Sunday, February 22, 2015


The first black country to win independence from its colonial oppressor, in 1957, it appeared to follow the traditional story of post-independence. Its first leader, Nkrumah, was deposed in a coup after less than a decade; a second coup, military supplanting military, brought Jerry Rawlings to power... but then, most unusually, how dare an African country not follow to the letter the expectations of western post-colonialists?..bthings settled down. Economic growth and stability. A multi-party democracy enshrined in a new constitution. Good administration with little taint of corruption. Prosperity from the cocoa trade - Ghana is the world’s second largest producer, behind Ivory Coast. And then, in 2007, the discovery of oil. 

Too good to be true? This is Africa, after all, and we in the West need Africa to fail, so that we can do post-colonial guilt and say "we told you so", and put African leaders on trial for war crimes while simultaneously overlooking and repeating our own. There must be some grounds, surely?

And yes there are. Some - in italics. Some ethnic conflicts, in the north especially, but Ghana is mostly a peaceful land, so peaceful, so much a model of peacefulness, that it regularly sends peacekeepers to help other countries achieve their own, including Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the DR Congo. Too good to be true? This is Africa, after all, and we in the West... there must be despotic leadership, at the very least... but no, Jerry Rawlings willingly stepped down in 2000 at the end of his term (he is currently the African Union’s ambassador in Somalia), handing over to his VP, John Atta Mills, who was himself succeeded (he died in office, of natural causes) by John Mahama, the current President. But surely, this is Africa, we have deep prejudices that have to be reinforced... well, Amnesty International’s latest report on Ghana did call for the abolition of the death penalty and described “the severe level of over-crowding in Ghana's prisons and other places of detention”; but, on the other hand, it said exactly the same about the USA, only far worse; far, far worse (and the Americans complain that Ghana is an illicit producer of cannabis for the international drug trade and a major transit hub for both Asian heroin and South American cocaine, as well as providing opportunities for money-laundering; which is hypocritical to say the least, given the amount of cannabis grown in Colorado and California, and America's position as the world's number one purchaser of heroin and cocaine, and as to money-laundering...). No, like it or not, we can safely say that Ghana is a country that one may visit with one’s moral conscience still intact.

All of which merely fends off the negatives. There are some major positives as well. Kofi Annan, the seventh Secretary General of the United Nations, came from Ghana, and won the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize for the work he undertook during his time in office to make the UN better organised and more effective. And then add another name that will first confuse you, then surprise you, the importance of one of Ghana's greatest literary talents, Marguerite Annie Johnson of St. Louis, Missouri. Shall I explain?

Marguerite Annie Johnson of St. Louis, Missouri married a Greek sailor named Anastasios Angelopulos in 1952, and used his surname to help create her own stage-name when she sang in nightclubs, then trained as a dancer with Martha Grahame, and travelled through Europe performing Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess", acted in Genet's "The Blacks", moved to Cairo as editor of the English language weekly "The Arab Observer",  and finally, with the new man in her life, the South African civil rights activist Vusumzi Mak, became Head of Administration of the School of Music and Drama at the University of Ghana, before returning to America in 1964 to work, first with Malcolm X until he was assassinated, then with Martin Luther King, as a prominent figure in the civil rights movement. You probably know her from her memoir-novel "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings". I am speaking of Maya Angelou.

Marks For: 7

Marks Against: 3

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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The Argaman Press

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