The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself. - Albert Camus
IT IS A SHAME. Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (K.M.A) must bow or hang its (or their) head in shame, instead of holding its (or their) head high in pride. No, not K.M.A alone, but also Ministry of Tourism or Ghana Tourist Authority; not Ministry of Tourism alone, but also the government's protocol staff… all users of the road that passes through the Airport Roundabout in Kumasi.
The issue? The billboard depicting the 63rd Independence Day anniversary with the picture of the Asante King, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, and the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo. The King, as usual elegantly attired with arm bands of gold, showing the abundant wealth of Asante, waving as if to tell Asantes: “Thank you for accepting me as your King; just like my predecessors, I will never disappoint you.” Then the picture of Nana Addo bedecked in lovely Kente cloth of variegated colours… but with his left shoulder exposed; his wrist watch worn on the right hand, his two rings (engagement and wedding rings?) on the fourth right finger, with an infectious smile ‒ a 'benkum ntoma'.
If Nana Addo were left-handed like the biblical Ehud, a Benjamite, we could pardon the way he had worn the cloth. Left-handed people numbering only about 10 per cent of the world's population may be pitied, because even Jesus said, rather metaphorically, sheep would be separated to the right and goats to the left. Left-handedness is associated with evil or darkness. Such people are usually called 'southpaws' and people can hardly detect that some of us are 'southpaws'.
But we know, or are supposed to know, that Nana Addo is 'ambidexterous' – able to do things well with both hands. (Those who are unable to use either hand well are called 'ambisinistrous'). And Nana Addo, despite his U.K. education, knows how to wear the cloth, exposing his right shoulder, and his watch and wedding/engagement rings at the left. So, how come the picture? We would want to believe it was the transposition of the photographic film when the picture was being processed.
Don't be surprised to learn that the people responsible for ensuring that the right thing is done with these billboards enjoy Daddy Lumba's song: 'Na nka be ye den na aye wo ya; woresu koraa na meye' no more… In the same vicinity is the picture of Matthew Opoku Prempeh, the Honourable Minister of Education, “kind at heart” and “eager to serve the people”- dressed in a well -fitting coat (sui?).
We have nothing against the Mayor. As has been the custom of Kweku Baako, when he wants to criticize a colleague, we make bold to say: “The Mayor is our friend…” but we would have wished he had taken some of these observations seriously. The other time we were commenting on the billboards on the funeral of Barima Akwasi Agyemang, and pointed out that it was not proper to write “laying in state” so boldly as if it was a correct form to depict a body which lies in state – a fixed idiomatic expression, we pointed out that the proper expression is “lying in state” because he is a 'big' man guarded by a guard of honour, unlike a lowly, simplistic villager whose body is said to be 'lying in repose'.
We do not want to believe that it is pride that has prevented the correction. If it is a question of pride, note what William Shakespeare says in 'Troillus and Cressida': “He that is proud eats up himself; pride is his own glass, his own trumpet, his own chronicle”. Jane Austen says in 'Pride and Prejudice': “Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
In his book: 'Mind Your Language', Annor Nimako writes: “A few years ago, during the period of military rule, a popular columnist saw the hoarding in front of the Military Academy and Training Schools. On it was: 'We train to defend Ghana by Land, Sea and Air even to the peril of our lives'. In unfailing good humour, he wrote in an article that he would correct the error even if it meant being invited to Burma Camp and drilled for his impertinence. He corrected it to read “…even at the peril of our lives”. The authorities did not make any effort to have the error corrected. So a couple of years later, this writer drew attention to it again in an article. Happily, the hoarding was taken down in 2002. When it was brought back and remounted, the correction had been effected to read “…at the peril of our lives.”
Readers may not be surprised to learn that the author of that article referred to by Annor Nimako was no less a person than I. K. Gyasi who had written for: 'The Ghanaian Times', 'The Ashanti Independent', 'The Mirror' and dished out snippets in 'Daily Graphic' and oversea newspapers like 'West Africa'. We are fascinated by the aphorism of Hippocrates; “Declare the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future” and some us have sworn to do exactly that even at the peril of our lives. Hippocrates was the physician who wrote the aphorism: “Vita brevis, ars longa” (or Ars longa, vita brevis) (Life is short, and art is long). In full, the expression is: “Vita brevis ars longa, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile” (Life is short, and art is long, opportunity fleeting, experience perilous, and judgment difficult. Geoffrey Chaucer in “The Assembly of Fowls” re-phrased this: “The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.” Thus, arts which includes medicine (at that time of writing) has a long duration while life is short.
It was not for nothing that Hippocrates (460-370BC), the Father of Medicine, supplied us with the 'Hippocratic Oath', the oath of ethics historically taken by doctors: “I swear by Apollo Physician, by Aesdepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgement, this oath and this indenture. To hold my teacher in this art equal to my parents; to make him partner in my livelihood; … I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgement, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so… Now if I carry out this oath, and break it not, may I gain for ever a reputation among all men for my life and my art; but if I break it and forswear myself, the opposite befall me'. Of course, “premum non nocere” (First do no harm).
Among the many functions of the public and civil servants, as per the Civil Service Law, PNDC Law 32 are “monitor, co-ordinate and evaluate government policies and plans…. If ensuring that the right picture of the President is mounted is not part of the functions of the civil and public servants, then we shall rather bow our heads in shame.
We do not have diffidence (shyness, because of lack of self-confidence) nor conceitedness (false pride, narcissism) in our DNA, and some will say: we don't fear huu!
By Africanus Owusu-Ansah
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