#YouGonLearnToday

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This is for the many people who have told me over the years that they wish they could attend one of my classes… but haven’t been able to make it up the road to Ashesi.

The always-awesome Nubuke Foundation have given me the chance to present a public lecture this evening as part of their ‘Ghana Must Go’ series. I plan on using the opportunity to connect a lot of dots together including:

  • The importance of meme culture
  • The significance of Shatta Wale and his entire movement
  • White Jesus
  • Oprah
  • Fake News
  • The merits of Pidgin English
  • Your parents’ addiction to Whatsapp
  • Heritage Africa
  • And all manner of seemingly random stuff…

… all in the name of getting education out of the classroom and out into the streets.

It’s at 7pm, it’s free and it will be followed by a DJ set by Eff the DJ.

And you’re very invited.

Before & After

 

Images by Sena-8402

Today marks exactly two years since I first kissed the woman I would subsequently share my life with.

Born of a cocktail of chance, heart and insanity at Kotoka International Airport, that kiss was when our companionship began. Sure: we celebrated a year of being married a few weeks back. But (though beautiful as it was important) our wedding was merely social validation for something we already held true. I know I still owe everyone an explanation (incoming) for what made me ‘change my mind’ about marriage. For those who can’t wait, let me sum it up in a word:

Shari.

I learned the meaning of divorce at the age of 7. A year or two later, I told my grandmother that I would marry as soon as I turned 18. My mother had just moved my brother and I from London to Cape Coast and I had already heard about people having problems abstaining from something called ‘sex before marriage’ (or as we kids called it, ‘Oh James!‘ because that’s what Bond Girls always exclaim before the screen faded to black). Early marriage seemed the obvious solution to my purity-culture-indoctrinated mind. I remember how hard Grandma laughed, but I did not care: I was going to marry as soon as I could. Years later, I – of course – discovered that there are other variables to the damn thing.

Many variables.

So many variables.

Today, I remember all the people who dismissed me as not serious (or worse). People who thought I was waiting for perfection. All the advice (“don’t be so scared of divorce” and “expand your horizons: you’re expecting too much from just one woman” still stand out). I remember trying (to the point of tears) to make relationships work. The agony of defeat when they didn’t. With regret, I remember hearts broken. And I remember eventually locking my heart in a box so it would stop hurting people. People including myself.

All these things exist in a nebulous time in my life that I will henceforth refer to as ‘Before Meeting Her’.

‘After Meeting Her’ on the other hand has been a period marked by a daily kind of joy. Two years is too short a time within which to celebrate a relationship. I’ve always looked with immense skepticism at young couples publicly celebrating their love (with beautifully orchestrated and posed-for pictures) on social media. My awe is reserved for grandparents who still laugh with each other after years of love and struggle, the way my step-grandparents did (before Grandpa left Mamaa – and all of us – a few years back). Years from now, I hope Shari and I still get in the car to go to events, only to turn around because we would much rather just spend time laughing in each other’s company. I hope that we are still as comfortable with each other as we are now, sharing everything from finances and duties around the house. And Love. I hope we remain awash in it.

Two years into this thing we have, I am thankful.

Possibly the warmest person I have ever met, Shari is a force; one who daily shifts my life’s motion towards light. She is better than me at so many things. She reads and plans and hoards and curates. She has a better ear for music than I do, and this weird ability to absorb a song after one listen, forcing us to be VERY CAREFUL about what we listen to, lest a maddeningly annoying song gets stuck in her head for days on end. She is a professional I have much to learn from, only just beginning to understand the extent of her potential: the kind of person who receives compliments graciously but has yet to believe them.

This is the woman I’m lucky enough to love.

Images by Sena-8396

(Photos courtesy of Sena Kpodo)

 

Montie: a Time for Anger

“If this country collapses, we will start from the homes of those who say it should collapse. I’ve told you and God has also opened the way. These judges who are trying to put oxygen in the raging fire, I know all their houses. I know where the judges live in Accra here. I can show you. I know their quarters; the Supreme Court Judges. I also know the High Court Judges. If they dare, they should bring something, it will start in their residences, in their neighbourhoods…”

“When we finish them, then it’s over. Then we come and govern our country because they don’t wish this country well so they have to go. When we say farewell to them, then those of us who wish well for this country can hold on to the country and govern this country. So you, they should sit there and think because they are Supreme Court judges, they can do anything…”

For reasons I’m yet to understand, I have deep reserves of patience. I can end a year counting on one hand the number of times I’ve felt anger. It’s usually a brief feeling. My brain kicks in: “What’s the point? Let it go.” I usually do.

