I “engineered” historic Rawlings-Kufour handshake in 1997 – Kwesi Ahwoi

Mr Kwesi Ahwoi, a former Ghana’s High Commissioner to South Africa, says he “engineered” the historic handshake between former Presidents John Agyekum Kufuor and Jerry John Rawlings on January 7, 1997, when the latter was being sworn into office as President.

Mr Ahwoi, who was then the Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Investments Promotion Centre (GIPC), said the famous exchange of pleasantries between two former presidents on that occasion was not part of the agenda for the day.

He said with the New Patriotic Party (NPP) rejecting the 1996 election results, Mr Kufuor was not even expected to attend the event.

Mr Ahwoi was speaking at the launch of a book titled: “The Children of House No. D13 South Suntresu, Kumasi” at the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences in Accra.

The 471-page book is the collective biography of the Ahwoi and the Adu-Gyamfi siblings.

It was co-authored by Ato, Kwesi and Prof. Kwamena Ahwoi, Mrs Ama Twum, Mrs Ama Adoma Bartels-Kodwo, Mrs Efua Bram-Larbi and Mrs Agnes Appiagyei-Dankah, all siblings.

Reading excerpts of the book, Mr Kwesi Ahwoi said while he sat at the 1997 swearing-in ceremony, he could sense the “heightened tension” at the ceremony, so he decided to walk to Mr Kufuor, who made a “surprise appearance” at the ceremony to exchange pleasantries with him.

”The country needed peace and if it would be him (Kwesi) as a vessel to bring that peace then so be it,” Mr Ahwoi read.

He said as the programme drew to a close, a former Deputy Minister of Environment wrote a short note on the back page of the programme and passed it on to him (Mr Ahwoi).
The note, Mr Ahwoi said, read: “Won’t it be nice if Mr Kufuor would walk to the dais and shake hands with President Rawlings?”

He said upon receipt of the note, he altered it to read: “Senior, this is the moment Ghana is waiting for. Ghana needs peace. Please stand out of your gentle self and go and recognise Rawlings.”

“…Mr Kufour read the note, pondered over it, read it again and again and finally with a deep sigh, turned to Kwesi with an expression of doubt on his face.

“Kwesi responded: Senior, you should give me the go-ahead, I will fix it. Mr Kufuor hesitantly signalled Kwesi to go ahead,” Mr Ahwoi read.

Mr Ahwoi said he consequently communicated the decision to Mr Rawlings and managed to convince him to approve it.

“He (Kwesi) told Rawlings that there was too much tension in the country and that would break the ice,” he read.

Mr Ahwoi said President Rawlings asked him to involve the then Director of State protocol, who in turn asked him (Mr Ahwoi) to lead Mr Kufuor to the podium, where Mr Rawlings was seated.

Mr Kufuor, Mr Ahwoi said, walked to the podium, shook hands with Mr Rawlings and embraced him.

“This narration of this book is the first time that this story of how President Rawlings and J.A. Kufour met and exchanged pleasantries is being told,” he told the gathering.

Mr Kwesi Botchwey, a former Minister of Finance, said the book echoed the various interventions introduced during the PNDC era to salvage the economy.

“The value of the book goes beyond the anecdotes that are incredibly delightful. You will understand them better when you get the full context in which those initiatives and interventions were launched,” he said.

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