CONGRATULATIONS! to these winners:
- Jimmy Jay
This giveaway has no geographic limitations.
Odili Samalu narrates the story of a post-independent country, ruled by the People’s Organization Party (P.O.P), that is riddled with political bias and graft. Having become disillusioned with the present government due to unchecked corruption and inept ‘public servants’, he ironically finds himself in the good graces of one such politician – Chief the Honourable M. A. Nanga. Micah Nanga had risen from the post of a humble teacher at Anata Grammar School to become a Member of Parliament and subsequently, by means of shameless opportunism, the Minister of Culture. Nonetheless, he is the most affable politician one could ever come across.
No one can deny that Chief the Honourable M. A. Nanga, M.P., was the most approachable politician in the country. Whether you asked in the city or in his home village, Anata, they would tell you he was a man of the people.
Chief Nanga offers to help Odili obtain a scholarship to study a postgraduate course in England as he, Nanga, is a close friend of Chief Koko the Minister for Overseas Training. Nanga invites Odili to stay with him in his mansion at Bori, the capital city, where Odili’s eyes are opened to the opulent lifestyle their so-called ministers lead. He debates the phenomenon of rising from grass to grace as he enjoys the plush self-contained room he is ushered into:
We ignore man’s basic nature if we say, as some critics do, that because a man like Nanga has risen overnight from poverty and insignificance to his present opulence he could be persuaded without much trouble to give it up again and return to his original state.
A man who has just come in from the rain and dried his body and put on dry clothes is more reluctant to go out again than another who has been indoors all the time. The trouble with our new nation – as I saw it then lying on the bed – was that none of us had been indoors long enough to be able to say ‘To hell with it’. We had all been in the rain together until yesterday. Then a handful of us – the smart and the lucky and hardly ever the best – had scrambled for the one shelter our former rulers left, and had taken it over and barricaded themselves in. And from within they sought to persuade the rest through numerous loudspeakers, that the first phase of the struggle had been won and that the next phase – the extension of our house – was even more important and called for new and original tactics; it required that all argument should cease and the whole people speak with one voice and that any more dissent and argument outside the door of the shelter would subvert and bring down the whole house.
And so they did by convincing the masses through initiatives like Our Home Made Stuff (OHMS) – a gigantic campaign to promote the consumption of locally made products, urging every patriot to support this great national effort which supposedly held the key to economic emancipation without which their hard-won political freedom was a mirage.
A fall-out between Odili and Chief Nanga after the latter has a night of intimacy with Elsie, Odili’s girlfriend, drives him to search for his long time friend and former classmate Maxwell Kulamo, a lawyer in Bori. That night, Odili is conscripted into the Common People’s Convention, a party Max and a few other disillusioned friends are starting to check the corrupt, mediocre politicians at the helm of state affairs.
With a sum of eight hundred pounds, Odili goes to his home village, Urua, to launch the party and contest for Chief Nanga’s seat in parliament. Max and the other founding members show up to convince the village people to vote for the C.P.C.
Max began by accusing the outgoing Government of all kinds of swindling and corruption. As he gave instance after instance of how some of our leaders who were ash-mouthed paupers five years ago had become near-millionaires under our very eyes, many in the audience laughed. But it was the laughter of resignation to misfortune
The people’s myopic perspective on the issue is summed up by the defiant ex-Corporal or ‘Couple’ as the villagers called him.
The ex-policeman put it very well. ‘We know they are eating,’ he said, ‘but we are eating too. They are bringing us water and they promise to bring us electricity. We did not have those things before; that is why I say we are eating too.’
Odili becomes blatantly aware of the arduous task ahead when his political aspirations are met with one stumbling block after another. First, he is fired from his teaching job at the Anata Grammar School, then he is ostracized by the previously friendly Mama, Chief Nanga’s wife; he finds himself at odds with Edna, a young woman who his promised to Nanga with whom he, Odili is infatuated with, and is finally harassed by the misguided youth supporters of Nanga or the Nangavanga. Although he tries to stick to the ideals and tenets of political decorum, he finds himself more and more swayed to play dirty like his rival Chief Nanga.
