Thursday, July 30, 2009

7. Amma Darko's Faceless

Title: Faceless
Author: Amma Darko
Genre: Novel
Publishers: Sub-Saharan Publishers
Pages: 233
Year: 2003

Amma Darko's Faceless tackles a society's neglect of its future leaders, the irresponsibility of fathers, the importance of the media in solving problems and the importance of determination in our lives. It blatantly portrays how a larger 'section' of the society is living and dealing with life as if there is no one looking after them. So difficult is life to such individuals that what to eat is as problematic as where to ease; what to wear and where to sleep and even waking up to the morning sun are seen as miracles. It clearly shows the effect of streetism on the society and how decayed and corrupt society has become. The axiom that 'each one for himself God for us all' can clearly summarise the content of this novel, and to some extent, without taking anything from the author, can act as its second title.

Fofo was forced out from home by her mother, Maa Tsuru, to fend for herself and to allow her mother raise her younger sister Baby T. However, later Baby T was also given away to to fend for herself in one of the most difficult slums in Ghana, Agbogbloshie. Baby T gets brutally murdered and all fingers point to Poison. Besides, her elder sister, Fofo, was almost raped and later beaten by Poison to prevent her from divulging any information to MUTE, a group of four women dedicated to the idea of providing what they refer to as 'alternate' library which would act as a respository of local knowledge not found in everyday books. Poison, the boss of the streets, cowed all the kayayos (head-porters) from disclosing the identity of the Baby T, yet the real person responsible for Baby T's death is one of society's innocent.

Amma Darko's display of tradition becomes clear in this novel also. According Maa Tsuru she has been cursed and it is this curse that has rendered her useless, poor, crippled and husbandless. She has become an outcast in the family house and always lives indoors crying. Faceless is one woman's account of life on the streets of Accra: the struggle, the peril, the survival, the near-death experiences, the deaths and the births. However, behind all these problems, all these complex issues, Amma Darko finds ways to inject humour into her prose, such as Kabria thinking that her son wanted to say Lord the King, when he asked for Lord Kenya's album.

The writing is simple and brilliant; the diction, good. One need not carry a dictionary or a thesaurus. The simplicity of her writing is similar to that of J.K. Rowling. To me, Amma Darko has arrived and one needs to pay her more attention. This book serve as the basis for her latest novel Not Without Flowers. If you want to read Amma Darko, start from Faceless and you would never regret it. For those who are passionate about child delinquency, societal decadence, survival mechanisms, this book, and in fact all of Amma Darko's books, is for you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

6. Obama vs Ampem-Darko--the Direct and Indirect Link

Title: Dreams from My Father
Author: Barack Obama
Genre: Memoir
Publishers: Three Rivers Press
Pages: 442
Year: (this edition 2004)

I have been reading and still reading Obama's 'Dream from My Father' and there are several phrases and lessons we can learn from that Memoir. But believe you me, I am not going to review that book for at least three basic reasons:
  1. It is not a novel, it is a memoir (an account of the author's personal experiences) almost like an autobiography, though from where he's come from and when the book was written this is no complete autobiography: the man is now the president of America. There would definitely be one when he hits the seventieth mark (that is, if he is still alive);
  2. Obama is not an African (oops! that hurts) he is an African American. Okay he is an African or a Kenyan bu I am not reviewing that book; and
  3. I am still reading it (not a strong point, I know; but that's why it is the last point).
However, there is something in that memoir I wish to share with you presently, taking into account what I read yesterday. Yesterday, I read from a fellow blogger novisi about the unfortunate plight of the GBC boss Mr. Ampem-Darko. He has been ordered by parliament to render an apology for either insulting a parliamentarian or parliament (as an institution) or parliamentarians. I couldn't get it even though it was the parliamentarian involved (one who calls himself K.T. Hammond) who had started the insult. What a pity!

This morning as I was coming to work I had the opportunity of being driven in a commercial trotro by a 'professional' driver. Not that I drive myself or even own a car, I don't! So, whilst been chauffeured to work (not exactly to the workplace, because I have to get down and board another car, alight at a certain junction and walk the remaining miles) I had the chance to gobble down some few lines from Obama's first book, 'Dreams of my Father' and there it was: Obama's 'insult' to the honourable men of Ghana. Those same individuals who are eager demanding to be respected but who are refusing to do honourable things. It was there in black and brown (nope!, what is the colour of those recycled paper?). But it was just there.

Did you see those parliamentarians including ex-presidents snapping Obama during his visits? Did you read about it? Or perhaps heard the debate (or argument) on radio? Well, I saw it on T.V. at least since I am not among the well-known or the highly in the country. If you should arrange it in that order I would be the first from the bottom or perhaps the penultimate famous man. The last time I was recognised as a 'big man' was during the 2004 congregation for the 2003 graduands of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately (unfortunate because I added unto the pool of unemployed graduates (UG) already gallivanting and cavorting along and around the major cities searching for work) I had inherited my mother's high IQ and so I completed with a first class, top my class (I am not boasting; only making a point, so don't begin to have funny ideas about me) and you know all the invited guests had to stand up, remove their hats, and shake the hands of the first class students. And can you imagine who was there? You are right! John 'the gentle giant' 'sexy-eyes' Agyekum Kufour. Yes, the man stood up, shook my hands and I told him 'I am glad to meet you', though I wasn't mind was on the unemployment issue. I stayed home for two years without job. Imagine the types of jobs one can get in Suhum (where I was staying). So that was the last time I was treated as a 'big man' and man it was so sweet. Sweeter than honey, I tell you. As I was saying I wasn't there else I might also have taken Obama's picture and today I would have cursed my stars for being there. Note I am not saying that all those who took picture of Obama have in one way or the other been insulted. This goes only for the leaders. Get me and don't be worried.

