Monday, 19 December 2011

Are we really God-Fearing? (Part 2)

Last week’s article in this column produced a big response with more than 50 online, email and telephone reactions. Most took the straightforward view that the Ghanaian claim to be God-fearing is only skin deep; others sought to contextualize it the expression itself while a small minority interpreted the question I posed as implying a belief or otherwise in God and the implication of such belief. In this conclusion I wish to explain some of the issues that are raised by the constant claim that we are God’s special people and or that we are particularly God fearing as a nation.
However, I need to explain that the article was not an attack on religion or religious belief. Neither was it about any particular brand of religion. In fact, it is not about religion. The point I am making is that we paint a wrong picture of who we are when we confuse our private religious or spiritual aspirations with our public responsibilities as a people, especially when there is such a split between the two. I used the Graphic editorial merely as a peg for a general statement because the idea that we are God fearing was not invented by the Daily Graphic. In that particular case the newspaper was merely echoing a general sentiment.
Interestingly, and by coincidence, a young journalism student wrote an article in the MY TURN column in the Mirror last Saturday which also made very similar points. The title was Religious Rubbish, and after the general observation that Ghanaians are a religious people then asked why people with such supposedly salutary spiritual outlook would care so little for the environment, especially by throwing rubbish all around. The fact that the author is a visitor to our country makes the observation more poignant.
Yes, Ghanaians are very religious people and there is evidence of this all around us, including the number and sizes of places of worship up and down the country and the fact that religious entrepreneurs are among the richest people in this land. But this religiosity does not in itself constitute the fear of God although it is easy to confuse the two.  Among the prime attributes of God-fearing are honesty and law-abiding. I don’t think even the most jingoistic Ghanaian would use either of those terms to describe this nation.
 However, no one is arguing that Ghanaians are more dishonest than other people. The issue is that within the public space behavioral precepts like integrity, honesty and sincerity must be related to common standards which are understood by all and applicable to all. In other words, we cannot say that because people are EXPECTED to be God-fearing they will behave decently towards one another. We have seen that this is not the case. Therefore, the only means by which these common standards that we have to live by can be achieved is through the law, which is why whether people are God-fearing or not they must obey the law.
Unfortunately, and this is the crux of the matter, obeying the law has become an optional extra in Ghana; you obey the law if you wish, or you can select which part of the law to obey. For example, we are required by law to insure our vehicles and also drive on the right. Some people have decided that they will insure their vehicles but then drive on the left when it suits them. You can find them practicing their impunity on the Spintex Road to their hearts content because they know that they will get away with it. I make no apology for constantly harking back to Spintex traffic situations as examples because in my view a nation that cannot set and enforce simple traffic regulations is in a lot of trouble whether it is God-fearing or not.
Therefore, we have to acknowledge an interesting but disturbing conundrum at play here. When we believe that we are God-fearing but do things in a manner that contradicts this declaration, we are not necessarily being deceitful; rather there is a disconnection between what we profess in private and how we live our lives in public. Some people call this hypocrisy and they may be right, but I believe that if the laws of our country were transparent, fair and enforced most people would be able to connect their private beliefs to their public responsibilities.
Example: even with the best will in the world, the most conscientious driver in Accra will have to drive badly just to survive because that is how we drive in this town. Even pedestrians cannot walk safely because roads are built without pavements and the few pavements in towns and cities have been converted into mini markets by traders. Pedestrians cross streets at any point that suits them, and we can’t be blamed because drivers refuse to stop at the few zebra crossings that have been marked for people to use as road crossing points.
By the way, I read recently that cameras are going to be installed on our roads to help prevent accidents. It is not a bad idea but a laughable Ghanaian solution that is unlikely to have any effect. Most of the severest accidents occur at night or in the early hours of the morning on our highways. Cameras will capture images if the background is well lit. This means that a driver whizzing by above the speed limit will be captured at best as a grainy image in the gloom of our unlit highways. Meanwhile, the absence of street lights even in our cities, let alone on the highways is a contributory factor to the high frequency of road accidents.
 Furthermore, vehicles captured by the cameras will be identified by their number plates, but there are vehicles plying on our roads without any number, or without any illumination above the number plates and amazingly they go past police stops on the way. I have seen these many times. Above all, these cameras will need to be checked and serviced, but in a country where no one appears to be responsible for changing street light bulbs what is the guarantee that these cameras will be paid any attention?
I know that the cameras will not be expected to achieve miracles on their own but good driving and observation of basic driving rules and each of us taking responsibility for our actions and the health and safety of our neighbours will achieve more than cameras and gadgets ever will for this country. People do not do the right thing because they are God fearing but because they have been taught what the right thing is and there are laws to reinforce that knowledge and penalties to pay when the law is broken. Above all, there must be continuous education on doing the right thing because people will always regress to their personal comfort zone even at the expense of the communal interest.
So here is my take: the assumption that we are a God-fearing nation implies that we know and will do what is good. But that is neither the case in fact, nor is it true as a proposition for achieving the public good. In this country, we are not asked as citizens to do anything for ourselves. Governments promise to do everything even though they cannot do what the promise without our contribution. Take taxation: we all know that only a small proportion of people in this country pay any direct taxes based on their income, and some of the non-payers are among the wealthiest people. Elsewhere, there are continuous campaigns to get people who must pay their taxes to do so, and vigorous measures are put in place to ensure that they do so. 
We may or may not fear God, but we must all be held to a common account through the rule of law to achieve the development and decent lives that we crave. While the devil-may-care, free for all, rampant greed and dishonesty that have become the norm may be curbed by religious belief and instruction, as a nation we must insist that civil responsibility and education become the common standard.
This article was first published in the Diary column in the Daily Graphic

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Are Ghanaians really God-fearing (Part 1)

One often hears that Ghanaians are either a God-fearing People, or God’s chosen people or both. My view of such talk has always been that a bit of hubris is perhaps good for the soul and psyche of the human race. In other words, such sentiments belong to the loose talk column rather than as the basis for any serious thinking or action. However, it appears that some people do take such talk seriously. Obviously, the editors of the Daily Graphic newspaper do.

