Canon Kodwo Esuman Ankrah

Canon Kodwo Esuman Ankrah by Sam Hadido

‘Let us now sing  the praises of famous men, the heroes of our nation’s history, through whom the Lord established his renown.’   Ecclesiasticus 44:1

When Canon Elisha Mbonigaba died in October 2010, Canon Kodwo Ankrah spoke at his funeral in Saint Philip and Andrew’s Cathedral, Mukono, echoing the writer of Ecclesiastes. “Life begins and comes to an end. In between those times, we thank God for what he allows each of us to do – to praise him. Our brother has completed his task, and we must praise God. Amen.”

In May 2015 it was Kodwo’s own turn, at the age of 87, to complete his life on earth and on June 2nd his life was celebrated in the same cathedral. I count it an enormous privilege to write a tribute to this illustrious Christian in the modern history of the Anglican Church in Uganda. By ‘modern,’ I mean the history of the post-Native Anglican Church of Uganda from the 1960s to today.

Canon Kodwo

Canon Kodwo as a young man

For over two decades he was co-ordinator of planning, development and rehabilitation (PDR) in the Church of Uganda. And Ankrah was a rare godsend to Uganda, a unique person with special intellectual, management and problem-solving skills that he brought to the church, Uganda and Africa.

How could a man trust people of other denominations so much as to lay it down as policy that the vetting committee for the Send-a-Cow Project, for instance, should have on it Muslim, Seventh-Day Adventist and Roman Catholic as well as Anglican? He even insisted that the committee be ecumenical, gender-sensitive, and include young and old Christians. “God is not a man. He sees our hearts, not denominations. There is no white heart, no African heart. And we should treat one another as God would,” he wrote in ‘My Credo’, a statement of his faith, his ecumenical and professional outlook, which he presented to the House of Bishops when he first came to Uganda.

And how could a husband let his wife belong to another denomination when they started out as one? Did he consider the effect on the children and other members of the community? And he himself, a Methodist, felt at home every Sunday in the cathedral in Mukono all those years until his death!

When he said that God was not a man, he meant that God is indifferent to the labels we humans

Canon Kodwo and his wife

Canon Kodwo Ankarah and his wife

so passionately hold on to, pushing him to the outer edge of our life and leaving him out of the centre of things and the very reason for which we are here – to love him and one another. To Ankrah, the Muslim, the Anglican, the Seventh-Day Adventist, the Roman Catholic, the Methodist and, we may add, both the female heart and the male one, are all the same. God himself has the solution, already in place, for all hearts whatever their nature. God wants people to carry out His will.

And this was only a part of Ankrah. Here is a man of Ghanaian blood, born in Anomabu, a fishing village on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, of the stock of the Fanti, a subset of the Akan (from whom the first president Kwame Nkrumah came). He leaves his native country and a high-flying career at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, a career that enables him to rub shoulders with heads of state and government and greats like ‘Lion of Judah’ Emperor Haile Selassie. He comes to work in Uganda at a most difficult time in its chequered history and makes it his country of permanent residence.

Here is a man who in 1972 got the highest honour of Sudan, the Order of the White Nile, and an offer of a good chunk of land to settle on, from the then president Jaafar Nimeiry for spearheading talks between the Anyanya rebels (now South Sudan) and the Sudan government, ending in the two signing a peace accord. Here is a man of Methodist persuasion coming to work among Anglicans in Uganda whose leaders first baulk at a Methodist working among them, and who impacts that church for good.

This is the man whom the Secretary General of the World Council of Churches, Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, says in condolences to the widow and family: “We cannot but acknowledge his true commitment to ecumenism and humanity for traversing national boundaries, denominational identities and his deep engagement with the plight of refugees in Africa, especially in the Sudan.”

This is the man of whom Dr Tom Tuma, his successor at PDR 1993-2007, says: “PDR achieved outstanding results in the area of human resource development and management, domestic wealth creation and training. Ankrah’s service here in Uganda made a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, especially in the rural country.”

So in what did Ankrah’s winning legacy consist? Well, in a country where we put the cart before the horse, where we glorify personalities over systems, Ankrah built up a system which, like the mustard seed, became the big tree of the church and its development and management style.

Firstly, the staff became a well-knit unit, in spite of belonging to different denominations. They “behaved and acted as one large family; they worked hard pursuing the same goals; they acted with integrity and fairness; they were well-trained and were excellent managers of time,” said Tuma.

Secondly, they were focused and result-oriented whatever project they set their hands on. It did not matter who you were as long as what you did was observable, measurable and quantifiable and of lasting quality.

Yet Ankrah started the department from zero, as we say. No people, no money, no offices, no vehicles. “I know what it means to start from nothing,” says Bamwoze, the pioneer bishop of Busoga Diocese. “You get people from different backgrounds and give them a common objective and achieve it. He came with that rare skill; he managed well; he delivered,” he says of Ankrah.

How did he achieve this?

First of all, he was a good manager. Management is the art and science of achieving objectives through other people. Whether planning, organizing, implementing or controlling or whatever other role managers are traditionally known to do, that is what Ankrah did well. “Our church knew more about the ‘spiritual’, about being saved (born again), than about the practical, diligent use of resources like property and wealth and accounting for the resources which God has put at our disposal in this life. And it is to his enduring credit that Ankrah educated our church on the concept of development,” says Bishop Eliphaz Maari, formerly assistant bishop of Kampala Diocese.