As Boniface, Odili’s Chief of Security put it:
‘Look my frien I done tell you say if you no wan serious for this business, make you go rest for house. I done see say you want play too much gentleman for this matter … Dem tell you say na gentlemanity de give other people minister …? Anyway wetin be my concern there? Na you sabi.’
Odili’s father had quite an intriguing and somewhat axiomatic view of his son’s political aspirations:
My father’s attitude to my political activity intrigued me a lot. He was, as I think I have already indicated, the local chairman of P.O.P. in our village, Urua, and so I expected that his house would not contain both of us. But I was quite wrong. He took the view (without expressing it in so many words) that the mainspring of political action was personal gain, a view which, I might say, was much more in line with the general feeling in the country than the high-minded thinking of fellows like Max and I. The only comment I remember my father making (at the beginning anyway) was when he asked if my ‘new’ party was ready to give me enough money to fight Nanga.
Against his better judgment, Odili decides to attend Chief Nanga’s inaugural campaign meeting in disguise, but is inevitably discovered and roughed up by the crowd.
Days later, he regains consciousness in the hospital and learns from his father that the charges leveled against him for ostensibly carrying dangerous weapons has been dropped. He remains in hospital on election day, the day that ended with Max Kulamo’s death.
The P.O.P. is re-elected without breaking a sweat, yet their victory is short-lived. The very thugs they hired to intimidate and subvert the will of their opponents refuse to be disbanded. It starts with Chief Nanga’s miscreants who go on a rampage as a demonstration of their displeasure at being dismissed. Other political thugs, after hearing of the success of the ‘Nanga rebellion’, also take to the streets and vent their spleen on innocent market women and passers-by.
Even though the Prime Minister assures the people and foreign investors that his government stands ‘as firm as the Rock of Gibraltar’, the military would have nothing to do with it. They stage a coup and lock up every member of the Government.
Some political commentators have said that it was the supreme cynicism of these transactions that inflamed the people and brought down the Government. That is sheer poppycock. The people themselves, as we have seen, had become even more cynical than their leaders and were apathetic into the bargain. ‘Let them eat.’ was the people’s opinion, ‘After all when white men used to do all the eating did we commit suicide?’ Of course not. And where is the all-powerful white man today? He came, he ate and he went. But we are still around. The important thing then is to stay alive; if you do you will outlive your present annoyance. The great thing, as the old people have told us, is reminiscence; and only those who survive can have it. Besides, if you survive, who knows? It may be your turn to eat tomorrow. Your son may bring home your share.
No. the people had nothing to do with the fall of our Government. What happened was simply that unruly mobs and private armies having tasted blood and power during the election had got out of hand and ruined their masters and employers. And they had no public reason whatever for doing it. Let’s make no mistake about that.
In this novel, Achebe paints a picture of how a country’s leadership can either make or break the nation depending on the agenda of the ruling class. In this case, the ruling party had no real agenda for the nation, but only for themselves. Even the wisdom of the politicians had been compromised, allowing the intoxication of political power to manipulate their advice to the younger generation.
Achebe’s vivid description of the intricacies of corruption in an increasingly impoverished country makes A Man of the People a case study of the politics of many African countries. He expounds, probably, reasons for the failure of some post-independence African governments and the cause of the rampant military coups in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
His usual style of using simple language and transliteration in dialogue makes it easy and enjoyable to read. For instance, he uses the word ‘eat’ several times in his narration. This does not mean the person is eating a meal, but is a direct translation from the Igbo language which means to spend or to enjoy wealth.
Due to his near-clairvoyance in writing this novel, he narrowly escaped confrontation with armed soldiers who apparently believed that this novel implicated him in Nigeria’s first military coup.
Of all the novels Achebe has written, this is my favourite. I really love the part about the cynicism of the people and their resignation to the ‘eating’ of government officials. After all, it might be the their turn to eat tomorrow and their son may bring home their share. This parochial mentality prevails to this very day.
For this month’s Reading Relay, I will give away three e-copies of Achebe’s Girls At War & Other Stories.
Please fill out the form below to have your chance at winning a copy.
Contest ends @ 11:59pm GMT on Monday the 27th January, 2014. Winners will be announced the following day.
THIS READING RELAY IS CLOSED
I happen to have an extra copy of Fly, Eagle, Fly! by Christopher Gregorowski to give away to those who missed out on the last Reading Relay. All you have to do is answer this question:
What is the name of the Ghanaian educationist who originally told the story?