In its editorial of last Tuesday, the Daily Graphic had this to say in its third paragraph: Ghanaians, by nature and orientation, are a God-fearing people who imbibe and live by the sacred commandments of the Almighty God to be peace-loving and cherish peaceful co-existence in their respective communities.
I read that editorial three times then looked at myself and wondered is this referring to us Ghanaians? My next thought was that there must be a typing error, but my fourth reading convinced me that this is what the writer wanted to write and this sentiment has been expressed in earnest. To be fair to the Graphic, perhaps the editorial is expressing an opinion about the private aspirations of Ghanaians rather than a reference to our public character, but then what is important is how people behave towards one another, and on that score, I do not believe that Ghanaians are God-fearing at all.
I may be wrong, of course, and I am sure that many people, including you, my dear reader, may have a different opinion, so to test it I have devised a little game for us to play. I am going to provide a list of different professions and occupations and you can award marks for how God-fearing each group is perceived to be. Give ten for the most God-fearing and one for the least. Here is the first list: politicians, nurses, journalists, lawyers, doctors, carpenters, traders, footballers, pastors (including bishops, archbishops, prophets, overseers and church owners), drivers (including tro-tro mates).
 Did you spot any massively obvious God-fearers in that list? Here is a second list: teachers, nurses, policemen/women, Members of Parliament, tailors and dressmakers, barbers, traditional rulers, soldiers, judges, university lecturers, house builders, contractors, farmers, plumbers, secondhand clothes dealers, football referees, herbalists, juju-men, civil servants (PLEASE SUPPLY OTHERS). Perhaps, you had better luck with this lot?
The above lists includes almost the entire gamut of occupations in which Ghanaians are engaged and I wonder if there is any one profession or occupation on that list that you rate high on the God-fearing index. Perhaps, you have a more sanguine disposition towards us as Ghanaians but my experience has led me to conclude that there is not a single one of the above group of people that you can confidently deal with on the grounds of a positive rating. This is not to say that there is not a single honest trader or plumber in this country, but your gut reaction on engaging a plumber or buying from a market trader is to be wary because they will take advantage of you if they can.
If you feel that judging by professions and occupations is an unfair method let us use scenarios. I will provide ten common scenes or scenarios and work out whether we are God-fearing or not in that particular context. For example, at the market: would you say that Ghanaians exhibit a high sense of God-fearing at the market? You can award marks out of ten to reflect the degree of such God-fearing we show at the market. So, here we go: at the restaurant or chop bar, driving, fetching water, observing public sanitation, relations with spouses or sexual partners, in church or place of worship, watching sports, taking exams, at work.
I do not believe that any one of us can say with any degree of honesty that as a people we exhibit serious God-fearing qualities in any of the above scenarios. Let us select a few of these scenarios randomly to test my point. Take how we drive and behave in traffic, which I see as a metaphor for our entire Ghanaian existence and how we behave towards one another. The other day I saw a taxi with many pious inscriptions plastered all over it, which showed that at the very least the driver believed that the Lord was his Shepherd, but this driver did not behave at all like God’s sheep in any shape or form. He was more like the devil’s wolf cutting in front of people and changing lanes without any indication and so on. I couldn’t help but tell him after I drew level that he was taking the name of the Lord in vain.
Most of us are like that driver; we may spew the pieties we learnt at school which have been reinforced at church, mosque or other places of worship over the years but these have no effect on how we live our public lives. In traffic we forget all the manners our grandparents taught us, (I am assuming grandparents still teach manners) and behave with maniacal abandon towards one another. Indeed, I see the road/traffic as the imagery of our nation: going nowhere fast, unkempt, and without a compass. The worst part of it is that unlike God-fearing people, we have become fatalistic in our acceptance of shabbiness as our lot, but perhaps it is this civic docility which is mistaken as peace-loving, of which more soon.
Let us take another scenario, say the market. About four years ago, I wrote an article about my experience at Makola Market, which I titled a Nation of Cheats. Makola heaves only to one motivation: cheat and cheat and cheat again. In Makola the cheating has become the raison d’etre and any peripheral motive such as getting rich evaporated long ago. The cheating just gives people kicks and they no longer regard it as cheating. It is a way of life. For example, if you are buying a small basket of tomatoes and take your eyes off the business for a micro-second the seller will stuff your bag with all the rotten ones she can find (tomato sellers are almost always women), but I don’t think this is done because she wants to be rich. Simply that she has got the better of you. She has “shown” you! Meanwhile, the majority of these cheats are church-going, tithe paying people who are singing hymns and inspirational songs in the market.
Another positive attribute mentioned in the Daily Graphic editorial is that we are peace-loving. It is true that there has been no shooting war on a national scale since independence but peace is not just the absence of war, but a certain predisposition towards preventing war by not provoking others. This is not the situation in Ghana today. There is relentless provocation of people, especially people in different political parties and despite the words we say, our actions can trigger violence at any time. Furthermore, throughout our history, we have done unspeakable things to one another in this country which is a measure of the cruelty we are capable of when the “need” arises.
There is no doubt that many, perhaps most of us believe that we are God-fearing and we may be so in our private hearts. I am also not saying that there are no good Ghanaians because that would be false. There are Ghanaians who are kind and truthful and honest, etc. but I am talking about public conduct because the kindly and generous person you know becomes a monster once he or she sits behind a driving wheel, and it is that monster and not the nice kind person that will knock down and kill a child with a speeding 4 X 4 breaking every driving rule. The civil service clerk who hides files in order to extort money from clients may sing a nice tenor in church but it is his public persona that is causing harm to the national economy.
Are we really God-fearing. Please send your experiences and opinions to the addresses below. I shall return.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Memo to the IGP - Patrol or not to Patrol

