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10.06.2019 Feature Article

Akwasi Donkor, My Father and Me – A Tribute

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., PhDKwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., PhD
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When his epochal and seismic passing – at least by my own lights – was reported on the website of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) at 84 years old on February 5, 2019, the obituary was in three sentences arranged in three short paragraphs (See “Retired GBC Radio Broadcaster Dies”). The news was actually first reported by the Ghana News Agency (GNA) and subsequently picked up by the GBC. If this reader had not been of age when Mr. Akwasi Donkor plied his trade inimitably, he would never have remembered that for some two decades, or perhaps more, the genius Akan-language broadcaster was an institution in his own right. Of course, there was quite a sizeable team of skilled and talented Akan-language newscasters and program presenters all over the place, such as Kwaku Temeng and Akosua Baawa, if memory serves me accurately; but it cannot be gainsaid that Mr. Akwasi Donkor stood in a class all by himself.

Those days of the 1970s and 80s – I left the country in the mid-1980s – Akwasi Donkor, like the proverbial Nile river, was GBC-1, the local languages section of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, and GBC-1 was Akwasi Donkor. The latter did not only broadcast the news in the Akan language, he also occasionally featured on GBC-2, the English and Commercial Radio Section of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. By the time that he retired, Mr. Akwasi Donkor had been named Director of GBC Radio. Well, I don’t quite recall what would have taken him onto the airwaves of GBC-2. But on GBC-1, when he was not broadcasting the news, he would have been hosting a cultural and social program or two, possibly geared towards the listening pleasure of motorists and travelers, as well as, of course, the general listening audience. For me, in particular, Mr. Akwasi Donkor was also a literary compendium of the Akan language.

He also spoke the English language flawlessly, though I have yet to learn about his academic and professional biography. I suppose he very likely trained at some point in his career at the globally renowned British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the mother broadcaster to most of the erstwhile Anglo-colonial world, as quite a remarkable number of his contemporaries might have done. He was my Akan-language compendium because I learned quite a slew of Akan idiomatic expressions from Mr. Akwasi Donkor. I also learned a remarkable amount of Akan history from the man, such as how that geographical location of the present-day Asante-Akyem acquired its chameleonic name. The full details of the narrative escape me presently, but I vividly remember Akwasi Donkor telling his audience that the Asante-Akyem area of postcolonial Ghana was once the major battleground between Akyem and Asante armies.

The inhabitants of the area eventually acquired the compound adjectival noun of “Asante-Akyem” because, depending on which side was either winning a battle or decisively won any of the incessant epic battles between the Asantes and the Akyems – Atobrah has recorded at least 99 battles that were fiercely fought between the Asante and Akyem armies – the inhabitants of that enclave identified with the winners or victors of the moment, until the fortunes of the warriors involved turned one way or another. Indeed, I have even been told that but for their concern about the Asante Army’s causing incessant and politically disruptive hostilities in the colonial era, the British colonial administrators may very well have ceded the present-day Asante-Akyem District to the Okyenhene or the Akyem-Abuakwa State. At any rate, my most enduring memory of the great Akan news anchor – sometimes he also did some Akan-language sports commentary – was the day that Mr. Akwasi Donkor was in town and attended one of the weekly cultural programs at the Anokyekrom of the Ghana National Cultural Center (GNCC), formerly the Asante Cultural Center, in the mid-1950s when it was founded by the Oxbridge-educated cultural anthropologist, Dr. Alexander A. Kyeremateng, father of Ghana’s current Trade Minister, Mr. Alan John Kwadwo Kyeremateng.

I was overjoyed and extremely proud of myself to have Mr. Akwasi Donkor seated on the front-row under the Apatakesie (The Great/Big Shed) seeing me perform one of my patriotic poems live on GBC-2. Finally, I beamed proudly to myself, I have been discovered and duly recognized by my foremost Akan-language media idol and hero. I would later learn with sadness that Mr. Akwasi Donkor might have been manhandled by some “Rawlings Revolution” soldiers for daring to adumbrate on the fact that all was not well with Ghanaians under the terror-charged atmosphere of the so-called Housecleaning Revolutionary Exercise spearheaded by then Flt-Lt. Jerry John Rawlings. And, indeed, for quite a while, Mr. Akwasi Donkor was off the air.

In the case of my own father, Prof. Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Sr., there was a very popular Akan-language jingle or commercial played regularly on GBC-1, and perhaps on GBC-2, as well, I don’t quite recall what the latter case might have been as of this writing, which featured both my late father (1929-2001), who was then the Technical Director at the University of Ghana’s School for the Performing Arts, then known as the Legon School of Music and Drama, and the inimitable Mr. Akwasi Donkor. The commercial was about the allegedly superb festal or ceremonial qualities of Bramsco, the locally modern factory-distilled gin. This commercial was first aired between 1969 and 1971, when the old man left the shores of Ghana for graduate studies, “Further or Advanced Studies” in those days, at the main Madison Campus of the University of Wisconsin. The old man would later tell me, wistfully, that for their efforts, both Akwasi Donkor and he would be paid with a case of Bramsco each.

Anyway, I thought I should let my Dear Readers know that a written obituary on the epochal passing of the Great Mr. Akwasi Donkor – I can still hear his mellifluous and resonant voice in my mind’s ear – deserved far more than three short sentences on the website of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. Those times were much different from today, with a legion number of radio stations and, indeed, as I often tell my students at the community college where I have taught the Principles of Journalism for some twenty years, Ghana’s capital may today have more FM radio stations, per capita, than the whole of the United States. Today, almost anything goes by way of who gets to be on the air to either read the news or present a program. In the days of Akwasi Donkor, when such opportunities were very limited, you really had to be good, almost exceptional, to make it onto the broadcast airwaves. So long, great soul, continue to bless us with your great talent and wit.

*Visit my blog at: Ghanaffairs

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., PhD

English Department, SUNY-Nassau

Garden City, New York

June 10, 2019

E-mail: [email protected]

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