Sir Edward Asafu-Adjaye was a prominent Gold Coast legal luminary and the first ethnic Asante (Ashanti) man to qualify as a lawyer. He was a brilliant scholar, talented diplomat, corporate leader, and a genius of an international civil servant. This great and selfless leader is best remembered as Ghana’s First High Commissioner in Britain with concurrent accreditation to France. He was a member of the Constituent Assembly, Burns Constitution, 1946, and the 1946 Legislative Council, member of the first cabinet of the CPP government, 1951, Member of Parliament for CPP, Minister of Local government, and later Trade and Labour minister, 1954.
Sir Asafu Adjaye who was knighted in 1960 for his meritorious service in international diplomacy was also the Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry into Prison Conditions, 1966. His senior brother, Dr Isaac Asafu-Adjaye, the former opposition politician and medical doctor was the man who lost the position of presidency in Ghana to Edward Akuffo-Addo, after the election which ended in 123 votes for Akuffo Addo and 35 to Isaac.
Sir Edward Okyere Asafu Adjaye, according to Uwechue (1981) was born at Calabar, Nigeria, where his father was working as popular trader. His father, opanin Asafu-Adjaye, an Asante royal of Adonteng chieftaincy division of Asante kingdom, and Appiah (Dr Joe Appiah`s father), and Gyantua (father of Francis Jantuah/KSP Jantuah of CPP) were one of the earliest Asante Akonkonfo) to settle at the Central regional coastal towns of Cape Coast, Anomabo and Elmina to trade with Europeans by supplying Gold and rubber in the 1880s-1910 (See Arhin 1986 and 1990).
After exhausting his business activity at Kalabar, Opanyin Asafu Adjaye brought his son to Kumasi where young Sir Asafu Adjaye started his education at Kumasi Government Boys School. His brilliance in this school saw him passed all his examinations with flying colors. From there he proceeded to Adisadel College in Cape Coast.
At Adisadel College, Asafu-Adjaye was something of a class act, as he distinguished himself in his subjects very well. At this time too, with his family now based in Accra, Sir Asafo Adjaye saw a role model in Brigadier-General Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg, the colonial Governor of Gold Coast from 1919-1927. In an interview, captured in Ronald E. Wraith`s book “Guggisberg” published in 1967, Sir Asafu-Adjaye described how as a young boy he first came across his idol: ““Gorgie, Gorgie, Gorgie-Gorgie. Thus cried the young Edward Asafu-Adjaye, running barefoot after Guggisberg’s motor-car through the streets of Accra in the 1920s, with other small boys of his time.” From that experience he made up his mind to “give nothing but his best and never think of rest” until he has achieved academic glory to participate in Gold Coast governance and development.
Sir Asafu Adjaye passed his Cambridge certificate exams at Adisadel College and proceeded to University of London where his scholarly magnus opus came to international attention with that of Dr J. B. Danquah (doyen of the Gold Coast politics) who was also a student in the same university. As records show, in 1926, Asafu Adjaye set record at University of London by winning the coveted “Profumo Prize” for being the best scholar in law, following his unassailable performance of the University`s final bar (LLB) examination. His splendid achievement and with that of Danquah who also won a John Stuart Mill Scholarship in Philosophy of Mind and Logic, according to Adisadel online.com and Akyeampong (1967), amongst others served to inspire other African scholars to embark on intensive studies in law, and in medicine, and also enter other fields of specialization in various overseas universities.
Many a Jason was thus induced to go overseas in search of, and bring home, the fabled “Golden Fleece.”
After being called to the bar, Inner Temple in 1927 in UK, Sir Asafu Adjaye later returned to Gold Coast to practice law in the same year. He headed to his father`s Fante pal, Sir Henley Kobina Coussey`s (of famous Coussey committee, eminent jurist, and a member of Supreme Court of Ghana Nigeria) chamber to serve his law pupillage, before going into his own private practice (see Vieta, K. T. 1999, The Flagbearers of Ghana: Profiles of One Hundred Distinguished Ghanaians.Vol. 1).