My last direct appeal to you via this page was in June last year, but since then I have made references to the police in several articles in this column. In a sense, it could even be argued that I am fond of picking on the police, but that is for a very good reason. I am unshakeable in my belief that whether we go forward, stand still or travel backwards depends to a large measure on the kind of police and policing we have in this country. This is why I believe that the police and the people must be on the same side, especially in fighting for the Service to be adequately resourced in all spheres for the job at hand.
In some countries public relations officers of public institutions are kept busy with responses to concerns raised by citizens, especially in the media, but this not being the case in Ghana, my public conversations with you have been one-sided, but where there is life there is hope! In an earlier article, I commended you for being a man with a mission to modernise the Police Service, and suggested that the Police Service’s operational manual be made public so that the public would know what to expect from the changes and reforms you advocated when you took office.
As things stand now, it is difficult to know what to expect from the police although we know that you and the Service are committed to international standards and best practice, as stated on your website. I raise this in connection with police patrols or lack of them in our towns and cities because police patrols, often on foot are the most basic and visible form of policing that citizens should expect in accordance with international best practices.
I am sure that you are aware of the sad and unpardonable killing of six year old Gladys Nyarko Mensah at Akyem New Tafo last week. The little school girl was said to have been “butchered by a mentally deranged woman” who emerged out of nowhere and attached Gladys with a machete as she played with her friends in front of her house. This being Ghana, this is possibly the end of the story: the little girl is dead, perhaps her grand-something is a witch, the killer is mad – end of story.
However, remarks by Chief Inspector Yaw Nketia-Yeboah when briefing the media, should at the very least lead to a clarification of police practices as far as patrolling and security in our villages, towns and cities are concerned. The Chief Inspector explained that Aku, the suspected killer, “was seen” on the streets of New Tafo on the fateful day wielding a machete, and went on to describe how the “mentally deranged woman” chased Gladys through the vicinity of her house and inflicted fatal machete wounds on her body. Now, read this slowly: “Chief Inspector Nketia-Yeboah advised the public to be security conscious and report to the police anybody whose attitude posed a security threat to others, saying, ‘if those who had seen this mentally deranged person had reported her to the police the death of Gladys would have been prevented’”.
I agree with the Chief Inspector on the bare essentials. The public must be security conscious is good advice and obviously if those who had seen Aku on a rampage had reported to the police the death of Gladys would have been prevented. That is true. But let us probe a little further because the police officer apportions no blame or responsibility to the New Tafo Police who must have been aware, or ought to have been aware that Aku, a mentally deranged woman was loose on the streets of the town but chose to do nothing about it.
Look at it this way: unless Aku suddenly and without any previous illness took to the streets with a machete, we can assume that Aku has been fixture on the streets of Tafo for some time, possibly for a long time. Is it the responsibility of the police to ensure the removal of such persons? Or do the police have to wait in their offices to be told that such persons have turned suddenly violent? I do not know what the laws or rules are regarding the removal of such people but what I know from other countries is that the police proactively remove such people whether they are violent or not.
Now, let us look at police patrols. In this country hardly do we see any police officers on patrols even in predictably tense and potentially aggressive situations. A case in point was during the last World Cup when thousands of people converged at Osu to celebrate Ghana victories and there was hardly any police presence after the first victory over Serbia. The situation changed after media outcry but was it or was it not police procedure to anticipate such a situation and make provision for it?
Police patrol, especially foot patrols are not unknown in Ghana. Police patrols, including the defunct Local Authority (Ahenfie) police were seen often in the streets of our towns and villages to ensure good behaviour. Deterrence and quick reaction are the main reasons why intimate policing is the norm in several countries in the world, but unfortunately not in Ghana. The IGP and the police hierarchy can test this by going to Makola any day to see for themselves the lack of preventive and proactive policing at the most populous outdoor venue in the country. The same goes for the Accra Mall where thousands of mostly young people congregate every weekend on a relatively small piece of land. One does not need to be a brain surgeon or police officer to know that something, anything can go wrong with disastrous consequences at such places.
Now, back to the Chief Inspector, I am not sure that it ever crossed his mind that Aku, the “mentally deranged woman” could have “been seen” by police officers at New Tafo if any had been out and about as is the case elsewhere in the world. I have a feeling that the Chief Inspector truly believes that the job of the policeman and woman is to sit in the office to receive complaints and tip offs, but never simply to go out and see what goes on in their patch, if they “have” a patch.
It is almost never the case to see a police officer on foot patrol anywhere; they are either guarding a place or event, or else speeding by in a vehicle. A few years ago I saw a scene that I could not even have imagined. A driver lost control of his vehicle which slammed into a light pole in front of the Flagstaff House in Accra. It missed three women on the kerb before coming to rest against the pole. A minute later a policeman on a motorcycle emerged on the scene. He slowed down and looked contemptuously at the scene as people scrambled to and from in the confusion. Then he drove off. It could only happen in Ghana; it did.
In some countries little Gladys’ death would have sparked a serious uproar because a little girl should not be killed by a known “deranged woman” in front of the girl’s house. Questions would have been asked in Parliament and relevant ministers would be scratching their heads for changes to the status quo so that other little girls would not perish in this way.
This will not happen in Ghana because there is no immediate political advantage for either the NPP or NDC but at least this tragedy could lead to shed light on the rules on the removal of potential and actual public menace from the streets, and also encourage the police to tell us whether in Ghana police work is limited to the office. This would also help us to set our expectations of the Police Service and its performance. Perhaps, Chief Inspector Nketia-Yeboah is correctly stating the position of the Ghana Police. I have no way of knowing, but the IGP can put us out of the misery of ignorance.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Making Men-Only Peace in Ghana

President John Mills on November 10 inaugurated the new National Peace Council, which is made up of 13 people. They are the following: Most Rev. Prof. Emmanuel Asante, chairman of the Christian Council of Ghana, Maulvi Dr. Wahab Adam, Ameer and Missionary in charge of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission, Apostle Dr. Opoku Onyinah, President of the Ghana Pentecostal Council, The Most Rev. Dr Joseph Osei-Bonsu, president of the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference, Rev. Gideon Titi-Ofei, General Secretary of the National Association of Charismatic and Christian Churches, Nana Susubribi Krobea Asante, representative of the National House of Chiefs.

Others are: Sheikh Mahmoud Gedel and Alhaji Adam Abubakar, representing the Office of the National Chief Imam, Nii Otokunor Sampah, elder of the Afrikania Mission, Shaibu Abubakar, chairman f the Ghana Network for Peace Building, Mumuni Abudu Seidu, an educationist, Mrs. Florence Mangwe,  a human resource consultant, Rev. Dr. Nii Amoo Darko, Counselor and member of the Council of State.

Please take a critical look at the list against, and the first thing that strikes you is that a council charged by the President to “bring to order” all people who might be “obstacles to peace” has only one woman out of thirteen. It is ridiculously unbalanced. That the state of Ghana cannot follow the principle of gender parity in the area of peacemaking is difficult to fathom because the participation of women and other stakeholders is now standard fare in the template for conflict resolution and peace-building. Gender parity is not a gimmick for beautifying meetings or making politically correct statements. There are excellent political, social and cultural reasons why as much as possible men and women should be equally represented on public bodies.

So far, this principle has not been followed in appointing public bodies in Ghana. A significant example of unbalanced public body is the Forestry Commission which was inaugurated by Alhaji Collins Dauda on Sept 8 2009. It has ten members of whom only one is a woman. Curiously, women’s rights groups have not been as vocal as they ought to be on these subjects. It would be a good idea if civil society generally, but women’s groups more specifically would monitor such appointments because the lack of balance means that such bodies are not going to effective.

Let us return to the Peace Council which makes Ghana look like a patriarchal theocracy rather than a secular republic, of which more anon! It is ridiculous to suppose that the Peace Council will achieve either its short or long-term ambitions by excluding women in a significant way from its deliberations. The irony is that in composing the Council the President did not want to leave out any “major” religion in Ghana because presumably their input would be good for the Council’s decisions. That argument ought to be made even more strongly for gender parity than for religious diversity and participation.

The truth is that most of these men, especially the eight representatives of religious organisations, including the representative of the Council of State who is a reverend minister, are likely to share the same worldview, especially on conflicts and their causes. The one woman in the group is described as a human resource Consultant, make of that what you will, and gauge her likely effectiveness against the assembled mass of godly men on the Council, if they decide to stick together on issues before the Council.

Excluding women from peacemaking at the highest levels is not a good political move. Women are more than half the population and it makes sense to figure out that on most issues, especially in looking for peace and stability, carrying the sisterhood with you is more than half the job done. No matter how we pretend otherwise, men and women bring different but equal experiences and visions to the table at all times. In peacemaking success often turns not on the broad rhetorical sweep of moral and ethical precepts but on the nuanced and specific experiences and understandings. This is why a Peace Council is necessary in the first place.