Coming back to the point (I have digress too much), in that section of the memoir, Obama was talking about how he came to Chicago wanting to be a Community Organiser and working hard to form groups of local folks for a racially divided South-Side Chicago. During the success periods, they had invited the first black Mayor of Chicago, Harold, to innaugurate a job centre for the Roseland community. The leaders of the organisation who had been tasked with the responsibility of convincing him to attend their next rally were all eager taking pictures of the man and with the man. Thus, they (the leaders) forgot to invite him. Here Obama was extremely frustrated and vent his anger on the leaders of the organisation. To quote those paragraphs:

"Did he agree to come to our rally?", I repeated.

The three of them looked at me impatiently. "What rally?"

I threw up my hand and started stomping down the street. As I reached my car, I heard Will coming up from behind.

"Where you off to in such a hurry?" he said.

"I don't know. Somewhere." I tried to light a cigarette, but the wind kept blowing out the match. I cursed, tossing the matches to the ground, and turned to Will. "You wanna know something, Will?"


"We're trifling. That's what we are. Trifling. Here we are, with a chance to show the mayor that we're real players in the city, a group he needs to take seriously. So what do we do? We act like a bunch of starstruck children, that's what. Standing around, cheesing and grinning, worrying about whether we got a picture take with him--..." (Dreams from My Father, Page 225/226)

So when Obama came, instead of our leaders showing him that we are the real players in Africa, one that he has to take seriously and work with what did we do? Answer: We acted like a bunch of starstruck children, standing around, cheesing and grinning, worrying about whether we got a picture with him or of him. Our problems defined. Did Obama take us serious? His speech had already been prepared so whatever he said had nothing to do with what he saw and whether he took us serious or not. In line of the picture-taking nerds and androids were pa*l***men*arians (before I am summoned to answer) and many exses (ex-this, ex-that). Those required to make a bold statement as Obama had required of mere community leaders not country leaders. So why should we be shocked beyond our imagination if after a parliamentarian traded insult with a media mogul, parliament asks the latter to render an apology to the former on all national radio stations, on T.V. at his cost? We shouldn't, for Obama has defined them for us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

5. How We Buried Puso

Title: How We Buried Puso
Author: Morabo Morojele
Publishers: Jacana
Genre: Novel
Year: 2007
Pages: 234
ISBN: 9781770090989
Country: Lesotho

'How we Buried Puso' is the third novel by an African Writer I have read this month (July). Since I am a bit busy and in a hurry I would give a quick comment on the book. Perhaps a proper review would follow, if it does not I hope this would suffice.

The book can be classified as a Lyrical Narrative written in the First Person, if only there is a genre of this sort. Under normal circumstances, I don't read books written in the first person as it does not afford the reader the chance of knowing more about the different characters. However, Morabo Morojele's book is no ordinary work. The book is about a young man, Molefe (or 'Lefe) who left home for greener pastures abroad like many Ghanaians and Africans for that matter. He encountered a lot of difficulties that most foreigners are faced with and yet had to pretend that it was all well and good in order not to lose respect at home and cause disappointment. It even happened that when his grandmother died, even though he was his grandmother's pet, he couldn't attend the funeral; not because he was busy, as he made his family aware of, but because he was broke. This make the character of Lefe synonymous with most Africans abroad. Finally, he had to come home following the death of his only brother. He came home to meet a lot of changes and challenges and having acquired some European culture had to face his tradition head on. There is a hint of loneliness and isolation all through the novel.

The author Morabo Morojele, being a jazz musician, carried that musicality into the novel. The story is deep and hardly names places like 'the man' in Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born. For instance, there is the strange and almost mythical country only referred to as 'the country neighbouring ours' and there is also the 'Empire' where the story was sited. The story is laden with political undertones and colonisation be it in 'the country neighbouring ours', whose natives always come to the empire to seek refuge from unknown pursuers and events, or the Empire itself. The Empire, which is probably Lesotho, the author's home country, is portrayed as if it had neither a leader nor a ruling government. Progress in the empire is confined within the civil service boundary and no farther than that. Twice, named so after his stuttering way of speaking, is an enigmatic character whose actual name was never disclosed even after it was enquired by his two close pals: 'Lefe and Abuti Jefti. His participation in an unknown war, his near-death encounter in the war, his optimism after the war and his disappearance and appearance are all as enigmatic as the man himself. There are a lot of things that remained unsaid in the story. The story also touches on other social problems that were again not named: HIV/AIDS and unemployment.

The story is unique in narration, phrase and diction. The narration is poetic. The phrases have been turned upside down and there is a sparse use of articles and conjunctions. In 'How we Buried Puso' nouns easily become verbs and verbs can easily turn into nouns. It is these qualities that make the book a difficult read. It does not flow as smooth as any other book. Perhaps, it is because it is not just any other book. It is a book by Morabo Morojele, and that might be his nascent style. With time you get use to the phrases and are no longer surprised by his phrasal acrobatics. Apart from the musical quality of this novel, the author relied a lot on flashbacks. In fact, since the story is narrated in the first person, and events spanned for only about three days, the notable way for the development of characters and plot is the use of flashbacks. However, sometimes you get a bit confused as to where a past event ends and where the present begins. The story ends after the burial of Puso, Molefe's elder brother.

However, I believe the book could have benefitted to some extent from proof-reading. There were certain points where homophones are interchanged. For example 'new' for 'knew'. Yet, it does not take anything away from the book and if you are interested in African Writers and writings which challenges present day writings, or even if you are a fan of the saying 'I have no respect for people who write English in one way' then get a copy of this book. If you want the normal flowing type of writing with an omniscient narrator, this is not a book for you. Yet, your writing skills would benefit from this book.

ImageNations' Rating: 3.0 out of 6.0

Friday, July 17, 2009

'Dynsaty-sation' of Africa's Democracies and Autocracies

When Laurent Kabila-led forces were marching all the way to Zaire (DR Congo) I was in the Secondary School and we used to joke with it. We would draw the approaching military and write beneath it '10 km away from Kinshasa' and we would laugh at Mobutu Sesseseko. A friend by name Prince or Little use to do these drawings and we were happy that that man who was 'famed' to be richer than his country is finally going to be thrown out. Our happiness was affirmed by the confirmation of the resulting overthrow. Mobutu died shortly whilst in exile in Morocco.

