​Nsempiisms: We need new funerals

I saw a WhatsApp post on the accident in Tema where boulders from a truck fell on a BMW saloon car and killed two of the passengers. The post called the accident ‘bizarre’.

This was my response:

“Not bizarre. Accident waiting to happen. Will happen again soon. When we act as if safety is in God’s hands only.”

As a people, we don’t operate with failure in mind. In our factory in Nigeria, a worker working at height, when reminded that someone had fallen at the same site whilst working without fastening his safety harness and reprimanded on why he wasn’t in his harness even though he had it around his waist, did the ‘tofiaka’ sign over his head and said his Chi (guardian angel) wasn’t asleep!

When you sit in a trotro next time, take a moment and reflect on what will happen if there is an emergency in the car and passengers need to escape. Many of the passengers will die or get injured getting out. The root cause of the exit won’t cause much wahala.

I go back to my favourite model of Ghana: the Tema motorway, which in all practical terms has become a street. We have vehicles making unauthorised U-turns again, cutting right into the fast lanes. I have seen about two such areas. We are watching on. When (not if) an accident happens tomorrow due to such unsafe acts, we will cry “Buei!”

But that is a situation that is waiting to fall like boulders and smash lives.

Perhaps we are just a people that doesn’t value lives. As Kofi Akpabli writes in his essay “This is how we say goodbye”, our funerals are so colourful that sometimes we look forward to them.

Perhaps, just perhaps, we desire more funerals.

Nsempiisms. My mouth has fallen.


​Nsempiisms: Switching or Sticking

In my over 16 years’ experience in the fast-moving consumer goods company (FMCG) industry, especially in quality assurance and R&D as well as supply chain where I was involved in monitoring consumer complaints trends and interfaced with marketing insights and research, I found one truism. Where the Ghanaian is concerned particularly but also true for many current consumers:

Consumers complain only when they have some attachment to a brand. Most consumers don’t complain – they just switch. 
And because of global supply chain reach and trade liberalisation, there is generally proliferation of competitor brands for any particular product. Coupled with the fact that today’s consumer has a short attention span and even weaker loyalty, any producer or seller should know how to respond to, and treat, complaints seriously. When a consumer complains, he or she usually does it out of love and affection. Those who don’t have any attachment with the brand or product won’t even bother to complain to you, the producer or brand owner.
This lesson, as with all lessons in life, can be extrapolated. 
Even to politics.
Nsempiisms. My mouth has fallen.

​Nsempiisms: Bringing Up Mono-Linguals?

Last week, on 19 September 2017, I was honoured to be part of the launch of the 11th edition of The Spelling Bee, and had fun doing a reading of my piece “You Know You Are In Ghana When…”. Thanks for the opportunity, Eugenia Techie-Menson (aka Mawn Van Boven) and well done for the amazing experience: audience, ambience, content, speeches, performances, theme…


The thoughts shared, the documentary screened of young people who can’t speak in their mother tongue or in any other local language, the looming danger of our grandchildren not speaking any of our native languages because their parents — our children — cannot teach them because they cannot speak the languages themselves…I haven’t stopped thinking about it all.

My little girl is being taught Twi as a subject in school and, this week, she brought in homework, to list five local or indigenous games in which songs are sang. We had fun trying to remember some and took the fun a notch higher by calling my mum on phone, who excitedly gave us three types of games. As we tried to get one last one, Mama called back and said “Adonko koraa, nea ɔmo to wɔ TV so no, ɛno nsoso yɛ agorɔ ni bi!”

I could literally feel the joy oozing from her as she contributed to her grand-daughter and namesake’s homework.

At home, my wife and I communicate primarily in Twi, she speaks Fanti as well but my Fanti is terrible (apologies to my grandma Abokoma and the etsew I ate in Cape Coast for seven years on Menya Mewu Hills) and Ga, when we don’t want the children to understand what we are saying. Their nanny is Ewe but speaks Ga mostly so, in addition to what they have learnt in the Ga classes at school, Auntie Mary has taught them some Ga so these days they are able to follow our Ga convos. Perhaps it is time to learn Ewe? But I digress.

We have been lazy as parents in speaking directly to them in Twi or Fanti. Well, let’s say I have. Wife mine has done much better. My more positive action, perhaps, is taking them to Wasa at least once a year for the past eight or so years, so they can get immersed in the language and the customs of their people much more.