Unfortunately, this group simply may not be able to provide that nuanced understanding because apart from the specifics of their religious differences, eight of them share a very similar outlook on most issues. For example, we can all guess what their response would be to a distress call by say, atheistic homosexual citizens (they are citizens even if we don’t approve of their sleeping arrangements and lack of faith). We can even guess how they would interpret a prolonged public sector strike or activities of say, “unruly” young men. The point is that their predictable viewpoint is valid but not the only valid one.

Ghana is a secular republic, even if it doesn’t feel that way from events in the public sphere. However, if we believe that peacemaking is a predominantly religious activity then why are some faiths such as Judaism, Hinduism, Krishna, but significantly African religious beliefs not represented on the council? What about commercial juju men from whom regular and irregular forces are said to go to seek supernatural powers such as the ability to withstand bullets before going to war. They probably would be a useful source of information in and to the Peace Council.
Historically, women have been better at procuring peace than men. In the comic drama Lysistrata written by Aristophanes in 411 BC, a group of Greek women are persuaded by Lysistrata to withhold sexual privileges from their men until the latter ended the Peloponnesian War, which had been dragging for years. They succeeded. An African version of the same drama called Aikin Mata by Tony Harrison has been well received as a good exponent of sexual politics. In recent times, the Liberian peace campaigner Leymah Gbowee has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for mobilizing women to end the Liberian civil war.

In most traditional cultures in Ghana, women are regarded as the arbiters of peace. In Akan custom, when negotiators have to break for consultations, they are said to go and “ask the old woman”. This is almost always literally true because invariably, the old woman has the final say. It would be difficult to argue that President Mills is unaware of these precepts and home truths. Instead it appears that we have as a nation succumbed to a religion-centred worldview that profits churchmen and church owners but has nothing to with our spirituality or moral standing.

I would argue that as important as religious leaders may be within civil society they are not the only ones whose influence can restore peace in a dire situation. If the Peace Council is to contribute to peace, especially in the lead up to the 2012 elections and beyond, it has to have greater and better diversity. That means it has to include representatives of the Electoral Commission, Parliament, the Trades Union Congress, the youth and students but above all women.
Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote:

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,

And God fulfills himself in many ways,

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.”

And from Mother Teresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”.

A Peace Council without one-half of the civic body has no “other” to belong to and will end up speaking only to itself.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Fulani Menace that could save our Country

It cannot be easy being a Fulani in Ghana today. Perhaps, the only worse situation is being a homosexual Fulani herdsman in Agogo! In the last few months Fulani herdsmen have taken the place in our imagination usually reserved for witches and other evil doers; not even the arrival of homosexuals as number one hate objects has shifted the focus away from these people, who in other circumstances should be called our brethren. The amazing thing is that despite them being such objects of disgust, the majority of Ghanaians know so little about the Fulani; I think we have an obligation to know a bit more about our declared national enemy.

So who are the Fulani? Where do they come from? How did they get here? What do they want here? More importantly, what does their presence here tell us about ourselves? Most Ghanaians believe that “Fulani” is synonymous with “cattle farmers”, which is why in some Ghanaian communities every cattle farmer is described as a called “Fulani”. This term has been used to describe even Ghanaian cattle farmers who are also pastoralists and drive their cattle over long distances in search of pasture.

The Fulani, as their name implies are FULA people who today are spread in several West African countries although they are concentrated principally in Nigeria, Mali, Guinea, Cameroon, Senegal, and Niger. The Fulani language, known as Fula, is classified within the Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Needless to say, Fulani are a people and not a form of employment, in the same way that “Asante” cannot be just another name for, say a cocoa farmer. Interestingly, in some African countries, such as Liberia, the term “Fante” refers to fishermen and women fish sellers.

Today’s Fulani come from a very ancient and proud people and culture; their forebears created an empire that stretched across present day West Africa. Indeed, the Fulani Empire could be the ECOWAS of our dreams because it created a political and economic network the like of which has never been seen in the sub-region in modern times. The great Fulani leader Usman dan Fodio exerted the biggest influence on the development and direction of Islam in West Africa. By establishing the Sokoto Caliphate, the Imam also left a legacy that has had direct impact on the political, economic, social and cultural developments in West Africa, most notably in Northern Nigeria.

Needless to say, not all Fulani are into cattle rearing although that particular occupation defined their culture in the past and continues to do so to this day; their lives and organisation are dominated by the needs of their herds. However, as with all peoples, there are Fula doctors, engineers, teachers, drivers, journalists and indeed cattle rearers, and their culture has produced its fair share of the artistic and cultural heritage of our sub-region.

Fulani architecture, engraving, leatherwork, textiles and other forms of art expressions are found throughout West Africa, and as can be expected of a nomadic culture, the Fulani have spread their culture in the places where they have settled, typically in Northern Nigeria where Fulani cultural influence on the Hausa is most noticeable, even if it can be argued that the Hausa have also largely assimilated the Fulani.

So, instead of seeing the Fulani as a malevolent sub-cultural species here to disturb our peaceful way of life, we should regard them as our neighbours whose forebears have interacted with our forefathers and foremothers for centuries.  It has to be pointed out that there are Ghanaian Fulani in the same way that there are Ghanaian British people in the world. We all start from somewhere and end up somewhere because we are like several little streams with one purpose, which is to move towards the sea. Far from being devils with horns and tails, they are our own people also in search of bread and water, especially the latter.

The Fulani being pastoralists travel everywhere they can find fresh pasture for their herds, whose needs come first. It has been remarked that a Fulani will ensure the comfort of his cattle before he seeks his own. This is often misunderstood, sometimes deliberately, in order to cast the Fulani as being subhuman in some way. In fact, most sedentary famers treat their crop farms in the same way; for example when their crops are threatened by pests, some farmers stay up all night every night just to scare them away in order to protect their crops.

It is this desire to nurture their cattle that has brought the Fulani to our lands, and there is a powerful lesson which is being lost. Seasonal southern migration of the Fulani and their cattle is not new. When I was a boy they used to come every year together with their itinerant soothsayers popular know in southern Ghana as “aduro-aduro”. They always went back once the rains started wherever they came from. What is new is the new type of Fulani that has gone into sedentary cattle farming in parts of Ghana. It is telling us something very significant.

Overgrazing of dry lands is one of the main causes of desertification, and together with overpopulation and climate changes can cause irreversible decline in the quality of land. This process has been going on in the Sahel countries for many years, and the fact that the Fulani are not going back and forth seasonally means that there is nothing for them to return to, in terms of pasture for their cattle. This is the fate that awaits us if we don’t wake up and smell the cattle dung.

