MARCH 2016 HAS BEEN A VERY BAD MONTH!
By CAMERON DUODU
Well, it’s been a bad month for me. First was the funeral, on 10-11 March 2016, of my cousin, Mrs Comfort Akua Agyemang (known to all her relatives and friends as “Akua Fio”), who passed on 3 December 2015.
Akua grew up in a house directly opposite my grand-mother, Nana Afia Korang’s house, at Asiakwa. So I saw a lot of her as a child.
But our ways parted – as they always do. I next found her in London, married to my friend, Kwaku Agyemang (known to our age group as Kwaku Danso).
Kwaku and I were old friends who called each other “Joe”. The “Joe” had passed to him from one of my greatest friends, Kwaku’s brother, Kwasi Ampofo. Kwasi Ampofo was great fun, for he had spent his early years in Accra before coming to settle at home at Asiakwa, and he had a great number of stories to tell, to someone with as great an ear for stories as me.
As is often the case in a village, if you had a friend, all his brothers and friends became your friends, too. So I played table tennis with “Joe” and his brothers, and when I encountered Kwaku again in London, we immediately resumed calling each other “Joe”.
Amazingly, his wife, Akua, also began calling me “Joe!” Not only that – she played a great part in getting me to become less homesick of Ghana. They lived in Notting Hill Gate and she introduced me to Portobello Road Market, where, at that time, one could buy a lot of the things that West Africans like to eat – especially, smoked fish and ripe plantains. It was she also who taught me how to mix potato flour and “Farina” into something as much like fufuo as possible.
I need hardly say that I was very often in their house, and that Akua never failed to provide me with a super-Ghanaian dish which, for the moment, transported me back home.
When I heard that she had passed, after a short illness, I couldn’t believe it. She was so full of life, and, of course, was the very soul of kindness.
Her burial service was held at a very posh church in Kensington Church Road, St Mary Abbotts. It was very well attended – for a Friday morning when a lot of people wee at work – and the singing, by the Kensington Parish Church Choir, was exquisite.
Among those who attended was my old friend, Ken Wiwa, son of the famous Ogoni writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed by the barbarous Abacha regime in November 1995.
Ken Wiwa told me her family and that of Akua had been friends “for decades.” Small world, I said to myself. Who would have thought that Ken Saro-Wiwa, about whom I’d written thousands of words, would have an unknown mutual friend with me, called Akua Agyemang?
The “proper” Ghanaian funeral for Akua took place the next evening at the Old Town Hall, Chelsea. Again, very posh. And again, loads of people one hadn’t seen for years (such as my old friend, Kumi Agyei) and others whose existence one wasn’t even aware of (such as a lady who introduced herself to me as the daughter of my brother, Opanin Akrasi, otherwise known as Agya Kwaku Nsuaapem!
So Akua did not only have a very nice send-off; she also brought a lot of people together as she embarked on her final journey. This would have pleased her a lot, for she loved bringing people together. My condolences to all members of her family, who have incurred a loss such as a few privileged people like me are capable of sharing fully.
NEXT, I heard that Jake [Otanka] Obetsebi-Lamptey, former National Chairman of the NPP, ex-Minister of Information, and ex-Minister of Tourism, had also kicked the bucket.
Jake? Larger than life Jake? How could that be? Apparently, he had been receiving treatment for leukaemia in South Africa and was flown to London when he didn’t improve. Sadly, the hospital in London to which he was taken, couldn’t help much either. And Jake passed.
His passing now is a reproach to his political opponents, some of whom floated cruel rumours some months erlier, that he had died, when he was in fact still alive. It must have been with a very heavy heart that he had to tell some radio stations that he was still alive. Indeed, our politicians and their “rented media” need to re-examine their consciences about some of the things they do.
Politics is only a small part of a human being’s life. Why should it be so elevated that it destroys all the decency to be expected of a normal human being?
I ask: what kind of human being peddles false rumours about the death of a fellow human being, when he has no evidence that such a death has actually occurred? Who on this earth will never die? If we shall all taste death, then why should another person’s death delight someone else so much that he would hurry to invent the death, when it has not yet occurred? Can these people not realise what pain it must cause someone else for him to be made to feel that other people would want him to die?
I last spoke to Jake when he came to London with Nana Akufo Addo, just before the election. He was, as usual, very debonair, very cool. I’d also seen him when he was Minister of Tourism under President J A Kufuor. He hit upon the a brilliant idea of launching what he called “The Joseph Project”, through which he wanted to invite Africa-Americans to come to Ghana in large numbers, to get reunited with their roots, by attending festivals and creating organic relationships with the people of Ghana.
The scheme didn’t take off, for want of financing. It would be a very good thing for someone to revive the idea in future, for we are inextricably linked to our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, and nothing but good can come from an organised reunification of our two societies.
Finally, my condolences to the family of Squadron Leader Melody Danquah, who is being buried this weekend (2-3 April 2016). I remember vaguely that she did a short stint at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, when I worked there, before she joined the Air Force as the first-ever female pilot of Ghana. She was extremely popular with journalists, all of whom wanted to do a feature or two about “The First Female Pilot” of Ghana. She handled it all with decorum and didn’t allow the publicity to come between her and the serious business of keeping her aircraft and its passengers safely in the air.
My condolences to all members of her family – and especially to Ken Ofori Atta, who was related to her by marriage.
President Barack Obama has shown remarkable courage in visiting Cuba and holding frank discussions with the Cuban Government on how to improve relations between the two countries at a practical level.
Cuba and the US used to be very good friends. Havana harbour was once the “yacht-parking-lot” of the rich and famous in America. Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man And The Seawith the salty air of the Cuban beach in his nostrils.
Despite the “romantic” manner in which Fidel and his little band of revolutionaries achieved power, the bearded cigar-smokers meant business. Seriously. American companies that had served as Batista’s pay-masters were given short shrift. But they had clout in Washington, and they got President Dwight Eisenhower to impose a trade embargo on Cuba.
However, some in the Eisenhower administration did not think the trade embargo went far enough and they authorised the CIA to assemble an army, recruited mainly in Miami, Florida, and trained in Guatemala, to invade Cuba. The invasion occurred on a beach called Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs) on 17 April 1961. But the operation was monumentally botched by the CIA. The anti-Castro band found itself marooned and about 1200 of them surrendered. 100 were killed.
The Bay of Pigs attack convinced Castro that the US would not rest until it had overthrown him. So, willy-nilly, he signed up to a full alliance with the Soviet Union. In 1962, he agreed to station Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.
The US hit the roof. It sent an armada of warships to quarantine Cuban waters. Their orders were to turn back Soviet ships that were en route to Cuba with missiles! This created the worst confrontation between the two world super-powers since World War Two.
It looked indeed as if the world was headed for World War Three – a thermonuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union. However, at the last minute, good sense prevailed. The Soviet Ambassador in the US got together with President John F Kennedy’s younger brother, Attorney-General Robert Kennedy, and made each other understand that neither country wanted war. An agreement was hatched that saved the faces of both countries. And thus, the “Cuban missile crisis” came to an end – not one minute too soon.
But from then on, the US tightened the economic noose around Cuba’s neck. It prevailed on its allies to join it in imposing a more hefty trade embargo on Cuba. The Soviet Union did its best to help Cuba out, but the provision of consumer goods had never been a priority in the USSR itself, and Cuba ran short of many essential goods that had previously been imported from the US and other Western countries.
For the great feat of putting the South African Defence Force to flight alone, Cuba would merit the undying gratitude of the people of the entire African continent. But that is not the only service Cuba has rendered to Africa. An American publication gives perhaps the best testimony about this aspect of Cuba’s relationship with Africa.
According to Time Magazine,
“Cuba is world-famous for its ability to train outstanding doctors and nurses,” said WHO director Margaret Chan in a Sept.  press conference announcing Cuba’s surge of health care workers.
“But why is Cuba so uniquely prepared to treat Ebola? It comes down to a national priority that even has its own name, coined by academics:“Cuban Medical Internationalism.”
“Cuba’s global health crisis response system is a Doctors Without Borders-like program, but instituted by the government. When Cuban doctors graduate medical school, they are given the opportunity to volunteer to be called upon for medical missions, like an Ebola outbreak or a natural catastrophe. Often, these are one to two-year commitments. To prepare for something like Ebola, health care workers not only undergo aggressive training for the specific disease they are treating, but they also take courses on the region’s culture and history as well….
“Gail Reed, co-founder of Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC) says: “It’s coming from a commitment to make health care a universally accepted right. …. It started around 1960, shortly after the Cuban Revolution. A massive earthquake killed up to 5,000 people in Chile, and Cuba sent health care workers into the disaster aftermath. A few years later, a medical team of more than 50 people went into war-torn Algeria….
“In 1998, Cuban medical teams discovered that they were treating a lot people who had never before had access to doctors, and they decided that leaving the health care systems as they found them was irresponsible. So Cuba founded the Latin American Medical School (ELAM), which offers scholarships to low-income students from around the world with the expectation that they will graduate and return to their home countries as health workers…. More than 23,000 physicians from low-income communities in 83 countries (even the U.S.) have graduated from ELAM, and nearly 10,000 are currently enrolled.
“Not surprisingly, Cuba’s leadership in the current Ebola epidemic has become political in the U.S.—Republicans are angry that a CDC worker recently went to Cuba for an Ebola meeting…… “The very fact that Cuba is the only other nation than the United States to contribute human resources to the Ebola crisis in a big way, creates enormous international political capital, especially when most nations are unwilling to send their own people into the centre of the calamity,” says Robert Huish, an assistant professor of international development studies at Dalhousie University in Canada.”UNQUOTE.
To continue to benefit mankind in this way, Cuba has to become economically strong and that can only be done if she is able to trade without any restrictions. Apart from consumer goods for its people, Cuba must import the machinery necessary to turn it into an industrial power. For if Cuba can do what it has done while fettered by an embargo, what can it do when it engages in industrial production without hindrance?
That is why the world must encourage President Barack Obama to work hard to achieve success in his discussions with the Cuban authorities during his visit to Cuba. Success at the talks will be one of the legacies he can leave to the world as the first black President of the United States. For why should a country’s internal social policy be used to prevent it from contributing its utmost to mankind? No-one can question Cuba;s credentials in that regard — as recognised by Time magazine.
When I stood at the New Polo Ground in Accra at midnight on 5 March 1957, within earshot of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, as he whispered to Mr Krobo Edusei, “Bepae ma me!” (Come and do the opening salutation me!) and heard Krobo respond by yelling with gusto: “CHOOOOOBOI!”….. “CHOOOOOBOI!”, to be greeted with probably the loudest YEEEEEEEEEEIIIIIIIIIIIII!! ever uttered on earth, I would never have believed that 59 years later, we would have a regime that would pack journalists into a tipper truck for them to cover the independence anniversary of their own “beloved country”.
And which politician could become known to the electorate without the reporting of his speeches to the world by journalists?
Is this the country whose people used ancient kyirem [asafo] formations to prevent their cocoa trees from being cut down, ostensibly to fight against ”swollen shoot” disease? Is this the nation in which the sounding of gong-gong and drum alerts would send men into the bush to look for women who had not returned from their farms and had disappeared (believed raped and killed); and who would also organise night-time patrols to deter burglars from attempting to rob their towns and villages? What has happened to the spirit that once reigned at Aboabo in Kumase? Where are the Amantuor-Mmiensa in Akyem Abuakwa? Where are the ”Asafo Companies” – with their picturesque flags – that taught valour and honour to the young men of the Western and Central Regions?
No, I would never have believed that our people would all be sitting down and watching their rivers die. Birem, Densu, Offin, Prah, Tanoh, Butere, Supong and many others are all at risk of dying completely.
One brilliant TV journalist who made a film about the tragedy, Edem Srem, wrote in heart-breaking terms about the lack of concern in the country over this tragic situation:
NO! On 6 Match 1957, I would never have believed that our independence, which we deemed so valuable that Dr Kwame Nkrumah was bold enough to say that it would be “meaningless unless it is linked up with the independence of the whole African continent!” would rather so emasculate us and rob us of all common sense that we would sit down and watch with our hands tied behind our backs whist the source of our VERY LIVES – our water bodies – were being violated AND KILLED by foreigners and the local traitors who assist them – for money. And, of course, I would never have believed that one day we would have a President in this country, who. having sworn to safeguard all our lives, tells us, regarding galamsey, that those who destroy our water bodies do so because “they want to earn a living!”
Buck up, Ghanaians of 2016. A lot of confidence was invested in you in 1957. Do not let those who believed in you as the future builders opf the nation they won back for you from the British colonialists, gnash their teeth and wring their hands with sadness, as they watch you from that far-away place they have now gone to, from where they can never return.
In February 2010, Ghanaians were stunned to hear that Achimota School, in its day, the most prestigious educational institution in the country, had fallen on hard times to such an extent that excreta was leaking from its sewerage system into the campus:
QUOTE: “Achimota School’s entire sewerage system collapses
“Accra, Feb 4, GNA – The health of students of Achimota School in Accra is under threat, as its entire sewerage system [has] collapsed, forcing human excreta and other hazardous materials to gush out… on [to the] campus. Since the emergence of the problem [a] few months ago, students have had to spend two days out of the five studying days, to tidy up the campus…
“ A tour [of] the school showed the severity of the problem; the stench and sight of raw sewage emanating from a broken central sewage processing system…..
Human excreta and raw sewage from the dormitories which was [supposed] to pass through the underground sewerage, had spilled into the open [ground] on campus, posing health danger to students, police officers stationed there and a hospital which is on the campus. A cursory look at the periphery of the campus shows the development of sprawling neighbourhoods made up of state of the art mansions, which have undoubtedly contributed to the collapse of the underground sewerage network.
“Most of these structures are said to belong to well-connected persons in society, … [They] have encroached on the school’s land, covering about one-third of it. “UNQUOTE
As soon as this news reached the Internet, a petition – signed by thousands of people – was organised by Old Achimotans on their website. These thousands were from both Ghana and the Diaspora. They called on the Government to halt the ruination that faced this important institution. The connection between Achimota and many potentates – from Sir Gordon Guggisberg (who founded the school in 1924) to Dr Emmanuel Kwegyir Aggrey and Dr Kwame Nkrumah – was recalled. Indeed, by a happy coincidence – or so those of us who vigorously supported the campaign thought – the President of Ghana at the time was Professor John Attah Mills, an old boy of the school. Surely, as an “Akora” [Old Achimotan] he would leave no stone unturned to save his alma mater?
It was at this stage that Achimota proved to some of us that “education” does not necessarily free men and women from an inability to think through their problems to their logical conclusion. Some of the erudite products of Achimota concluded that a petition presented publicly to the President by the former students of such an elite institution would cause “political embarrassment” to him, an old “Akora”!!
So instead of exerting maximum pressure on Mills and his Government by a publicly-staged naming and shaming, session at which the petition would be presented to the President, a clique of “influential” Akoras intercepted the petition and arranged a private meeting with the President to convey its contents to him. Reports of the secret meetings are sketchy, but the upshot of it is that the President told them that he was President of the whole of Ghana and that he could not therefore single out Achimota for special treatment. Very correct, of course, but quite asinine. Just because you cannot feed every person in the world, must you starve your child?
But a few years later, a far more insidious danger threatens the school. This is the deliberate encroachment, by well-heeled land/estate developers, of Achimota school lands. Information seeps through about this in driblets: a well-known leader of a charismatic church is an encroacher; others are powerful enough to threaten the school’s staff with lawsuits and/or political action.
Hawkers, Pentecostal Churches and rubbish disposal practitioners of all types have also turned parts of the Achimota Forest – a well-conceived facility meant to teach the students that there is life outside the classroom – into such a waste-dump-plus-wayside-free-
This has happened to Achimota Forest? It is a slap in the face of the elite of Ghana, who are so obsessed with the personal advantages to be gained by them as individuals though cliquishness and “networking” that matters of a public concern take a back seat with many of them.
But why not? If the famous swimming pool that had delighted countless students for decades could be allowed to dry/crumble; if the sewerage system could be neglected to such an extent that it disgorged stench on to the campus; if teachers’ bungalows were being walled off by encroachers, without action from the Government that is supposed to care for the school in trust for the public, then what could not be done?
But have we not heard that before? Water facilities? Communications? Electricity supplies? All the public utilities our Governments have sold off have performed to absolutely satisfactory standards, no?
Well “privatisation” has pounced again: on 20 Feb 2016 – almost six years to the day the Achimota excreta story was published, we read that:
QUOTE: “The Forestry Commission has signed an agreement with a development partner, Aikan Capital Limited, to convert the Achimota Forest into an international eco-tourism facility.
At the signing of the agreement, the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Nii Osah Mills, said the Achimota Forest Reserve … was under serious threat. That, he said, was due to encroachment for settlements, the construction of roads and its use as dumping sites for various waste materials, leading to the initial coverage area of the forest of 500 hectares being reduced to 360 hectares…. The conversion of the Achimota Forest into an eco-tourism facility is, therefore, a timely intervention to save the forest from further destruction”.UNQUOTE
Now, I seek answers to a few questions:
3. Why are the Minister and the Lands Commission disposing of a public asset without prior public discussion, or consultation of any sort whatsoever? Are they not aware that the current Government has only about nine months of life left and that without public consent, the project might be jettisoned by the next Government? Has the Minister not heard of a ”lame duck ” administration?
4. Does the company venturing into partnership with the Government to develop such a controversial site not realise the danger into which it is placing its proposed “investment”? Does the company not know that following the Woyome case, Ghanaians have become acutely suspicious of the way public projects are handed to hand-pickled individuals and companies? Does it not know that the inconsistencies that can arise in the relationship between the Government and private companies like Woyome’s can have dire consequences – such as the rampant demands for compensation from the Government, often leading to questionable ”judgement debts”?
5. What is the background of this company anyway? What projects has it executed elsewhere which it can point to and say, “We did this” and so, you are safe if you enter into partnership with us”?
6. Even if – I repeat if – everything about the project was devoid of controversy, would be it wise for the Government to offer participation in it to a single company – without any tendering process– given the amount of disquiet that has been expressed about
the fact that the ”Ameri” contract (recently concluded to supply Ghana with electric power) was “single-sourced” to a foreign company?
Of course, the Government can ignore these questions, under the illusion that Ghanaians “like to make noise” but that they have shortmemories. So any fuss made now will “blow over” soon.
But I maintain that that is not true!
I refer the Government to the sections in its libraries entitled “Commissions of Enquiry”. I invite members of the Government to read, especially, the verbatim reports of the proceedings at these enquiries.
I also invite them to remember the adage that “Those who forget their own history are condemned to relive it!”.