Happening Today: the Accra Theatre Workshop Takes on Wole Soyinka’s ‘Ake’

AkeI recently decided to only take on DJ gigs that challenge me in some way. Tonight’s challenge? Provide a sophisticated afrobeat/afrohouse soundscape that Long John will freestyle to either on his trumpet or saxophone. All to accompany a play celebrating the 80th birthday of Wole Soyinka, based on his childhood memoirs. That’s all.

Challenge accepted.

The Never Ending Facepalm

Excuses for Journalism in Ghana Exhibit A

When you can’t engage on the issues, throw mud (and misogyny). I don’t know exactly how closely they work, but the NDC needs to rein its propaganda machine in…

… because this just makes the party look desperate, and undermines any claims that the President is the listening president he says he still is.

Over to you, Your Excellency.

People had hope in you once. They can again. But you need to show us that you can (and are not afraid to) rein in the elements of your political machinery that cross the line; not of decency, but of humanity.

Please – for the love of Ghana – lead.

What #OccupyFlagstaffHouse Means

Of all of #OccupyFlagstaffHouse’s defining moments, the most poignant was when NPP presidential aspirant, Stephen Asamoah Boateng was booed by protesters

Over the next few days, you will hear a lot of spin about the event being a ruse by the NPP to take advantage of the youth to undermine government…

Zzzz…

Oh… Sorry. I fell asleep for a second. Moving on…

There are also some who say there is no point in demonstrations. I humbly disagree. People often make the mistake of discounting the value of symbolism, community building and process. Revolutions are not televised: we only see the flashpoints. Not all change is cold, hard, immediate and quantifiable. Neither is it mutually exclusive with other forms of action.

In my humble opinion, what yesterday’s march really represents is the end of the Era of the Fearful/Apathetic Ghanaian. More importantly however, it was the outdooring of…

The (Increasingly) Non-Partisan Ghanaian

There has been a growing hive of (mostly young) Ghanaians online, actively discussing real politics, and moving away from uncritical affiliation to any single party. Besides groups like Blogging Ghana, GhanaDecides, InformGhana, and GhanaThink, there are bloggers/tweeters like Jemila Abdulai, Malaka Grant, Amma AboagyeNii Aryetey Aryeh, Edward TagoeNyamewaa, Kajsa Hallberg Adu, Nana Yaw Asiedu, Abena SerwaaDr. Esi Ansah, Ato Kwamena DadzieDr. Lloyd Amoah, Soraya, and many, many more.

One particularly memorable gathering of non-partisans was at Golda Addo‘s ‘One Simple Step’, where I remember Kuukuwa Manful standing up to a government official to explain that many Ghanaians actually want to understand and help, but are frustrated because government is not open enough about the extent and depth of the nation’s problems.

The Ghanaian government position is often ‘Don’t worry. You don’t know what is really going on: let us do our job’. Which works when (a) you are doing your job and (b) you are able to effectively communicate to everyone the extent to which you are doing so.

Sadly, it seems like at least one of those things is not happening.

Facepalms

The cancellation of the proposed ‘One Thousand Man March‘ in support of President Mahama is the one smart thing I think the authorities have done in this entire PR debacle. While there is nothing to officially link it to government, the event certainly smelled like a knee-jerk counter-propaganda response to what was (and is unfortunately still) thought of as NPP mischief.

How depressing is it that we have sunk so deep into apathy that some find it hard to believe that ordinary Ghanaians are capable of any kind of political engagement beyond the NDC/NPP binary. Only in such an environment can engaged citizenship get confused with ‘political mischief’ and blind loyalty to leadership get confused with patriotism.

The fact of the matter is that politics is not about political parties. It is about the People and our concerns.

Oman. Not Aban.

I heard many people say yesterday that all Mahama had to do is come out and speak to the people, and it would have completely calmed things down.

Meet the protesters. Take the petition. Say something leaderly.

