nana Ato Dadzie, former Chief of Staff, called him “a patriot and nationalist”, Dr. Nduom recalled his “good counsel”, and Presidential Advisor Dr. Nii Moi Thomson praised “his digital mind” and Prof Akosa “his huge brain capacity.” Last but not the least, Nana Akufo Addo mourned “a distinguished son.”
When the PNDC under Rawlings overthrew the Limann government, it would appear that for more than ten years for some and an eternity for others, the country’s so called elite was thrown into two rough groups; those like P.V. who joined and supported the revolution and others who looked on with scorn while embracing a life of hatred and bitterness for various reasons. What swayed P.V. Obeng in one direction and on hind sight, would he have decided differently?
The PNDC reportedly started off in the 1980s as a leftist leaning government but later adopted policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Some nineteen years later Ghana, under Kufuor applied under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative to qualify for some economic reliefs. Fourteen years after HIPC, after playing with some home grown solutions, Ghana under Mahama is back to the IMF. What did P.V. Obeng’s great intellect make of this cycle and more importantly how else could we have embarked on a perhaps more radical path of sustainable development and self-reliance?
Further, what did it mean for a mild mannered P.V. Obeng to work as a calming hand of reason in a red eyed military government? What were the real reasons underlying his final decision to leave the Rawlings government in 1997?
The constitution’s directive principles of state policy attempts to outline our collective aspirations as a people for a free and just society. There are those that have argued in times past for a more central role of the National Development Planning Commission in operationalizing and coordinating a strategy to achieve this vision beyond advising the President. And yet it would appear that the pressures and realities of our electoral democracy often mean that whatever strategies might be proposed by the NDPC may most likely be overrun by other survivalist political considerations. As NDPC head, what were his reflections on how strategic inputs from the NDPC could be better leveraged to achieve the end objectives of “enhancing the well-being and living standards of all Ghanaians on a sustainable basis?”
The above, of course, are all but pointless reflections for the erudite consideration of a ghost, the ghost of PV Obeng. So this weekend, we will bury him – digital mind, massive intellect, huge brain, institutional knowledge and all. In due course, those who praise him today will also die, not chronicling their own reflections. We shall similarly sing their praises, and bury them with all that they could have shared.
Perpetual lamentation over this failing on our part will take me nowhere. I lamented over Mills, Aliu Mahama, D. F. Annan, Peter Ala Adjetey, Major Quashigah and countless others. More still die empty handed and many more are lined up with polished faces waiting for death’s unwelcome embrace. And I do shudder to think of the richness of the lessons of history that may soon be buried. It might be that the only way out at this point might be to design a special purpose project to facilitate this process of getting some material from these prime actors and actresses on the national sociopolitical landscape. To rephrase from Maya Angelou, if you don’t like it, do something about it!