Last week was different. I spent parts of it trying to contain an anger in my chest, keeping it from crushing my lungs, wrapping itself around my throat, and choking me from within, on its way to my lips.

The Montie Affair

Last week, the Supreme Court found three men from the radio station ‘Montie FM’ – Salifu Maase, Godwin Ako Gunn & Alistair Tairo Nelson – guilty of contempt, sentencing them each to four months in prison and a hefty fine. They had threatened members of the Court with violence and death during a live broadcast (more or less thirty-four years to the day that the body out of which the ruling party was born infamously killed three high court judges).

In response to the court’s judgment, a petition has been created, asking President Mahama to pardon the trio through a constitutional provision that gives him the discretion to do so. It has apparently amassed thousands of signatures, including those of several high-profile ministers of state whose inclusion has raised many an eyebrow.

The arguments for freeing the Trio vary. While there is some consensus that the crime was indeed grave, there is also consensus that the four-month sentence was ‘harsh’ (strange: I understand it is not the maximum sentence for such crimes) and that the three should be freed, as ‘they have shown remorse’ (don’t most prisoners?) In an official statement, the NDC framed the judgment as an attack on free media and freedom of expression (something disputed by the Ghana Journalists Association).

I’ll say this:

One of the first things I was taught during my law degree was that the law does not exist in a vacuum. Just because the President has the constitutional right to exercise discretion doesn’t mean he should. Context is everything and there is a lot of context to sift through here. There are others far, far wisermore informed and wittier than me who make compelling counter-arguments and perspectives. I hope the President listens to those perspectives as much as he does the cacophony surrounding him.

Baring My Biases

I have long believed that the ancestors reserve some of the darkest corners of the underworld for radio presenters who place party politics above a love of country, especially during the election season. I have marveled at the recklessness of presenters and panelists on stations often owned by politicians or their financiers; at how regularly such pundits push hard-won press freedoms to their absolute limit – taking us to the brink of violence with them – with utter impunity.

In places where the opposition is limited or ineffective, journalism is incredibly important. To call it the Fourth Estate does not do it justice. Journalists are our defenders. They become our daily opposition: doing the research, asking the hard questions, holding power accountable, advocating for change, risking their lives to help us all see the truth through the smoke; giving us the information we need to make informed decisions. It is noble, underappreciated but important work. It is central to democracy.

I responded to the Supreme Court ruling on the Montie Trio with relief. Finally, someone was holding these pundits-pretending-to-be-journalists accountable in a manner within the boundaries of the law, in a way that the National Media Commission has (understandably) not been given the teeth to.

Anger and Empathy

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love… We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”

These words – by Ernesto Ché Guevara – are ones I try to live by. Anger too is a moving force, but it moves in a different way. It can twist Love, subverting it and transmuting it into something unrecognizable. I have had difficulty fitting anger into my worldview.

Back when I was on Twitter, for example, there was a news story (I forget which one) that prompted me to go on a rant about anger being ‘unconstructive.’ It provoked a series of annoyed tweets from my friend, KinnaReads, who called me out for my ‘kumbaya’ position, reminding me (if I recall correctly) that anger has a place, whether it is constructive or not. We discussed it offline and I came to agree with her. I just didn’t see how to reconcile it with my worldview.

I believe in (impractical) things like empathy because the act of stepping into someone else’s shoes – however different they are from me or however we disagree – humanizes them/their position, which in turn helps me see the entire picture.

It leads me closer to Truth.

I’ve always presumed that anger is incompatible with love and empathy. Last Sunday however, I was reminded that it isn’t:

How Hill House Helped

After expressing my anger and dissonance to my Friends Meeting last Sunday, we discussed some perspectives that helped me to connect more than a few dots:

1. Empathy is cool, but it has to be complete

Much as I disagree with what they do, my inner pacficist forces me to empathize with the Montie Three. They are people too. They are afraid of jail. They have families. They are sorry. Etc etc. Empathy demands that I acknowledge that they spoke so passionately for a reason: the ongoing mess over the voters register – an important matter that should concern us all. Their frustrations clearly ran over.