Instead, he sent a small army of bulletproofed-up police and water canons. Some were even in riot gear.

Na waa.

Siege Mentality

Hanna Tetteh’s relief at the relatively low numbers yesterday was so palpable that it took the form of a tweet.

Hanna Tetteh's Unfortunate Tweet

Team 1000 Words tell another tale and I encourage you to check out their photos for yourself. Meanwhile, Kinna Likmani‘s response captured my thoughts perfectly:

Kinna's Brilliant Response to Hanna Tetteh

On my way to the protest, I was surprised by the number of armed, bulletproofed police on every corner from 37 Military Hospital all the way to Efua Sutherland Children’s Park. I don’t think I have seen that many guns out since the Rawlings era. Golda describes the security situation I saw:

Golda Addo on security at #OccupyFlagstaffHouse

They brought out water cannons, for goodness sake. I’m glad they didn’t use them, but only because I did not bring buckets and barrels to fetch the water that has not been flowing through my pipes (hello Adenta/Ashiyie).

It’s depressing when a government feels it needs protection from its own people. Contrast this with back in the day when it was The People who rescued President Kufuor from his limosine when he had a car accident. Not his (frankly pointless) security detail.

Hm.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

I have haaaardcore NPP friends who told me (in the late President Mills’ time) that the only way they would ever dream of voting NDC is if Mahama was its presidential candidate. There was a lot to like. Beyond the charm and experience, he was the closest we would have for awhile to a ‘youth president’; our first President to have been born in Ghana, rather than Gold Coast. He symbolized something.

He has a capable team too. When she is not making unfortunate comments on Twitter, Hanna Tetteh is generally regarded as an impressive, efficient minister. I once worked for Dr. Raymond Atuguba and if the man decided to run for President, I would give serious consideration to quitting my job at Ashesi and volunteering for his team. Seriously. For all the knocking he takes, Vice President Amissah-Arthur is someone I know (he’s my step uncle) and admire personally, and have done for years. The man turned down the role of Minister of Finance when Mills offered it to him, and had to be begged to become Bank of Ghana governor.

Mahama really earned my respect when - in spite of popular disapproval – he chose Nana Oye Lithur as his Minister for Gender, Women and Social Protection. Seeing him stand by his decision instead of backing down to the mob demonstrated real leadership, if you ask me.

So where did it all go wrong? What happened to the great communicator (with a degree to prove it) who wrote an autobiography? The man who reads his speeches from an iPad?

The Importance of Actual Communication When You Are Communicating

I’m hearing the government churn out macroeconomic arguments about Ghana doing well.

Saa?

Out in the streets (which is where it ultimately matters) however, they call it (economic) murder. As a friend put it to me, “Even if this was NPP matter, Ghanaians are peaceful people. This is why the middle class hasn’t protested up until that point, but if they are on the streets protesting then it seems that things are not as good as they seem.”

@AbenaSerwaa on #OccupyFlagstaff

When you see the working class in agreement with the middle class and with international agencies, something is clearly up.

Maybe we’re wrong. I doubt it, but maybe all those angry people at the protest were wrong. If so however, then I humbly entreat the President’s team to do a better job of communicating their achievements, rather than spending energy on patronizing (and out of touch with reality) counter-propaganda. Sitting there thinking that the reason popular opinion is not in your favor is because of NPP manipulation underestimates the intelligence of the people (which is – ironically - a habit I associate with the NPP).

Our democracy is growing and deepening. Ghanaians are getting smarter. Know this. Whoever is controlling the propaganda needs to start moving beyond NDC vs. NPP tactics.

Because – slowly but surely – everyone else is.

DBs on the Rampage

My prediction is that once smearing #OccupyFlagstaffHouse as an NPP thing doesn’t work (which it won’t), the NDC’s propaganda machinery is going to smear it as a middle class ‘dadabee’ thing. Truth be told, they would be partly right… but, if anything, that fact should actually concern them. Besides being a gauge of how bad things are (or are perceived to be), dadabee protesters make up for their lack of numbers with greater international visibility (through social media) and less likelihood of being bought off or manipulated by shows of law and authority. They also form a growing chunk of the floating voters who will sway elections one way or another.

Slow claps for the organizers, who must be commended for putting the entire protest together in four or five days. Unfortunately, it meant that most of their outreach was only to those with regular access to social media. Gabriel – the taxi driver who drove me to the protest – said he hadn’t heard about it on his usual source of information (Oman FM) otherwise he might have come.

Nii Aryeh on class at #OccupyFlagstaff

It was both interesting and important to see the middle class out in force, but Nii Aryetey is right: an overemphasis on class and the ‘calibre’ of people who were there defeats the point. This movement (if that’s what it becomes) represents an important opportunity for the middle class to connect themselves to the rest of a country we are often regarded as disconnecting ourselves from. It’s one Ghana we have, and along with the death of apathy, we need to renew our empathy and respect for each other, and solidarity with each other.

Both ways.

There’s a bunch of other things I could suggest regarding protest and demonstration tactics, but I’m going to try and communicate that to the organizers in chambers.

Peeps is watching.

Christ vs. Nkrumah

I became Christian again a couple of months back. Some of my closest friends have been horrified by my decision. I can actually see where they are coming from. From the outside looking in, Christianity often seems to have come a very long way away from the message of Love, empathy and compassion lived out by the Jew at the heart of it. Some of my friends see in Christianity inconsistency, weakness, and many of the more negative aspects of 1 Corinthians 13:

  • Hypocrisy
  • Intolerance
  • Arrogance
  • Resentfulness
  • Rudeness (or rater, condescension)
  • Impatience

When I put this to my Christian friends, the responses I get vary. Some are surprised, some are defensive, some are reflective. Others are jubilant: the world is supposed to hate you. As opposed to ‘… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Chale.

I am personally drawn to Christ’s message (and example) of empathy, compassion and social justice. A gospel not of fear but of Love: reading the Word with ‘Love Lenses’ on and trying to live it out. Showing genuine Love in situations where our human nature compels us towards fear, ignorance, intolerance and hatred is the harder (much harder) but higher path. I find Jesus’ particular take on Love to be humbling, complex and deeply challenging. When I was not a Christian, it was people who showed this kind of Love who earned my admiration, and made me curious about faith again. I tried living a life of Love outside of faith, but I did not find it active enough. Works for some: not for me. Actively living Love within a community of people trying to do the same has in fact been more challenging. In trying to meet that challenge however, I feel a little closer to where my soul needs to be.

That’s just me.

For the Love of White Jesus

Some of my non-Christian friends feel that Christianity and ‘Africanness’ are inherently incompatible. Again, I see where they are coming from. Religion was indeed used as a tool to oppress Africa and continues to be used to keep us mentally enslaved. As Jomo Kenyatta put it: “When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.

My knowing this and yet choosing to become Christian has been baffling to some of my friends. One actually called my conversion a ‘betrayal’. Again, I empathize: religion too often remains the opium of the people. But that doesn’t mean it has to remain that way.

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I am an African, created as much in God’s image and with as much worth as any other person. My becoming Christian doesn’t mean that I suddenly believe in white saviors. Depictions of Jesus as white are European attempts to see God in their own image, much as Ethiopians depicted Jesus and the disciples as Ethiopian. There is no problem with this… until it becomes a tool of oppression. Which is unfortunately exactly what has happened.

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Colonialism taught Africa that it had nothing of cultural or religious value to contribute to the world. Children entering colonial schools were taught that the wisdom of their parents and ancestors was not wisdom at all, but mere superstition. Heavy emphasis was placed on the negative, fear-based aspects of our traditions, rather than those aspects of it that fostered community, empathy, balance with nature and the environment, and Love. Elsewhere in the world, pagan traditions (like Christmas) that ran too deep to be suppressed were subverted and absorbed into the Christian whole. We, on the other hand, were taught to demonize our own cultures & religions.

