Although brilliant and a master strategist, Ghana’s first prime minister and president Kwame Nkrumah emerging from an impoverished background lacked funds to execute campaigns in his battles with the colonial British government for self-rule for the locals.
Rebecca Naa Dedei Aryeetey also known as Dedei Ashikishan was on the other hand an entrepreneur and political activist, who became a chief financier of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) – the party formed by Nkrumah after breaking away from the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC).
By age 30, Aryeetey was a business tycoon and crucially the flour queen in Accra, wealthy enough to own a huge house in Kokomlemle, a suburb of the capital, Accra. She earned her ‘Ashikishan’ nickname, which is flour in the Ga language thanks to the product she traded in.
She was influential, being the leader of the Market Mammies (Mothers) Association. Aryeetey was born in 1924 to father Ataa Ayite, who hailed from Ga (Asere) and Osu. Her paternal grandma Ama Richter hailed from Osu. Although she had basic education, she went straight into the flour business afterwards. She grew up in Ga (James Town British Accra).
The queen of the flour business in Accra campaigned and funded Nkrumah to win the Accra Central seat. Many reckon had Nkrumah lost that seat, he would never have become the Prime Minister of Ghana.
Market women served as the backbone of CPP in Accra thanks to Komla Agbeli Gbedemah, who mobilized them with Aryeetey leading the pack so that when Nkrumah was released from jail in 1951, having won the 1951 Gold Coast legislative election, there was a core group of supporters ready for him. She is said to have campaigned and funded Nkrumah against her own kinsman Odarkwei Obetsebi-Lamptey of the UGCC.
Aryeetey identified with Nkrumah’s vision and ideals for the country and people so poured money into CPP and as her financial contribution increased so was her influence in the party. Her closeness to Nkrumah was not favored by all. While in Nkrumah’s company in 1960 at a CPP party function in Ho, she got served with tea and passed on later after complaining of stomach pains.
Nkrumah was inconsolable at her funeral, according to reports. Eyebrows were raised when no postmortem was carried out to officially ascertain the cause of her death, despite her stature in the party.
The 50 pesewas coin as well as national stamp was reportedly issued in her memory while double-decker buses introduced in Accra, locally referred to as Auntie Dedei is apparently in reference to her.