Mrs Theodosia Okoh • She Designed The National Flag

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One thing stands out clearly to every visitor to her residence—a beautifully painted flag of Ghana framed in glass on top of the house.

It seems to say, welcome to the house of the proud architect of the national flag.

In her spacious living room are several wall paintings, certificates of honour, citations, plaques and national medals, all bearing the name of Mrs Theodosia Okoh.

Eighty-five-year-old Mrs Theodosia Okoh is the originator and designer of the Ghana flag. Born on June 13, 1922 in Wenchi in the Brong Ahafo Region, she has seen all the various historical transitions of this country. That is, from British colonial rule, through the Gold Coast to modern Ghana.

In a four-hour chat with the Junior Graphic, the hilarious old woman described herself as one of the luckiest elderly citizens of Ghana.

She posed the first question to this reporter: How many Heads of State or Presidents have you met while growing up? My answer was: “Three — Presidents Limann, Rawlings and Kufuor.”

Answering the same question for herself, she said apart from the white colonial governors during the Gold Coast era, she had seen and met President Kwame Nkrumah, Lt Gen J. A. Ankrah, Brigadier A.A. Afrifa, Mr E.A. Akufo-Addo, Professor K.A. Busia, General I. K. Acheampong, General F.W.K. Akuffo, Dr Hilla Limann, Flt Lt J. J. Rawlings and Mr J. A. Kufuor. Infact all of them.

"All these personalities put together means I have seen 10 Heads of State. You see, I told you I’m very old and could pass as a living historical monument," she added, laughing.

Her collection of photographs, majority of them being those she took with Heads of State, alone are enough to tell anybody the important position she occupies in the history of the country.

Explaining how she got involved in the designing of the National Flag, she said advertisements were placed in the Gold Coast newspapers for the composition of the National Anthem, designs for the Coat of Arms and the National Flag.

"It was stated that the best composer of the anthem would win 100 pounds. However, there was no cash prize attached to designing the flag but I decided to submit an entry," she recalled.

According to her, the rule for the entry was that things pertaining to Ghana must be seen in the art work for the flag. As a result, she decided to choose the colours red, gold and green and the five-pointed Black Star.

"The red stripe represents the blood our forefathers shed for us during Ghana’s struggle for independence, gold represents our rich mineral resources, green for the green belt on which the country lies and also the vast forests and cash crops which we grow, while the black star is our identity as black people and also symbolises African freedom," she explained.

This simple but creative paperwork, fortunately, outshone several other entries and was adopted as the national flag, at 12 noon on March 6, 1957, the flag was hoisted at a colourful and emotional ceremony held at the Old Parliament House.

Recalling that glorious day as her greatest joy ever, she said while the flag she designed was being hoisted, the British flag (Union Jack) was being lowered to end the era of colonial rule.

In appreciation for her creative work for the nation, she was presented with a medal that is so dear to her heart.

Mrs Okoh, who worked very closely with Dr Kwame Nkrumah, described him as a nice man with a beautiful family who always wanted good results from any work assigned to one to do.

Apart from her close contact with Dr Nkrumah, she also had the opportunity to cook for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip when they visited Ghana for the first time in 1961.

Asked whether she was a cook, she answered in the negative and said though she was not a professional cook, she was good at cooking.

"During our schooldays at Agogo, there were no hired people or labourers so we did everything by ourselves, including baking, book binding, carpentry, cooking, painting, cleaning, sweeping, weeding, sewing, knitting," she added.

Mrs Okoh disclosed that during her schooldays it was an open secret that the girls from the Agogo Basel Mission were all good cooks and could do all kinds of domestic jobs.

She said at school the cooking was shared among the students. For instance, those in Standard Four were responsible for supper, those in Standard Five cooked lunch, while Standard Six students prepared breakfast.

Those in Standard Seven, who were the seniors, did the supervisory job.

"We were taught how to sew very well and we did a lot of sewing for the Gold Coast soldiers who used the clothes we made for them for the Burma War," she said.

Mrs Okoh started school in 1927 at the Ashanti Effiduase Primary School and continued at the Agogo Basel Mission.

As a fine artist, she undertook a specialised Art teachers’ course at Achimota College for three years and afterwards went back to Agogo to teach.

Describing herself, Mrs Okoh said she was a tomboy. According to her, she played football, took part in athletics, played hockey, tennis, climbed trees, among others.

It was, therefore, no surprise that she was affectionately called Joan of Arc. She was the first woman to become the President of a national sports association, the Ghana Hockey Association.

For that reason, the national hockey pitch has been named after her.

She is also the only female patron of the Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG) till date.

Born to the Very Reverend Emmanuel Victor Ahisihene, a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, and Madam Dora Ahisihene, both from Anum in the Eastern Region, Mrs Okoh is the fourth of eight children.

Interestingly, among her siblings are Prof Ahisihene, who set up the College of Art of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and Dr Leticia Obeng, the first woman scientist.

She got married on January 1, 1949 to the late Mr Enoch Okoh, who was the Head of the Civil Service and Secretary to Nkrumah’s Cabinet.

She has three children, all of whom she said also saw Ghana’s independence in 1957.

As old as she is, Mrs Okoh still paints as her past time and sends some out for international exhibitions.

She enjoys playing scrabble, something she does alone, with a dictionary by her side to check for unfamiliar words.

Story by Hadiza Nuhhu-Billa