Thursday, September 25, 1986

KBOO 25 September 1986

Africa has lost a statesman and our family a long-time friend in the death at the age of 78 of Alhaji Yakubu Tali, Tolon Na, of Ghana. Tolon Na had been Ambassador, Member of Parliament, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and many years President of the Northern Territories Council. He was, according to the ‘Daily Graphic’ of Accra, ‘one of the most remarkable personalities Northern Ghana has ever produced.’

A devout Muslim and respected chief of his people, he believed in the importance of integrity and faith in God. ‘In Africa,’ he once said, ‘we need a way of life based on accepting what God wants. It means crossing my will with God’s. That is the root of Islam which means submission to God.’ Shortly before his death, he wrote, ‘Allah, I know, has a solution to every problem, providing we listen long enough for his direction.’

In the home of my brother, Gerald, and his wife, Judith, there is a lovely piece of Kente cloth, the colorful material so typical of Ghana. It was a wedding present from Tolon Na. Gerald has spent much of his life in West Africa and first got to know Tolon Na in 1954. I have a photo of my brother taken in front of Tolon Na’s home near Tamale in Northern Ghana. Gerald remembers the occasion well. ‘While we were sitting talking about our friends around the world, under the canopy outside his palace where he would give his elders and people audience, ‘ Gerald writes, ‘he suddenly jumped up in the middle of a sentence and came out with a gun. Apparently he had noticed a hawk that was after his chickens, I also remember the gift of food we were given to take on our journey. It is tradition in that part of Ghana that if one does not stay for a meal one is given a gift of food to take. As I bade farewell first to his mother, then to Tolon Na and finally to Tali Na, his brother, in the neighboring village, each gave me a gift, Driving away I discovered I had two live guinea fowl, a yam and 101 eggs. As I was driving 700 miles in the heat I took the eggs to the local rest house to be hard-boiled.’

In a letter to Gerald a while back Tolon Na reminded him of the dinner he had with our parents in our home in London in 1960 when was on the way to the UN. He also recalled the day he came to Gerald’s home in Accra with the whole front bench, that is the whole leadership, of the opposition in the Ghana Parliament. Gerald is hardly likely to forget this occasion either as he was having a siesta when the phalanx of robed and turbanned Muslim dignitaries arrived at the front door unannounced. Tolon Na wanted them to hear of Moral Re-Armament’s worldwide work for reconciliation. He particularly asked Gerald to tell the story of how the initiator of Moral Re-Armament, Frank Buchman, had helped transform the spirit at Penn State University through the change in the life of the bootlegger, the agnostic dean and the most popular student.

Tolon Na’s own encounter with Buchman led to dramatic change also. He was attending a session at the Moral Re-Armament center at Caux, Switzerlnd in 1954. The Africans present were on the platform. A speaker referred to stealing and what it cost the nation. Buchman, who was sitting near Tolon Na, turned to him with a smile and sid, ‘When did you last steal?’

‘This struck me like a depth-charge,’ the Ghanaian leader said later. ‘I could not answer it there and then; not even immediately afterwards. I retired to my room and lay on my bed and prayed to Allah to take me into his loving care, repenting for all the evils I had done since childhood. As I lay there by myself I felt God was still waiting for a reply. I saw the whole world watching. It was the greatest challenge that I had ever faced.’

Tolon Na wrote down all the times he had solen. ‘The idea tore my mind from the grip of my former self, ‘ he said. He decided to make restitution and to apologize to people whom he had wronged and ‘to accept the rule of God in my heart in all that I do or say at home and abroad.’

The experience set him off on a road that affected his country. He is credited with preserving the unity of Ghana when the Northern region was in danger of seceding, probably saving the country from civil war. When High Commissioner to Nigeria he stood up to his leader, Kwame Nkrumah, when he feared that an action by the Prime Minister would jeopardize relations between the two countries. ‘I was scared to do it,’ he said, ‘But I realized that it is the way some of us live that makes our leaders dictators. We tell them what will please them to gain promotion or other favors.’ Later, when the military took over they asked him to stay on as Ghana’s representative in Nigeria because they recognized his integrity.

Speaking at the conference in Caux, Switzerland, some years ago Tolon Na said, ‘We have always blamed the constitution when things go wrong. We have had four since independence and the fifth is being drafted. But the fault lies not there. It lies in Ghanaians. The troubles are of our own making. If the leaders change they can change their people. If the people change they can change their leaders. A combination of both can work together to bring peace to our continent. In Africa we need a way of life based on accepting what God wants. I am allowing God to rule my life so I can rid myself of pride, hate and selfishness and live to affect my nation and the world.’

Tolon Na’s life was a demonstration of what can happen when men in political life decide to do that. It is also perhaps a confirmation that Christians and Muslims can work together for the advance of faith in the world.

Tolon Na’s grandson was recently in Gerald’s home and told him that he often found his grandfather studying the Bible. Tolon Na once said to a friend of mine, ‘You’re a Christian, I’m a Muslim. Will you answer me two questions: When I let God’s thoughts rule my mind, I am experiencing the Holy Spirit? Right? When I know that God’s will crosses my will, and I choose God’s will, I experience the Cross? Right?’

I’m no theologian but it sounds sense to me.