White: good. Black: bad.

As a general rule, we have been taught to be cultural absorbers rather than creators. Feel free to draw correlations between this and the fact that Ghanaians today import far more than we export.

The Funny Thing…

… is that I can actually see a bunch of compatibility between Christ’s message and African traditions like those of my Akan people:

  • Belief in the Divine
  • Belief in holistic living
  • Belief in community and social justice
  • Protection of the poor and others who live on social margins
  • Tolerance and absorption of the Other (e.g slave, stranger) into the social fabric
  • Respect for nature and the environment
  • The importance of women

… all of which introduce the intriguing idea that rather than getting rid of Christianity in Africa (which is – frankly – unlikely and ultimately unnecessary), encouraging people to be more Christian could actually bring us a lot closer to what our ancestors were getting right.

When I compare Akan concepts of community and social justice to East African Harambee & Ujamaa or the South African concept of Ubuntu, I cannot help but wonder why Christianity here has to be so steeped in self. The fact of the matter is that there is no single Christianity. However our many, many, many, many, many, many churches out here are often founded less on actual ideological differences than they are around the personality and style of the men who lead them. Just as Latin America has its liberation theology and America has its prosperity gospel of health and wealth, we do actually have a different way of life to offer.

Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise. Sam Pascoe (former chaplain to the US Senate)

The Nkrumah Thing

I randomly stumbled upon a Kwame Anthony Appiah TED talk yesterday in which he asserted that – strictly speaking – religion doesn’t exist. He explained that religion is not a separate ‘thing’ and he used the Ashanti as an example, explaining how religion was never distinct but was rather tied in with everything else; a holistic way of life; an understanding of the balance of things, our place within nature, etc.

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah had an understanding of this. He once wrote that “man is regarded in Africa as a primarily spiritual being“. Recognizing that we had inherited strands of Christianity and Islam, he called for a ‘consciencist’ integration of both of these into a unified African way of living. Instead, we seem to have chosen to keep them separate and somehow try to live each one out, paying lip service to both but not really making either one work.

… there needs to emerge an ideology which, genuinely catering for the needs of all, will take the place of the competing ideologies, and so reflect the dynamic unity of society, and be the guide to society’s continual progress.

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah

I humbly submit that – rather than showing contempt for the local/traditional - we should explore its above-mentioned parallels with our current faith as a means of better (and more honestly) understanding the way we are, and moving towards something more akin to the consciencist integration Nkrumah was talking about. Ultimately though, placing Jesus and the Love He requires of us back at the center of everything (and approaching our past/present with the honesty that a commitment to Christ demands of us) could help our society in many ways:

  • Continuity with the best aspects of our past instead of self hatred, dishonest denial or distortion of it
  • The return of the idea of the Commons/the Common Good
  • Social empathy and respect for people’s humanity
  • Deep respect for our fellow human beings as part of the Divine
  • Community and social justice
  • Custodianship of the environment
  • Appreciation of human diversity and solidarity
  • Peace and tolerance in an increasingly multicultural society
  • Love

Maybe. Can’t help but try.

This is why I will be starting a new category/tag here that I will call ‘Conciencist Christian’, in which I will write about some of the above with regards to our personal and national conversations. It’s a work in progress. Please feel free to join in.

Footnote (taken from http://www.religioustolerance.org/christ.htm)

A case can be made that Christianity did not start in Palestine. According to Acts 11, the followers of Jesus first started being called ‘Christians’ in Antioch. Also, the Romans imposed the name ‘Palestine’ on the Holy Land only circa 135 CE, long after most or all of the books of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) were written. Finally, the first followers of Yeshua of Nazareth, led by Jesus’ brother James the Just, considered themselves Jews, and as a new tradition within Judaism; not the followers of a new religion.