THIS FLASH RELAY IS CLOSED
***Remember, there is only one copy to be given away this time***
Contest ends @ 11:59pm GMT on Tuesday 6th August, 2012. The winner will be announced the following day.
He decides to keep the eagle among the chickens on the compound.
“The eagle is the king of the birds,” he said, “but we shall train it to be a chicken.”
So the eagle lived among the chickens, learning their ways.
One day, a friend comes over to visit the farmer…
The friend saw the bird among the chickens. “Hey! That’s not a chicken. It’s an eagle!”
The farmer smiled to him and said, “Of course it’s a chicken. Look – it walks like a chicken, it talks like a chicken, it eats like a chicken. It thinks like a chicken. Of course it’s a chicken.
Unconvinced, his friend sets out to prove to the farmer that the bird is indeed an eagle.
Fly, Eagle, Fly! is a Ghanaian fable originally told by educationist James Kwegyir Aggrey also known as “Aggrey of Africa” (October 18, 1875 – July 30, 1927). He was born during the colonial era when the greater part of modern Ghana was called the Gold Coast. Working as a pastor and educator, he toured the African continent and shared this story time and again to inspire confidence.
When Aggrey told this story, he used to end by saying,
At this, children would run excitedly around their playgrounds with arms outstretched like the wings of eagles.
This children’s book is an adaptation of Aggrey’s fable by Christopher Gregorowski. He wrote it for his dying daughter when he was working among the Xhosa-speaking people of Southern Africa as an Anglican Priest. He wanted it to help her understand that we are all born to be eagles that are lifted up by the might of the Spirit.
I bought a copy for my six-year-old nephew a while back, but ended up getting hooked to the story when I skimmed through it in the bookshop so I kept it for a reread to motivate myself (and yes, my nephew did get the book).
In its simplicity, the story continues to inspire me. It reminds me that I am not meant to scratch the ground and peck about like a chicken, but to soar with the rising sun to greater heights like an eagle.
- Emmanuel Asante
- Gargi Singh
This giveaway has no geographic limitations.
How many drug addicts bought their first fix or smoke themselves?
How many alcoholics bought their first drink with their own money?
Which philanderer came up with the idea to chase women, all by himself?
You will find answers to these questions in Kwakye’s The Clothes of Nakedness.
In neighbourhoods riddled with poverty and unemployment, you will always find a wolf in sheep’s clothing who preys on the vulnerable. The enigma who stalks the ignorant ones who will do anything to earn a living; who exploits them in subtle ways until they are bound to him in servitude.
This was the man they called Mystique Mysterious. Male and female, child and adult, all referred to him by that name, in which they combined their respect for him, their fear of him, the fascination they felt for the unreachable person behind the shades
The Clothes of Nakedness is about the workings of this cryptic character, whose alleged sole agenda is to help the needy in poor neighbourhoods. He goes around offering jobs to the unemployed and hands out free cigarettes and rolls of marijuana to those who have never smoked them before. He buys free drinks for the depressed alcoholic to offer him solace in a bottle.
Mystique Mysterious sets his eyes on three new targets at Kill Me Quick and intends to reel them into his net by all means possible.
Gabriel Bukari the bendy one. Gabriel is depressed because he is unemployed. His loving wife, Fati, is the bread-winner of the family. She does not rub this in Gabriel’s face, but encourages and supports him anyway she can. Gabriel and Fati have a son called Baba. Gabriel loves his wife and son and will do anything for them. If only he had a job.
He was a gentle man and his friends believed him to be kind-hearted. But the unhappiness born of several months of unemployment had taken effect.
Kojo Ansah the quiet one. This teetotaller sits behind a glass of water at Kill Me Quick. He never orders a drink from the bar and has few words to say.
He was a man renowned for being deficient in expression and proficient in contemplation.
Kofi Ntim the opinionated one. He is also known as Philosopher Nonsense. Though he stands at barely five feet, he compensates for his challenges in height and physical appearance with balderdash and witty remarks. Kofi is not afraid to speak his mind and it is difficult to put him down.
Ever in high spirits, he was full of jokes and both sensible and senseless quips that he sometimes couched in philosophical terms.