So Laurent Kabila became the president of Zaire renamed it Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and all were jubilant at least peace shall return. But it never did. Kabila was also assassinated and his son Joseph Kabila took over. A dynasty was then formed. Should the son succeed the father? I have no objection so far as the son has the necessary qualifications to become a president. Where my problem lies is when the fathers have proved time and again that they are not to be trusted and that they wield in their minds the tenets and doings of a dictator.

When Gnassingbe Enyadema died, a constitutional coup took place and his son Faure became the president. There was a lot of hullabaloo about the whole situation because the military prevented the speaker, who is to become the president, from entering the country, parliament gathered, made Faure the speaker and subsequently the president. The AU bared their infant teeth and spoke against it. An election was organised and Faure became the president; from father to son.

Any keen follower of African politics would realise that there is the gradual change over of presidency from fathers to sons. Another infuriating pattern is the constitutionalisation of autocracy. The latter has been happening not only in Africa, but also in the South Americans. It was this that led to the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya of Honduras. Constitutionalisation of Autocracy is when the sitting president, knowing that his tenure in office is about ending and the constitution does not allow him to be stand as a candidate, would quickly organise a referendum to change the constitution, allowing him to stay in power for an indefinite number of years. It is happening in Niger and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda had also taken that course. An interview with Shaka Ssali (a Ugandan and the host of the VOA show, Straight Talk Africa) stated that when Museveni assumed office he said that 'there is something wrong with any president who stays in power for more than 10 years'. The last time I checked this man was in the top ten longest-serving African presidents, having been in power since 29th January 1986. Funny enough he came through a coup that much of the world supported. He was involved in the overthrow of the worst dictator of all time Idi Amin and later Milton Obote. But he has himself become a lover of power and perhaps soon would become a monster, if only he has not become one already.

This morning I read in the Daily Graphic (the most selling Ghanaian newspaper) that Ali Ben Bongo, the late President Omar Bongo's son, has been chosen by the ruling party to stand in the presidential election expected to be held late in August. These are the cunning ways of the present crop of African leaders, using the constitution to ensure autocratic and dynastic rule. Couldn't the party find any other person? Couldn't they have exercised a bit of morality? There is always a collision between constitutionality and morality. Constitutionally he may have all the required qualifications to become the president of Gabon but is it moral to succeed his father, especially when Omar Bongo's rule was rife with alleged thievery? I would support him if only and only if his father did good and he has it within him to do good. But does he?

The gradual dynasty-sation of Africa's democracies and autocracies is a worrying sign which lovers of Africa, those of us who live in Africa and want to see it develop, and not those who only make flamboyant speeches in their brief passage, those of us who feel a special pain in our hearts when we see the suffering populace and not those who make money out of the sufferers, those vampires who suck blood of the sufferers, we who understand the problem because we live in the problem must be concern. We must be concern because the stuffing of our loot into their paunch and their boot should end. It is time for selfless Africans to rule Africa. Until we all agree to go back to the Kingship and Kingdom or decide to reformulate our own type of democracy, democracies should not be turned into dynasties.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

4. African Agenda—A Reader's Review

Title: African Agenda
Author: Camynta Baezie
Genre: Novel
Pages: 503
ISBN: 9781419618987
Year: 2008
Publishers: Book Surge
Country: Ghana


Camynta Baezie was born in Ghana and has travelled all over the world. After being awarded the Ridley Fellowship in Transport in 1996 to pursue his Ph.D. research work, he obtained a Ph.D. in transport engineering from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He has presented and published papers for international conferences in Antwerp, Cape Town, Dublin and Bournemouth. The author currently lives in the Kingdom of Bahrain.


Are you an Africanist? Do you believe in the unity of Africa? Dr. Camynta Baezie’s first novel, ‘African Agenda’ is as ambitious in scope and content as the man himself. As a crossover between Tom Clancy, David Baldacci, Robert Ludlum and Craig Thomas, Camynta’s first novel would rock you and shock you at the same time. The novel will cause the doubting Thomases to revise their notes, whilst at the same time challenging the seekers of Africa’s unity to pursue it through an innovative and novel path and to not waver in their belief that it shall be achieved. It caused me to think that there should be new ways of pursuing this dream, besides it shouldn’t take every soul on the continent to agree to such an ideology before the revolution begins. At least, the unwavering willingness of a few reasonable men backed by conviction and a call to action could and would stir the revolutionary spirits of the youth whose zeal and will is to live in a continent free of wars, diseases, negative perception and hunger; whose zeal and will is to have a united Africa, an Africa with a common destiny, an Africa with a common aspiration and hope, an Africa that can stand on its feet and speak for itself, an African whose voice can be heard over the tropical storms and shake the world, an African whose presence at world gatherings would not be to add to the numbers or to hover around the periphery of the World Council, but an Africa that would be at the heart of world events, solving conflicts, donating monies for charitable courses, deciding our common interest, an Africa that is part of the world. If you ever doubt that this is possible and achievable, if you ever think or thought that this idea is not tenable and that Africa has been doomed to a life of perpetual poverty as constant and always visible as the Tropical morning sun, a life of doom and gloom without a sliver of light, then this book is not for you and definitely you do not belong to the new Africa. This is a dream so ambitious and so overpowering that its subtle and imperceptible call to action will either overpower you and make you part of the few whose belief would remain unshaken and who would come to believe that they are the new hope of Africa or it would virtually break you apart and force you to give up with the belief that if this is what it would take for Africa to unite, then definitely, without a doubt, there is no hope and that this unity we all dream would remain just that—a dream—hibernating within the conscience of a few men who have pampered their nerves with alcohol and buoyed their minds with hemp. Let’s gird up our loins and harness our youthful exuberance to agitate for a brighter future for Mother Africa. We need it and we deserve. But to those who think it is not possible, think again. For whoever thought that South Africa would today be free, that both Whites and Blacks would unite and share a common destiny. For whoever thought that in just over three decades after the defeat of segregation in the United States of America, a Black person, not even of African-American origins, but of purely Kenyan father who used to herd goats in his village of Alego-Kogelo and a grandfather who used to be a ‘boy’ to the White Superiority during the Darker Days of Kenya’s colonisation would become the first Black President of that Great Nation. Think again that even with America’s numerous affirmative actions, there has been on only two occasions that a woman has campaigned as a vice-presidential candidate on the ticket of any political party, yet we have made progress in Africa to have the first woman president in Liberia. Ghana has had the first woman speaker of parliament and, from the look of things, has come to appreciate the role of women in the society, implying that soon there can be a female head-of-state. Africa has come of age, viva Africa. This call to action by Dr Baezie is one that is directed to each and every soul in Africa.

