Sunday, 13 November 2011


So the way we live now, what draws our spirits forward, if our souls are not energized by the urge to attain projections of our own best selves?
                                                                - Ayi Kwei Armah in The Eloquence of the Scribes

A must read for any serious African thinker!!!
I have been inspired reading Ayi Kwei Armah’s rivetingly cerebral yet very programmatic book The Eloquence of the Scribes. This expository prose shines with blinding light on each of the 346pages; the kind of light African universities have not too actively provided their students yet. Armah is the kind of genius our Republic should honour with the Order of the Volta not some of the carpetbaggers who do their political masters’ bidding and literally cadge for such national awards. And I thank my very good friend Dr. Kwadwo Osei-Nyame, Jr, for carrying such a gem of wisdom of a book across the Mediterranean for me as promised. My frantic search for this classic in some of Ghana’s major bookshops had proved futile; a sobering reminder of how we have somehow short circuited the vital sustained flow of pertinent, useable, society changing information while we strain at the phantasmagoric game of beggary. I learnt one thing reading this book: the centrality of the scribe to fresh imaginings and more in the midst of chaos in society has been part of Black Africa’s intellectual tradition and history since ancient Egypt. Citi Fm was re-enacting this millennia charge in the age of the bits and bytes when it focused (aided by the biting wit and no punches pulling bravado of Ben Avle and his team) on our ailing health sector last week. Our health workers seemed to have taken the majority of criticisms as I monitored that programme but let us do some image work to arrive at some useful conjecture on this matter and frame the problem properly. I employ poetic license as I sketch the reality of real people I know below:

Snapshot 1: Her vestments are white like the innocence she carried from college into the real world. Now it is work life in Ghana. Without a car she wakes up at 3:00 a.m. for a new day. The bus she takes after an earlier weary day is an assemblage of rust and contorted metal refusing to be hidden by the paint peeling here and there in a grotesque mural on wheels. She takes four of such contraptions before she gets to work. At the hospital the air is fetid reinforced by an overwhelming pong rushing like a mighty wind from the loo; taps do not run. Inside there is a certain darkness; the nets on the windows are clogged with dust competing with sun light. To get to her “office” she must walk like a drunk to avoid patients strewn all over. And then that birth; she must “cut” the umbilical cord with a syringe needle because blades for the purpose have not been supplied. Then there is that emergency Caesarian. Woman came unprepared. She needs to shaved. She has no shaving sticks. Our lady in white must go to the corridor and scream at the top of her voice if anyone has shaving sticks; all in a day’s work. It is lunch time. Our lady in white must eat. She must walk some distance to get her lunch; there is no organized canteen for her. The routine continues in this hell hole until perspiring and tired she returns home. She looks forward to a bath to soothe the strain and her comely curves. She strips and gets into the shower. She turns on the tap. The tap literally farts and does so in quick succession as if imitating Ghanaian hip-life star Sarkodie’s rapid fire delivery. No water. She turns to get to her towel. Lights go off.                 

Snapshot 2:  Freshly minted M.B., Ch.B.  He took his Hippocratic Oath seriously. He decides to stay home to heal his compatriots. His misery has begun already. His days start very early. His consulting room at the nation’s premier hospital is misery’s handiwork. The air-conditioner roars like a hungry lion but manages to blow only hot air. Talking to his patients has become a shouting match. The sphygmomanometer he uses is the Mosaic one with the air filled ball attached; in the age of digital ones. The bed in the corner seems a century old with a blood stained green bed sheet thrown over it by someone wanting to take a piss than dress a bed for a potential patient. He sees patients in droves and often times has to skip his lunch if emergencies pop up. And then he is on call 24/7 occasionally. At such moments what he dreads most is becoming a patient himself on account of driving in the Accra night along roads with no street lights and gaping craters. At such moments he has to curtail romance sessions postponed several times already with the new missus at the height of passion. His love life is rotten; the tools for his trade are not cutting edge; his salary is yet to be single spined; he has seen too many patients die needlessly; some patients think he is Hitler incarnate when tired and haggard he cannot see them.

Snapshot 3: The most tasking work he ever did was to move from one media house to another with one sided arguments which no amount of reason however sophisticated could counter. And then he would appear at rallies festooned like a lamppost with his party’s colours with an awkward Texan hat atop his bare pate. Around party honchos he will grin and salivate in equal measure and call their opponents Lucifer’s disciples. Now he has the political post. Very easy work for 5 four wheel drives in the driveway; a five bedroom bungalow at Roman Ridge with generators when the lights go off; perks he cannot keep track of; a salary those who voted for his party cannot even contemplate after a hundred reincarnations and the friendship of embassy staff who fleece off him national secrets while the Hennessey waters his still greedy throat. He has six mobile phones and an iPad to boot and is NEVER on call. He gets to work when he likes or not all. He freezes in his car of choice for the week as the mists from the air conditioner screens off the wretched masses stupid enough to consider him savior. At best he has made a mastery of talking about problems in seminars, conferences and workshops without deigning to solve them. He eats at the plushest restaurant with foreign investors who are happy to have a buffoon to do business with. Christmas is around the corner: the hampers will overwhelm him. And sated and overweight and sick from his gluttony we will send him abroad for treatment (while the hospitals at home keep receiving newborns on cold concrete floors). And if he dies we will give him a state funeral.
Now reader please make your judgement !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   


  1. muy excellente, mi hermano! bravo, y gracias!
    Well captured!!!


  3. Well said.
    where can I get the book?

  4. XOXO your best bet sadly is online....

    best wishes!!!

  5. This is my first visit here, spurned by Kinna's event this week; I gather that, as you've had so much trouble locating a copy of this book yourself, it would be next-to-impossible to find a copy of it overseas, but, nonetheless, I appreciate the opportunity to read your thoughts on its importance.

  6. Sounds like a book worth reading, though as BIP says above I wonder how easy we would be able to find it... I love the way you've written your review of it - easy to see the different people!

  7. To BIP and Amy kindly check out this link for Armah's book: