This is Ghana, Not A Graveyard

By Banji Ojewale

IT’S A SUNDAY morning in May 2024 in downtown Accra, capital of Ghana. I’m in a Church auditorium. Strangely for an African Pentecostal assembly, there are subdued acoustics.

The preacher’s message is electronically transmitted. But it is solemnly controlled to stay indoors.

Later, I find myself in the city’s busy streets. I’m challenged by very long, snaky metallic lines glistening under the sun. Motorists appear horn-shy. I can only hear creaking bursts of engines responding to traffic lights. There are even no flights of tempers or accidents to scuttle the scorching silence everywhere.

Would dusk make a difference?

IT DOESN’T, as I learn on Monday night. It’s eerie evening at Daakuman and Bubuashi, swarming city settlements. For a metropolis known over the generations for its boisterous akpeteshi (ogogoro) joints and beer parlors, there’s an uncommon harrowing hush in the air. I look around.

There are customers, alright. However, they have no makeshift kpanlogo implements to knock together to produce something to sway you. Nor is there heavy jukebox music to lift them from their seats. The DJs are not at work, either, their clamorous tools outlawed and idle. The zones’ red bulbs are alive to signal business is on. Soundless and inactive business.

What’s it like at Bukom Square, cradle of some of the best of Ghana’s soccer stars and boxing greats? I can’t make it there. But it would be ineffable funereal quiescence there, and at Swalaba, Salaga Market and James Town (Mantse Agbonaa), all aboriginal neighbouring communities. These are diehard custodians of culture. It has been claimed that their traditional songs and drumming during festivals stir unborn babies to gyrations in the womb. So, as they step into the world as neonates, they are already conversant with the right dance steps. Now, for one month what’s norm between society, pregnant women and the living beings in their bumps, there’s a lid on music…

Welcome to Accra, where for the whole month of May 2024, through to early June 2024, the authorities have decreed that the city must be in the grim grip of graveyard silence. There should be noise abatement.

The Accra Metropolitan Assembly, AMA, released a statement announcing the ‘’ban on drumming and noise-making in Accra…from May 6th to June 6th 2024.’’

The Assembly outlined specific guidelines ‘’aimed at maintaining peace, harmony, and national security during the ban period, noting that religious houses are required to conduct their activities solely within their premises,’’ without placement of loudspeakers outside their buildings.

“Additionally,’’ AMA says, “roadside evangelism activities are to be suspended during this period, while the Ga Traditional Council, (GTC), has imposed a ban on funeral rites and related activities.”

A task force of AMA’s personnel, Ghana Police Service and representatives from the city’s Traditional Councils has been equipped to enforce Accra’s clatter closure.

The ban is said to be in preparation for the annual Homowo festival of the Ga people, the natives of the capital. They need the intervention of the gods of the land over the ebbing fortunes of the natives.

Ga, their language, is going into extinction. It has been boxed into a minority in its own territory. Twi has become the dominant communicative tool in Accra. Even the Gas have learned to conduct business in Makola, Accra’s commercial hub, in Twi. Transactions there are in the Akan dialect of Twi.

Most traders at Makola are Ashanti of Kumasi, Ghana’s second biggest city.

The churches have more congregants in the Twi class than Ga. Radio-TV stations based in Accra, home of the Ga nation, run chiefly Twi programmes. In nearly a week of my stay in the Ghanaian capital, I searched in vain for a feature in the local language on the airwaves.

There were only a precious few I could communicate with in the language. Where I stayed in a hotel at McCarthy Hill in the heart of Accra, only one member of the staff warmed my heart with Ga. I ran into a professor in another hotel, also in Accra. I opened a discussion on Ghana’s politics with him in Ga. He told me he doesn’t speak the language. He is of the Ewe stock in the Volta Region of Ghana.

He has lived in Accra for years, and risen to a ranking academic position. But he’s fluent in Twi, which I don’t speak. In my days as a student at Wesley Grammar School, Odorkor, Accra, decades back, Ga was the ruling tongue. With my Akan friends, Ga came first before theirs. We spoke it in tro-tro buses during regular commute. In other public places and in the homes of Akan schoolmates, it was Ga all through.

So, what’s gone wrong? The prof traces it to economic power. He told me that over the years the Gas allowed themselves to be overwhelmed by the influx of migrants who ensured good education for their offspring, who in turn rose to take over political and economic levers. They then preyed on their hosts.

They seized choice areas of Accra to install controlling businesses and confined the indigenes to such underdeveloped areas as Bukom, Swalaba, James Town etc.

Ga language has been sorely affected, faced with a bleak future. This is fatal, as it is hitting the foundation of the people’s culture. The next stage is a withering away of the people’s humanity. The experts say ‘’Language is what makes us human… Language is a vital part of human connection…

Language allows us to share our ideas, thoughts and feelings with others. It has the power to build societies, but also to tear them down…’’ You lose it, you lose your essence.

Ghana’s founding leader, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah understood these dynamics. He tied the citizens’ development to their cultural and educational emancipation.

Starting with free education for all, irrespective of your nationality, class or gender, including instituting Workers’ College, he sparked a revolution towards freeing Ghana from ignorance and internal economic serfdom.

Unfortunately, local capitalist lords and military conspirators allowed themselves to be suborned by their foreign principals to overthrow Nkrumah and stop his noble work for Ghana and Africa. None of those who came after him in office has attempted taking after him. The charismatic Jerry John Rawlings didn’t go the whole length.

He should have rehabilitated Nkrumah’s Convention Peoples Party, CPP, and followed the founding president’s ideological path, instead of his ill-fated romance with National Democratic Congress, NDC.

This year Ghana is going to the poll again. What the electoral body calls ‘limited’ voters’ registration exercise was on when I visited. There’s a noisy preparation for the election on December 7, 2024. I watched TV brickbats of spokesmen for the two dominant parties.

There’s no serious talk on how to stop the assault on a nation’s linguistic identity. The only engagement is a local council’s forlorn and feeble fetish asking for a culture of silence to appease deities who have remained silent while those who worship them are dying silently.

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