Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Conversation with Kofi Akpabli, author of 'A Sense of Savannah' and 'Tickling the Ghanaian'

This interview was conducted before the launch of Kofi Akpali's latest book Tickling the Ghanaian: Encounters with Contemporary Culture, as a result this interview focuses on his first book A Sense of Savannah: Tales of a Friendly Walk through Northern Ghana.

How did you come to write this travelogue?
I had the good fortune of being ‘thrown’ off to the north easternmost part of Ghana to do my national service. For a first timer it was a curious, exotic world. My sense of adventure and my curious nature did the rest. By the first three months, I had seen most part of the region including parts of the upper west and Northern Region.

Would you even consider this a travelogue?
Yes. It is. I had to travel to write every piece. As a freelance writer and journalist I can confide in you that I am in my element when I do travel writing. I enjoy doing it.

This book brings smiles to the lips and cheeks of the reader, sometimes even guffaws. You employed a lot of humour in your writing. Was this your first reaction even as you were experiencing these, as some of your experiences would be difficult to label as fun at first occurrence?
Humour is important to me. One would say it enriches my work. I would say it defines me. Even when I write about death I could make my audience laugh. As to my real experiences yes, they made me smile a lot. Like when that goat urine sprayed my shirt. Question is which is easier: get angry and take all those responsible to task (including the goat) or laugh it off.  I choose humour, any day.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to have travelled to the three northern regions of Ghana, your description brought some form of nostalgic feelings. It was so vivid and picturesque that for one moment I thought I was revisiting. I lost myself completely in the narrative allowing my mind to roam the Savannah. How did you piece all these together? Were you keeping some form of diary?
I like this question. I had travelled the place close to seven years. Some of the impressions thus become familiar and entrenched. So even when you are woken up at midnight, blinded folded and asked to relate a scenario it comes easy. Other experiences were just one-offs like the hippo sanctuary safari at Wechiau. Yes, carrying a diary helps but a mental one was most useful.

Wechiau is a place I would love to visit one day. Not necessarily because of the hippo sanctuary but the use of cowries for certain business transactions and the exchange rate there. That information somehow told me that at least we are not all lost to this monstrosity we call civilization, which keeps heaping upon problems of monumental proportions. How did you warm yourself into the places you visited and into the hearts of the people you met?
Simple. Be myself and respect the other person. Everything else becomes easy. One thing I also did was to get a local guide. People feel important when you show them that you are ignorant and you want to know.

This interesting book presents fresh views of an area most Ghanaians in the south have never visited and probably would never visit. The place has always been associated with chieftaincy conflicts and poverty. Would you say this your presentation would get people visiting?
I hope it does. But what’s more important is the renewal of minds about the place. Anyone who reads A Sense of Savannah will see the positive side as well.

Most often when Westerners are coming to Africa (they always come to Africa, forgetting – naturally – that Africa is not a country) they are wont to read Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness or perhaps now they would be reading Naipual’s The Masque of Africa. How much justice would you say this book has done to neutralize these diabolic Conradic and Naipualic tales?
I believe people think what they want to think. True, they are influenced by what they are exposed to, still, the final decision is theirs. I want to believe that with an open mind, one should realize that people are the same everywhere. It is only the environment which makes the difference.

How do you feel after the publishing your book? Do you feel accomplished? Is the popularity increasing?
I am not a woman but I believe this is how they feel after they have delivered a baby. I feel I have downloaded something important that took a long time to form. Accomplished?  No. Just ‘finished with this one’ and looking for the next. Popularity? A few people claim I look familiar or my name sounds familiar. Is that how it begins? You tell me.

Was it difficult getting published?
You bet it was and I am still counting the cost.

How wide is the book distributed? Where could readers and future tourists go for copies?
It is in the capitals of the three northern regions. In Accra, Legon bookshop, silver bird bookshop, accra mall, Baatsona Total shop (Spintex Road), SEDCO bookshop, EPP, Wild Gecko, etc.

Now your last word… tell us something. How should your book be read?
It should be read like a tour guide, a novel and an autobiography. My last word? It is possible, always.


  1. another great interview with another new to me african writer Nana ,all the best stu

  2. A travelogue that has it's toe squarely in humor? Oh, that sounds wonderful and like something that I would really enjoy. I also find it interesting that Kofi has traveled to all the places that he has written about in the book. To me, that signifies that there will be a lot of realism in the stories he presents. This was a wonderful interview, Nana. Thanks for sharing it with us today!

  3. @Zibilee. Yes. That's what makes it interesting. Humour plus local knowledge.

  4. Give me humour any day. Kofi sounds like an interesting writer. Would look out for his second book too.

    I now have both of your blogs on my bloglist. Can't believe I've missed this much. Where have I been?!

  5. Humor is so important, especially in memoir-who wants to read something heavy and portentous? What a great interview- you've definitely got me intrigued!

  6. @Adura Ojo... you are welcome to this blog. In end we got connected.

  7. @Marie... his style is uplifting. thanks


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