Book review


Nana Dr. S. K. B Asante: Paramount Chief, National and International Public Servant

By Professor Justice Samuel Kofi Date-Bah, FGA

Retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana

I am privileged to have been invited by its course in the modern world and the exploits of a distinguished son in that changing world. Serious intellectual issues are also addressed.  On the whole, the essays showcase the author’s excellent literary and writing skills, and constitute a valuable contribution to Ghanaian literature. His exceptional command of the English language makes the collection a pleasure to read.

The essays, some of which were originally articles, speeches or lectures, cover an enormous breadth of subjects from autobiographical glimpses of his life through an appreciation of Achimota School and recollections of life at Nottingham University to essays on law and governance and socio-economic issues, as well as tributes to particular distinguished sons and daughters of Ghana.  After the introductory autobiographical essays, the book is divided into four parts: Part One on Educational topics, Part Two on Law and Governance; Part Three on Socio-Economic subjects; and Part Four on Celebrating African Heroes.

The introductory autobiographical essays give an overview of the author’s ‘improbable journey’ through life. The times into which he was born, and his innate intelligence enabled him to overcome the hurdles in that improbable journey. His youth coincided with the struggle for independence in Ghana, and he grasped the consequent opportunities that came his way with enthusiasm and hard work.  His industry paid off in his academic and professional achievements, both in Ghana and internationally. The introductory essays expatiate on his experiences during this period of social and political change in Ghana and the world. Given the context in which Nana was educated and embarked on his legal career, it is no surprise that he has taken an interest in development issues throughout his career, and even after retirement. Consequently, his scholarly writing has advocated reform of Public International Law to take account of the interests of developing countries. The first chapter, entitled: ‘Overview: An Improbable Journey’, outlines the author’s life story, supported by testimonials from various distinguished protagonists. His life story is told again in essay style in the second chapter through the perspectives of ‘personal contacts’.  There are two more of these autobiographical essays.

Part one of the book is on educational matters. It is a chronicling of social history through Nana’s looking glasses, including Nana’s Keynote Address at Achimota’s Founders’ Day in 2000, which marked the golden jubilee of his class’ graduation. The speech is quintessentially Nana. It is humorous with well-crafted turns of phrases and full of well-made points. It is a paean to Achimota and its transformative role. There is no doubt that Nana is very grateful to Achimota School for the excellent education it gave him and his peers. He received the foundation on which he has built an outstanding career in the law and public service. He also sees the bigger picture and stresses that Achimota has played an important role in nation-building and national integration. Part one also has other essays on Achimota as well as on his recollections of studying at Nottingham University, where he read for his LL.B degree; and London, where he pursued his LL.M and trained to become a solicitor.  Another essay in Part one is on African graduates of the Yale Law School, where Nana did his doctorate, in the early 1960s. In addition, there is an essay that sets out his recollections of the history of the Law Faculty at the University of Ghana, where he served as an Acting Head of Department in the early 1960s.

It is in Part two that Nana dilates on legal issues. It includes his well-known Annual Lecture at the Faculty of Law of the University of Lagos in 1975, in which he conducts a broad appraisal of the legal heritage of contemporary African States. He also gives a fascinating account of his tenure as Solicitor-General of Ghana from 1969, which contains a depiction of behind-the-scenes events of the Sallah case. The narrative gives valuable insights into the case. His reflections on the evolution of the 1992 Constitution also feature in Part two, together with reflections on governance, as distinct from strictly legal issues, such as his Ephraim Amu Memorial Lecture of 2018, entitled The Musings of a Chief in Contemporary Ghana.

Part three, on Socio-Economic issues, contains an essay that chronicles Nana’s trajectory from an African village to the global village, and back again. The trajectory refers to his progress to Achimota School and tertiary education in the United Kingdom and the United States of America, which, according to him, equipped him to “pursue a varied career in academia, national and international service. I have now returned to my roots as the Paramount Chief of Asokore”. He skillfully uses this depiction of his round trip as a prism through which to view development issues.  This part also contains other interesting essays, such as those on international service at the World Bank and on the ‘Yentua Saga’ under Colonel Acheampong.

A notable essay in part three tells the story of Nana’s experience in the provision of legal advice in relation to natural resources projects. His service with the World Bank, the Ghana Government, and the United Nations is drawn upon to highlight the importance of natural resource and energy sector projects to the development process of countries such as Ghana, and what host states need to do to gain maximum benefit from them. Nana emphasises the value of technical assistance activities to assist host states to equip public and private officials with the skills needed to negotiate natural resources agreements. He indicates that he was responsible for many capacity-building initiatives in this area during his career.

Finally, part four comprises various funeral tributes to named distinguished Ghanaian citizens and one American. As usual, they are in elegant captivating prose. In their own way, they also portray the social history of this era.

Nana has indeed offered us an intriguing compendium of diverse essays which reflect the story of Ghana from its pre-independence struggle to its contemporary challenges. The chronicler is almost a nonagenarian with a practised eye for social and legal analysis. We are profoundly indebted to him for this fascinating book. I commend it to the general public as well as to lawyers as a very good read.

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