Having practiced for sometimes and distinguishing himself as a renowned lawyer in the Gold Coast and especially for his beloved Asante Kingdom and the King, Sir Asafu Adjaye entered Gold Coast politics. In Kumasi, he first started as a prominent member of the Ashanti Kotoko Society and Ashanti Confederacy Council, 1934. In 1933 when the British colonial administration introduced the obnoxious Waterworks Bill (Waterworks Ordinances 20), Sir Asafu Adjaye and his fellow Ashanti Kotoko Society member, I. K. Agyeman joined forces with the Legislative Council contingent of K A Korsah (member for Cape Coast, and later the first Chief justice of Ghana), Frederick Nanka-Bruce (member for Accra) Nana Sir Ofori Atta I (paramount chief of Akyem Abuakwa State) J. B. Danquah, Akilakpa Sawyerr of the Accra Ratepayers Party and lawyer James Mercer, that went to England in May, 1934 to protest against the bill.
Sir Asafu Adjaye stated in an interview in March 8, 1969….that the water rate was viewed as a central government import, a form of indirect tax. In retrospect, he thought that it should have remained a local affair which is just another indication that he and Agyeman were mainly concerned with matters of importance to the Ashanti” (see Shallof, “The Gold Coast water rate controversy, 1909–1938” published in 1972).
After Ghana`s independence, -Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the Prime Minister who championed the concept of “African Personality” as decolonization and post-colonial agenda, with dedicated zeal and vigour sent a representatives in the persons of HE Sir Edward O. Asafu-Adjaye, Ghana’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom with Kwesi Armah as his deputy in January 7, 1958. He discharged himself very well in this position. As Armah (2004) observes “At independence in 1957, one of the most senior and competent cabinet ministers, Sir Edward Asafu-Adjaye, was appointed as the first High Commissioner. Sir Edward’s flashpoint was the Congo crisis of 1 960, his tour of duty ended by July…” As part of his duties as Ghana`s High Commissioner, Sir Asafu Adjaye came face to face with European racism and was assaulted.
The assault on him made international headlines and much scholarly work has been done on it. It happened that during the Prime Minister of Congo, Patrice Lumumba`s short stay at the Ritz Hotel in London in January 1959, he was visited by Sir Asafu Adjaye. The event was picketed by Mosleyites, who in hypocritical concern with human rights issues in Congo at the time, demonstrated outside of the hotel, displaying banners such as “RAPERS OF CHILDREN – GO HOME” and issuing racial epithets.
When the High commissioner descended on the hotel steps afterwards, Peter Dawson, a racist member of UM, struck, punched him in face, knocked him down, and screamed: “Black savages. We`ll smash you back to jungles.” He`d mistaken the Ghanaian Diplomat for the Congolese Prime minister. Dawson was still ranting as police carted him off, and was later sentenced to three month in jail for the attack” (Eisenberg 1967, Macklin 2007, Olden 2011).
The event caused the Ghanaian government to send its strongest objection to the British High Commission in Ghana to Her Majesty`s government in UK. In swift move Mr. Marquand, a member of parliament (by Private Notice) asked the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations whether he will make a statement on the assault made on the High Commissioner for Ghana on Saturday and here is what happened in British Parliament with regards to this issue from the British parliamentary hansard of 25 July 1960 vol 627 cc1080-2 1080.
“The Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. C. J. M. Alport): An incident took place in London on the evening of 23rd July during the visit of Mr. Lumumba, the Prime Minister of the Congo Republic. In the course of this incident His Excellency the Ghana High Commissioner in London, Sir Edward Asafu-Adjaye, was assaulted and knocked down. I am unable to give further details since the matter is sub judice. On learning that the incident had occurred, my noble friend immediately sent a personal message of apology to Sir Edward and informed the President of Ghana that Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom greatly regretted this most unfortunate happening.
Her Majesty’s Government would be profoundly concerned at anything which might affect the present close and most friendly co-operation between the Governments of Ghana and the United Kingdom and earnestly hope that this incident will not impair the admirable relations between our two Governments and peoples.
The United Kingdom High Commissioner in Accra received a protest about this incident from the Ghana Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 24th July and replied in this sense. I would like to add that Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom greatly value Sir Edward Asafu-Adjaye’s work in London and the talent and skill which he has brought to his task. I am sure that right Hon. and Hon. Members will join with me in wishing Sir Edward a speedy recovery from any ill-effects which may have been occasioned by the assault.