The story and lesson that we need to take from the Fulani-Agogo saga is not the national security-implicated one that is currently on the agenda. In fact, when the dust settles and we learn the lesson, perhaps too late as it might turn out to be, we will realize that rather than demonise the Fulani we should have thanked them for foreshadowing the disaster to come.

I know what I am talking about. In 1994, the Panos Institute in London commissioned me to write a Panos Briefing Papers on desertification and they later arranged for me to present the paper at a UNESCO conference in Paris. Later, the Paper was used as the basis for a regional media workshop on desertification in Harare. The main lesson I learnt from that very important experience is that desertification does not mean the desert is either “coming down” or expanding, but rather that desert-like conditions are being created in forest areas. Among the maim indicators of the process is the movement of nomadic peoples.

As for the activities of the Fulani, or any other herdsmen roaming the Agogo countryside or elsewhere, no one would disregard the damage the unauthorised and inappropriate herding has done to large tracts of land in Ghana. There are instances when herdsmen are said to have burnt whole farms just to clear the land of crops in order to find pasture for their cattle. There have been reports of rapes, pillage and murder; none of these atrocities endears the cattle rearers to their farming neighbours but the media condemnation of a whole people cannot be a substitute for bringing the INDIVIDUAL offenders to justice.

It appears that the word “Fulani” itself has become a byword for criminal behavior without differentiating between people’s behaviour as individuals. People of a certain age would recall that some 25 or 30 years ago, Nigerians used to refer to Ghanaians as “thieves” just because of the activities of a few of our compatriots in Agege and other Lagos slums. “Omo Ghana, Ole!” usually was the signal for a very cruel lynching of any Ghanaian in sight. We didn’t like it.

Thank God for Spintex Road Traffic

Yes, you read that right. Every word in the headline is exactly as I meant it to be and the meaning is as straightforward as it could possibly be. I am thanking God, who in his infinite wisdom, created the Spintex Road, pointless as it may appear to you and me, and endowed it with traffic; lots of traffic. For years I have railed against the selfsame traffic and bemoaned its existence as a barrier to human progress and happiness. I realize that I was only seeing through a glass darkly: now that I can see the full picture I am thanking the Creator for the traffic on the Spintex Road and praying for more.

The discerning reader will be right to wonder whether I have taken leave of my senses. No, I have not, but I have now seen the light and I can explain it all. Fact: the Spintex Road has more suicide drivers than there are suicide bombers in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. If you don’t believe me come to the Spintex Road on a Sunday morning between seven and nine, and you will also praise God for the same reason that I am singing Him hymns and encomiums.

Last Sunday, I was on the Spintex Road at about eight in the morning and that accursed piece of earth was unusually empty. You would think that would be a good thing. Wrong. It was a bad thing because the suicide drivers who are normally restrained by the traffic had unimpeded access to open road, which apparently heightens their urge not only to kill themselves but to take out any and every mortal being within their sphere of influence.

Perhaps a bit of background will help make sense of what I am saying. For reasons that are too long to get into, the Spintex Road is home to some of the owners of the most monstrous motor vehicles known to man and woman. These vehicles, often off-road, sports utility and crossover vehicles are used in serious countries for rallies and driving in difficult terrain. In Ghana they are driven on city roads. Unfortunately, they are not evenly distributed in our city but are over-represented in estates dotted around the Spintex Road.

This can be explained easily. The Spintex Road area is a very young part of the Accra-Tema conurbation that forms the major part of the Greater Accra Region. The area is therefore home to a large dose of  new wealth as opposed to old wealth which is found elsewhere in the metropolis. The people with this new wealth are sometimes classified as the nouveau riche, or pejoratively known as parvenu, defined as a person who has suddenly risen to an unaccustomed position of wealth or power and has not yet gained the prestige, dignity, or manner associated with it.

One of the main characteristics of the parvenu is to flaunt their wealth on the principle that wealth MUST be flaunted. Thus, the nouveau riche and the 4 x 4s are made for each other, for in what better way can you flaunt new wealth than by investing in a vehicles that is meant to flaunt. Let me explain in parenthesis that  that many people own 4 x 4s and use them in appropriate ways such as travelling often to places where only off-roaders can survive, and many drive them with care and respect for other people. Unfortunately, not many such decent folk appear to live on the Spintex Road.

On any other day apart from Sunday, the Spintex Road is full of traffic, so in order to flaunt wealth and power our nouveau riche friends just break the rules either by driving right smack in the middle of the road with all lights blazing or the drive along the edges of the road. The effect of either maneuver is to intimidate other drivers out of the way. However, there is a limit to such intimidation because from the other direction comes salvation in the form of articulated trucks against whom even these determined intimidators suddenly become shy.

It is different on Sundays. Most articulated truck drivers apparently lie in on Sunday mornings, or perhaps decide to use the Accra-Tema Motorway; ditto for buses and tro-tro vehicles, whose owners demand that their vehicles observe at least half of the Sabbath. Therefore, Sunday morning on the Spintex Road should by right be peaceful, and usually is.

However, this Sunday peace is often shattered by suicide drivers who feel that the open space is an invitation to kill as many people as possible on the road. How else do we explain the behavior of a driver travelling in apparent fury at a speed of at least 100 miles per hour on the Spintex Road? If any child, man, woman, or beast should ventures forth across their path, such creatures would be crushed to such death that the pictures of their corpses would make it to the ritual display of dead bodies on the front page of the Daily Guide.

Dear reader, you may wonder where our esteemed police personnel would be while the law is broken with such impunity. The short answer is that they are not there. Perhaps, another backgrounder is called for. In Ghana, the police force is largely absent from our lives on Sundays. The force also goes to worship God, or washes its clothes or simply watches football. The force takes a break with the rest of us on Sundays. I think it is largely a good idea that criminals also choose to observe the Sabbath on Sundays.

It is not as if our Police Service is proactive on the other six days where the Spintex Road is concerned. A few months ago, a police spokesman was sounding off in a radio studio about how the force would clamp down on powerful people who use their powerful vehicles to intimidate other drivers off the road. I wrote about it in this column and expressed the view that what the police officer was saying was mere hot air. So it was. The police have failed to exercise their responsibilities on behalf of the poor and the weak on the Spintex Road and allowed those who feel they have a right to be above the law to be so in fact.

Last Sunday, in the time it would take to count ten, about six SUVs had passed from Cylinder to Flowerpot (places along the Spintex Road are given funny names by tro-tro mates). It would take at least 30 minutes on a normal working day to cover the same distance and about an hour to do it on Saturdays. It takes time to go from point A to point B on the Spintex Road on a normal police-abandoned day but the chances of a poor child being killed by a wealth-vaunting nouveau riche driver in an ultra powerful vehicle are reduced by the traffic.

On Sundays there is no such traffic so suicide drivers have the opportunity to express themselves. Imagine if every day was like Sunday on the Spintex Road! This is why we have to thank God for small and big mercies and for the constant traffic on the Spintex Road. After all, the Almighty knows a thing or two about the Ghanaian, who is allegedly among His creation.

