I was greatly saddened to learn of the death of my good friend, Hawa Yakubu. She was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. When I last saw her, even in the terrible pain of her last illness she was still great fun, surrounded by the usual throng of friends and family, insisting on struggling out to eat with us.
Hawa was the most powerful political figure in Northern Ghana, but her influence went much wider. She was on the closest personal terms with every West African President or politician of importance. I recall sitting late with her after a dinner, discussing a particularly tricky point in the Sierra Leone/Liberia conflict resolution. She thought nothing of whipping out her mobile phone and calling up President Obasanjo of Nigeria to bring him in to the discussion. It was almost 2am. It says volumes that he was delighted to be awoken by his old friend.
Her own political base spread across the Savannah belt well beyond Ghana’s borders, yet it was not tribal or inherited. She was a tireless advocate for peace and development, and that rare thing in West Africa, a Northern Christian of very liberal views. She was both a very proud Ghanaian, and contemptuous of the effects of arbitrary colonial borders. ECOWAS – the Economic Community of West African States – and latterly the African Union were passions with her. She was very much a pan-African nationalist, though she would have laughed at the label. She resigned her Ghanaian ministerial position in order to be able to stay in the ECOWAS parliament.
Tireless peacemaker, advocate of regional integration and the breakdown of trade barriers, she was also the most forceful and articulate exponent of women’s development issues, with a strong technical grasp on everything from micro-finance to telecommunications. These interests were more important to her than political party. Her decision that she could do more good by withdrawing backing from the Rawlings regime was a crucial factor in Ghana’s close-run transition to genuine democracy. Yet she will be truly mourned by all political sides.
She was also completely non-corrupt. Anything she had, she shared freely with her large extended family. She kept open house, and her lifestyle was very modest by any standards. She simply never gave a moment’s thought to making money out of her work.
We rather had that in common. I am now trying to borrow some money to buy a ticket to Ghana, once I can get details of her funeral. Hawa would have laughed at that.