Hon. Members: Hear, hear.
Mr. Marquand: May I be allowed to associate all my hon. and right hon. Friends with the right hon. Gentleman’s statement? We are glad that the Government have made this statement and given this explanation to Ghana as well as to the world. I should like particularly to be associated with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the High Commissioner and to join in hoping that he will soon recover from any injury which he may have suffered.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we deeply deplore this most regrettable incident, particularly that it should have occurred at a time when we were having a visit to this country by the Prime Minister of the friendly country of the Congo Republic? I am aware that I must be restrained by the fact that the matter is sub judice, but may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether inquiries are being made into the apparent inadequacy of police arrangements to protect these distinguished gentlemen?
Mr. Alport: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his expressions of regret for this incident which, I am sure and know, is shared by all Members of the House. I am sure that the many friends in this House of the High Commissioner would wish particularly that the House should be associated with these expressions of regret.”
In spite of all this attack, Sir Asafu Adjaye continued to be the best of a diplomat. Sir Asafu Adjaye was appointed as member of the 3-man team including Sir Henry Wynn-Parry (UK judge and chairman) and Justice Gopal Das Khosla of India who formed “Wynn-Parry Commission” of Inquiry in May, 11, 1962 to investigate the causes of the most bloody and highly disastrous disturbances in the political history of Guyana which took place in February, 16 1962, popularly known in Guyanese history as “Black Friday (Ishmael 2013).
Sir Edward Okyere Asafu-Adjaye, was also one of the four expert/members group including Alva Myrdal of Sweden (Chairman,) Josip Djerdja of Yugoslavia (who resigned from the Group in March 1964.)/Dey ould Sidi Baba (Morrocco) and Sir Hugh Foot of UK, appointed by the UN secretary General U Thant to examine the explosive problem of South Africa’s racial policies in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution of 4th December 1963.
Stokke and Widstrand (1987) posit that the Groups report was endorsed by UN that “all people of South Africa should be brought into consultation and should thus be enabled to decide the future of their country at the national region.” In fact, Sir ASAFU-ADJAYE would have become the first African and a Ghanaian to be a judge of International Court of Justice if he had won the votes after his nomination alongside Luis Padilla NERVO, Mexican, Gerald Grey Fitzmaurice of UK, and Andre GROS, a Frenchman by Union Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) to the Court.
He was a great lawyer who handled important cases that are locus classicus in Ghana legal field and are recorded in the Ghana Law Reports. In addition to his legal and political assignments, Sir Asafu-Adjaye was director of Barclay’s Bank (Ghana) Ltd, Mobil Oil (Ghana Ltd), the Consolidated African Selection Trust Ltd., the President of African Liberal Council, member of the Governor’s Executive Council of Adisadel College and many other boards and organisations including the University of Ghana.
Sir Asafu Adjaye was friendly and workaholic man who attended most events he was invited to without excuses. As the Ghana High Commissioner in London, he had time to address Ghanaian functions as Lieutenant F. W. K. Akuffo (Former head State of Ghana) disclosed he had time visit Ghanaian parachutists at Abingdon in UK during our trainings” (Ghana Today – Volume 5). His high moral standard is attested by all who know him.
He was also a fashionable man and loved his British suits as well as his Akan customary dresses. K. B. Asante, writing on the novel fashion of men baring their chests when formally dressed in cloth in his Daily Graphic column, Voice from Afar, in September, 16, 2008 under the heading “Should men be bare-chested when formally dressed?”, he averred “I never, for example, saw the renowned, and I believe the first Ashanti lawyer Sir Edward Asafu-Adjaye in cloth as was customary, before he became Ghana’s first High Commissioner in London.”
Sir Asafu also liked scholarly works and contributed towards literary development in Ghana. He contributed to debates in newspapers, academic journals and campus magazine such as The Legon Observer. His most memorable write as a foreword was in Moses Danquah`s work “The Birth of the Second Republic,” which he penned against his own political belief. Hear him: “THE editor of this publication has asked me to contribute a Foreword. This I am glad to do. I am glad of the opportunity because of my own unhappiness about the mounting evidence of acrimony which the recent general elections generated.”
Sir Edward Asafu-Adjaye died on 27 February 1976.
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Kweku Darko Ankrah