AT THE LAUNCH OF I SPEAK OF GHANA
06 DECEMBER 2013
Yesterday, in the afternoon, I drove from Lashibi to Tema with my friend Kola Nut (Kofi Larbi) and my kids to pick up my mum who had just arrived from Wasa. It was in my sister’s home in Community 11 that I checked my mail and got the first hint of the news: Madiba Had Gone Home. It is fitting that this event be dedicated to the memory of the one person who has taught us much.
To me, the greatest lesson was about forgiveness. I reflected on this same theme, in my first book ‘Excursions in My Mind’ in the chapter entitled The Therapy Tool Called Forgiveness, and if you would indulge me, I quote:
‘A prominent public speaker and writer/dramatist in Ghana [though I elected not to mention his name in the book, today we have this person here with us – our Chairman Uncle Ebo Whyte] told a true story about two journalists in Ghana, two good friends. One of them was imprisoned under the military rule in Ghana in the eighties. Whilst in prison, this journalist learnt that it was his friend who had betrayed him to the authorities, about their attempts to sabotage the military government. Till today, the victim has never talked about this betrayal in public and indicates that he forgave his friend.
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned under the apartheid regime in South Africa, for almost 27 years, released on 11th February 1990. He was 46 years old when he started his prison term and 71 years when he was released. He had over a quarter of a century of his life taken away from him, his freedom taken from him, and tormented in many ways especially psychologically. This is the man who found in his heart to forgive, and not to rest on the past ills. What was his motivation for this?
I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. (Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom)
You see, Mandela realised that it is not only the beneficiary of forgiveness who benefits. The giver does himself a great deal of good as well. Lawana Blackwell states this fact most eloquently: “Forgiveness is almost a selfish act because of its immense benefits to the one who forgives.” ‘
In reflecting on the odd nature of the interviews I was watching this morning on BBC in respect of the absence of tributes from African leaders, my friend Nana Esi Ghansah in Dubai had a great response:
“The greatest tribute African leaders can pay to him is not through interviews on BBC or CNN but practise his ideals and deliver their people and our continent from the shackles of poverty – poverty of body, mind and spirit.”
Madiba: Apart from the act of forgiveness you displayed which really brought your nation together, for me, your greatest example was stepping down when all of us would have said you deserved to be President for life. You left when the applause was loudest and we never stopped applauding. Rest well, Tata, and give my regards to Bombay.
Hello, friends, family and loved ones. My deepest appreciation goes to each one of you for your support over the past five years of my journey as an author. So many of you who have never met me interact with me online and spur me on: this Wasaman is grateful.
Permit me to introduce my mum, who has been a great pillar for the entire family and has taught me a lot. In my books, I have shared some of those lessons. I am so proud of her. And always sad on such days that my dad Bombay isn’t with us physically. My wife Vivian: you give me room to think and write – love you!
I am particularly grateful to have Uncle Ebo with us today as he has influenced and mentored me in a very quiet way.
A group of friends who have grown to be quite influential in my life over the past two years have been a great support and I wish to specially appreciate them. DGG, are you here? A member of this group, Jerry Jabir Disu, is celebrating his birthday today: Happy birthday nyε-bro. Keep your CATholic flame burning!
The lessons from Madiba’s life and the response from Nana Esi speak eloquently about what I Speak of Ghana seeks to precipitate: my belief that we have much to do as Ghanaians and it is our collective responsibility to put our leaders on their toes and to be on our feet as well, working hard, sweating here and not elsewhere and even if we are sweating elsewhere, to ensure we give back to our country and continent so as to correct the strong sense that most times I have, that in Ghana, the past usually feels brighter than the future.
I grew up in Kotobabi with a dream to be the best I can possibly be. In Ghana National College, as I learnt about Nkrumah and his role in setting up the school, naming it ‘Ghana National College’ in 1948, nine years before Ghana was born, imbibing the lessons from the motto ‘Pro Patria’ [for the sake of the Fatherland], I was imbued with nationalistic fervour. Working with Unilever and being taught the basis and rudiments of discipline and seeing what a structured approach to corporate strategy and implementation can achieve, and spending a year out in the UK for my Masters and observing how a step forward a day moves a nation forward, I came back two weeks after school determined that if Ghana is to be, it is up to me. But apart from my toil, it is my responsibility to speak to the barber so I don’t get a bad haircut.
In I Speak of Ghana, I have captured my dreams for my nation. I have captured my fears about our slow progress, my joys of the simple pleasures in Ghana and I have washed, both humorously and forcefully, our dirty linen in public. If you consider a book a public platform. It is. I have used the tsetse fly approach: fanning well whilst sucking. Huru yε.
In the end, my wish for my nation is same as yours: that we will build it well so our children do not use the same words we use today to bemoan.
In concluding, let me quote from I Speak of Ghana:
Our generation is the game-changing generation for our country and continent. We cannot join in the chant of our predecessors; we cannot think at the same level, we cannot go at the same pace. We are the generation with the greatest exposure to what better conditions can be like – let’s replicate them here. We know what a country that takes action looks like – let’s cut the long talk. We know not just the potential but the actual position this nation can spring to – let’s get working.
In the words of John Legend, in the song ‘If you’re out there’:
If you hear this message, wherever you stand
I’m calling every woman, calling every man
We’re the generation
We can’t afford to wait
The future started yesterday and we’re already late.
I thank you all.
God bless richly,
Nana Awere Damoah
Author, I Speak of Ghana
06 December 2013
Sytris Café, Osu, Accra, Ghana