The Review

African Agenda opens with three students—from different parts of the country—who had been offered admission to pursue higher education at the University of Science and Technology. There were the independent Kutini who was coming from the Upper West Region and Mike Zinbalan whose military father was bringing him to the school from Accra. On their way they, Mike met Kofi Mensah and the three by twist of fate became roommates. Their closeness earned them the sobriquet the three musketeers. Kutini’s natural leadership borne out of his independence and struggle through life showed itself when he quelled what would have otherwise turned out to be a nasty hostage situation into one of reason and call to action. His fame quickly spread like wild harmattan fire in his native land of Takpo.

It was during their first semester vacation that Mike’s family (father and mother) was brutally murdered by Amankwa Amofa during one of the military takeovers in the country. Amofa being a rogue and having committed numerous atrocious crimes, mainly murders, during other military juntas was being secretly investigated by Colonel Zinbalan. However, Amofa saw his files in a folder marked ‘X-files’ and realised that he did nothing about the situation soon enough the law would catch up with him. Hence, he eagerly accepted Binda’s coup proposal so that he would use the ensuing melee, lawlessness and chaos to exact his pound of flesh on the Colonel’s family. The coup proved successful and he exacted his revenge on not only the Colonel but on the entire household leaving only Mike, who was only saved by a twist of fate and a mother’s motherly love, which is instinctive in nature.

Mike came back to school with a condition: his dreams are haunted by the murder of his family and through that he became insomniac. However, he took advantage of the situation and embarked on an academic long journey. As fate would have it, he won a scholarship after school to the United States to read a master’s programme whilst his friend Kutini went to United Kingdom to pursue a master’s and a Ph.D. in computer science. Unsatisfied with his Chemistry background and the boring nature of his work, Kutini advised Mike to branch in computer programming and there Mike found his calling. He lived a lonely life and made his name by winning numerous awards, patents and recognitions for his pioneering role in that sector. 

Kutini’s vision of seeing a united Africa, which was one of the major arguments he carried out whilst at UST, took shape after the plane carrying him and some delegates from different countries was shot down by rebels in the forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kutini had been invited by the Foreign Minister and one of the Three Musketeers, Kofi Mensah as Ghana’s representative to the delegation. There again his leadership skills brought peace to the DRC even after they had been captured by rebels. Kutini was never the same after meeting Yaro Tunde the Nigerian representative of the group. 

Kutini, Frank (a friend of Kutini), Mike and Yaro, set out to unite Africa with each playing an unknown part in the wider scheme of things. Mike’s involvement was enormous and revolutionary, developing the computer programme that took control over an American Plane and later their nuclear missiles, even when he wasn’t around. Frank, an astute hacker, also wrote the programme that helped in the payments of Africa’s debt through some dubious ways. Yaro, the no nonsense man, and Kutini sought out to unite Africa after they took control of America’s nuclear arsenals, working from a village in the Upper West Region about two kilometres from Takpo (Kutini’s hometown). Kutini was later arrested at his Farm by a joint action-force between the elite Skyhawks of Ghana’s BNI unit and America’s FBI. But his negotiation skills, backed by the intelligence of Mike and Frank and his own boldness, brought America to its knees agreeing to the total denuclearisation of their military and to pursue world peace using the strategy of peaceful co-existence and the respect for countries irrespective of where they are located.

This story would bring a lot of ahs! And you would be surprised with the research and intelligence that went into its writing. The story provokes the axiom of Africa as a dark continent and challenges Africans to act. The narration is fast-paced and cross country. From Ghana to Congo to London to Washington, the author exhibits trait of a well-read and well-researched individual. This story is pioneering and different from all other books by Africans or Ghanaians. It looks as if the writer is making a bold statement in which he is telling us that... “this has never been done before, my type of writing challenges the Ludlum’s the same way Africa must challenge the West.” From the brewing of Pito (a local beer indigenous to the people of Northern Ghana) at Takpo to the programming of phones using the Global Positioning System (GPS) to control planes and nuclear arsenals, the author showed that he is well read and well researched. There were the occasional humour such as the fight between the wife and the girlfriend of a dead policeman.
“Oh, my dear Yankey, what have you done to me?” Theresa Amole was crying, “My dear Yankey, who will look after me?”
“Do you know Yankey?” a woman’s voice asked from behind her. Without thinking, and still very emotional, she replied, “Oh Yankey, my boyfriend, who will take care...” trying to hold on to the person asking in a sympathetic embrace. The slap that brought her to reality was enough to tell her it came from no ordinary hand.
Corporal Okumi was the wife of Yankey and they had lived in the police barracks together. She had always suspected her husband had a mistress but she had had no evidence. (Page 230)

The story also had tinges of real events that happened in Ghana and elsewhere. For instance there is the coup and the military takeover, which later turned into a civilian government, there is the National Reconciliation Committee (NRC), the International Financial Consortium (IFC) saga, the poor road networks in the country, the control of minerals in the DRC by international consortiums and corporations and many others. What makes this book interesting is the seamless interplay of facts and fiction. The dates alone would tell you that this is a work of fiction but as one reads through it one realises that there are events that are as real as the sun. To the uninitiated mind everything would sound fictitious; otherwise one is bound to see the parallelism between the book and Africa’s past, present and future. 

