FOREWORD – GH TILL I DIE
Following Ghana’s independence in 1957, the country’s first President Kwame Nkrumah wrote an autobiography, which had the name ‘Ghana’ as part of its title: Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah. Those who idolize Nkrumah may explain this is as a reflection of how Nkrumah’s personal life was intertwined with the nascent nation-state, and an epitome of his patriotic dedication to Ghana. For those who are cynical of Nkrumah’s leadership credentials, this title is another example of his self-glorification and unrestrained love for power. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle, as are many of the contested issues in the contemporary Ghanaian public sphere.
Nana Awere Damoah’s I Speak of Ghana has taken a different route than the usual ‘either/or’ route we currently witness in the often noisy and cacophonous ranting of a large section of print, radio, and television broadcasters. These media often want us to believe there are only two choices of evil and good to choose from on national issues, that is the sometimes-rigid positions of both the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC). In actuality, there are more choices to be made, and Damoah has chosen Ghana, declaring his freedom to be fiercely non-aligned to redundant ideological positions and rehashed political philosophies. I believe that Damoah’s choice is the position of a vast majority of well-meaning Ghanaian intellectuals, professionals, civil servants, and the masses of everyday Ghanaians interested in Ghana’s self-actualization within the world community of nations – this is the patriotic way.
The patriotic way is, therefore, a mode of thinking; maybe a way of life for Ghanaians interested in the social and technological engineering of Ghana in a way that Ghana is seen to be on the way to the self-realization that Nkrumah proclaimed when he stood on the old polo grounds to declare Ghana’s independence. He vowed that Ghanaians will “reshape the destiny of this country, we are prepared to build it up, and make it a nation that will be respected by any other nation in the world” thus, making Ghana the cynosure of all eyes, a success story. Sadly, this has not been the case owing to a variety of reasons that brevity will not allow me to discuss.
Nonetheless, this patriotic way of thinking was not Nkrumah’s sole prerogative, a fact gleaned from the intellectual and social history that preceded Ghana being chosen to replace the Gold Coast. Prior to independence, many Gold Coast intellectuals most notably J.E. Casely-Hayford, and J. B. Danquah had written copiously and equivocated on various lecture circuits about the ancient Kingdom of Ghana. Ancient Ghana at its peak in the 10th century, just like modern Ghana today, was rich in gold. It also had an effective monarchical system, which included a civil service, army, and judicial system and controlled a large portion of the trans-Saharan trade that connected West Africa to North Africa and the Mediterranean. So, for these Gold Coast elite, modern Ghana was a dream borne from Ancient Ghana – the knowledge that in the past, Black folk had successfully managed their own affairs.
It is in the same vein that Nkrumah providentially named Damoah’s alma mater, Ghana National College in 1948 ahead of Ghana’s independence. Nkrumah indeed dreamt Ghana into existence, and it is therefore not surprising that with a few doses of Pro Patria and Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanism at Ghanacoll, Nana Damoah is thinking and speaking Ghana. With his “patriotic” thinking cap on, he is wrestling with the way Ghana has managed its affairs, which leads him to ask Ghanaian politicians if they don’t “feel ashamed when they see and experience the facilities that they [have] failed to roll out for the benefit of their citizens back home.” He also considers whether Ghana is headed to a political Armageddon.
I Speak Of Ghana is therefore most certainly about Ghana, and it tackles in a refreshingly humorous way, several issues including road transportation, technology, the Ghanaian civil service, education, sports and many pertinent issues that still confront Ghana after over five decades of independence. What Damoah has done is very Ghanaian. He laughs our pain away, something that is uncharacteristically lacking in the Ghanaian public culture. We could not even laugh our broke ecomini away in a non-partisan way.
But do not be deceived by the humour, for there are indeed “fearful things in Sikaman” and the list is long: land guards, kotimen, tailors and seamstresses, fire hydrants, fake pastors, network problems, radio brawls, Ghana metric time, and Ghanaman prose, all serious issues which lead the invitation to reflect and rethink Ghana’s independence. The same sort of reconsideration is evident in the writing of Kofi Annan, arguably the most dignified Ghanaian statesman walking the face of the earth, and perhaps Ghana’s answer to South Africa’s living legend, Nelson Mandela. In a letter to the contending parties, and the Supreme Court of Ghana adjudicating the 2012 Presidential Election petition, Annan reminisces the buoyant feeling following Ghana’s independence in 1957, and how things subsequently retrogressed. Annan senses, ironically that Ghana may be back to a 1957 of “commodities boom, abundant foreign currency reserves, a democratically elected government and a new generation of educated young people endowed with huge potential. Sounds familiar?” He is therefore calling on Ghanaians and the Supreme Court not to “score an own goal … there [might] not be a third [chance]”.
The point here is that Nana Awere Damoah, and Kofi Annan represent two different generations of Ghanaians, yet they both seem to have placed their finger on the fact that Ghana is at a threshold from which it could grow or perish. However, as members of two generations, they are drawing on Nkrumah in distinctive but parallel ways. While the grey-haired Annan thinks hopefully that “there is a new (Ghanaian) African, that new (Ghanaian) African is ready to fight his own battle”, Damoah seems to be telling this generation that freedom and independence “entails hard work… so that we can prove to the world that when the (Ghanaian) African is given a chance he can show to the world that he is somebody.”
Notwithstanding the catalog of problems Nana Awere Damoah has identified, he prefers sweating in Ghana to sweating elsewhere. He “knows he is in a Ghana” with ‘a lot of room for improvement’ and he is up to the task. This is why he speaks Ghana with storytelling, humor, Ghanaman prose, Sikaman things, prose and poetry. So indulge me in a poem of my own, which I think represents I Speak of Ghana in more than one way:
GH till I die
I am from a place in Africa called Ghana, GH for short
GH is a little place, but we have egos and visions bigger than the African continent.
If you doubt me, ask Kofi Annan, he will tell you about Kwame Nkrumah, the true Pan-African patriot from Nkroful.
GH till I die!!
The GH capital is Accra
I was raised in TN, La, and all over Accra
When I say TN, I don’t mean Tennessee
And when I say LA, I certainly don’t mean Los Angeles
I mean La, as in fire, La where people walk around bare-chested
Strapped with fists ready to rumble
I survived, and that makes me a G from the H
GH till I die!!
(GH)ana National College is my Alma Mata
For the fatherland/motherland (Pro Patria)
Then I caught some sense at the University of (GH)ana (integri procedamus)
GH till I die baby!!
Yes, GH till I am laid to rest
Because when am dead and gone,
Like Sgt. Adjetey they should drape my coffin with red, gold, and green
They shouldn’t worry about the Black Star
They should just look in the sky and versify:
There goes a Black Star
A Black Star from La
A Black Star from Osu
A Black Star from Acc, ra, ra
A Black Star from Fomesua
A Black Star from Kyebi-Apepem
A Black Star from Africa
A Black Star from GH
GH till I die!!
Harry Nii Koney Odamtten, Dual Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Africa and the Atlantic World
Department of History
Santa Clara University
Santa Clara, California, U.S.A