A Merry Christmas letter from Ghana. Nothing like it :)

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Photo bt David Dunkley Gyimah

Our hearts are in our mouths, as we hurtle across a dual carriageway at 100km/hr sitting on the bumper of the car ahead. Negotiating traffic could simply be a metaphor for Ghana.

There are rules of a kind, culturally embedded. You, having not lived here for a while or a “non-Ghanaian” — the term erroneously thrown at me — just don’t see it. Everyone’s taking a position — pole preferably. It’s any wonder there aren’t more accidents than that decried by the authorities on a christmas television local broadcast.

It’s one of Africa’s enduring democracies, two parties jostling for its citizens’ votes at every election cycle. They, the NDC ( National Democratic Party) and NPP (New Patriotic Party) now in power, swap the highest office, whilst accusing the other of corruption. The country’s still holding its breadth for prosecutions. It strikes me, what’s happening in the world of politics is ripe for Ghana, if the people become deeply disillusioned.

The ruling president has pledged much. His campaign poster on the route of Accra to Cape Coast strikes me, a marketing man. President Nana Akufo-Addo says he’s made his promises and God willing he will deliver.

Ghanaians are God fearing. Impressive billboards dot the land promoting pastors, self appointed scions, and God’s disciples on earth, whom without their translation of the good book, and tithe, you’re like the cars being left behind on the roads or otherwise enduring insufferable 3-hour traffic gridlock.

In Ghana’s freedom of expression, which has given way to a vibrant political culture and a plethora of broadcast stations, religion is a huge beneficiary. A broad spectrum of the supra regulated e.g. Catholicism introduced to Ghana over a hundred years ago during the expansionary aims of this break-away division created in the 1600s, sits cheek by jowl with deregulated evangelism.

If you’re eloquent, and have knowledge of the good book, there’s nothing stopping you from opening your own parish. And it appears an industry of its own from when I last lived here forty years ago.

Then, Oral Roberts evangelism was aired on Ghana TV. Today, crisp white satin gowns and tailored suits make good on some of the secrets of worldly marketing in presentation and pledges in preparation for today’s crossover — the term given to the transition from 2017 to 2018.

Long Time

I schooled here forty years ago, attended one of the country’s top high schools, Prempeh College, and speak fluent enough twi, though my accent can sometimes be a give-way to being called a ‘foreigner’. More often than not, I don’t have to utter a word to be called ‘Obroni’ — white man.

It yields moments of hilarity. I went back to my alma mater to film. The security guard quizzed my companion, “What does this white man want?”. A woman heckled at her friends gesturing “This white man was lost”. “Which white man?, I retorted in twi, which left her embarrassed and her friends rolling on the floor. The security guard earned a tip when speaking to him in twi, he asked me and my companion for our chits. It’s a get-out-of-jail notice that allowed young men forty years ago to breach the school’s gates.

I’m here for Christmas. A warm sunny Christmas. My school mates throw a party for me. We greet each other by our slogan, “one of us”- Amanfoo. We’ve aged some. Some old boys are easily recognisable like Joe Edus.

Others like Wale’ who was my dorm mate, shockingly, at first leave me abseiling into my untapped memories from 40-years. Nothing, until late that evening, in the quite of the night and one mosquito finally penetrating my defences, I smile. Wale’ the footballer, who walked with a gait.

Friends of old are now senior figures: Editor in Chiefs, Head of commissions, and a few MPs. ‘Am I thinking of coming back to Ghana for good?’ I’m often asked. Ghanaians have a saying “Efie ne fie.” It literally translates as “home is home’, but more accurately, home sweet home.”

The Tourist

In Cape Coast, I do the tourist thing, though secretly I’m trying to piece together some thoughts. I am in local dialect a, urgh, mulatto. My grandmother is German and I’d like to know about my mother’s surname. “Sarbah”. Our guide says he’s aware of the name and the German’s migration to the Volta region.

Elmina’s slave castle is a deprived monument to global - conspired human suffering. The point of no return; the last time slaves will see Ghanaian shores is marked by a small opening ( picture above) and now a receding shoreline.

Visitors are known to weep during the tour. Black Americans make this a point of pilgrimage an assistant says. An American mother on seeing me in a hallway asks confidently, where I am from in the US.

The Dutch, Portuguese and British who perpetrated this axis of evil are writ large in the imagination from our tour guide — a local scholar. There are cells for the worst part of human suffering.

In the court yard a cannon ball is a remnant of how women were shackled and made to stand in the blazing sun. Two other canon balls were stolen. How? You shake your head in disbelief. Somebody walked out with a cannon ball unnoticed.

The coastline looks like its never changed in the last 100 years.

Our guide story-tells. Ghanaians were as tacit to the barbarism of slavery, in capturing young men and women to be sold, as the Europeans were. The degrees of involvement aren’t the same yet it’s one of history’s less talked about dirty secrets.

The tale has more than a little contemporary schadenfreude to it. This year Ghanaians were stunned from several local, international reports and a drone film about the extent of illegal mining, stripping Ghana’s fertile land whilst polluting drinking water. Chinese immigrants are on the receiving end, but the guide reminds us, local chiefs and brokers have been equally complicit to allowing such trade in the first place.

Also above the land is one of Ghana’s main forests turned local attraction, Kakum’s 375 square km National Park. The woman in front of us, has just confessed to a fear of heights as she gingerly makes a way across holding up a tail of people. That’s nothing says a tour guide. Many people freeze altogether or relieve themselves with fear. For a moment then I thought he was he was talking about Ghana’s motor ways.

Part ii follows.

Written by

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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