Volume 18 Number 4
Back From the Edge
01 August 2005
Hate of his father pushed Kofi Bassaw Quartey to crime. Now he campaigns for integrity in Africa, writes Paul Williams.
‘NEARLY everyone has been hurt in some way or other, either by members of their family or by people close to them,’ observes Clean Africa campaigner Kofi Bassaw Quartey. For him the biggest hurt was the feeling that his father had abandoned him.
He grew up in the small industrial town of Tema, about 20 miles from Accra, the capital of Ghana. His father, a businessman who had been politically active with the ruling party, was forced into exile in the UK when a coup overthrew the government just before Quartey was born.
‘Life was not easy for my mother as a teacher bringing up four children without a father around to help.’ His brother used to taunt him for being ‘the bad luck’ member of the family because his birth had coincided with the loss of their father. ‘This and other insults made me feel inferior. At school I would pick fights and find people to turn my anger towards.’ The discovery that his father had remarried in Britain and was raising a new family made him even more furious. ‘I asked myself how he could do this when I was going through such a hard time?’
Shortly after finishing secondary school he left home. A few months later he started at Accra Polytechnic and things went rapidly downhill. ‘I decided I would live life on the edge. I hung out with friends who were dealing in drugs. I myself got into dealing with illegal passports.’
For four years, he cut off all contact with his family. ‘I felt my father had abandoned me. I no longer wanted to have anything to do with my mother and I hated my stepmother because I blamed her for taking away my father.’
One day at college he got into a confrontation with a lecturer whom he felt had not given him the marks he deserved. To his surprise the lecturer invited him into his office and apologized for his part in the incident. When the lecturer asked him to a meeting being organized by Initiatives of Change, he found himself saying yes—and later arranging a programme at the Polytechnic for a group from IofC.
‘It was during this programme that my life was challenged,’ he recalls. ‘As one who talked a lot about the change needed in society, I asked myself if I was part of the disease or part of the cure.’ He started with an apology to his immediate family for the way he had treated them. He spoke for the first time ever to his stepmother who was visiting Ghana. He decided to stop the illegal passport traffic; and he returned money, which he had siphoned off, to a company where he had worked as an engineer.
Feeling new life and hope stirring in him, he joined a leadership training programme being offered by IofC. ‘It gave me the opportunity to share my story in schools. Often, after these presentations, students would come up to me and share their struggles. Many of these concerned relationships with their families and especially their fathers.’
Eventually he found himself asking, ‘Am I living myself what I am advising others to do? How can I build this new world I am talking about when I still have resentment towards my father and no peace in my heart?’
But it was only some months later, when he was travelling in Asia with the IofC training and outreach programme Action for Life, that this was resolved. ‘To forgive my father was very difficult because of my feeling that, if someone had been around to take care of me, I would not have gone down the path of self-destruction after leaving school. But one afternoon in India, I gathered up all my courage and talked to him long distance on the telephone. I told him of my hurt and apologized for the way I had felt towards him. It was such a thrill when he phoned me, for the first time ever, while I was in Taiwan. We have still not met face to face, but we have enjoyed all our telephone conversations since then.’
Kofi Bassaw Quartey now works for IofC in Ghana and is currently helping to organize a leadership training programme as part the continent-wide Clean Africa Campaign. It will take place in October and gather young leaders from all over West Africa. Of the Clean Africa Campaign, he says, ‘It is a new hope rising in our continent. It is only through developing and training a more selfless leadership, that has integrity at its core, that we will see Africa’s problems resolved.’