The power of the story lies in its character development. It would be seen, as one reads, that each character is fully formed. The reader can relate to each character’s past, present and future. It becomes easy to understand why an individual is behaving the way he or she is, if one understands his or her background and this the author did with perfection. The detailed description of events and equipment—including those foreign to this land—is redolent of a master storyteller in the league of Ludlum, Clancy, Baldacci and the rest and to think that this is his first novel speaks volumes for itself.

In the end Kutini and Yaro saw to the unification of the African continent and the repatriation of African Americans, African British and all other Africans in the diaspora to Africa, the majority of these coming by their free will, thus fulfilling Marcus Garvey’s prophecy of moving to the motherland and Bob Marley’s song ‘Exodus’. However, Kutini achieved this by letting go some important things in his life. He lost his friend, albeit through suicide, his one-year old son was murdered and his wife left him. Yet, Kutini did not sway from his vision. He kept his eyes steadily on his vision, without a shiver or a blink and if anything at all, it emboldened him, making him want to succeed and break the chains that has gripped and crippled Africa. It tells us that if we don’t let go of what we have we cannot take up what we don’t have. The sheer audacity with which the story was written gives me hope that at least there are people out there who haven’t given up on the vision of Ghana’s first president Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah. 

A copy of this book could be obtained at the Silverbird Bookshop located within the Accra Mall for about 12 Ghana Cedis (as at the time of writing).

ImageNations' Rating: 4.5 out of 6.0

PS: Please suggest some titles of African authors you would want me to review on this blog.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Facing Our Demons

It is a fact that every country has its own problems. Be it humanitarian, unemployment, job losses, accidents, rush-hour, murders, developing countries are not alone and so definitely Ghana is not alone. However, what make ours a topic to discuss are the causes of the problems. I definitely am not going to assume the role of an omniscient investigator, neither am I going to pretend to wield within my hand or have in my mind or heart the answers to our numerous problems. However, it is my believe that if we should all dig deep into ourselves as human beings, search every interstice, every nook and cranny (forget the cliché), every orifice, every artery, every nerve and neuron, we will find the causes of our problems with its solution locked somewhere. After all, is not said that identifying of the problem is the first step towards solving it?

Though as a country we are faced with numerous and diverse problems, the root causes are common. Hence, identifying one cause could help in rectifying or solving most of our problems. There is no magic formula or panacea to these problems, what is required is for us to have the mental fortitude, the will and the zeal to solve these problems.

Egotism (or the 'I' Syndrome)
Egotism is defined as:
  • inflated sense of self-importance: the possession of an exaggerated sense of self-importance and superiority to other people
  • preoccupation with self: the tendency to speak or write too much about yourself
  • selfishness: selfishness or self-centeredness
From these definitions it is not difficult to see why this seven-letter word is the major cause of our problems. However, there are other positive sides to this as Adam Smith (the acclaimed father of Economics) put it. According to this great personality, it is only when individuals pursue their self-interest that the market gets cleared through the efficient allocation of resources. But this same self-interest when carried beyond the boundaries of reason into folly metamorphosed into something so strange and dangerous as selfishness.

Let us tackle this by presenting a scene that met my sight yesterday (6th July). On my home along the Tetteh Quarshie road leading from Legon to Spanner, I witnessed something that forced me to re-examine our psyche: are we sane or are we becoming psychotic zombies, moved by a hidden hand that knows no patience and sympathy? It was just before Shangrila that I saw these two cars, an Audi and a BMW 3 series (the very old model, the early 80s type), speeding as if they were chasing a Formula 1 title in an Australian Grand Prix. The Audi suddenly switched lanes without any warning, swerving into a tiny space in front of a speeding long-truck and from nowhere the BMW followed suit, in the same style. The truck did all it could to slow down and whilst doing so honked its horn to alert the others and to force those idiots not slow down, because if they did they would have been mangled. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) nothing happened. I am sure you have been a witness to such a similar scene before. If not then you do not live in Ghana.

What is the 'I' syndrome here?
As a people we only think of ourselves. It is 'us' and on one else. I am in a hurry; I am late; I must be there at this time; I have to eat; I must listen to this call... Do we really care about others as we have been touted to be? Are we really 'hospitable'? I ask this simple question because it is the self-centredness of these drivers, their feeling that they have the right-of-way, which definitely wasn't the case, that nearly spelt their demise. Wasn't the truck driver also entitled to the use of the lane? Couldn't they have signalled to the others their intention to join the lane? The degree to which lives would be saved if we have a little patience and respect for the other person is so profound. Let's not in our search of fulfillment leave out the other person.

Crossing the Road
Have you tried crossing the road when the traffic lights are off? I have most of the time been the pedestrian and I know this very well. Woe betides you if you should find yourself crossing a road whose traffic lights are off, even from a zebra crossing. It is almost impossible to get a driver to stop for you to cross. I always watch this with fascination. If you are lucky and one driver stops, you are bound to see many others speeding past him hooting their horns and putting the lives of pedestrians in grave danger. Do they really care? Have they sat down to think that their friends, relatives, loved ones, colleagues, acquaintances, could be among the lot crossing the road? So far as it is not them, it is safe.

There was a story of a nurse whose negligence led to the death of her own husband. It was during one of those rampant strikes by health-workers that her outfit received an emergency case. Instead of thinking of the patient, she was thinking of the money the government wasn't giving them. So she delayed in her attendance and subsequent treatment and lo and behold it was her husband, whose life she has horrendously taken. Did she think of him? No! But she had promised the whole world that she would do that, didn't she?

