As Ghana mourns the passing of Lieutenant-General Joseph Henry Smith, he will be doubtlessly remembered as a fine diplomat, having served as Ambassador of Ghana to the United States. And of course he would be remembered for a distinguished military career that, among other things saw him serving as the Chief of Army Staff and subsequently Minister of Defence. But apart from celebrating Lieutenant-General Smith as a genuine and thoughtful man, I take this opportunity to eulogise him for his unsung role promoting the Ghanaian creative arts in the United States, a country that is home to a creative arts behemoth that dominates even the creative arts industries in other nations.
I had the privilege of meeting and interacting with Lieutenant General Joseph Smith during his ambassadorial tenure to the United States, because of my involvement with Ghanaian artists. Despite an impossibly busy schedule representing Ghana’s interests in the United States, he could be counted upon to be at hand if there was an initiative showcasing Ghanaian creativity, such as art exhibitions, music and dance performances, and film screenings. He also fostered collaborations between Ghanaian and American artists, leading to innovative and diverse creative projects. Additionally, he advocated for the inclusion of Ghanaian arts in American cultural institutions, enriching the cultural landscape. His efforts helped strengthen the bond between Ghana and the US through the universal language of art.
Many remember Lieutenant-General Smith’s speech at Miss Ghana Tourism USA 2015 as an inspiring and motivational address. He emphasized the importance of cultural heritage and promoting Ghanaian tourism, encouraging the contestants to embrace their roots and be ambassadors of Ghanaian culture. His speech left a lasting impression on the audience, inspiring them to embrace their Ghanaian heritage and contribute to its global promotion.
And his efforts supporting the 2016 Ghana Music Week Festival would never be forgotten.
Ambassador Smith’s contributions played a significant role in paving the way for the “Year of Return” initiative. His efforts helped strengthen the bond between Ghana and the African diaspora, creating a sense of unity and shared heritage. It is no surprise that when we implemented the Year of Return in 2018 at the Press Club in Washington DC, Lieutenant-General Smith was at the forefront of many minds, although he was by then enjoying a wel-deserved retirement from public service. Today it is agreed that this initiative which aimed to encourage Africans in the diaspora to return to their ancestral homelands and invest in Ghana’s future, was a success. His legacy continues to inspire and foster connections between Ghana and the global African community.
For me, Ambassador Smith was a mentor extraordinaire: he praised me for my vision and dedication to promoting Ghanaian culture and tourism through the Miss Ghana Tourism USA pageant. He acknowledged my hard work and commended my efforts in providing a platform for Ghanaian women to showcase their talents, beauty, and heritage, and for fostering a sense of community and pride among Ghanaians in the diaspora.
As a beautiful gesture, he held my hand like a son. Lieutenant-General Smith showed a deep level of affection, warmth, and respect towards me and I’m honoured to say we shared a father-son relationship. He left no doubt that he valued my work and with the uncanny meticulousness of the Combat Engineer that he had been in the military, would contribute to strategy sessions no matter how small the initiative was, helping me check blind spots.
I cannot end without placing on record that as Ghana’s man in Washington DC, Lieutenant-General Smith was a father to all, irrespective of political affiliation. He was the heart and soul of Ghanaian community events and genuinely loved being a diplomat, being able to represent Ghana and Ghanaians. A highly respected diplomat with solid gravitas, his warmth and kindness were evident in his interactions and engagements. It is only fitting that he received the Unifier Award at the Miss Ghana Tourism USA 2016 event in Maryland.
By Dr Kwame Boakye-Danquah, Forensic psychologist/Insurance project manager