On our last visit, in August this year, one of my sons was annoyed when a relative, when he responded in English whilst she spoke Twi to him, retorted “Ka Twi!” I explained that he understood but, perhaps, is also afraid of his accent.

Yes, so though they understand the language fairly, they speak it not like I do. So there is surely a gap, and I was rudely nudged into revitalised action during the launch of The Bee.

I have started speaking more of Twi now with the children, directly.

I don’t want them, or their children — my grandchildren — to be what the Country Director of Young Educators Foundation (who run The Spelling Bee), Eugenia Techie-Menson calls ‘mono-linguals’. They will not be so, not under my watch.

Will your grandchildren speak your language?

Nsempiisms. My mouth has fallen.

​Nsempiisms: The Smell of Your Voice

After church, and being out with the family, I returned home and had a good nap.

I woke up to a message from a very good friend of mine via WhatsApp who showed me a screenshot and indicated that he initially thought it was me in the line of fire, but then realised that it couldn’t be me. In his words, “I remembered that you don’t go down that lane.”
I later got onto Facebook and saw the storm being brewed in the political pot.
One of the most popular questions in secondary school Biology was to identify an animal by its feet. In hunting, hunters are able to track animals by their footprints.
Without seeing your name, can you be identified by your digital footprints?
What is the smell of your voice?
Nsempiisms. My mouth has fallen.
Picture credit: Peter Spence, Canada

Nsempiisms: Building the House of State

I have been following the debate about the modes of tithing and giving in a screenshot being circulated online. Let the debate continue.
It made me take an excursion in my mind and to reflect, again, on how some of the home-grown churches have managed to raise funds to support their various activities and even venture into initiatives such as micro-finance organisations and educational facilities. Churches and para-church organisations that are not supported by any foreign donors.
It tells me that if we get our acts together, we can generate sufficient funds to run our own country and development. Already, figures show that remittances from abroad by Africans outstrip foreign donors fund inflows into the continent. I am certain the same trend applies to Ghana.
Aid hasn’t been used to develop many of these churches. Perhaps, I should say ‘foreign aid’. This doesn’t apply only to urban areas; it is replicated in the rural areas where even with minimal funds, citizens are able to raise money to build edifices for churches.
How I wish we apply that same “can do” mindset to our national development. 
Unfortunately, outside the church, we mostly lose this sense of responsibility to build, and take on a cloak of entitlement. Kwaku Sakyi-Addo wrote about visiting a village with some non-Ghanaians and having a meeting in a magnificent church building, where the elders of the church asked these foreigners to help them build a place of convenience. Taflatse, a place to squat so they stopped doing it in the bush. When Sakyi-Addo asked how they built the church, one of the elders proudly explained how they raised the edifice by their own funds.
Development will be a partnership between state and citizens. We must not lose our “communal labour” principles and look up only to the central government. Our forebears raised LA schools – schools built by local assemblies. Let’s not contribute and build only when implored from the pulpit.
We can do it. 
On our own generated fuel.
Nsempiisms. My mouth has fallen.

Nsempiisms: Indiscipline or Deficiency

Yesterday at the Media Meet with the President, there was a display of an attribute that disturbs me.

The moderator, the Information Minister, set the ground rules for the Q&A time: one question per person, make it snappy.

Not a few of those who had the opportunity to ask questions decided to ignore the instructions totally, asking two and sometimes three questions, even after a couple of warnings.

It is a character that irks me. We all think we can outsmart the system. It is either indiscipline or an inability to follow simple instructions.  

It is that same trait that makes people climb the curb to avoid traffic and then create more traffic in the process.

It is that same trait that makes people want to jump queues in the bank.

It is that same attribute that makes people want to bribe to cut corners.

We want to grab as much as possible when we have the stage. We want to eat as much as we can when it is our turn, not caring about those behind us.

The above are the examples of indiscipline. 

But there is more. 

Perhaps we just don’t know how, or care, to follow instructions. 
You put up a post and say people text a particular number and not call. They will call.
You say people should send details into your inbox. They put the details in the comments’ section.
You ask people to get in touch via a particular email (not your own) and they send the mail to your inbox.
Someone is to give a speech and you ask him to use 15 minutes, he ends up speaking for 45 minutes.
A student presenting his project is asked to wrap up in 2 minutes and he proceeds as if he has one more hour.
Yesterday’s session was revealing in these respects as well, aside the questions.
Indiscipline on display. Or plain deficiency.  
Nsempiisms. My mouth has fallen.