Traffic Jam
We all do complain of traffic jams, bumper to bumper, congestion, yet we are the cause. Like crabs in a bowl with a small opening we all want to use that very lane at the same time because we are in a hurry. Whereas if we form a queue and allow the cars to move one after the other we definitely would get to our destination early and easy. But will I do it? Why should I allow him to go, when I am late for work? And with similar thoughts running through each person's mind we choke that tiny junction, which in the first place is not an approved route, leading to a traffic jam at the distal end of the road and then come back to complain of traffic. That's the power of 'I'.

Even if you decide to use the approved route and lane, you would see many others using the shoulders of the road in an attempt to overtake you. This leads to traffic and then again everybody begin to complain.

Shoddy Works
When contracts are awarded, most contractors scarcely think of how well they are going to execute the project. All their thinking rush to how best they can cut cost and increase the profit margin, which had already been factored into the project cost. Consequently, shoddy works are produced; roads that cannot stand a two-hour rainfall, buildings that cannot stand stress. Thank God that we aren't as earthquake prone as say China or even tornado and hurricane friendly as the Americas and the Caribbeans. We again spend more money to renovate them or build a new ones.

Even before contracts are awarded many 'I' have taken their commissions, knowing very well that it would lead to shoddy works being produced. The commission takers and kickback recipients don't envisage that their actions could and perhaps would, in the course of time, lead to the demise of their family members, loved ones or someone close to them. This may sound farfetched but if pot-holed roads lead to road accidents and road accidents is quickly becoming the number cause of death in the country, and the cause of these bad roads is the result of 'corner-cutting' by contractors who in turn blame it on the amount of kickbacks they have to pay to win the contract then who really kill these people. It definitely isn't the bad road! It is the very people who 'cut' the corners: the contractors and the kickback recipients. So next time you are cutting corners, think earnestly of the consequences of your actions.

Street Shopping
Do those who have made the streets and pavements their shops, ever think of you my dear pedestrian or driver? All their concerns lie at the bottom of their pockets: how much are they going to earn? How much customers are they going to attract? They only think of where trading would be profitable for them and not how easy it would be for others to use the pavements and streets. Yet what do we see? Instead of moving into the main marketing centres to purchase our produce, we think only of how we can reduce time and energy and not the traffic we are causing ourselves and others and so purchase from them--The Tragedy of the Commons. In this way we encourage them to stay, don't we?

Similarly, we patronise the wares of street vendors and hawkers along major highways in the country and sometimes other drivers have to hoot to alert the 'trading' driver that the traffic is flowing. Yet we are the same people who would come complaining of the effects of streetism on the society and its corresponding armed robbery. Have you heard of armed robbery in traffic, people pretending to be selling something to you and robbing you?

Sometimes I wonder had Bill Gates been a Ghanaian, would he have donated such huge sums of money to all the projects being carried out in Africa and Asia? In Ghana alone there are numerous NGOs implementing one Gate project or the other. At least I know of five institutions implementing a Gate project on cocoa and others on postharvest losses. Yet, the Ghanaian would concentrate only on stuffing his belly first, then his family next and then wait till he dies. Let's consider Mobutu Sesesseko, who was reputed to have been richer than his country, or even Sani Abacha...These billions of dollars they steal could they ever use everything in their entire lifetime? Sometimes I wonder what kind of humans we are. It is the same in Ghana, my beloved reader. Politicians and individuals grabbing the nation's properties left right and centre. Did you ever hear of Kutu Acheampong's nickname 'fa woto begye Golf' (come and exchange your booty with a Golf car)? I don't want to infuriate people hence I would not name names now (in both the NDC and the NPP) but we have not forgotten the pampers and the Ghana @ 50 projects.

The Rains and our Buildings
The Meteo people have announced more rains and I am glad. At least there would be food for the masses. Yet there are a lot of people who are dreading this forecast, which should have been a blessing. To them it portends doom, a premonition of an impending destruction. How could it be? Except that people have decided to make waterways their property on which to develop their dream homes. It belongs to them. They neither care about what their actions would cause the majority of people at the other end of the city.

Food for Profit
I once watched a TV3 news item, which showed how common foods have become recipes for death. Palm-oils are no longer what they must be, they are now mixed with colours and other mixtures; honey are mixed with melted foam; roasted yams are more yellow than the oil in which they are fried. All these for the sake of making more profits for ourselves, "the self". Thus, we care not if we kill for our self-interest. People have collected disposed pig feet from the dump and sold it before. A lot of products on the market are fake because the sellers want to earn supernormal profit. Petrol stations adulterate the purity of their products.

This is us. These are the demons we must face if we intend to progress as a nation; if we are to see the light of development.

Next time when thinking about any problem in Ghana, try thinking about it in this direction and you would realise how much our selfishness is causing the nation. To surmise, let me quote what Culture (the Reggae musician) once said: "You better share your riches with the poor, before they share their poverty with you".

Monday, July 06, 2009

3. Not Without Flowers--A Partial Review

Title: Not Without Flowers
Author: Amma Darko
Genre: Novel
Publishers: Sub-Saharan Publishers
Pages: 372
ISBN: 978-9988647131
Year: 2007
Country: Ghana

As I stated in one of my postings, I am dedicating my readings to African Writers and as such I have set a target of reading at least two of them every month--not a difficult target if you should ask me, especially knowing that it takes at most three days to complete a 500-page novel; but with work and other activities looming and beckoning I think this is fair target. Besides, it looks as if I have set out to review all the books I read (unintentionally though), which in my opinion is not a bad idea. We (Africans & Ghanaians) must promote our writers and make sure that we help them achieve their dreams. Readers make writers. Where would Sidney Sheldon be if he had no readers or even J.K. Rowling or J.R.R. Tolkien or even Tolstoy? I believe that what the musicians couldn't do the writers could do, judging from the fact that it is easier to dub a song than to photocopy a novel.

