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15.07.2005 Feature Article

National Anthems And Patriotism

National Anthems And Patriotism
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On the solemn occasion of the 48th anniversary of Ghana's reassertion of her political sovereignty from Britain, President John Agyekum-Kufuor called for a critical examination of the lyrics to the country's national anthem. The leader of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) noted that Ghana's national anthem emphasized the imperative need for the salutary sustenance of “the nation's growing democracy for peace and development”( 3/11/05).

Needless to say, it was only too logical for President Kufuor to have passionately and courteously issued the foregoing call. The very name of his party underscores the indispensable essence of patriotism, or perhaps even more appositely “Neo-patriotism,” in the blistering and debilitating wake of the protracted era of neocolonialism. It is also quite ironic that the leading opposition party in the Ghanaian parliament is called the National Democratic Congress (NDC). And so, it was scarcely flabbergasting that in the wake of the substantive premier's call for a national, cooperative culture of democracy, the leader of the NDC and immediate erstwhile premier, Flt.-Lt. Rawlings took umbrage at his successor's critical allusion to the lyrics of the national anthem. For the ever-caustic and abrasive Mr. Rawlings seemed to have a quite different take with regard to the lyrics of the national anthem. Needless to say, more than half of the two decades that Mr. Rawlings held political sway witnessed every shade of political ideology except democracy. And, indeed, so pathologically asphyxiating was his tenure that the former president once bitterly complained about the prevalence of a “culture of silence” throughout the country. In sum, after the savage and brutal murder of three high court judges, allegedly at the behest of a member of his own government, the people had quickly wised up to the fact that the fearless application of reason in national discourse spelt certain death, either by firing squad or Mafia-type execution, at the hands of Chairman Rawlings. And in such an instance, the “offender,” or culprit, was invariably designated “an enemy of the revolution.”

And so it came as rather bizarre and quaint that following President Kufuor's interpretation of that portion of the Ghanaian national anthem which reads: “…/make us cherish fearless honesty/and help us to resist oppressor's rule/with all our will/and might forever more,” as one that called for a pacifist temperament or deportment, Mr. Rawlings promptly begged to differ. Needless to say, the latter was, characteristically, not so polite. Rather, the former Air Force pilot brusquely insisted that: “Make us cherish fearless honesty,” as enshrined in the national anthem, was an unmistakable call for “positive defiance” or civil disobedience.

The problem with the latter characterization, or rather interpretation, of the national anthem inheres in the fact that throughout his two decades of autocracy, Ghanaians who made the mistake of engaging in “positive defiance” were summarily mowed down by soldiers and police officers acting on the orders of the proponent of the so-called positive defiance.

But that Mr. Rawlings appears to be linguistically challenged is hardly surprising. The man never gave himself the morally and intellectually edifying chance of acquiring a college education in order to be able to effectively engage his mind in critical thinking. And needless to say, unlike some of his non-college-educated peers, Mr. Rawlings does not demonstrate himself to be any particularly bright, though during the last quarter-century the man has voluntarily saddled himself with the kind of duties that indubitably require the kind of rigorous intellectual preparation that he blatantly disdains. And so during the twenty protracted years that he held political sway, all levels of professional and cultural endeavors were literally ground to a screeching halt. Which may partly explain the fact that the anonymous source which carried the story, titled “Kufuor Clashes with JJ Over National Anthem”( 3/11/05), described “God Bless Our Homeland, Ghana” as a “swan-song,” the kind of melody that a death-row inmate, or a condemned prisoner, would make on his or her way to the execution chamber, or the gallows.

And what is more, the rather bellicose caption of the article, “Kufuor Clashes with JJ Over the National Anthem,” sadly and painfully reflects on the abysmal depths to which the quality of Ghanaian journalism has sunk. For no verbal confrontation, whatsoever, occurred between the remarkably urbane and staid substantive premier and his irrepressibly vitriolic predecessor. But that such an unnecessarily sensational caption would accompany the aforementioned article may have more to do with what passes for journalism in Ghana these days. Indeed, when I was growing up, we used to label such provocative, albeit vacuous, caption as “Saa-yooo….” In sum, it was a rather sophomoric attempt on the part of the writer at generating controversy where none, in reality, existed. For, if anything at all, the “clash” or “agon,” or drama, for that matter, glaringly appears to be between the NDC Chief Constable and the lyrics of the Ghanaian national anthem, whose diction and spirit the former Chairman of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) does not appear to grasp or comprehend. And, indeed, he might never have learned the words of the National Anthem; and on this score, he is hardly all by himself. For in the same article, the chairman of the rump Convention People's Party (CPP), Mr. Edmund Delle, is reported to be commending President Kufuor “for asking the nation to commit itself to the ideals of the national anthem. 'It was a great thing that he did because many people, including me, have forgotten the words [or libretto] of the anthem.” Else, needless to say, Mr. Rawlings would not have rather ill-advisedly picked a quarrel with the Gbeho-composed anthem which also beseeches Divine Providence to “Fill our hearts with true humility,” the kind of humility that ought to have graciously rallied Mr. Rawlings and his brazen posse of hangers-on to the Black-Star Square for the independence-day celebrations.

For me, there is the other “real” or authentic National Anthem that wistfully and inexplicably failed to win the contest during the 1950s. That which is titled, in Akan, “Yen Ara Y'asaase Ni,” by the celebrated and immortalized Dr. Ephraim Amu. Needless to say, the latter sounds more Afrocentric and solemn than the one that won the national-anthem competition. Indeed, it appears to have been unwisely rejected largely because the composer, who also penned the libretto, had rightly determined that an organic, or authentic, Ghanaian national anthem ought to be composed in a Ghanaian and African language spoken by most Ghanaians. As it stands, the lyrics – or libretto – of the current national anthem sounds unmistakably stilted and awkward and outright amateurish and unmemorable, which is why Mr. Delle might have so easily forgotten it. Dr Amu, whom this writer personally knew quite well while growing up on the campus of the University of Ghana, would almost definitely have characterized “God Bless Our Homeland, Ghana” as patently reactionary, neocolonialist and Eurocentric. Indeed, “Yen Ara Y'asaase Ni” (“This is our own [or ancestral] land”) vehemently decries the sort of clinical dementia that makes Mr. Rawlings and his (P)NDC ideological dictators presume themselves to be the perpetual hijackers of Ghanaian democracy. It is the kind of anthem that I relish playing and exulting in. the kind of progressive clarion call to national self-defense as the jealous guardians of our collective patrimony. *Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of Barbarians In Baghdad, a volume of essays slated for publication in Fall 2005. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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