Mystique identifies each man’s weakness and devices a scheme to exploit them. But will things go as planned?
In a battle of wits and intelligence, Kwakye reveals the evils that sprout out of poverty and illiteracy.
I enjoyed this novel particularly because Kwakye cleverly infuses humour in the story whilst he talks about distraught communities and broken homes. He addresses the spate of corruption in a developing country where the majority lack the education or requisite skills to qualify for a job interview.
What may seem like an unfortunate situation is interpreted as a ripe opportunity by those who gleefully manipulate ordinary people so they can continue to hold their sway over the masses.
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s
In deepest consequence.
Act 1: Scene 3
Time to announce the winners of the Darko READING RELAY.
Two of these three won copies of Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood in the last giveaway. You can also join them if you enter into subsequent Reading Relays.
- Andrea Hayford
- Gifty Anane-Taabeah
There are no geographic limitations to this giveaway.
It’s taken me so long to post this book review because I struggled to find the right words to summarise what I deem a message about the neglected and rejected in society. I cannot give a brief summary to this insightful novel, so here is my review of Amma Darko’s Faceless…
When Maa Tsuru tells Fofo that Baby T’s mutilated body has been found at Agbogbloshie, Fofo sets out to find justice for her sister’s murder. In a twist of fate, she runs into Kabria who works with a non-governmental organization called MUTE which functions as an interventionist and alternative library for every social, gender and child issue.
Kabria takes an interest in Fofo’s case and determines to find out what led to Baby T’s death. With the help of Sylv Po, the reporter from Harvest FM, they work their way into a syndicate led by Poison, the street lord, that trades in child prostitutes, drugs and is linked to all manner of street crime.
In one of the most hostile parts of Accra, Fofo’s story draws Kabria and her colleagues’ attention to the socioeconomic menace that comprises a community of drifters and hustlers in a slum called Sodom and Gomorrah, so named after the Biblical city that God destroyed because of its numerous sins.
Amma Darko’s quest to find out how Accra’s squalid Sodom and Gomorrah sprung up out of her old neighbourhood at Old Fadama led to a series of revelations that inspired Faceless, her third novel.
Although the author uses ficticious names, she narrates what can possibly be described as real-life events at venues that really exist. Agbogbloshie, Makola Market, Korle-Gonno, Kaneshie, Abossey-Okai, Abeka and the all-notorious Sodom and Gomorrah can really be found in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana.
SOME IMAGES OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH
In making up the various characters and narrating their stories, Darko enlightens her reader about the information she amassed after nearly two years of research into street children, life in Sodom and Gomorrah, Agbogbloshie and its environs.
Fofo would have spent the Sunday night into Monday dawn with her friends across the road at the squatters enclave in Sodom and Gomorrah watching adult films her fourteen years required her to stay away from, and drinking directly from bottles of akpeteshie, or at best, some slightly milder locally produced gin. Ultimately, she would have found herself waking up Monday morning beside one of her age group friends, both of them naked, hazy and disconcerted; and oblivious to what time during the night they had stripped off their clothes and what exactly they had done with their nakedness. Sucked into a life on the streets and reaching out to each new day with an ever-increasing hopelessness, such were the ways they employed to escape their pain.
Darko draws her audience’s attention to the AIDS prevention campaign versus the situation prevailing in such communities:
Sylv Po’s female studio guest was on and complaining about the AIDS prevention programme not driving home the message of abstinence and faithfulness with the same intensity as the use of condoms. Then she touched on the AIDS issue versus the street-children phenomenon…
“During a recent survey we conducted for a programme, all the girls we talked to out there were already sexually active. And we also established that, for many of them, rape was their first sexual experience. And I am talking about girls as young as seven. Many were child prostitutes. They had no idea at all about the extent of self-damage to themselves. Sex to them was just a convenient means of survival. Many were roaming about, oblivious to whether or not they were HIV positive, so…”
In the course of her narration, Darko compares and contrasts Kabria’s family life with that of Fofo and her street companions. She outlines the benefits of family planning, especially in communities where womanhood is proven by having many children and barrenness is abhorred, and mentions some old wives’ tales about the correlation between how a baby is born and its behavioral pattern.