Saturday, 22 October 2011


The state of Ghana last week Friday conferred honours on 109 citizens who were cited for having made “extraordinary contribution to the national development” effort. Not a single Ghanaian writer was given any such recognition. In effect, according to the logic of both the occasion and the citation, not a single Ghanaian writer, dead or alive, had made an extraordinary contribution to national development. The President, who personally conferred the honours, “emphasised that a nation which does not honour its heroes is not worth dying for”.

Furthermore, the President reportedly said the awards “are intended to send positive signals to the younger generation to work with honour, sacrifice and commitment to country”. Obviously, a literary career is not one that should be recommended to the younger generation. It has to be added that there was also no publisher, librarian, book editor or bookseller on the list. Perhaps, there are criteria and definitions of national development and heroes that exclude writers and their sort.

The most generous interpretation that can be put on this massive snub of the literary community and Ghanaian literature is that it was an omission, some kind of oversight of decades of excellent work by scores of writers who have been recognised internationally and held in high esteem by the people of Ghana. Perhaps this is the loudest Freudian oversight in our recent public life, signaling as it does the true official attitude to culture, the arts and literature.
The more likely explanation is that the idea that writers (and publishers, etc) could have contributed anything to “development” is alien to a certain narrow definition of development limited to the immediate and tangible, by which development has to be road-and-bridge, brick-and-mortar, imported-from-China, …touchable. For that kind of mindset a book is at best a diversion, at worst a distraction.

But Ghana is arguably the only country in the world that routinely excludes literature from its national honours. Internationally, no area of endeavour is as recognised as literature and writing for which there are endless awards, prizes and many worthy tributes, not least the Nobel prize for Literature which sits at the top of the pile. Ignoring the contribution of writers to national development dishonours the very important roles played by many men and women before and during the independence struggle, and those who have continued to dedicate themselves to patriotic ideals through their art since independence to date.
Perhaps, we need to remind ourselves of the critical role writers play in our personal and national lives, and we ought to take as our starting point the creation and maintenance of our national identity, which we take for granted. Chinua Achebe said  “if you don’t like someone’s story write your own”, and that is the relevance of writers and literature to the construction of Ghana as a nation…writing this nation’s story.

Writing our own story has been the task at which people like Kobina Sekyi, Casely Hayford, Dr. J. B. Danquah, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Efua Sutherland, Kofi Awoonor, Joe de Graft, Kojo Gyainaye Kyei, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ama Ata Aidoo, Atukwei Okai, Susan Alhassan, just to name random a few, have applied their resources throughout the decades. New generations of writers rise everyday to take their place alongside those on the venerable list that pioneered our literature of relevance.
To see development as a set of economic and financial indices and indications is to misunderstand human aspirations and how they are managed and met. If those who are paid to manage our aspirations were to be limited to such a small band of economistic understanding, it would not be a surprise that most of us feel so unfulfilled despite the best efforts of the powers to provide what they consider to be our needs and wants. Writers bring to the table different but vigorous interpretations of what the human condition is about; the Ghanaian writer speaks about our country, where it has been, where it is and where it going. The writer speaks about bread, books, language, weapons for good and bad things, and above all, about truth because truth, and not an election, elects the writer to his or her appropriate and deserved place in the democratic pantheon of public opinion and the marketplace of ideas.

We need to understand that writers generally do not write for national honours; indeed, most writers would probably want to be left alone to write, but the ignoring of writers is a symptom of the larger picture in which culture is regarded as an unimportant aspect of our national life that needs no nurturing and can get by on a small and inconsequential budget. Governments now and gone have paid lip service to the importance of culture but done very little about it. Even for those for whom development can only be calculated in tangibles, it must be a crying shame that apart from the National Theatre in Accra there is no purpose built cultural edifice of modern standing anywhere in the country.
Ignoring writers is not a one-off omission by the Castle this time around. In 2008, former President Kufuor gave awards to a large number of people but I don’t recall that there were many writers among them, although there was a smattering of arts people on his list, this could not have been a national merit list of literature, culture and the arts. It appears that even when people in the arts are honoured media appearances are used as arbiter rather than the criteria recognised all over the world.

This is not to argue that any of the awards recipients do not deserve them; far from it, apart from writers, it is good to see that people from other aspects of popular culture, especially sports are so heavily represented. Even so, in sports football, as usual is preponderantly represented while other sports are ignored. And it appears that our national awards are used to reward only results but not effort. This probably explains how and why the list is compiled.
Elsewhere, national honours also go to those who make efforts, sometimes away from the limelight, where those efforts may not have yielded immediate results. Some of our sportsmen and women in non-football or women sports, without a fraction of resources that go to men’s football are making great strides in their fields. Some of them even bring home honours, though they are barely reported in the media, which is why national honours continue to elude them.

This article is dedicated to my friend, Comrade and brother, Efo Mawugbe, former Director of the National Theatre, who died on September 13th this year and will be buried at the Osu Cemetery on Friday. In 2009, he won the BBC International Playwriting Competition in 2009, and had 19 publications to his credit. That is a deserving award winner too.
*The writer is the President of the Ghana Association of Writers.

Disconnect between Street and Index in Mo Ibrahim 2010

Page nine of last Monday’s Daily Graphic carried a full page colour advert announcing that Ghana had placed 7th out of 53 countries in the Mo Ibrahim Index on governance in Africa. The Mo Ibrahim Index is a complex indicator of several trends that are all supposed to add up to our human happiness and progress, and countries are awarded points for how well they are doing in each category. According to the aforementioned Daily Graphic advert, Ghana placed 17th in personal security with a score of 53 out of 100 and 15th in national security with a score of 90 percent. The one that intrigues me is our 5th position in the rule of law category with a score of 85 percent.

Perhaps the rule of law is so bad in other African countries that just having a group of boys in flip-flops directing traffic in the centre of a nation’s capital must count as progress; but basically, it is obvious that Mr. Mo Ibrahim has not visited the Spintex Road, Nima, or indeed any part of Ghana or he would change his opinion about the rule of law in Ghana. As with these things, perhaps the index is compiled by a method beyond ordinary human understanding, or perhaps the rule of law is defined by a rarefied scenario that you and I cannot recognise in our everyday existence. But by any reckoning, I believe that the rule of law must mean that we are all equal before the law to which we must have equal access.

The Mo Ibrahim Index seeks to inform the world that by any measure Ghana, our beloved country, scores 85 percent in the notion that ALL its citizens have EQUAL access to the law and that if Mr. Mo Ibrahim is right we should expect that at the very least 8.5 Ghanaians out of every 10 must be satisfies with the rule of law in this country. My experience of the rule in Ghana is markedly different from that being portrayed in the Index.