#MyWritingProcess

My friend Fiona Leonard recently responded to a challenge by my partner-in-Ashesi-related-crimes, Kajsa Hallberg Adu to talk about her writing process.

Fiona in turn challenged three writers to do the same, and – for some bizarre reason – I was one of them. Personally I do not think myself much of a writer, so when a friend who you respect as a writer calls you one, it’s quite an honour.

So here goes…

What am I working on?

I am currently working a collection of ten short stories based on Ghanaian urban legends. I tried last summer and failed and since then, I have been waiting for another block of time within which I can write daily. Ashesi just went on holiday so that time is pretty much now. If I fail, Fiona has telling rights on one of the stories.

I am also in the middle of reorganising my blog around my various hats as a writer, DJ, lecturer and as an African.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

With regards to fiction, I am still discovering my writing voice and so I really cannot say. If people eventually find my writing imaginative and it makes them pause for thought though, I won’t complain.

As a blogger and freelance writer, what sets my work apart is that I am the one writing it. I come from a weird combination of backgrounds and experiences that make me a bit of what Ethan Zuckerman calls a ‘bridge figure’: able to look at my culture from both an insider and an outsider perspective.

Why do I write what I do?

Mainly because I enjoy writing. I am much more comfortable writing than I am speaking.

Besides that however, I write because feel like I have something to say. Everybody does, really. I am surprised by how many people send me messages after particular blog posts to say that I have said something they wanted to say. I honestly wish that more people would write.

How does my writing process work?

I have worked with people like Kajsa Hallberg Adu and Ato Kwamena Dadzie who seem able to write at the drop of a hat. I envy them.

Sometimes (usually early in the morning), I get a bee in my bonnet, and start writing out a plan. Then I get so caught up in the plan that I end up writing out the whole thing.

This works great for short write ups like blogs and such. It’s not a particularly great way to write longer pieces though. My challenge this summer will be to channel it into a daily writing ritual for completing my short story collection.

So that’s me.

My turn to pass on the four questions to three writers. Hmmm. I choose…

 

Life: For Father (Take Two)

PhotoGrid_1403059464038Whenever I tell the story of my return to Ghana almost ten years back, there’s someone who looms large over that tale’s horizon.

During my birth and early upbringing in London, my father was a young management accountant, trying to make things work. He started out with hope and qualifications, but the city would eventually take one of those from him.

Years later, the same thing was happening to me.

It was my father who first advised me that I would remain in a rut until I came home to Ghana. His words carried a lot of weight.

Frustrated with temp work and lack of opportunities, he left London in the late eighties to do a short job for the Bank of Ghana.

After university, I was in a similar predicament. 9/11 happened. The job market shrunk so much I could barely get temp work.

For my father, returning to his motherland would lead to a full time job and promotion after promotion until he was the man signing off on all major foreign transactions in the country. And that’s before he left the Bank to become an IMF representative to countries including Malawi and Ethiopia.

I too started out here with a small opportunity (research intern at ISSER). My father gave me my first management role though. And a car. And a home. Thereafter, I have had an average of one job opportunity thrown my way every year.

History repeats.

Like many people, my father and I have a complicated relationship. We both have faults, misunderstandings and flaws.

Ultimately, we have Love.

I’m grateful to my father for helping me come home.

Deeply.

nKENTEn presents ‘Parks & Desecration’

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Following last month’s piece in which the FOKN Bois commented on the state of Ghana (with illustrations by the mighty Hanson Akatti), Nkenten is back with… well, exactly what it says they are back with in the picture above. The article features writing by Eli Tetteh, a man whose lush writing genuinely makes me feel like giving up on my own sometimes.

Also very worth noting are the elegant illustrations by the man Emmanuel Quartey, who utilizes a simultaneously classic and future-leaning design aesthetic that I have been hoping to see Ghanaian designers tap into for quite some time now.

I doff my hat to them both.