The sacred and profane of state power in the black star of Africa: By Kwesi Yeboah. Rhapsodies On Kindness is a literary and historical work that addresses problems facing contemporary Ghana. This book is very readable, erudite, and engaging. It is anchored on theoretical musings, solid empiricism, and the political economy of the very recent Ghanaian past. Although Ghana is the focal point of analysis, the thematic preoccupations of this book are applicable to Africa as a whole and other regions impacted by the virus of neo-colonialism, dependency, and hegemonic control.
The author, Kwesi Yeboah, a native of Ghana and a product of Achimota College, Achimota, Ghana, has an unusual gift as an activist, public intellectual. He trained at the University of Cape Coast, Cape Coast, Ghana, as a Classicist and an Historian, and studied Mechanical Engineering, Mathematics, and the Physical Sciences at the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, and McMaster University, Hamilton both in Canada. This academic cross-breeding underscores his ability to move from the precincts of superb, intellectualized rhapsodizing to the grounds of sound scientific analyses and theoretical meditations. True to his craft, Yeboah pays flawless attention to detail and seeks coherence and wholeness in satire, caricaturization, theory, and empiricism.
Yeboah is clear about his intention “to shock, to vigorously jolt the memories and minds of Ghanaians into re-examining that which we have always taken for granted, our attitudes, accepted practices and prevalent mentalities...” (P. xi). These objectives are amply attained throughout this book. Yeboah besmears the noses of his readers with vast metaphorical stretches of excrement, putrefaction, decay, and social flatulence, all symbolizing what has gone wrong in Ghana. On the whole, this book is a theater where Ghanaians are summoned to see the dramatization of the follies and foibles of the Ghanaian past, transposed onto the current political precipice of uncertainty.
Domiciled overseas, Yeboah owes a debt of gratitude to the Ghanaian media forms: they provide a substantial number of the topical news items that inform this book. But it is also obvious that Yeboah makes use of overseas sources that deal with Ghanaian and African affairs, for example, he makes reference to Daily Telegraph's articles, BBC articles on Africa and African news sites on the world wide web. It must be said that Yeboah's work is not an intelligent culling of journalistic reminiscences, nor is it based on sympathetic quarrying of topical media news. Rather with remarkable breadth and perceptive synthesis, he brings fresh empirical reflections to illuminate essential historical and contemporary processes.
Rhapsodies is arranged in three parts and each is divided into verses that are not periodized and also do not follow any precise thematic format. Part One is entitled “The Shock”, Part Two is called “The Awe”, and Part Three is “The Sacred and the Profane”. There are forty-five verses and each has notes and references. Simply the structure of this book, essentially the verses, mirror daily topical issues on recent developments. Using the most recent social, political, and economic developments as his scale-pan, Yeboah pries back and forth into the history of Ghana, drawing on various historical incidents and political milestones. Hence, he is able to appraise specific issues while caricaturizing specific historical actors. Overall, a thread of consistency conjoins the varying parts o! f the book and enables him to grapple with various topical issues without straying from his stated objectives
The richness of this book is derived from its subject matter and the stylistic approaches employed by the author. Yeboah employs history as a vehicle of literary deployment. For instance, by echoing the sycophantic accolades of Ghanaian heads of states, he is able to bring readers to the frontiers of history, while at the same time conveying his message of power-drunk leaders. The solid scholarship that undergirds this book is demonstrated, for example, by Yeboah's references to Milton's epic, The Paradise Lost; the American War of Independence and the American Civil War; Nkrumah's ideological construction of Neocolonialism; IMF policies and their implications for development/underdevelopment; and the policies of African leaders, including Joachim Chissano of Mozambique, Thabo Mbeki o! f South Africa, and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. Similarly, his literary allusions range from the Classics through Shakespeare and Dickens and Conrad to Achebe and Ayikwei Armah
The joy of reading this book also comes from Yeboah's assiduous use of satire, humor, self-invented phrases, childhood reminiscences, comparative perspectives, caricaturization, allusions, and derisive songs. As a Ghanaian writing this “ Foreword”, I must say that my ears have enjoyed the derisive songs the most. For example, Part 1, Verse 19, entitled, “The Epiphany of Jurassic Joseph Henry ” is not only a mockery of time-worn, dinosaured public officials, but also provides some insights into the failure of the state to disengage from antiquated practices seeded in the heyday of colonial rule and at the dawn of neocolonialism. In the end, such derisive songs provide an ample relief that is at once joyous and compelling.