For any survey or study to be meaningful it has to scratch beneath the surface to reveal the true character of the phenomenon being surveyed. Ghana, on the face of it passes as a peaceful country; it has the best record as far as democratic transitions in Africa go, having twice unseated a ruling party through the ballot box since 1992. The media hums and whine with political diatribe all day long and apart from the occasional intimidation for causing fear and panic people are free to speak their minds. On the face of it, Ghana’s democratic credentials are safe. However, the rule of law is a different story.

If we must have access to the law the literal and metaphorical point of entry must be the police station. What is your experience of lodging a police complaint? Mine, which I have documented in this and other columns, has been less that exemplary. My experience of the police has taught me to stay clear of the force, and nothing can shake me from that belief. There was the time I went to the Legon police station to report an accident in which I felt wronged by the taxi driver who drove into my car. The sergeant in charge made it clear by word and gesture that they had better things to do. It was even worse when my house was house was burgled. These are at the small-fry end of inconvenience; people have scarier tales of their dealing with the police.

To be fair, the police also have their own stories: the police-citizen ratio of about 1-1000 puts a strain on the force which is severely under-resourced. Most police stations do not have adequate writing material, including log books and complaint sheets. As for official mobile and recording facilities they sound too futuristic in our specific context. In fact, policing around the clock has not arrived in Ghana yet; on most Sundays you can drive up and down the country without meeting a single police patrol because the force must also take a rest being made up of human beings! But inadequate police resources and lack of numbers are part of the story, and not an excuse.

Police apart, the other major theatre of equality before the law is the law court itself, and on access to justice via the courts Mr. Ibrahim and his researchers do not have to look too far. In the same issue of the Graphic in which the Mo Ibrahim advert appeared, there was a story on page 49 headlined CJ cautions against unguarded criticisms of the Judiciary, in which Mrs. Georgina Wood, the Chief Justice said at a forum that the silence of judges “when they were accused of corruption should not be mistaken for guilt”. Fair enough. But in the same article Mr. Kofi Abotsi, a law lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology told the same audience that the “perpetual problem of the judiciary being corrupt was partly to be blamed on lawyers”. He is quoted as having said that “This is a big issue that rests on the moral doorstep of lawyers and litigants and until stops the perception of the judiciary being corrupt will continue to persist”.

It is not stated whether Mrs. Wood was in the audience to hear Mr. Abotsi, but whatever the lecturer said is not new or news to Ghanaians. The idea that justice can be bought, and is therefore denied to the poor is not just a perception. It is widely believed by the vast majority of Ghanaians that without money or connections you cannot get justice in most situations. It is even worse for poor people struggling for justice against the big beast of government or behemoths of big business because they believe that they have scant chance of success.

The point is that the Mo Ibrahim Index may award Ghana very high marks for the rule of law but in reality in many parts of this country and in our private and public lives, this country sometimes comes close to feeling like a lawless country. I have used so many qualifiers in the last sentence because I would hate to declare that this is a lawless country but objectively speaking, it sometimes feels like that. When a group of young men feel aggrieved that one of their friends has been arrested by the police they vandalise the police station and nothing much happens; when a suspected armed robber falls into the hands of the mob he is lynched in broad daylight; end of story. On the Spintex Road if you drive a dark big 4 x 4 vehicle you just turn you lights on and drive through the middle of the road as if there are no laws. There are laws but they are not meant to be obeyed by the rich and the powerful in Ghana.

There is something else in the Mo Ibrahim Index as advertised that should wipe the smile off the faces of our officials who are probably basking in the reflected glory of the rule of law 5th position. Ghana came 17th in PERSONAL SECURITY with a score of 53. The question is how does a country place 5th in the rule of law but 17th in personal security? The two must go together because personal security must depend on the rule of law. If everybody, including land-guards, macho-men, irate youth, renegade police, greedy government officials, private security operators, aggrieved market traders, tro-tro drivers, Big Men and all manner of people take the law into their own hands how can personal safety be assured?

Something is not jelling here, and it is fact versus fiction. It is possible that the Index relies more on information provided by the institutions of state that are MEANT to protect and promote the rule of law, but these institutions exist in such a bureaucratic manner that they are not accessible to the ordinary person in the street. Perhaps instead of spending money advertising the Index, Mo Ibrahim should motivate those institutions to advertise their services and create a genuinely welcoming stance and culture towards people who have no means and connections.


The Executive Committee and members of the Ghana Association of Writers were profoundly shocked by news of the death of Efo Mawugbe, one of Ghana’s most creative and prolific writers of the modern era. The sad irony was that Efo died just a few days before the first ever GAW Book Festival, dubbed GAWBOFEST 2011, was held at the Aviation Social Centre in Accra. What few of the more than one thousand people who converged on the venue for that historic event knew was that Efo was one of the few people in a small circle of GAW executives and members that first discussed the idea. It was therefore more than fitting that Professor Ama Aidoo who chaired the opening ceremony called for a minute’s silence and paid glowing tribute to our departed brother at the beginning of the Festival.

Efo joined GAW in the late 1970s when he was a student at the University of Ghana and carried the message of GAW to every corner of the country and beyond where he found himself for personal and professional reasons. The message simply was that cultural, artistic and literary pursuits were professional engagements and deserved both respect and rewards but that the people involved must come together in strength and solidarity to claim whet they deserve. Writers across the country respect and admire Efo for his steadfast commitment to the cause of literature and its integrity which is why he is held in such high esteem.

Efo did not just write but did so for a purpose, and the purpose was to enhance our cultural traditions and establish their many points of convergence as a means of promoting national unity. Elsewhere in this brochure, Efo’s literary output has been detailed so there is no point going over them, but the central point is that they all belong to a canon that shared moral optimism, human rights, especially for the oppressed and a bold affirmation of the credo that right will triumph at the end.

Efo was a huge influence in literary circles not only in Ghana but beyond, but his authority was most felt in the spirit and endeavours of young writers who saw him rightly as the paragon of patriotic expression in the creation of literary content. Efo devoted a lot of time mentoring young writers and toured schools and colleges, often at his own expense.

When the current Executive Committee of the Association was elected in October 2010 Efo was given the honour of chairing the induction ceremony, which he did with his usual aplomb His message was consistent: GAW must prioritise the training of the youth. He said he was personally committed to the setting up of a magazine for the students and youth outreach programme and would contribute his own money to it.

There were plans, concrete plans in which he would take a leading role for the future of the Association. Unfortunately, death has taken Efo away from us at the height of his powers, and most of us have lost not only a writer colleague but a personal friend who exuded kindness from every pore. Luckily, Efo did not just hover above the sands of his time but left deep and abiding footprints in every direction, so although he is no longer with us, his fierce intellectual output has ensured that he will not be forgotten.

