I just came back from the Ghana 60 years on, mobilising Ghana’s future event – staged at London university SOAS. In a nutshell, I would have to say that there was more politics going on behind the scenes than was discussed during the session.
Serious egos bouncing off each other which meant there was NO REAL transformative discussion about Ghana at all.
The highlights for me were the way the filmmaker Paul Adom-Otchere structured the film ‘From Gold Coast to Ghana’ – around legal and constitutional milestones dating back to 6 March 1844 when part of modern-day Ghana came under British jurisdiction. I thought it was a simple way of crystallising and distilling a lot of our complex history and creating some sort of timeline of historical events and their significance.
A legal route to Ghanaian history
But this did not go down well with everyone and one audience member took issue to what she thought was an omission of Ghana’s rich heritage of tribes, cultures and female leaders. The film reduces the role of women to that of just having babies, she said. She was right there – there was no mention of Theodosia Okoh, the woman who designed Ghana’s iconic flag – for one thing. Instead, the majority of educated women mentioned had their claim to fame focussed on their role as mothers to famous politicians. I get it – that image fits nicely with the narrative that educating a woman educates a nation whereas educating a man, educates an individual. But it did seem a little one dimensional.
On the issue of highlighting Ghana’s cultural diversity, I have to say that in the filmmakers defence he did explain at the beginning of his address, that there are a multitude of ways he could have approached such a film. But he had chosen to take a more neutral route – i.e. looking at the laws that governed the then Gold Coast.
Talking of neutrality, it seemed the film was anything but. There was a heavy focus on J.B Danquah – great uncle to Ghana’s present president Akufo Addo. In Danquah’s hey day, he was a kingpin in the people’s movement towards independence. As a pan-Africanist, lawyer and historian, he initially worked with Kwame Nkrumah to achieve this end, but the pair fell out. According to the film, it was Danquah that came up with the name Ghana for the newly independent nation, although the history books I have read say otherwise and name Nkrumah (I guess it nicely fits the narrative if the guy who names the country also leads it).
Nkrumah v Danquah
A not too subtle theme running through the film was the prominence of J.B Danquah in the whole production. I could not put my finger on it until someone in the audience pointed it out. And I do not profess to be anything of an expert on Ghanaian political history but the tone was one that suggested that Danquah was the president that should have been but wasn’t. Danquah stood as a presidential candidate against Nkrumah in 1960 but lost. Five years later, he was dead after being arrested a year before in 1964 for allegedly plotting against the president.
Other points during the event just seemed a little awkward to me like when Richard Dowden – director of the Royal African Society (RAS) – launched into a discussion with Adom-Otchere once the film had ended even though the agenda stated that there would be a poetry reading to take place. After some to-ing and fro-ing, Dr Kwadwo Osei-Nyame of SOAS read out two amazingly poignant poems and deconstructed them all within 15 minutes and at high speed to vocal applause from the audience.
The poems were, for me, a breath of fresh air against what seemed at times to be a film with an agenda. Don’t get me wrong, the film was informative and the images of the Gold Coast, the interviews with the learned few and relatives of past politicians were gold. Paa Grant’s daughter Sarah, who spoke so eloquently and with such humour during the film, was my absolute highlight. But like those plumby 1950s/60s propaganda films the British used to put out to push a certain viewpoint, I did feel this film followed a similar path and seemed to hold on to a vestige of nostalgia for British rule and what that gave Ghana.
The poems, by contrast, spoke of Ghana today. Ghana’s identity after all that political turbulence. The poems required us to think critically and assess Ghana’s achievements and failings 60 years on from independence. The poems challenged the idea of independence, suggesting that Ghana and Ghanaians are still being colonised and that march towards independence has not really ended.
Audience members asked about neo-colonialism in Ghana and the rise of galamsey activity among the Chinese. Ghana’s role in the digital age was also mentioned more than once without any clear pathway to exploring this interesting topic.
The poem resonated with me because it touched on the very inconsistencies that come with our continued celebration of Ghana’s independence despite the seemingly backward steps the nation has taken in addressing why corruption, poverty, and challenges to economic and social development still persist. These were the topics I had expected to see explored during the session. And I guess this was made all the more acute when you consider the impact that SOAS – where this event was held – has had on shaping the minds of some of Ghana’s influential politicians such as past president Atta Mills, MP Samia Nkrumah, and Aaron Mike Oquaye, minister of communication.
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