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.