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25.05.2019 Feature Article

A Conversation With The Writers Of Ghana (2)

A Conversation With The Writers Of Ghana (2)

At independence in 1957, we assumed we were all “equal” citizens in the country of our birth, which we were to strive to build into a “nation”.

But that notion – sold to us by the British – was, I am afraid, based on a confidence trick.

Yes, we all had the vote. But only those in the populace who could read and write English could be voted for!-- to become Members of Parliament, and hence, possibly, Ministers of Government.

Now, this provision in our electoral regulations immediately excluded around 90% of the people of this country -- if not more -- from directly taking part in the administration of their own country. The British knew that this was wrong – because, after all, they had yielded to protests, sometimes violent, and allowed full participation of women in their own government, in the decade 1918-1928. If women were not to be discriminated against but could become Ministers in Britain, what prevented so-called “illiterates” from becoming mere MPs in British territories such as Ghana? Was it because the British wanted to hand over power to those they had trained to "become carbon copies of themselves"?

For, are teachers, clerks, merchants, lawyers and priests the only people who have enough wisdom to rule a country governed for centuries by people who had never heard a word of English? Does gratuitously granting them this power take "moral issues" into consideration? Obviously not: for where in Africa today can anyone say, "Oh, as for this Government, the sole objective of its members is to raise the standard of living of its people and parachute the country into full economic development"?

Here is another pernicious weapon deployed against "nation-building" in Ghana: our main source of income in 1957, cocoa, was produced by farmers, almost ALL of whom were illiterate. But when it came to disposing of that income, only the teachers, lawyers merchants and the rest (MPs), were deemed “qualified” to take part directly in that exercise and take the vital decisions that affected where roads and health facilities and schools were to be built with the money contributed by all tax-payers, including illiterates.

We were living under the weight of such a monstrous contradiction, and gleefully perpetuating it, yet we thought we had a "nation", or were “building” one?! Even worse, the net price for cocoa that the farmers received for their produce was more or less decided by the Government, through the Cocoa Marketing Board (now rebranded as Cocobod). I ask you: do the wine producers of France get told by the French Government how much their wine should be sold for? Do the car-makers of Germany and Japan obtain their prices from a German or Japanese Automotive Marketing Board? Do American grain farmers and cattle ranchers wait for their Government to tell them how much their crops or animals would be sold for? Do the insurance companies and banks that constitute the main distributors of wealth to those who invest on the London Stock Exchange or Wall Street take their instructions on the value of company shares or what dividends on shares should be, from the British and American Governments?

Cocoa farmers in our country have suffered from this oppressive discrimination in economic decision-making from the colonial days to this day. Yet we think we are building a “nation.” Can you build a nation on the basis of “economic apartheid”? Go and ask the Boer population of South Africa.

Well, confidence tricks have a way of getting unraveled almost by what I would here call – “cosmic imperatives”! Because we have not taken action to prove to the main care-takers of our land and eco-system that we value them, many of those who work on the land have now unconsciously decided to wreck the land for all of us. They have been sitting down with folded arms watching vandals, armed with bulldozers, excavators and something called changfangmachines, dredge our rivers and waterways, killing our water resources, searching for gold.

In the past, when the Gold Coast Department of Agriculture decided that cutting out diseased cocoa trees was the best method of fighting the swollen shoot disease, the cocoa farmers rose like one man to resist violently – until they were compensated for every diseased tree that was cut out. Today, some cocoa farmers actually sell their farms to galamsey operators, who kill the rich bio-constituents of the land with such poisonous chemicals as mercury, as they refine the sand and pebbles they dredge up from our riverbeds!

Our chiefs were once our valiant war-captains who led their people to resist threats to their lives. Today, those engaged in galamsey can count on the active collaboration of some chiefs – despite the fact that it has become evident to all who want to know that galamseyers pose a veritable existential threat to our lives.

Existential threat? Surely I exaggerate? No, I do not! Because you cannot sustain life on Planet Earth without water! It's the water, stupid!

The mainstay of our traditional armies, the asafo or kyirem, groups, have been killed off or had their claws pulled by chiefs who draw allowances from the Government and keep it for themselves. These chiefs are afraid that the asafo groups will destool them if they realise that the chiefs have also been selling collectively-owned lands to individuals for personal gain. This use of chieftaincy for personal gain has become so widespread that when a chief dies nowadays, all manner of claimants surface, each deploying considerable sums of money to hire fraudulent “king-makers”, who can promote their usurpation efforts.

And where are the “writers” of Ghana, equipped with an ability to read the souls of a people; writers with the insight to expose these societal diseases that tearing at the very fabric of the “nation” we think we are building?

There is a proverb that says: “You do not begin to suffer from pains in your ribs on the very day that you hurl a stone across the Volta River”. (Ennye da a wobeto obuor atwa Firaw no ara na mpafe besi wo). As writers, you are supposed to have imagination. So I shall leave you with the following scenario:

Fifty years or so have passed. You are dead and gone, but thankfully, someone who respected you when you were alive, has placed a headstone on your grave. On the tombstone, you are described as someone who held such-and-such office in the Ghana Association of Writers in the year 2019.

Out of a pious desire to pay his or her respects to you, your grandson or grand-daughter, or great grand-son or great-grand-daughter, pays a visit to your grave. And he or she sees the word “writer” on the inscription. And he or she has read the powerful, undying works of other nations' writers who strove to change their societies – John Steinbeck, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, George Orwell, Jean Paul-Sartre, for example. Writers not afraid to speak the truth to power.

And that progeny or, perhaps, even distant kinsman or kinswoman of your says, “Ah, but My Grand Old/Woman Man was alive when galamsey was destroying Ghana's irreplaceable water resources for those of us who were to follow his/her generation! What did he/she write to oppose that?”

Speaking for myself, I have written so many articles about galamsey that I am beginning to bore myself doing so! And although I publish these pieces in widely distributed newspapers, especially the Daily Guide and The Ghanaian Times I have not received a single letter of support from any writer in Ghana, nor seen them write “Letters To The Editor” to reinforce my arguments! I now fully understand those who lament “the loneliness of the long-distance runner” (though I have no reason to do so, as, currently, even 100 yards seems like a long-distance race to me!)

I urge each and everyone of you to wake up and answer for yourselves, the question I have just posed: what will your descendants think of you if you continue to sleep-walk your way, watching unconcerned, as the rivers and streams that sustained your life as a child, are wantonly destroyed by Ghanaian galamseyers and their Chinese collaborators? While you happily spend your time engaging in (if you are lucky!) – activities that can result in procreation?

Thank you very much.

Cameron Duodu
Cameron Duodu, © 2019

Martin Cameron Duodu is a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a career as a journalist and editorialist. Author column: CameronDuodu

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