Thus he pioneered the hiring of high-calibre, suitably trained personnel in church ministry. Today, no priest can become a bishop in the Church of Uganda unless he or she has a degree. Because of the high standard he left, Ankrah’s successor, Tom Tuma, was himself a PhD with long experience of teaching at Makerere.

Secondly, he was ecumenical. He a Methodist at PDR; his deputy co-ordinator, Francis Ameda, a Pentecostal; Stephen Emasu, the chief accountant, an Anglican whom Ankrah fished from no less a company than Coopers and Lybrand; Sam Sakwa, the project management expert, a Pentecostal; and others some Anglican, some not.

Thirdly, as a manager, he was project-minded. Besides Send-a-Cow, there were other projects PDR started under Ankrah. Some of these the Government saw and adopted: Primary Healthcare Project, the Heifer Project (Zero Grazing), Learn As You Earn, the Animal Traction Project (Ox Ploughing in Teso), the Peace in Teso Project under bishop Geresom Ilukor in the 1990s which ended the insurgency there. Others included the Lweza Conference Centre, the Nabugabo Retreat Centre, the Power Dam for Kuluva Hospital in West Nile and the Karamoja Seed Project.

Fourthly, professionally, whatever he wanted as a manager, he wanted done well. One day he said to Abraham Hadoto, then in charge of projects in eastern Uganda: “If you are given a task, and you accept to do it, do it to the best of your ability. If you are stuck, ask for help.” This is Ankrah mentoring those under him in integrity and hard work. “If you can’t do something, say ‘No’. If you can’t say ‘No,’ what is your ‘Yes’ worth?” he told Hadoto. So Hadoto says, holding his head high: “There is no project I have done where I have failed an audit. The skills I have used in…… are skills Mr Ankrah imparted to me, especially looking at the needy as equals and defending their rights.” “He was ruthlessly frugal in the use of church funds for good causes of the church. He never allowed diversion of funds for personal gain, and never used his position to enrich himself,” says Stephen Emasu. Many of those who worked under Ankrah grew in stature and moved on to other significant responsibilities.

How did such a man, for whom the sky was the limit at WCC, and for whom attitude determined altitude in fast-track cities like Geneva, come to Mukono, then a small village 21km east of Kampala? Well, he was asked by two successive archbishops – Erica Sabiti in 1970 and Janani Luwum in 1974 – to come and lead PDR in the Church of Uganda.  He came came to Uganda in 1974 at the repeated request of Archbishop Janani Luwum. “I said, ‘Yes, if I get the invitation’,” he writes in a memoir years later. So he resigned the big post of secretary for refugees in charge of the Africa Desk at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, a pointer to the character of the man. “I had given the archbishop my word and I had to honour it,” he writes in his memoir.

“My first impression of Uganda was not a good one,” he wrote in his memoir. “Because of the civil war strife, we had to go to Nairobi to buy supplies, including things like bread. There was shooting all the time. Bodies along the way from Mukono to Namirembe through Namanve were a common sight.” This would have been manageable for Ankrah and Maxine. “But the experience of (our) young children having to see bodies by the roadside every morning as they go to school was very traumatic. We had to take them to schools in Kenya.”

Years later, reflecting on the 1977 murder of Archbishop Luwum, true to his character, Ankrah writes: “It was unfortunate the person who had invited me had been killed; but I could not walk away as I had a job to finish.” So he started, against the odds, Development Studies at Mukono, the first person to do so in all East and Central African universities, and funded it for 10 years. One oddity, to his dismay, was the student resistance to the course on the grounds that it was not theology. But Archbishop Luwum rallied to his support. “He made it sufficiently academic and rigorous to be an examinable subject,” says his widow Maxine, herself an authority in sociology and a former full professor at Makerere.

On his 15-acre land on Besaniya Hill, he wanted an Ankrah Foundation School of Health and Science Education to offer degrees. The purpose? “Honouring God and empowering his people, with emphasis on promoting science education.” “Unfortunately, this dream had not become reality by the time of his death”, Maxine told me the week after the funeral.

Kodwo and Maxine had enjoyed 55 years of marriage in which Kodwo treated her as an equal. Maxine herself went up the academic ladder to PhD, ending up as a full professor of sociology in Makerere. “Very few men would allow themselves to be left behind by a wife academically, socially, and in status,” Maxine said of him.

Born in January 1928 to Kweku Darku Ankrah and Aba Tsetsiwa, he had a Master’s in Social Work and Social Administration from the University of Connecticut. He and Maxine had three children: Larc Tsetsiwa (deceased), Rodges Kweku, and Aba Tweba. Rodges, married with two children, is a specialist at the international division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in New York, monitoring the impact of mercury on the environment. Tweba, also married with two children, is a highly qualified lawyer, head of the legal department with the Director General of WHO in Geneva. An adopted son, Boniface Ssimbwa lives and works in the U.S.

In the scripture that his daughter Tweba read at the funeral, he though dead yet spoke: “The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Farewell Kodwo, peacemaker and champion of development.

Sam Hadido is a journalist: formerly one of the editors of New Vision, he is now helping with The Standard, the newspaper of Uganda Christian University.