I titled this a partial review not because I exhibit partiality in my judgement, no! I would not review a book if it is bad--like our elders say: "If you don't have anything good to say about a dead person, better say nothing". However, I used the word partial in the sense that I would be shelving a lot of the story so that I don't murder the suspense and spoil the read.

July's Reading
My selected readings for the month of July are: 'Not Without Flowers' by Amma Darko and 'African Agenda' by Camynta Baezie since I have just started the latter I hope it would also submit itself to a review later in the course month.

Just as a person's name is a good guess to identifying the country and tribe he hails from so has the pitching of African Tradition against Western Culture and the exposé of certain social issues has become an idiosyncratic trait and a synonym of Amma Darko. 

Polygamy vs Monogamy
All through the story and in our lives as people, we are confronted with the choice between one Western Culture and its corresponding Traditional African Culture or the other. We are then forced to mentally make notes and debate each issue with pure passion with the ultimate aim of making a choice. Yet, we are unable to make such decisions because of the compelling and convincing merits and demerits of each social issue presented; hence, at the subliminal level, we are left at the crossroads of choice, wondering which direction to take. We come a hybrid of cultures neither her nor there, without a recognisable identity.

In Not without Flowers one social issue that comes out clearly with compelling arguments for and against for both sides is the issue of polygamy and monogamy. The polygamous marriage of Ntifor and his wives (Penyin and Kakraba) solves an important social problem: childlessness. Since one of the cardinal rules in polygamy is that children of such a union belong to all the wives, the inability of one wife to conceive is concealed and she rejoices in the children of her co-wives. This was made known to Mena Penyin by Kakraba anytime the latter tries raising the issue:
“... A little jealousy, yes. Even till today. I am human, Kakraba. You are the mother of all his children. And if...”
“Our children, Penyin. The children I bore with him belong to us all. Our children, Penyin.” (page 160)
It is also observed that the polygamous family of Ntifor was a closely knit one with support coming from both sides and the unity existing amongst them is unique. The children also treat both mothers equally and this goes a long way to make each of the mothers happy. They accept that both women are their mothers and hence do not discriminate.

However, the polygamous marriage of Pesewa and his five wives cannot be said to be without problems. Pesewa, the wealthy man, contracted HIV, though he was known to be faithful to all 5 wives and was famous for refusing sex until marriage. Yet, the unfaithfulness of one of his wives costs him and four of his wives their lives. This unfaithfulness arose because the time spent on each wife reduces as he adds on to them. The 5th Wife’s raison d’être for accepting to be part of a polygamous marriage is compelling and convincing. As a woman who knows she cannot give birth, as a result of a past mistake, marrying into a polygamous family, where child-bearing isn’t the motive, is the best that could ever happen to her. Why should she enter a monogamous marriage with all the expectations of children, when you know the truth about yourself? Besides, there are the added advantages of emotional and financial security. 

Similarly, even though Idan and Aggie were practiced monogamous marriage, they both were infected with this deadly disease. Idan, being the typical ‘man’, engaged in an extra-marital affair with a girl who was also in a relationship with a man who had multiple 'sugar' mummies. The love circles show how the HIV virus travels and how fast it could affect an entire population.

In the end, we see that mere polygamy or monogamy is not the key to happiness in marriage; happiness in marriage is the duty of the players in that marriage.

Emotional Seesaw
In Not without Flowers the reader is taken through a roller-coaster of emotions. In one breath you will get angry, cry, smile, and laugh. It will get to a point you will feel like throwing the book away because you can't stand the stupidity of certain people—but don’t we at times behave just that, especially when caught in the clutches of love? The story will make you smile and accept the fact that even in the world of pains and chains there is humour.
“Nonsense!” roasted face blurted angrily, “Ah! This woman inside, what is wrong with her? Isn’t she suppose to be educated?”
“What has that to do with her analysis?” torpedo haircut snapped.
“What?” roasted face frowned suspiciously. The word analysis sounded like an insult.
“A-n-a-l-y-s-i-s! That is what she is doing!” torpedo haircut repeated.
“You too analysis...analisa...analisum...anali everything! Nonsense! Why? Do you want to insult me?” (Page 93)
The names alone would make you burst your ribs: there is a hairdresser called Fingers and a dog called Let-them-say and Sylv Po whose Auntie always calls him Siiv and Prophet Abednego. Fingers’ commentary on national and international issues would make you crack your ribs with laughter. She is your typical Ghanaian who knows every issue including what happened to a president, who was presumed dead, in the netherworld. 

Shifting of Allegiances
Not without Flowers is suspenseful and would make you shift allegiances. It will make you revise your predictions and admirations until the last sentence of the last page. The story will hook you to one character, allow you to develop all the love and sympathy you can for him or her then pull you, sublimely, from that character and make you stand back and sigh and say, 'ahaaaaa! that's why, it serves you right', forgetting that you were once a staunch admirer.

Aggie is interesting, respectful, loving and yet Idan cheats on her. Randa is an enigmatic figure who hardly laughs, so what was behind her laughter at Maa Cherie’s salon? What about the strange woman in Afro wig and huge she a loose girl or is she psychotic? Why does Ma hates flowers? These are the people who will cause your allegiance to shift like the desert sand.

Vengeance is one theme that comes through in this novel; yet, we are reminded to the fact that it ends nowhere...a course we mustn't take.

Multiple Stories
One fascinating thing I found about Not without Flowers is its multiple storyline. There are more story lines in this novel than you can imagine. Sylv Po, his Auntie and 'let-them-say'; Pesewa and his five wives; the Ntifors (comprising Ntifor, Mena Penyin and Mena Kakraba); Aggie and Idan and their childlessness; the four women at MUTE and the numerous ghosts whose names are never really revealed. From the beginning, all these stories run parallel but somehow, though imperceptibly, they converge whilst at the same time move differently serving as frayed seams for another story to begin.

Pitching our tradition against western culture would definitely raise issues of surrealism. Amma Darko, though not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, enters the mind and magnifies its clicks and ticks with words. Can dreams have influence on the lives we live?