Efo, sleep well.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Opening of the first GAW Book Festival (GAWBOFEST)

There is the well known joke about a government official who was famous for saying only a few words whenever he had to speak English in public. One day, he was invited to a school speech and prize giving day, and as the occasion demands he had to give a speech in English. He didn’t want too much trouble so he limited his speech to the following few chosen words. Mr. Chairman, he said. Today is a great day, and a great day is today. Thank you.
Indeed, today is a great day not only for the members of the Ghana Association of writers but for the Ghana nation, which is why I am very happy to welcome all of you to this function, the first Ghana Association of Writers Book Festival, which we have called GAWBOFEST 2011. Today is the realisation of a long cherished dream which this Association has nurtured since the current executive committee was elected in October last year.
Madam Chairperson, we are particularly happy to welcome you to be the first chairperson of this first book festival. You have been are one of Ghana’s and Africa’s most distinguished writers and persons of excellence for several years, and you were an illustrious member of our Association from its infancy. We are grateful that you have been able to find the time despite your heavy schedule to be with us at this event.
Madam Chairperson, every dream needs a midwife, if you would allow me to mix my metaphors. For our Association, the Vice President of the Republic, His Excellency Mr. John Dramani Mahama helped us to deliver the dream into the land of reality. The executives of the Association visited him about three months ago and informed him about this book festival. He received us and our plans with infectious enthusiasm and readily accepted not only to open the festival and be a reader but to be the patron under whose auspices this festival would be held.
Unfortunately, matters of state have prevented the Vice President from being here with us, but he has assured us that he will be here in the course of the day to read aloud, we are happy to welcome the Honourable                        , who is an eloquent testimony to the benefits of an all rounded education based on a lifelong habit of reading. The writers of Ghana have had a long relationship with the Ministry of Education, and we know that our coming activities will deepen that relationship.
Madam Chairperson, we have talked about the dream and its mixed metaphors of midwives and delivery, so it appropriate at this point to point out that every delivery needs a pregnancy just as every pregnancy needs a seed, of which  of which the less said at this time of day, the better. The Spanish Embassy in Ghana sowed the seeds of hope that enabled us to believe that this festival will happen. Dear friends, the Spanish Embassy bought into our idea even before some of our members believed in it, and we are happy to welcome Mr. Juan Antonio Frutos Goldaratz, the Deputy Head of Mission, and say a big thank you to him, and also to Ms Miriam Hernandez of the Cultural Section, who has worked very hard to deepen the friendship between the arts and culture communities of our two nations.
It is for this and many other reasons that we have decided to make Spain the Country of Focus of this festival. The Embassy has generously donated books for this festival and we hope that for some of the people attending this festival, especially the young people, today will mark their relationship with Spanish culture and literature.
Madam Chairperson, Ghana needs a book festival. Dear friends, from today Ghana has a book festival. Book festivals are known throughout the world for creating awareness about a people’s literary heritage and creating opportunities and platforms to nurture writing, writers, books and the book trade. The Ghana Association of Writers has led the venture to make books the centre of Ghanaian cultural and social life, especially during the long and beneficial leadership of Professor Atukwei Okai. Today, those long laid plans have become part of our reality.
Dear friends, the purpose of the one day festival is to bring together authors, publishers, illustrators, booksellers, bloggers, book designers, librarians, teachers, parents, children and all manner of readers in an atmosphere of fun to celebrate books, reading, writing, story-telling and creativity.
I need to explain that GAWBOFEST is different from the Ghana International Book Fair which is in its tenth year and will take place from November 1 to 6, 2011 November this year. GAWBOFEST is a one-day affair and the emphasis is on raising consciousness about the value of books and reading in our personal and individual development. The Ghana Association of Writers hopes that the festival will become an annual affair, and regional variations may even be instituted in the future.
The writers of Ghana, their craft, its output and trade need to be supported and the surest assurance of that support has to be in the form of reading. Without reading there will be little point in writing, and today, from every perspective we can say that Ghana is not a reading nation. The reason for this situation has been examined to death, so the time has come to take action. This is why the theme of this festival is EMPOWERING GHANA THROUGH READING.
Elsewhere in our many interactions with the public and government we have proposed a scheme by which the government will buy at least one thousand copies of all books published in Ghana that passes a specific quality test. We have also called for a library in every school and a modern well stocked library in every regional and district capital. That is just the start. Within five years, we should aim to provide good libraries at town and community levels befitting a middle income oil producing nation with aspirations to be the Gateway to Africa. Kwame Nkrumah, whose birthday we are celebrating today said, “And I can hear and see cities of Ghana becoming the metropolises of philosophy, art, scientific education and learning…” Dear friends, the road to our Africa gateway has to be paved with education with reading at its core.
It is for this reason that we have designed this festival to reflect the lifelong fun that readers have with their books. This festival will always have fun at its core. We want children, parents, teachers, students, writers, readers, in short even politicians to come and have fun with books and things. But the fun comes with a purpose, which is why we have invited many well known personalities to come and read and be associated with this reading adventure. I am happy to report that the Vice President is committed to being a reader here today, and if his very busy schedule allows, he will come and read.
We already have here an array of very important personalities who are here and ready to read. This room will be the book reading venue, and if the rain permits, there will be storytelling and a children’s educational workshop outside. I wish to thank our friend Caroline Burkhard who has brought her Whippersnapper concept from London to this festival.
Other activities are:
·        Book exchanges (bring an old book and exchange it for another from someone, perhaps a complete stranger)
·        Balloon crafts
·        Face painting
·        Spelling bee and quiz
·        Writing clinic (bring your unpublished poems, short stories, articles, novels for free and instant evaluation by experts
·        GAW bookshop – a one-day bookshop of members books at discount prices
·        Publishers stands (for book sales and displays)
·        Meet your favourite author
·        ... and more
Madam Chairperson, organising this event has not been easy. We have had to rely on a small number of volunteers to whom we owe a big debt of gratitude but the biggest challenge has been money and other resources. In addition to the Spanish Embassy the Ghana Book development Council has promised us some assistance but we are still less than one-third of the way towards the budget needed for this festival. We are therefore calling on the government and corporate Ghana and individuals who believe in our course to come to our rescue.
Dear friends, I cannot conclude without saying a big thank you to the members of the planning and implementation committees, especially those who stayed the course to the end. I also wish to thank the members and executives of GAW who also gave their time to help in planning and implementing the plans for this festival. I also thank the unsung heroes who are working in communities across Ghana nurturing the talents of our youth and children who have come to our notice during the preparation for this festival. Above all, I wish to thank Mr. Ebo Assam Donkoh, our Administrator without whom none of this would be possible. He deserves a national award.
Madam Chairperson, I am sorry that we have to end this welcome on a rather sad note because last week, as we were entering the home stretch of preparation for this festival the news reached us of the passing away of our member and personal friend to many of us, Efo Kodjo Mawubge, a supremely talented playwright, writer, theatre director and TV personality. We will miss him very much. I request that we kindly observe a minute’s silence in his memory. But Efo would surely have said, let the show go on. Have fun.
Thank you
Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng
President, GAW