Nsempiisms: Galamsey and The Wasanese

My earliest memories of my holy village, very first faint memories, are of asking my late paternal grandfather Nana Premang Ntow II why he was sucking the chocolate bar instead of chewing it. Apparently his teeth had taken a Wassa leave at the time. I don’t recollect what year that was. But I recollect that in 1980 we attended his funeral in Akropong, travelling in the VW Beetle owned by Oldman Briscoe, the famous CATholic friend of my dad’s. I recollect the apaa that took place in honour of this late Omanhene and particularly remember tasting duck meat (whatever it is called, apart from dabo-dabo) which was part of the spoils of the apaa. During the apaa, any livestock not contained in a pen or in a house and found in the open, found itself on the highway to the royal soup.

My next big visit was somewhere around 1983 when we went by a sleeper, an overnight train, from Accra, boarding from Dzorwulu station, to Tarkwa and continuing to Akropong by road. I recall my late brother Yaw Appiah running after the truck taking us back to Takoradi from Akropong as he wept. He was a student then at Amenfiman Secondary School, the local second cycle school to which my dad sent all my siblings who make it to the secondary school, so we could reconnect to our roots and not become Accra people. I only changed from Amenss to Ghana National because my class six teacher convinced my dad to send me to a science school so I would become a medical doctor because I was good at science and mathematics. Amenss didn’t offer science. I was later to remedy this deviation from the norm by undertaking my national service after sixth form in Amenss between 1993 and 1994 as a mathematics and science tutor, and also teaching during my first two years at the university, during vacations. Indeed, my two siblings, Yaw and Ntiako who made it through the sixth form, also did their national service within the traditional area, Yaw at Wasa Asikuma and Ntiako at Wasa Anyinabrem. According to my big brother, “Anyinabrem is 12 miles by land, sea or air. No matter where you pass to that village, the distance is still 12 MILES. That was the old lady’s first teaching post.”
Thus begun my romance with my hometown. When my parents relocated to Wasa Akropong from Kotobabi in 1987, when I was in Form 1 at Ghana National, I started travelling alone between Accra, Cape Coast and Wasa Akropong, spending many hours on the road. Those days, a journey from Accra to Wasa started at dawn and ended at midnight, in the OSA Tata buses. One reached his or her destination, either way, with the hair coloured ginger. 
I had many happy times in my village as a boy, during vacations from boarding house and during my national service days. Being taught how to ride a bicycle, how to swim and fish in the Ehyire river by my best friend in the village, the Wasa-Frafra boy called Aboko, who I saw again last year when I visited. Aboko taught me how to speak my mother tongue properly, having been born and brought up in Akropong. His family are very much indigenes of the village. We went together to the stream to fetch water for all activities except for drinking, as we usually harvested drinking water from the roofs when it rained. We took long swims in the river, besides women who were washing their clothes right there. I learnt to push trucks and go to the farms to weed and harvest. My mum operated a chopbar so I learnt about bushmeat, and how to roast and dissect it. Happy moments, that built my pride in my holy village.
One of the major stories around Wasa then was that when it rained, you could find gold nuggets in gutters! My traditional area is rich in minerals, especially gold, and galamsey boys were popular then. You could identify them when they walked through town during market days, with their swagger, colourful dresses and bling bling. They made money quickly and spent it quickly, and they were raided often by the police. Even though lucrative, galamsey was seen as illegal and the citizens ensured, with the police, that it was under control.
Every year since I finished the university and started working, I have gone back home to visit. And for important family events especially funerals. Even whilst working away from Ghana, I still kept that tradition, taking the children with me also as they were added to the family.
I visited my holy village of Wasa Akropong last December, 2016, and I was ashamed of what my hometown had become. China town! With so many Wasanese that I couldn’t even see my own people!
It had undergone a Chinese Invasion. Our Chiefs in collusion. With chinese signages everywhere! The rivers now look like milo drinks with expired milk. Parcels of land look like cooked beans mixed with gari and palm oil. 
Nottingham University has a campus in China, and another one in Malaysia. It is traditional for students to transfer from China to the UK for a year for their studies, like a study abroad program. One of the strengths of the multi-national, multi-cultural heritage that my alma mater has. When I finished my course in September 2006, I stayed for a couple of weeks helping as a student volunteer for the International Welcome week for Nottingham Uni, where we helped new international students settle in and get acquainted with the UK, with Nottingham and with the school. One day, just as we were wrapping up for the day, we got information that two buses of students had just arrived in the school from Heathrow. The buses were filled with Chinese students, full of life and adventure. As an aside, the Asians are sending their kids to school abroad and really educating them. Part of their success story, not a fluke. In Nottingham University, we used to say that out of every five students you encountered, three were Asian and two were Chinese. An Iranian friend joked once that it felt like Chinatown. They enriched the programmes and were an encouragement to most of us, as we struggled through our courses, reminding ourselves that if they could learn to speak and write English, sometimes only perfecting it during their studies in the UK, and pass their exams, those of us from Africa who were mostly taught in English from primary school had no excuse not to pass. But I digress. 
Landing at Kotoka Airport on 18th February, just last week, from Lagos, I saw so many Chinese travellers coming into the country that I was reminded of that day in Nottingham. I am sure many of them will be going to Wasa. To continue the gold rush, to continue decimating our lands, with our complicit consent.
A writer observes patterns and is wary of coincidences. So I found it quite significant  that the first foreign delegation to visit the new President on his first working day in office on Monday 9th January 2017 was from the Chinese embassy. 
We read history and wonder why our ancestors sold their kith and kin for rum, schnapps and gunpowder. Yet today we sit and watch as we sell ourselves cheap to the Chinese (and many others by extension and in other activities apart from galamsey) for yen, fried rice and sweet & sour soup. Acting as if we are a people available for rape by the rest of the world, turning our backsides up and supplying our own petroleum jelly. 
Aren’t we ashamed of ourselves?
Nsempiisms. My mouth has fallen.
(This piece is part of the speech delivered by Nana Awere Damoah on 25 February 2017, during the launch of his latest book, Nsempiisms)