That said, someone at Hill House who I have endless admiration for reminded me that my empathy should also extend to the judges whose lives were threatened. It should extend to their families. It should extend to Ghanaians who wish to live in a peacefully country that is not pushed to the brink in the name of party politics and the punditry of stations like Oman, Gold and Montie. Or Ghanaians who want to leave the dark days of killing judges behind. It should extend to the 13,000 or so remand prisoners who have been scooped up from our streets on suspicion of crimes and have since languished in jail waiting for one common trial – not even at the Supreme Court, mind you. It should extend to their families who haven’t seen or heard from them since.

2. Anger is a secondary emotion

Anger is usually a product of fear. So when you feel it, it is worth asking oneself what fear is behind your anger. For example, as a dear friend’s mother pointed out at the meeting, there is a fear in parts of the world that is resulting from all the various civil rights advances and the perception of being under attack. That fear has now become an anger that is threatening to undermine those liberties and advances.

My anger is the result of a fear that media impunity will result in our country plunging into chaos. It reminds me of Rwanda’s Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines: the station that catalysed the Rwandan genocide.

One’s response to such anger should always be to slow down: pause, think, reflect… and only then to react. If the Montie 3 had done this, they wouldn’t be in their predicament today. And we wouldn’t be facing yet another prospect of party politics being placed over the national interest.

3. Jesus and the Whip

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I always forget about John 2:15.

The anger itself isn’t a problem: it’s human. Divine too, apparently. The issue is perhaps what you do with your anger. Again, perhaps this is where the Trio slipped and as my good friend put it at the meeting, “punishing people is the price we pay for having standards.”

So what am I doing with my anger?

It’s made me think. I’ve shared it (first at the meeting now here). And I’m adding my voice to those calling on the President to not undermine the Supreme Court (it’ll be constitutional but, as I mentioned earlier, the law does not exist in a vacuum). I’m afraid I’m not his biggest fan, but that does not deny him my empathy too. I suspect that he needs as much pressure from everyone else as he has from that petition if he’s going to make a decision in all our best interests, and not just those of his party disciples.

Takashie is Our National Philosophy

The subject of dumsor came up briefly at our Friends meeting two Sundays ago.

I cannot remember the question she was responding to, but my fellow friend Edwina said something along the lines of:

“If you are sitting in dumsor and they are trying to tell you that there is no dumsor, why should you take anything they say seriously?”

I couldn’t agree more.

It is deeply depressing (and actually really insulting) when – in fear of its potential effect on their power – our leaders deny the very existence of our problems. Or try to get technical about them, playing word games… with words that we created.

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I’m not saying our government has done nothing towards ending the power crisis: things had improved until a month or two ago. I’ll do that rare thing and commend them for such small mercies.

However, when I am sitting in dumsor, don’t try and tell me that it is not dumsor. It’s bad enough that you haven’t solved our problem; don’t insult our intelligence/experience too. Just give us our dumsor schedule. You know: the one you won’t stick to anyway. Yes. That one.

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We will be voting at the end of the year. I believe in actual choice, and I just don’t see enough difference between our two leading parties. Some – maybe – but little by way of genuine, inspirational, transformational leadership.

My dream candidate (another post for another day) would be a little more radical than Ghana is presently used to. For what should be obvious reasons, there are certain things he or she would ban senior government officials from access to, including:

  • The right to fly abroad for medical treatment
  • The right to educate their children abroad (before Masters degree level)
  • Generators
  • Water tanks
  • Motorcades to cut through traffic

I could go on.

I’m not saying politicians need to work for free, but we do need to find urgent ways of getting people to look at politics as public service and not some fast track route towards personal gain (or a way of repaying the massive debts our politicians incur in order to become politicians). And we need politicians who feel what we feel, and who put people over politics/money/resources as a result.

John-Mensah-Sarbah

Example: way back in the day, there was a general belief that the social value of land was more important than its commercial value (you know… the kind of thing South Africa’s Abahlali Basemjondolo are all about). That alone is as good an example of people being more important than money as any. But that’s only the beginning of this story.

