Sunday 22 November 2015

Sebitically Speaking: Reviewed by Mumpuni Murniati

Born in Ghana in 1975, Nana Awere Damoah is the author of four non-fiction books: Sebitically Speaking (2015), I Speak of Ghana (2013), Through the Gates of Thought (2010) and Excursions in my Mind (2008); and one fiction book, Tales from Different Tails (2011).

Sebitically Speaking

At dawn on Tema Motorway, a taxi driver goes along a nineteen‐kilometre stretch; half of the street lamps are out of order. At the same time he is dodging potholes with metal protruding, like a cat gnashing its teeth.

In the back seat the passenger, aware of the foreseeable dangers he’s facing, reflects: ‘Ghana is usually happy to be the first to hit a mark but we don’t do anything else beyond that, least of all maintaining the lead. We seem to have used all our allocation of creative ideas before 1966...’

To Nana Awere Damoah the motorway represents the state of his country’s development since her independence in 1957. Opened in 1965, it was one of the first motorways in Africa. Fifty years later it remains the only one. Nonetheless, it is not the only issue which tickles him: From education and social mobility to the Government’s absurd policies; from the running of the state-owned energy company to Sikaman’s customs, his musings list a number of developmental challenges still engulfing the Land of Gold. Sebitically Speaking deliberates on the unsolved and ongoing problems when it comes to meeting the basic rights for the citizens and attacks the politicians’ fixed mindset which hinders progress.

In his lucid and fervent narrations Damoah weaves in the wisdom of his enigmatic uncle Kapokyikyi, enthralled by the old man’s liberating mantra ka na wu : speak your mind and damn any consequences. ‘If a big mouth was the requirement for being a Catholic priest, the pig would be a cardinal,’ he says on one occasion. On another he enquires of the Chieftain as to whether he knew that his subjects were calling him ‘Comfort’ because he didn't crack a whip. Although he would say ‘sϵbi‐sϵbi’ beforehand – Akan’s phrase asking for permission to speak bluntly over a matter.

With humour bordering on irony Damoah is far from shy to admit that some problems depicted have gone from bad to worse. Thus, Sebitically Speaking, if half of the roofs in a primary school are gone after a storm, expect the government to fix them ‐ eventually. For a ‘deadline is on wheels’ is the norm – so, it is either: through a social media campaign the roofs return shipshape in five months’ time or wait. Also, Sebitically Speaking, if a road construction which began in 2007 is still uncompleted, consider it as an on‐going project. For one minute in Ghana Man Time (GMT) is a hundred seconds.

Be that as it may, Damoah’s comparison of his countrymen’s attitude with the neighbouring Nigeria is intriguing. From the traffic arrangement to voting for their next president, he expounds his views in the decision‐making process involved and points out the similarities in the results.

The drawback of the book seems to be its target reader. It may be easier for Ghanaians and West Africans to laugh at Damoah’s satirical illustrations, given their knowledge on both political and cultural contexts. Non‐African readers nonetheless may require background information on Ghanaian history and culture and therefore fleshing out some chapters, particularly for a certain custom, is in order. What’s more, selective use of Akan words will help the flow of the writing; having too often to refer to footnotes to find the meaning of a phrase can be quite taxing.

In the end, the book’s explorations on growth versus fixed mindset encompass race and ethnic groups. Damoah nails down the need to change attitude to move forward. The book may be about a West African country, but I suppose in every country in the world, regardless of economic growth, the dynamics of developmental issues and challenges bear resemblances.

Next time while driving on the A1 Northbound after dark, take a few minutes to imagine how it would be if the street lamps were not working, or remember what is was like to be stuck overnight in 2009’s blizzard.

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