It must have been either the 4th or 11th of October, 1986, it was a Saturday. I intuitively feel that it was 11th (I just checked the dates in October 1986). A bright dry day. My big brother Ntiako and I set off from Kotobabi in Accra for Cape Coast, Ghana. A long journey. The last time I had travelled that far from Accra was to my hometown, but we used the sleeper (overnight) train and went straight to Tarkwa, from where we continued the journey to Wasa Akropong.
I recollect the climb of the vehicle up this steep road up a hill, the driver having to turn to the left and to the right, to avoid the potholes; simultaneously ensuring that the journey is not in reverse, towards a gaping valley behind us.
We get off at a little ’roundabout’ , by the pantry and directly opposite what became my house of abode, Kwesi Plange. I recall my brother handing me over to the first senior we met, his name: Stagger. He automatically became my school father. Stagger, with bloodshot eyes.
After registration, I am left with Stagger who takes me thru the common room downstairs, up the stairs to the top floor. To his cubicle directly opposite the end of the stairs, in K Plange. All my stuff end up in his cubicle, and the edible ones in his alimentary canal. Story for another day.
Surrounded by seniors, from Form 2 to Sixth form. Especially the Form twos and fives. Nkansah, Ananey, Moshie Dayan, Torjah, M Bashah, Crazy Pozo, Bibish, Babash… ‘What is the alphabetical construction of your human dignity?’ Ebei, what question is this. Never met it in my Common Entrance exams, under Verbal. Never. Repeated. No idea. ‘Stupid boy, how did you pass your exams and come here?’ ‘OK, what is your name?’ Aaaa! ‘My name is Nana Awere Damoah.’
Hey, son of Rev. Father Damoah? No. Yes. No. Yes.
Carried my trunk on my head and singing:
Father Damoah ei Hey!
Father Damoah ei Hey!
Father Damoah ei
Father Damoah ei
Father Damoah ei
W’adi sika awie a (He has embezzled funds)
Odi bible akata so! (He has covered his misdeed with his bible)
Welcome to my first day at Ghana National College (Ghanacoll), Osagyefo’s own school.
Secondary school was an interesting phase of my life; I see that phase as a make-or-break stage in the life of a teenager. I saw lives being transformed, and I also observed young people slid down towards the pit of destruction. You do know education is a leveller and the boarding school concept in Ghanaian secondary schools was the greatest leveller of all. Children of the rich and poor, lowly and highly placed, different tribes – all being bullied in form one, all eating the same lousy food in the dining halls, all sleeping in the dark when the lights went off almost on cue during rainy days, beds shifted to one side of the halls to escape the waters that the wind blew through the windows with gaping holes where louvers blades used to be. We learnt about various cultures of Ghana, we gained knowledge about the attributes of people brought up in various cities of Ghana. For example, you could trust the Takoradi guy to have loads of funny stories up his sleeves, stories which usually ended with the phrase “…and he died soon after that!” Such stories were called lata, literally meaning lies, but translated as fictional stories. You also learnt that these guys fight with their heads, in a style known as butting. So, during an argument with a T’adi guy, when he gets angry and threatens to butt you, you better take him serious and make your escape; more strategically, keep a distance away from his head!
The history of Ghana National College fascinated me as well. Its establishment was linked intricately with the history of the independence struggle of Ghana. It was the first school that the first President of Ghana, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, established. This was in 1948, with the seed money coming from his pocket. Note that this was nine years before Ghana’s independence and the change of the name of the country from the Gold Coast, to Ghana. Thus, it will be fair to say that Osagyefo, in naming my school, was prophesying the name of the nation he led out of colonialism. Maybe that explains why the motto of the school and its crest are so biased towards patriotism and afrocentrism, two virtues which were drummed into our coconut heads.
The motto of the school is Pro Patria, for the sake of the fatherland. The motto taught us to think as John F. Kennedy instructed: to ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. Indeed, linked to our school emblem, we were taught not to only think country but continent.
It was our French master, Mr. Akomea, who doubled as our General Paper lecturer in Sixth form, who brought my attention to the symbolism of the school emblem and taught us a great lesson out of it. We were in Upper Six then and I can’t quite recollect the exact topic he was treating then. The Ghanacoll emblem consist of the map of Africa, with the map or outline of Ghana highlighted in gold, and the sun shining its rays from the north eastern part of the emblem (the top right); the rays spreading all over Africa, affecting the continent with its warmth, glow, influence. Mr. Akomea explained that we were being trained to be like that sun, to go out there and affect the continent with our talent, our skills, our energy, our all. We were to be the beacon of hope for our nation and continent, to bring the needed development and advancement to Africa. That lesson was etched indelibly on my mind.
My cardinal belief is that it is the natives of the land that till the land best, with the best passion and meaning. The advanced nations of this world built their countries with the sweat of their indigenes. It is even be fair to acknowledge that the economies of some of these nations were built with African resources – human, material, et cetera. This point is captured better in Kobby Parker’s submission in Gate X. Africans owe it a duty to build this continent themselves. The Bible talks about loving our neighbour as ourselves, but not more than ourselves. Our elders say that if a member of your family eats your food, he leaves some; because he thinks of the rest of the family.