Rhapsodies is not all about the hopelessness of the Ghanaian situation. Interspersed with the dredges of pessimism are embers of hope and optimism for the future. Indeed, this book is not only about mountains of overt criticism of the Ghanaian political debacle. It contains oases of hope and inspiration as well as practical solutions regarding, for instance, the cassava industry, road-building, the application of science and technology to better everyday life, education, governance, and democracy. It is a book for Ghanaians who care about where they had been, where they are going, and how they plan to get there; and certainly, public officials and the elites, those indicted the most in this book, can benefit from Yeboah's practical solutions.
Several interesting topical issues are discussed in this book. It is obvious, in some cases, that Ghanaians would rather Yeboah had not washed their dirty communal linen in public. For example, Part 1, Verse 1, entitled “Of Underdevelopment and Human Excrement” Yeboah rubs the noses of Ghanaians in their own collective excrement. Among others, Yeboah states that “Take the bucket latrine for instance. In this day and age, this twenty-first century of unbelievable technological wonders, and still in Ghana, people, are paid by the state to carry other people's excrements in buckets, and on their heads.” (P. 8). Although, it is the state that is blamed here and certainly fingers can be pointed at those who are responsible, this is not a story that Ghanaians would like to tell the whole world.
But there are other verses whose filth does not besmear every Ghanaian. Yeboah's presentation of corruption, graft, theft, and ethnicized nepotistic brokerage of national resources and wealth singles out public officials. Thus, the citizenry is granted the comfort of blaming the elites in high places for the problems facing Ghana today. Indeed, Ghanaians who read this book would not need to cover their nostrils or shift a little in their chairs of passivity all the time because elsewhere Yeboah places the problem of underdevelopment at the doors of others. In Part 1, Verse 3, entitled “In Search of Heroes,” for instance Yeboah points to neocolonialism and dependency as the causes of Ghana's endemic problems. But it should stressed th! at he does not belabor the forces of neocolonialism and dependency, perhaps doing so would undermine his avowed theme of jolting Ghanaians to the reality of their own engineered underdevelopment.
Although Rhapsodies may appear to the untutored eye as a shopping list of the political economy of everything Ghanaian, there are specific major themes that ring out in the verses. These include Yeboah's favorite topics: federation versus regionalism, dependency and underdevelopment, corruption and elitism, problems of chieftaincy, education and social change, and governance and democracy. These and other topics inform the verses and provide for their composite wholeness. The thrust of this book is political. Yeboah has critically dissected the public lives of numerous Ghanaians, including heads of state from Kwame Nkrumah to J. A. Kufour. But Yeboah does! not single out any one leader for praise or vitriolic attack. Rather, he points to their respective strengths and weaknesses, hence is able to provide a superstructure of balance and objectivity for this book.
Yeboah has dealt with controversial, sacred-cow topics in an engaging way. Crisp phrases, textual brevity, and hilarity, anchored on theoretical brilliance and empirical insights would push readers toward a higher level of analytical and conceptual thinking. His epistemological insights are interesting and generous, though we cannot say that for his treatment of most of the personalities that inhabit this book. If Ayi Kwei Armah's literary capital jolted Ghanaians to the perils of the immediate postcolonial era, Kwesi Yeboah's work would jolt Ghanaians to move beyond passive acceptance to active evaluation in their search for the seeds of success. I have read Rhapsodies with profit and strongly believe that even those who are caricaturized and satirized within the pages of this promising book would find it intellectually stimul! ating and morally engaging. I venture to say that Yeboah has more crusading epistles for Ghanaians, therefore, we should continue to nurse our backsides in anticipation of more laughter even as we scratch our heads for answers.
PS: The book can be previewed at akoben publishing
Kwabena Akurang-Parry, Ph. D.
Department of History & Philosophy
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