Letter from Africa: In memoriam and a hockey legend

Left: The funeral of Ghana's President John Atta Mills Right: A Ghanaian hockey player in red playing against a Belgium player

In our series of letters from African journalists, Ghanaian Elizabeth Ohene reveals how sticks crossed in commemorating two Ghanaian hockey players.

We have been marking the first anniversary of the death in office last year of the late Ghanaian President John Atta Mills.

The government appointed a committee that announced and supervised a full week of activities.

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John Atta Mills

The late president loved hockey, played for his school, for the national team and retained an interest in the game and its administration all his life”

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It is a well-known fact that we make a great deal of fuss about death and funerals in Ghana and the fuss does not end after those ceremonies.

If you open any Ghanaian newspaper you will find advertisements marking one-year, five-year, 10-year, 20-year anniversaries of a dearly departed.

A first anniversary is usually marked by an in memoriam advert in the newspaper, a visit to the cemetery to unveil the tombstone, a memorial service and a reception afterwards.

The late president had been laid to rest in one of seven impressive tombs built for the purpose, so the anniversary was spent trying to find suitable memorials like a lecture series and cutting the sod for a library.

The city of Accra has a mayor who does not like to be left out of things.

A year ago when the president died, he renamed the High Street, probably the oldest street in the city, the John Evans Atta Mills High Street.

So the mayor was faced with a dilemma; how does he top that?

'Combative 91-year-old'

He decided to rename the national hockey ground, the John Evans Atta Mills Hockey Stadium, and quickly got members of his Municipal Assembly to clear the necessary bureaucracy and before you could blink, the renaming was done.

The mayor of Accra, Alfred Oko Vanderpuije, and Madam Theodosia Okoh Hockey legend Madam Okoh accepted the mayor's apology

Whereas it was not quite clear why the mayor chose to rename the High Street with the late president's name, it was obvious why he wanted to name the hockey pitch after him.

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Even if she had never held a hockey stick in her life, she would qualify to have a national stadium or monument of some kind named after her”

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The late president loved hockey, played for his school, for the national team and retained an interest in the game and its administration all his life.

Unfortunately for the mayor, there was one little problem.

The hockey pitch was already named after a true Ghanaian legend, 91-year-old Madam Theodosia Okoh.

Now Madam Okoh is not the type of woman you want to take on in any contest.

At 91 she is now admittedly frail but she is lucid and combative.

She used to play hockey and at one time almost single-handedly ran the hockey administration and kept alive interest in the game and that is why the stadium had been named after her.

A chorus of disapproval erupted, led by sports writers of a certain age and for a while, it appeared the entire country had joined in.

There were calls for the mayor to be sacked for overstepping his bounds and showing disrespect to a venerable Ghanaian icon.

Flag designer

And oh yes, there is one other small detail that must be mentioned.

Madam Okoh, apart from her hockey exploits, just happens to be the person who designed the Ghana national flag.

Left: Madam Theodosia Okoh presents President John Dramani Mahama with one of her paintings. Right: The Ghanaian flag hanging at her house President John Mahama also visited Madam Okoh's house, where her flag flies

In other words, even if she had never held a hockey stick in her life, she would qualify to have a national stadium or monument of some kind named after her.

The outrage at what was seen as disrespect to the lady became so loud and so widespread that President John Mahama intervened.

First his chief of staff announced that the mayor had been summoned and asked to reverse the naming of the hockey stadium, then the president publicly apologised to the old lady for what he called "the sad mistake" and then he took the mayor to her home to personally apologise to her.

The mayor's face and bushy beard may now have egg all over it, but honour has been restored all round.

I am not sure this story would have ended quite this way if Madam Okoh had been dead and unable to join in the cries of dismay.

I do believe we shall continue to watch this space, for come the second or 10th anniversary of the president's death, we shall still be looking for something to name or rename after him.

If you would like to comment on Elizabeth Ohene's column, please do so below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    We in Ghana should learn from these experiences and endeavour to reward our heros when they are alive. Politicians should fulfill their promises to the electorates. Long live Ghana.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    That is a good piece, well written just like you always do Elizabeth. God bless you

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    This is one indicator of the infrastructure deficits all over Africa. In Monrovia, one length of road is variously called UN Drive aka Sekou Toure aka Avenue aka Ecowas Drive. Another is called Somalia Drive aka Freeport-Paynesville Freeway. There is also the Capitol Bypass aka Haile Selassie Avenue. Then you have King Sao Bosso Street, aka Front Street.

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    Comment number 12.

    Some Humility Lessons For Big Brother, Nigeria.

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    Comment number 11.

    "Aden nti koraa na ebaa saa, Fredo Ali?" (How or why did it all happen in such a manner?). Perhaps the honourable mayor forgot to consult the people he is suppose to serve. That is to say, "ti koro nko agyina". This is also an Akan proverb which can be translated as "one man does not sit in counsel".

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    Comment number 10.

    Bravo, Mr President, for your timely intervention! Great reporting, Liz! When I was in Ghana, I learnt the Akan way of framing a question. They started with what sounded to me like, "Aden tina wo.. " the rest of the question, and ended with, "...saa?" I combined the Akan and English to ask questions, to the amusement of Ghanaians. So here, may I ask the Mayor, Aden tina wo mess up like that saa?

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    Comment number 9.

    Scary is that if this was anyone else, or if the person had already been dead, the Mayor's actions would have gone off without a hitch. Sad that this happens all too frequently. Ohene Gyan stadium renamed to the Accra Sports Stadium, and that went off without a hitch.

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    Comment number 8.

    What the Mayor of Accra did was very bad .. tho he taught it was a cool thing to do just to make name. but he shouldn't have done that, If Madam Elizabeth ain't got a good heart she would have died hearing the change of the name. But God held her .. She really needed that apology from that man.

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    Comment number 7.

    The flag is a portrait of our historical past n our Flag is the only thing dat unifies us as a country.Its da only thing dat we can luk 2 when its flown high above the landscape in times of trouble n remember that as a country we will go on.Ghanaians that have never met always feel unity towards each other knowing they are part of the country.This woman created ours and should be celebrated period

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    Comment number 6.

    It is a shame to see how most African individuals when given a little power would want to over-step their bounds.What was the Mayor thinking,trying to impress a dead President in his graves,shame on him,commendation should go to the Ghanaian President for his humility and respect for old age,As for the Mayor he should think twice because his time is almost up.LONG LIVE GHANA and God bless us all.

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    Comment number 5.

    The government cannot claim innocence in this goof.
    The president should fire the AMA boss if the really means this apology.
    The move simply backfired.....

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    Comment number 4.

    The NDC as party are wont of renaming projects or programs they didn’t start or build after their heroes.

    However, this time they picked on the wrong person. Madam Theodosia Okoh, née Asihene is not the kind of person who will roll over and play docile. Look closely, it is all in her name. Her maiden name, Asihene, means Kingmaker and her married name, Okoh, means Fighter or Warrior. Bravo!

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    Comment number 3.

    This shows that politicians are the same everywhere. They will do anything to keep themselves in the news and relevant. Thank goodness the Accra Mayor got eggs not just rubbed on his bushy face, but had to go on his knees at Madam Okoh's house and ask for her forgiveness as well.

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    Comment number 2.

    Sweep madam Okoh under the carpet, over her dead body. It is remarkable she designed the Ghanian flag and still alive.
    Ghanian history is alive!
    Weldone mam, hope you live to be 100 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Elizabeth Ohene articles always leave me chuckling. It seems the fastest way to fame in Ghana is to die. Once you're gone, nothing bad is remembered about you.


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