Nsempiisms: Election Sprinkles

​Rawlings used to be called Efo Commissioner. Kufour used to be called Commissioner-General. Mahama is the current title holder. 
I have been musing on how, in how many years, we complained about slow pace of development, wondered where all the money borrowed have gone to or been used for, yet how the flurry of commissioning of projects, completed and uncompleted, as well as the beginning of new projects (some, like roads, completed in days), in the past few weeks, have suddenly changed the narrative.
The politicians are very clever and they know how we remember only in brackets of a couple of months. I know this too. 
Anytime I do the categories for my annual Sikaman Awards and ask for nominations in the last quarter of the year, many people only remember events in the current month or the previous, hardly thinking back 10 months.
We do have short memories.
I was engaged in an online course for some years. Each week, students were expected to submit a researched paper on Saturdays, and to read and contribute to submissions of classmates. For the contributions, a student needed to do three to five posts over three days; you were marked down or considered as having skipped class if you waited and posted all your three submissions, at least, all in one day. The thinking behind this was that we needed to interact with both material and class, and get enriched thereby. 
The current practice of skewing all projects towards elections creates the enabling environment for our politicians to throw a few rainbow sprinkles at our electoral bridal party every four years.
Nsempiisms. My mouth has fallen.

​Nsempiisms: Royal political binge drinking 

When I was learning to stride the Unicorn in the town Osagyefo built, my colleagues used to make fun of those of us who didn’t indulge in the water-like substance (and associated forms of same) Wofa Kapokyikyi favoured. However, when we went out for functions, the Safety Manager would point to people like us and ask our colleagues to get us to drive them home if they felt the earth was moving too frequently at the end of the events.

At every funeral in Sikaman, it is deemed wise if there are a few people who can be trusted to keep sober when the drink Kofi Akpabli calls ‘Yes We Can’ flows like a river. The entire populace of the village cannot, and should never, be drunk at the same time.
Like this drink, politics has a great potency of making us drunk. But, in the same way, we should have a portion of the village keeping away from drinking deep; ideally, not even tasting at all. The entire village cannot be in political stupor at the same time.
This is why it is worrying that our chiefs are not just tasting this drink of politics but actually running their own blue kiosks and selecting their drinking partners and clients. 
In this nation, who speaks and all the various shades of political parties listen to with respect? How many of our elders can we trust as the proverbial old lady that we all run to for balanced advice and wisdom? How many people do we have in Sikaman presently who transcend our political fiefdoms?
We say “sε opanin dware wie a na nsuo asa”; the elder finishes bathing, then the water is finished, meaning “when an elderly person finishes talking, all other talk must cease”. But what if the Opanyin rushes to start bathing before everyone else? 
Nsempiisms. My mouth has fallen.

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