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