Kabria is the backbone of her family. She multitasks as a mother, wife and social worker. Adade, Kabria’s architect husband, contents himself with his work, joining co-workers to drinking spots to release tension, and returning home for dinner. Their constant argument about Creamy, Kabria’s stubborn hand-me-down VW Beetle, does not get in the way of a stable marriage because Kabria handles the situation tactfully. Their children – Obea, Essie and Ottu – are all in school. Each child’s character is a force to reckon with, but their parents take care of their needs. In a chaotic, but stable environment, the family is able to get along.
What of Fofo and the other street-children? How did they end up on the streets in the first place?
Darko uses the story of Maa Tsuru’s curse to unravel the process of birth to street life.
When a teenage girl is betrayed by the young man who impregnated her, she rains curses on him and all his descendants as life drains out of her in giving birth to the baby who will later be known as Maa Tsuru. Maa Tsuru grows up labelled as a cursed person. People distance themselves from her in her family house, where she also resides. After having two sons and two daughters with Kwei, he abandons them. Fofo and Baby T’s older brothers leave as soon as they are able to fend for themselves.
Then a new man worms his way into Maa Tsuru’s bed and connives with Maami Broni, who promises to find work for Baby T through Mama Abidjan’s questionable recruitment agency, in exchange for periodic payments to feed Maa Tsuru’s new family. Fofo too is forced to leave home because there are two new mouths to feed. Baby T is later found dead behind a hairdressing salon.
Fofo’s best friend, Odarley, share’s a similar story. Odarley’s mother also has a new husband and children she’d had by him. She resents Odarley because her father abandoned them and constantly accuses her daughter of stealing from her. So she drives Odarley out to live on the streets.
Then there is the story of the innocent boy who ran away from home to escape the constant abuse of a drunken stepfather. He ended up as a messenger in a brothel, worked his way up by bullying, raping and murdering and is now known as Poison the street lord.
A boy and a girl of about Fofo’s age and making their home on the streets of Accra like her were once asked by a reporter from one of the private FM stations during a survey about their most passionate dreams…
“My dream,” began the boy, “is to be able to go home one day to visit my mother and see a look of joy on her face at the sight of me. I want to be able to sleep beside her. I wish her to tell me she was happy I came to visit her. Whenever I visit her, she doesn’t let me stay long before she asks me politely to leave. She never has a smile for me. She is always in a hurry to see my back. Sometimes I cannot help thinking that maybe she never has a smile for me because the man she made me with that is my father probably also never had a smile for her too. One day she said to me, ‘Go. You do not belong here.’ If I don’t belong to where she is, where do I belong? But I know that it is not just that she doesn’t want to see me. She worries about the food that she has. It is never enough. So she worries that it may not suffice for her two new children if I joined. The ones she has with the man who is their father and who is her new husband. He hates to see my face. I often wonder what it is I remind him of so much.”
The girl said, “One day a kind woman I met at a centre made me very happy. Before I went there, I knew that by all means she would give me food. But this woman gave me more. She hugged me. I was dirty. I smelled bad. But she hugged me. That night I slept well. I had a good dream. Sometimes I wish to be hugged even if I am smelling of the streets.”
In an introductory essay by Kofi Anyidoho, Amma Darko is described as a major female Ghanaian writer whose works are akin to the likes of Efua T. Sutherland and Ama Ata Aidoo. Both her first and second novels, Beyond the Horizon and The Housemaid, focus on the plight of women and young girls in a merciless world dominated by greedy, irresponsible and often cruel men in their life. Faceless adds up to the other two novels to form what Anyidoho calls an important trilogy. Her stories revolve around feminism and abused women and children in society.
In using what I call simple ‘Ghanaian English’ to narrate the epic tale in Faceless, she gives her reader a feel of Ghanaian urban culture and idiosyncratic transliterations Ghanaians use as we blend our native dialects with English. Her narrative style may be a bit unusual, but she puts her message across well.
Faceless is about the children who have been long forgotten in the rush for modernisation and development in most countries. These young people can be an immense asset to the economy, but are lost to the machinations of poverty and illiteracy, losing their identities in the process.
In writing this book, Amma Darko reminds us…
The future promise of any nation can be directly measured by the present prospects of its youth.
– John F. Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)