The River In The Sea (The Autobiography of Akenten Appiah-Menka. Published by DIGIBOOKS LTD, P.O.BOX BT1 TEMA. Tel. NO. (0) 22 414719/720 ISBN 978-9988-1186-4-8)
IF you were to ask any ''publisher” who operates in Ghana how the publishing business was going for him, he would, if he were honest, tell you that he's barely managing to “survive”.
“Ghanaians don't read!” he would add. In exasperation.
So sad, isn't it? For if people don't read, no-one will undergo the considerable pain involved in writing for them!
Even if people were to write, they wouldn't get anyone to publish what they had written, for publishers, like writers, cannot live “by air” alone!
Writers and publishers must – like everyone else – eat; they must sleep in decent places, and they must obtain medical attention when they fall sick. If they have offspring, it is their duty to look after them.
It is because Ghanaians don't care enough about such issues that our book-shelves are almost empty except for religious and public relations propaganda).
We cannot compare ourselves, for example, to our neighbours, the Nigerians. For they, from the days of the “Onitsha wayside bookshops”, have managed to keep both writers and publishers alive by looking after them very well indeed.
We too have first-class brains, but many such brainy folks are perishing each passing day – with everything that is in their heads – into usually early graves.
It has been observed that every time a person with a good brain dies, a whole library goes into the grave with him or her. We know this; we even talk about it constantly, no doubt with with great regret. But we do nothing about it, and, of course, the situation continues to remain the same.
If only we knew what we were losing by being so lackadaisical about our vanishing literary potential!(Well, that's hardly surprising, seeing that we don't even care a damn about our land, our rivers and our streams – the source of our very life itself!)
I repeat to you in plain English that we, as a country, are the losers. And pathetic losers at that. For in failing to support a virile writing and publishing culture, we deny ourselves one of Nature's greatest gifts and blessings to us.
Woaaa look! – I was lazily glancing through one of the few books to be published here – thanks to Fred Labi's beautifully-produced and excellently printed DIGIBOOKS – when I came across a very unusual occurrence. What was it?
I read the words of a politician who was prepared to tell the world the truth about himself, even if it made him look bad!
A politician without egotism? A politician with a good sense of humour, who could, moreover, tell jokes about himself, instead of only making fun of his opponents? Yes!
Believe me – such men do exist. Well, this one, for sure, is no more. His name was Akenten Appiah-Menka, and I do wish that whilst he was alive, I had been lucky enough to strike a deep friendship with him, instead of just knowing him in passing.
Appiah-Menka wrote a first-rate autobiography before he passed, and in it, we learn so much that should make those of our countrymen who think they are “big men” and so must have huge egos, ashamed of themselves. He tells us frankly about his very humble origins; especially, how he had to stow away in a boat to Europe before he could obtain the education that enabled him to qualify as a lawyer in England. Whilst studying, he worked part-time as a mortuary attendant! Tell the truth now: would you tell us that if it was you, given the ordinary Ghanaian's fear and loathing of dead bodies?
In his spirit of what might be called “bad score, no shame”, Appiah-Menka has left us, in his autobiography, an amazing book which all our young men and women who are in a hurry to make money (whilst neglecting the studiousness and hard work that alone can earn them a respectable living) should be made to read.
After his studies, Appiah-Menka returned home to Ghana from England to practise as a lawyer in Kumase, in the chambers of the former Attorney-General and Justice of the Ghana Superior Courts of Judicature, Mr N Y B Adade.
I swear, some of the cases that were brought to Appiah-Menka as a lawyer were absolutely hilarious.
There was this taxi driver who came to him one day to confess to killing the husband of a woman with whom he was caught having sex, Completely unaware of his own vulnerability before the law, he was convicting himself out of his own mouth with every sentence that he uttered.
“What happened?” Appiah-Menka asked the man.
“I stabbed him with a knife”.
“Of course, he would have killed you if you had not killed him?”
“I don't know!”
“But you were acting in self-defence?”
Oh, and another one: if you were a lawyer and you successfully defended a counterfeit currency dealer and he came to pay you, would you expect to be paid with counterfeit notes?
But one of the best parts of the book, as far as I am concerned, relates to an episode that provides the reader with a unique insight into how big foreign businesses operate in African countries like ours.
Appiah-Menka was consulted one day by a prominent chief who was very exercised over the desire of a British firm to take control of a lucrative business operating on his stool lands. The chief wanted his state to become part-owner of the business before it changed hands. But the prospective owner wasn't having any of it. You see, he had already “made friends” with the military Government then in power in Accra, and assumed – rightly – that that Government would have the final say in the matter. But Appiah-Menka boldly sued the military Government on behalf of the chief.
What happened next? .
If you read Appiah-Menka's account of the incident carefully, you will realise that very little ever changes in Ghana, with regard to economic issues. The interests of the state and its people are almost always sold out to foreign interests – for a consideration, of course.
Ha – Appiah-Menka found his client, the chief, invited by the foreign businessman (no doubt on the advice of the military Government's members) to visit his firm in London. The chief didn't ask Appiah-Menka before he accepted the invitation!
Shortly after the chief had left, another invitation came – this time, for Appiah-Menka himself. He was needed in London to “advise” his client on proposals being made to him in that city. Why there?
Appiah-Menka soon found out: hardly had he touched down in London (first-class air ticket) when he was handed an envelope with five thousand pounds in it (a lot of money in those days, when sterling was worth about 2.80 US dollars!) He was invited to “go shopping in London” with the money!
Now, should he have accepted it?
Next, he was visited in his Hilton Hotel room (overlooking beautiful Hyde Park) by a tailor from Saville Row (the street with the most fashionable and expensive men's clothing in London). He was asked to choose from six different gorgeous materials for making men's suits!
Again, should he have accepted this intoxicating offer?
The answers to these questions are of permanent relevance to us in Ghana and indeed, to the people of all developing countries with natural resources that foreigners want to exploit to make themselves richer and our countries poorer..
I tell you this – you could do worse than order the book to discover Appiah-Menka's very frank discussion of these issues. That he was honest enough to expose the offers made to him and share his dilemma with his readers, is most commendable. For these were “temptations” which, I daresay, most of us might most readily welcome if thrown in our paths! And the foreign businessmen who continually milk our continent of its riches, do know that we would like to be tempted that way; they know it damn too well. When will we prove them wrong? Appiah-Menka at least draws our attention to what we can expect, given a similar opportunity!
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