Goodbye to a Rock and National Hero: General Nana Abunaw from 29 May 1953 to 8 March 2024 0

People knew her as the “mother of all” because of her kindness, softly spoken nature, and her bright and infectious smile. At work, she would make time to listen to junior colleagues and in the community, she supported the disadvantaged. Nana Abunaw Marie was a gentle and intelligent personality who made a difference during her more-than-forty years of public service and charitable work. She achieved several groundbreaking milestones in her career, including becoming the first female Administrator General of Prisons in Cameroon, the first female Commander of the National Advanced School of Penitentiary Administration, and retiring as the Inspector General of Services in the Ministry of Justice. Her retirement from an exceptional public service career in 2015 gave her the freedom and contentment to do the things she had always wanted to do—charity.

As the director of the National Penitentiary, General Nana had ethics, compassion and rehabilitation at the foundation of her organisation. She supported people of all backgrounds who came through the establishment. A keen listener and passionate worker, she encouraged her workforce to treat prisoners with compassion. Rehabilitation of offenders, not derision and abuse, was at the forefront of what she stood for. As she was keen on giving people a second chance, she urged prisoners to regard incarceration as a period of reflection and change.

In 1997, General Nana, as the Director of National Prisons, inherited a demoralized workforce, and an under-funded organization, in an ethical crisis. There was a constant round of reorganisation that was barely keeping pace with the country’s plummeting finances and growing prison population. In later life, she said, “in the prison service, the many efforts being made to improve the system were no better than rearranging the deckchairs on the sinking Titanic.”

The position of Inspector General of Services in the Ministry of Justices was a politically charged position that required wisdom, people skills and professionalism. On the one hand, she had to deal with state policies and the Minister of Justice, and on the other; she had to wrestle with her conscience and faith. Yet, her quiet determination, calm authority and hands-on approach prevented these pressure points from boiling over. General Nana made herself accessible to the presidency, ministers, junior colleagues and members of the public. She became known for responding rapidly to junior colleagues, members of the public, and inmates. She did not shy away from making tough decisions and working on programmes for victims of crimes to access justice and compensation.

After Mami Nana retired, she founded the Equity and Justice Prison Fellowship, a non-profit organisation to advocate for a restorative approach to justice, proportional punishment and a constructive and reformatory prison culture intended to give prisoners a second chance. Although she has been ill for over three years, she has kept attending meetings of her charitable organization and MOHWA conferences around the world. When asked about what many remember about her, they say she was “eloquent and a genuinely kind person.”

I am lucky enough to have met and spoken with her about many community subjects and projects at the MOHWA Europe Convention in Coventry, England, in August 2022. In our subsequent phone conversations, her steely determination to see a strong Manyu community at home and in the diaspora was evident. One of her greatest fears, she told me, was that the “Manyu community in the diaspora was growing weaker because of internal strife and this made her people weak as a force.”

Nana Abunaw Marie was born in Besongabang, Manyu Division, on the 29th of May 1953 to Pa Ako David Abunaw and Ma Clara Egbe Etchu Abunaw. She was the third of eleven children and attended Presbyterian Secondary School, Besongabang and CCAST, Bambili. Over the years, she recounted that the time she spent with her parents in a loving community impressed upon her the importance of education, compassion, discipline and hard work. She later credited the charitable work she did with prisoners and the vulnerable to her upbringing. General Nana Abunaw Marie died on the 8th of March, 2024, after a protracted illness. Her husband, Chief Justice Kwamu Nana, seven children, and ten grandchildren survive her.

Mami Nana Abunaw Marie was the very essence of compassion and duty. She was humanity at its best, an outstanding public servant and a standard bearer for the rights of the vulnerable. She was a person with a natural ability to make people feel at ease in her presence because she was just a special human being. Her love for humanity transmitted wherever she took her infectious smile and sparkle. The world is better because of this unique and irreplaceable life. She leaves the world a better place for having lived and all who had the great fortune of ever meeting her will miss her dearly. She leaves a lasting void in the Abunaw family and the global Manyu community. General Nana Abunaw Marie is not dead; she is asleep and resting in the Lord, for she was an angel.

Sessekou Isong Asu,

London, United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland