GHANA @55 by CAMERON DUODU
The Ghanaian Times 6 March 2012
YOU mean 55 years have passed since we stood in the streets of Accra, watching the decorative “floats” drive by – one depicting the life of a cocoa farmer; another showing well-built men casting nets; a third carrying our beautiful, newly-crowned beauty queen – and with smiling faces everywhere, we celebrated the first day of our independence on 6 March 1957?
Foreign dignitaries such as the Duchess of Kent; Vice-President Richard Nixon; Martin Luther King – accompanied by two bus-loads of foreign correspondents – were observing us expressing our joy. Some shared it. Others sneered at it.
We didn’t care. We had our sparkling, handsome Prime Minister. We had systems in place that would ensure that we could operate efficiently as an independent state. What had the colour of our skin got to do with it?
I had seen the system in operation myself. It was impressive. When I applied, from the relatively relaxed ambience of the Christian magazine, New Nation, to join the “Gold Coast Broadcasting System”, I was interviewed by four of the topmost officials of the organisation. But what I was able to tell them in answer to their questions paled into insignificance, when they put me behind a microphone and sat behind a glass panel to watch me read an actual news bulletin that had been broadcast earlier.
I’d never seen a radio studio before. No-one had advised me about trying not to make the paper rustle as I read the news. I didn’t even know the correct distance I should put between my lips and the microphone. Someone just said from behind the glass panel, “Start reading when you see the green light come on!”.
I sat straight in my chair and told my heart not to beat so loudly. Then I remembered all those times when I’d sat by a radio box and pretended to be John Hammond or Kwame Amamoo or Appiah Kubi, and had read the news with them. In my head. Well, now, I did it for real.
When I finished the bulletin, sailing past words like “Eisenhower” and “Adlai Stephenson” (often mispronounced as “Adlah-i”) I overheard one of the guys behind the glass panel say to the others, “He must listen a lot!” I smiled to myself.
“Listen a lot?” Radio had been my life for years. I used to get up every morning to walk to the house of a friend who owned a wireless set, to listen to the BBC news and Radio Newsreel with him.
I found that rigid standards existed at the GBS. When I got my appointment letter, I had to undergo a medical examination. They operated a voucher system for claiming allowances which you could never cheat. To ensure absolute subordination, ”queries” against you could be written by those above you, that were placed in your “personal file” and which would be taken into account if you were being considered for promotion. If you got a “case” outside, say in a court, a copy of the document concerned would be placed in your personal file.
In private life too, things were happening to us. I only possessed a Middle Form Four (Standard Seven) certificate from school. But I wanted to advance myself, and through an organisation called “The People’s Educational Association” (PEA) I began to attend lectures on history and English Language. Through these lectures, I met a man called Mr E C E Asiamah, who came down to Asiakwa from Abuakwa State College, Kyebi, to lecture us once a week. He was sent to us by the University of Ghana’s Extra-Mural Studies Department. He loved the English language, and he communicated that love to us. So we listened to him with rapt attention and devoted time to the essays he asked us to write. He had studied at the University of Ghana, Legon, and it was he who made me see, for the first time, the importance of reading a lot and absorbing a lot through reading. I loved the man and wanted to go to the University in order to be as knowledgeable as he was.
Mr Asiamah encouraged me – he taught me how to get myself qualified for higher education, through private study. “You can do GCE ‘O’ levels by taking a course from the Rapid Results College, London”, he said. “When you get through the ‘O” levels, you can do the “A” levels with a course from there, too. And you can, then, go to the University, if you like.” he said. “Otherwise, you can read for an external degree.” He told me that he was himself studying law externally to obtain an LL.B to add to the B.A. he’d got at Legon.
“And when I finish that, I shall also do the LL.M externally!” he said. To him, advancing educationally was as simple as A B C. And he got me too excited about education. Suddenly, my life that was supposed to be limited to the teaching profession or a Field Assistant’s job in the Department of Agriculture, began to expand before my eyes.
Years later, I discovered exactly what sort of determination enabled a man like Mr Asiamah to progress. Having passed all his law examinations, just as he had envisioned, he was recruited to the President’s Office at Flagstaff House. He dealt in intelligence matters there, but his interests were wider than what Flagstaff House offered. He was a keen observer of world and African affairs, and as, I had, by then, firmly established myself at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, he asked me to introduce him to the chaps who organised talks on world and African affairs. He wanted to do some talks for them.
Now, this was strange, for Mr Asiamah stammered very badly in ordinary speech. Yet, somehow, he was not frightened of the microphone which would broadcast his disability to the whole world! Ha, little did I know – when given the chance, he managed to stifle his stuttering beyond one or two stumbles, and read his script smoothly through to the end.
I have given you Mr Asiamah’s example to show you the sort of spirit that was prevalent amongst some of our compatriots in Ghana 55 years ago. This gentleman so inspired me that I put in my best efforts and although I was only studying part-time,, I passed in five subjects at the “O” level at my first attempt. Moreover, I did it in only fifteen months. Mr Asiamah was over the moon, even though the only subject that defeated me was Latin, in which he gave me personal tuition! The trouble was that Latin had such an extensive syllabus that if I hadn’t abandoned it, it would have taken too much time and suffocated all the other subjects. Mr Asiamah had wanted me to obtain an ‘O’ Level in Latin because, in those days of stupid academic rigidities, if you didn’t have Latin, you couldn’t read for a B.A. degree at the University!
Anyway, the point I want to illustrate is that independence made many of us Ghanaians very ambitious. We knew that if we worked hard, we would be properly rewarded. When you walked firmly on the ground in those days, you knew who you were, for the competition was fierce. You got to where you were by proving yourself on the coal-face, so to speak. There was no way you could “eat” £50 of taxpayers’ money without earning it.
And if you had torn the hair off your head to pass your accountancy exams and got a job in the government, there was no way you were going to write cheques totalling millions of cedis for someone in relation to some huhudious subject called “financial engineering”.
Oh! Is this what our Ghana has become? A country in which lawyers ROUTINELY break their professional ethics and refuse to defend their client’s interests to the best of their ability, if the client happens to be the Government that appointed them and to which they owe their high standard of living? How many of these “professionals” who signed away our money to any fast-talking yob who came and instituted a ‘claim’ for a ‘judgement debt’ against the Republic of Ghana, live in government bungalows? Drive to work in government-provided vehicles? How many are served at home by government-paid staff? And the way they repay the people of Ghana, who have laboured to bestow these privileges on them, is to rob the country blind?
Well, at 55 years of age, Ghana is not a country to be toyed with. If professionals refuse to be professional, unqualified people will usurp the decision-making process and jettison all known standards.#
Who could ever have imagined, for instance, that there would one day be a “court” in Ghana, constituted by people who had deliberately screened themselves off, so that their victims could not see their faces? And who would send fellow Ghanaians to jail for scores of years for the most trite acts of dishonesty?
Don’t get me wrong — I hate disorder. Because people like me can ionly operate when there is order and freedom. But hey — I am only one out of 20 million or more.
So, please our Government — Cleanse the system! NOW!
Or else, by the law of averages, you must expect such horrors as you’ve never seen — even in your worst nightmares. For you are sitting on some of the most monumental — and ignoble — acts of cupidity ever committed in our 55 years of history.
I do wish you a Happy Birthday, my dear country.