When the British colonial government basically tried  (with the Crown Lands Bill of 1897) to claim all land they saw just ‘sitting there’ (ancestral/inherited lands) for the British Empire, Ghanaians were understandably horrified. Patriots including John Mensah Sarbah founded the Aboriginal Rights Protection Society to shut that nonsense down, partly by:

  1. Studying all proposed colonial measures
  2. Giving political education to the people
  3. Making the people understand the effect of these measures

Yet another example of putting people first.

After the Society campaigned successfully for the Bill to be rescinded, Sarbah refused to take any money for his role in their success, explaining that it was an honour to serve his people.

Now that’s leadership I can get behind.

Today we have a new national philosophy and it has little room for crazy ideas like public service and putting people first. It’s not Christianity: please. We might wear fine robes on Sundays, pray in loud tongues and such, but look around you: we are waaaaay too practical a people to actually practice such universally lauded religious principles as turning the other cheek or treating people the way we would have them treat us. Our society would look very different if we did.

No. Our real national philosophy is takashie: forcing our way ahead by any means necessary, often at the expense of others.

Where we have a choice between demonstrating a love of others or using takashie, the latter usually wins. Open your eyes and you’ll see examples, everywhere and every day. In little things. Like driving in traffic. In haggling prices. In (not) queuing. Etc, etc.

Each man/woman for him/herself and God for us all… and that’s the problem:

Takashie is an understandable response to the frustrations of living in Ghana. Nevertheless, our leaders come from among us. They are living reflections of what we really believe in: not as individuals, but as a society. If we each resort to daily takashie, why should we expect our leaders to – by some random miracle – do any different?

Sure: some countries are lucky enough to get officials who think differently and who help move their countries forward as a result. But that’s just it, isn’t it: luck. Such leaders are miracles.

Which makes our choice a tricky one: ‘Aben Wo Ha‘ vs. ‘Dabi Dabi 3by3 Yie‘.

Either we continue to get by on takashie, continue to produce more of the same leaders and vote them in with the expectation that they will suddenly and miraculously become benevolent (with enough competence to match that benevolence).

Or maybe we should all start thinking about our individual roles in changing the society out of which our leaders emerge.

 

 

Trips to Thug-O

I was going to write a long rant about this, but there’s no point. So I’ll just say this.

1. It makes no difference whether you enter Togo through the official border or the illegal one. Tried both. Your choice is simply whether you wish to be screwed by people in uniform or people without. Choose wisely. Choose unwisely. Makes no difference.

2. If you ever want a reason to feel like Ghana is progressing, visit Togo by land.

I’m sure my Togolese brethren are wonderful people.

But by the time you go through Togolese customs, you’ll miss Ghana Police.

Fin.

The Bastard (Not a Poem)

I am not the good man I try to be
I am like any other
Struggling
With all the flaws that being a man (and human) entails

I will make mistakes
I have made mistakes
Some of which I’m not proud
Some of which I’m yet to learn were mistakes

As I try to reach a standard
Please don’t mistake me for that standard
It is a mistake I sometimes make myself
And it is a dangerous one

For it leads to hurt
When distance is discovered
Between who I am
And who I am trying to be

Distance that I try (and often fail) to shorten
Hurt I wish I could undo

Oteiba

Oteiba

#LittleRebel #Kasapoley #Ntampiwaa #KookieBoogie #LittleBigSister #Oteiba

Before she left, my beloved Kukuwah and I were so inseparable that people joked that I would never find a companion while she was in the picture. It’s hard to imagine that we come from different mothers: our lives are a living testament to the fact that ‘Step’ doesn’t have to mean emnity and siblinghood can conquer all.

I have watched Kukuwah grow from the quiet toddler who was surgically attached to my leg; to the outspoken teenager who made me question my taste in music (tcheew) while treating me like her own personal Google; to the young woman who then STOLE my taste in music and learned to think for herself; to this young queen GODDESS who now sits on top of the world in Canada and shines on me. It has been amazing watching you grow. You’re my younger sister but I look up to you in strength, in resilience, and most certainly in style.

I. Am. So. Proud. Of. You.

… and I miss you. Horribly. Social media cannot contain this love koraa: cyberspace is far too small. I cannot wait to see you again. #BringBackThisGirl #SheWhomCanadaStole

Happy Birthday, Ekua Oteiba.

May this day – this year – bring you closer to your dreams, closer to fulfillment, closer to Love… closer to a ticket back to Ghana, damn it!