Come to Africa and help! Wherever you may be in the world, there is something you can give back to the continent that gave you a name and an identify, at least. For most Africans, we got more. We got educated almost freely up to the university, we got trained with the taxpayers’ hard-earned money. Helping build the continent may not necessarily mean living on the continent; if that happens, the better, I think. But there is always something you can do to give back. Some skilled Africans in the Diaspora come home periodically to run clinics, make donations to schools, colleges, hospitals; remittances to family and friends back home help to support our budgets, etc. Don’t sever your umbilical cord. Ultimately, plan to return home to build our land.
It is only by our hands that we can build this continent to the standard that we envy and admire in the advanced countries. According to my Zimbabwean friend Panganai Chatapura, “the evidence of what we can do as Africans is there in abundance, especially if you consider the contribution we made (and continue to make) in the development of the developed world. If only we could do 10% of what we did/do [for the developed world] for our beloved land, we will surpass those lands. One of the problems we have is what Benjamin Burombo, a Zimbabwean nationalist, said: ‘Each time I want to fight for African rights, I use only one hand – because the other hand is busy trying to keep away Africans who are fighting me.’ We need to complement each other for the sake of Mother Africa.” It has been said that in a typical African country of two PhD holders, one is the President and the other is in exile! That aberration must stop. We must demonstrate that the land is big enough to accommodate more than one wise person. We need all hands, heads and hearts on deck, dedicated and focused on the renaissance of Africa and its development.
The time to build the future for our children is now, to give them a head start. Donald Morgan intimated that “we pay for the mistakes of our ancestors, and it seems only fair that they should leave us the money to pay with.” In the same vein, if our descendants will enjoy the fruit of our labour, the time to do the planting is now.
May we then be able to sing with Rudyard Kipling:
Land of our birth, we pledge to thee,
Our love and toil in the years to be;
When we are grown, and take our place,
As men and women with our race
Land of our birth, our faith, our pride,
For whose dear sake our fathers died;
O Motherland, we pledge to thee,
Head, heart and hand through the years to be
Come to Africa and help! Pro Patria!
What are you giving back to Africa, to your country, to your community? What are you willing to give up so you can return to the continent to live here and help build? You have a part to play to build. Contribute your quota.
“The Independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up to the total liberation of Africa.” – Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (6th March, 1957)
“If I can in any way contribute to the diversion or improvement of the country in which I live, I shall leave it, when I am summoned out of it, with the secret satisfaction of thinking that I have not lived in vain.” Joseph Addison
“The big ideas in this world cannot survive unless they come to life in the individual citizen. It is what each man does in responding to his convictions that provides the forward thrust for any great movement.” Norman Cousins
“Of the whole sum of human life no small part is that which consists of a man’s relations to this country, and his feelings concerning it.” William E. Gladstone
“The best way to teach our young people the meaning of our democratic freedoms is to demonstrate, by our own example, that we have mastered the three R’s of citizenship – Rights, Respect and Responsibilities.” Earl James McGrath
“The man who loves other countries as much as his own stands on a level with the man who loves other women as much as he loves his own wife.” Theodore Roosevelt
“It is sweet to serve one’s country by deeds, and it is not absurd to serve her by words.” Sallust
“It is right to prefer one’s own country to others, because we are children and citizens before we can be travellers or philosophers.” George Santayana
“Nothing will ruin the country if the people themselves will undertake its safety; and nothing can save it if they leave that safety in any hands but their own.” Daniel Webster
“The worth of a state, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it.” John Stuart Mill
“What makes a nation great is not primarily its great men, but the stature of its innumerable mediocre ones.” José Ortegay Gasset
“Patriotism is easy to understand in America. It means looking out for yourself by looking out for your country.” Calvin Coolidge
“Patriotic talk is no proof of patriotism. Anyone can wave a flag. The real patriot lives his patriotism in everything he does.” John M. Devine
“No man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his body, to risk his well-being, to risk his life, in a great case.” Theodore Roosevelt
“Patriotism: Your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.” George Bernard Shaw
“True patriotism is not manifested in short, frenzied bursts of emotion. It is the tranquil, steady dedication of a lifetime.” Adlai Stevenson
“In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.” Mark Twain
“A real patriot is the fellow who gets a parking ticket and rejoices that the system works.” Bill Vaughan
“Whoever serves his country well has no need of ancestors.” Voltaire
“To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.” Chinese proverb
“What service shall we render thee,
O Fatherland we love?
What gift of hand, or heart, or brain
May our devotion prove?” Ernest Dodgshun
“Praise we the wise and brave and strong,
Who graced their generation;
Who helped the right, and fought the wrong,
And made our folk a nation.” William George Tarrant
Nana Damoah is the author of Excursions in my Mind, published by Athena Press UK and released in October 2008. He has completed the manuscript for the second book in the series, Through the Gates of Thought, expected to be released by March 2010.
All these articles are listed at http://www.excursionsinmymind.blogspot.com and on the author’s Facebook pages.
Excursions in my Mind can be purchased online from http://www.amazon.com, http://www.amazon.co.uk, and http://www.athenapress.com, as well as Amazon sites in France, Germany, Finland, Japan and Canada. You can also purchase it from Exclusive books in South Africa and Botswana (and other outlets).
In Ghana, obtain copies in Accra from University bookshop (Legon campus) and Silverbird bookshop (Accra mall).
Contact Nana on +233244631209 or firstname.lastname@example.org for any enquiries.
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