Idan’s grandmother warns Idan and Aggie of dark clouds that have gathered over their impending marriage. There are rituals that she can perform to prevent the manifestation this doom; but she is branded as a witch and barred from attending the marriage festivities. Elsewhere she would have been described as a Seer. On the day of the wedding it rained heavily and an unknown child was electrocuted to death. Does it matter if it rains on your wedding day or even if someone dies, especially when the person is unknown to you? 

Then there is the black cat that followed the ‘lady in wig’ but looks at Aggie with evil intentions. Perhaps, here, Amma Darko extended her surrealism a bit far. Yet, it did not take away from the story. If anything at all, it heightens the suspense and keeps us wondering what role the black cat will be playing in the thick of events. Finally, we would want to know why Pesewa is not having extra-marital affair, even though he can afford it and he has clearly shown that he is not your one-woman husband?

Amma Darko’s writing skills, semantics and ability to weave well-researched traditional issues into her story makes it an educative read and more Ghanaian; yet, when viewed from a broader perspective the story is global in nature. Hers is a story of life; a story that touches the soul; a story that brings us against ourselves and impinges on our psyche and the priorities of the broader society we live in. Not without Flowers is your story.

In conclusion, I will urge you all to get yourself a copy of Not without Flowers and make sure it doesn't remain unread. It would change your life or open your mind or both. Happy Reading and let me know what you think about this book.

ImageNations' Rating: 4.0 out of 6.0

Friday, July 03, 2009

Not Without Flowers

This is the latest book I am reading; my second Amma's book and it has not so far disappointed me. I love the passion with which Amma Darko writes her story, the portrayal of a decaying society caught up in the midst of superstition and archaic tradition. She is the new voice in Ghanaian writing and I hope you get the time to read her. I would do a comprehensive review of this novel when I am through but like her last but one novel Faceless, Not Without Flowers tackle Ghana's social issues like no other. She portrays the negative side of the dual community, one that is most often hidden and untalked of; one that would hit every thinking person with a force so huge that it would not leave the reader the same; one that would awaken the irresponsible behaviour and the indifferent attitude of people. Amma is one person I have grown to like within a spate of two or three weeks. She would make you cry, laugh and annoyed in just one paragraph. Hers is a story of life; a story that inspires and motivates and makes us human. I would entreat each and every person who love reading to read any of her books.

You have landed Amma and don't give up...Ayekoo

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Ode to a Broken Statue--Dedicated to Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah

In the land of Nkroful, a Nazareth
In faraway Nzema, you, Nana Amaga, were born.
As a lonely limping quintessential lamb
You fought fiercely not for your few needs
But against their deadly deeds
And incredulous creeds, carefully and
Shrewdly shrouded in shallow showmanship
Of great guiles and glamour guns

The grand gods of Shaka the zealous Zulu and Zeus
Saw sprouting spirit of spotless selflessness
And imbued in your budding bones
Our relentless requests for liberation

They dipped you into a cauldron of ichor
And unlike Achilles, it covered every shadow you shed
Rushing through every vessel
They tied your plasmatic placental pipe to theirs
And their poetic tongues with yours
Making you their earthly linguist

You washed your hands in the pot of rainwater
Wedged between the folds of the Nyamedua
And so dined with them their ambrosial food

From there your manhood was affirmed…
Confirmed by the
Ageless sage who supervised your
Rite of Passage…

Hence you took the forms of both the Magi and Moses
Seeing Canaan in Egypt before he was set sail
And the Messiah before the epiphany

Having tasted the giant fruits of divine wisdom
You vowed never to lose it
Nor be confused by a few men with mind obtuse
Whose blue bleary eyes were blinded by abuse
And misuse

From Kumbi Saleh
to Kangaba…Timbuktu
Cape Coast…Accra
You lived through the spirits of time
And harvested its wisdom within its interior plane
You were the reincarnation of Ra Nahesi
…Mansa Musa
…Sundiata…in one entity

Your brain was carved as complicated
And inconceivably complex as the spider’s web
With supreme intellect to the point of folly
You embraced bodily…boldly…both
Ancestral missions and astral visions lodged
Within the blackholes of Einstein’s space-time theory

Being the gods’ sacred soothsayer
You looked through the divine orb
And spoke of weaving our blood baskets
Intricately into the heart of the land
At the time of our birth on that Wednesday evening
But they only saw it fit to spit in your wit
Scared of losing their loins and groins to the lion’s longings

After our timeless wanderings in the wilderness
…after they’ve with poisoned spears pierced your humble heart
And fed your copious consciousness
Consistently to a series of kaleidoscopic conflagrations
Purposely established after your departure
Manufactured by those cheap cheating chaps,
We, stuck sons in sand-stars
Have surrounded and salaamed
In reverence before your bones
With a soul as hot as a bole of coal
Dutifully waiting for the prophecy
Seeking counselling in the sands of time
With ailing whispers of failure
As life flew through our clenched fingers
Into a god have we turned you

Into knowledge have we transformed you
And posthumously have we honoured your name
Blasphemously branded on all lips
Even bold ones…
Burning offenders of the season
As heretics of treason

Should we always see goodness after death?

Should decayed coffins bear the staff of sainthood?

When you sought mental emancipation
Through the burning of blood and bone
And the expositions of
Marcus Garvey,
Du Bois,
Malcolm X,
Martin Luther King,
George Padmore,
They only saw insanity in your queer quest
And together with unknown souls
Sold your soul to an unknown night owl

When like God in Newtonian vision
You let the light be
They saw only darkness
Their needs were of silk, milk and manna
Their weeds—
Che Guevara and his honour to Havana
Their Gye Nyame spirit
Was lost in the potholes of their minds
And from the Katanga valleys of Kinshasa
To the Soweto mines of Jo’burg
They killed our prophets
And traded their ivories to tool makers
Of faraway lands…

This piece was written in 2006 but I post it here to celebrate the Republic Day.
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