Originally published in Public Agenda on August 12, 2012.
By Schuyler Durham
The passing of President John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills has sparked widespread grief in Ghana. From the country side to the packed motorways of downtown Accra, citizens clad in red and black have mourned the loss of their peaceful President in every way they can. One way in which some have chosen to mark their grieving is by heading to designated places to sign Books of Condolence for the late Prof. Mills. And on August 7, I, along with three of my colleagues from Public Agenda, had the opportunity to do so at the Accra International Conference. The colleagues were Messrs Ebenezer Hanson, Roland Awelinga and Laud Nartey.
The walk to the Book of Condolence included passing by the Banquet Hall, where uniformed soldiers rehearsed their steps toward Prof. Mills’ final resting place, wanting to be perfectly in synch when it came to the time to carry his casket during the burial ceremony. A large gravel lot was filled with workers, busy setting up chairs and stages for the funeral ceremony.
Approaching the Conference Centre, one is met by rigid policemen who lined the road and pavements, nodding slightly at those on their way to pay respects. A final policeman gives the final nod as one enters the building, ready to sign their heartfelt condolences.
A giant landscape painting, perhaps a dozen metres high, provided a backdrop to the tables and poster boards arranged in honour of Prof. Mills. We made our way to the long table, adorned with white flowers and surrounded by three guards at absolute attention, to begin the signing process.
Mr Hanson, Public Agenda’s Sub Editor and leader of our group, bent over the book. The corners of the smile he permanently wears dipped uncharacteristically under the weight of the solemn moment. In stark contrast to the loud celebrations of Prof. Mills’ life that took place during the week of mourning celebration at the Children’s Park, this was a time for silent, personal reflection upon what this great man has done for Ghana.
After all of us representing Public Agenda signed Mr Hanson’s carefully considered note, we observed a moment of collective quiet. Following this, we stepped behind the table to observe the several walls of photographs that displayed momentous occasions in Prof. Mills’ career. Dignitaries from all over the world were shown shaking hands with Prof. Mills, including Barack Obama from my own country, the United States. Also pictured were Mills’ interactions with chiefs from regions throughout Ghana. The metres of pictures summarized what most Ghanaians already knew in their hearts; Mills was a man who left no hand unshaken and no voice unheard in his quest for unifying peace.
Before returning to the real world of rushing taxis and shouting pedestrians, the four of us took a moment at the entrance to reflect upon the entire scene. The peaceful room was filled with mourners and policemen and pictures of Prof. Mills in a beautiful display of remembrance. Taking it all in, the importance of Prof. Mills was made undeniably clear. This man was loved, IS loved, and will forever be remembered as a great leader of peace in Ghana. I consider myself very lucky for having this opportunity to show my respects for him.
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