Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Spio optimistic for the battle of Biblical proportions

Dr. Ekow Spio-Garbrah, the last contestant to throw his hat into the ring for the NDC flagbearership race visited the founder of the NDC at his house. I found the speeches the two men delivered quite interesting.

JJ reiterated his friend Herbert Mensah's claim that Atta-Mills has budgeted 90 million cedis (~$60 million) for the flagbearership contest. Of course the castle is denying the allegation, with the president laughing it off as preposterous, but JJ is convinced it is not a fluke.

Spio on his part couched the task ahead of him in figurative language, intimating that the battle for the flagbearership was one of Biblical proportions with him as David, the president as Goliath and JJ as Saul. Those familiar with the story in 1 Sam. 17 know that David, even though he was young and untested came out victorious in that epic battle. It is, however, unclear if Spio will emerge as winner in the July congress.

Monday, May 16, 2011

We must return to the fundamentals of governance

Every election cycle, we see the emergence of new candidates who criticise the already existing parties--in order to justify their own bids--and promise one thing or the other in order to win votes. You never hear the candidates discuss the role of government and why the government should exist in the first place. This is crucial because there is no way one can tease out all the issues that may arise during the tenure of an administration, hence, the only reliable way of determining what a candidate would do in an emergency is to extrapolate from their fundamental values.

Government is about values: What should the society do about the poor? Whose job is it to provide jobs? Should mayors be appointed by the president or elected by the people in the city? I am afraid this list may not even be basic enough. It may not be fundamental enough, but it is a good place to start.

The days when Ghana's politics was about ideology are long gone but to our own detriment. The founders--Nkrumah, Danquah, and co--talked about issues of such nature so one could have disagreements on principle. The reason why our politics continues to revolve around petty, inconsequential issues is that it is almost impossible to disagree with politicians on principle--they don't seem to have any. A return to the fundamentals is what will rescue us. Alas, no politician will dare venture into this arena. What a shame!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why does everybody think Nana Konadu was born on a Thursday?

Why do most people think the former first lady and presidential hopeful was born on Thursday even though she was born on a Wednesday? Those who are not familiar with the Akan practice of naming children after the day on which they are born may not appreciate the importance of the question. If you know about this practice, skip the next paragraph otherwise, read on.

The Akans form at least 45% of the Ghanaian population and speak various mutually intelligible dialects of Twi. There are some Akan-speaking people in eastern Cote d'Ivoire as well. For now, I will focus on their practice of naming children after the day on which they are born. Kradin, literally, soul names, are given to children based on the day on which they are born. Thus there are fourteen names: seven for boys; seven for girls. It is believed that the days have special qualities that the children inherit. There may be other reasons for this practice and I speculate that it was also a way of keeping time.

In the olden days, they did not have calendars and hence it made sense for them to keep track of dates by marking them relative to memorable events. For instance, my date of birth could be remembered as the second Wednesday after the disastrous earthquake. It could also be remembered as the second Thursday after the Queen visited the village. This speculation is not far-fetched and would have assisted educated government officials in figuring out exactly when a minor event took place since major events were usually better documented.

What has this got to do with Mrs. Rawlings? 

She was born on November 17, 1948, a Wednesday, which would mean she will be called Akua as per the practice; but there are exceptions. The practice of giving children day names is not always followed. In fact, even the idea of when the day starts and ends is not well-defined. Sometimes children are named after different day names than the day on which they are born because they are named after people who were born on different days than they. Suppose my mother who was born on a Friday has only one name, Afua, apart from her surname and I wanted to name my daughter who was born on Thursday after her. Then my daughter would also be called Afua even though the rule would dictate that she be called Yaa. This does not happen often though, so most day names accurately indicate the day on which one was born.

I don't know what Mrs. Rawlings calls herself, neither do I know the day on which she thinks she was born. But it is not uncommon to hear her being referred to as Yaa, implying she was born on a Thursday. Adakabre Frempong-Manso, the host of the morning show on Adom FM is also in the habit of referring to her as Adwoa, implying she was born on Monday. I don't know why he does this.

I speculate that people choose to call her Yaa because of the legacy of Yaa Asantewaa, an iconic female Asante warrior who resisted British invasion when the men were terrified of doing so. Yaa Asantewaa has gained a reputation as a strong woman who is not afraid to stand up to male hegemony so any woman who follows in her courageous steps assumes her day name. This is the most plausible reason why people prefer to call Mrs. Rawlings Yaa even though she is not.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

African music has always set the tone for world music

Some artisans know their craft, academically; others do not. Those who take their time to understand the overlaying theory that governs their trade always do better than their less knowledgeable peers. This is my opinion.

Busta Rhymes has remarked that African music has always set the tone for world music. People who know a decent bit of African music will not be surprised by this. However, because of the paucity of favourable scholarly work on African arts, there might be a lack of knowledge of this in the general psyche so it is good that a well-known musician has pointed this out.

Jazz and hip-hop, two of the most popular genres of music that have dominated the world music scene cannot be dissociated from their African roots, and it is still an open question how much African style and rhythm has been incorporated into other genres, whether subtly or overtly. I will leave that for more qualified commentators to tackle. I conclude with Busta's own words on what about African music he likes: "I personally think that, what sets African music apart from the rest of the world is just the authenticity of the rhythm, the vibe and the energy and the overall spirit of the music."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bush administration knew Osama was living in a nice, comfortable villa in Pakistan

Osama bin Laden was living in a nice, comfortable villa in Pakistan. Who would have thought? Renowned international journalist, Christiane Amanpour, made this remark during a talk show on October 3, 2008. She said she was told by a woman who was very knowledgeable about American intelligence.

The quest to find the source of intelligence that led to Osama bin Laden's death is resurrecting the debate on the use of enhanced interrogation techniques used in the Bush era. The debate will be interesting to watch as some of the information that led to Osama's demise was obtained using the infamous techniques.

On a related note, Yglesias has written about debunking the safe haven myth which suggested that Osama was likely to be hiding in a cave in the lawless outskirts of Pakistan, for example. I think that is interesting but if one were a terrorist, I think one would be better off living in an urban area albeit not in a conspicuous mansion. It is easier to hide and the culture of knowing what everybody is about which prevails in the village does not exist in the city.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The obsession with flashy funerals

Everybody who has stayed in Ghana knows this: Saturdays are grim days reserved for mourning the dead. Ordinarily, this should not be a problem except when money is wasted spent on the dead in a manner that suggests the family members are happy for their kin's demise--funerals are a huge profit-making venture for the family of the deceased as there is a strong social norm to donate money at funerals.

As a New York Times article has noted, if you were to attend a Ghanaian funeral you could mistake it for a party. The justification for the raucous celebration is that it is done for the sake of those who are alive and not for the dead. It is striking that the life of the deceased could have been very miserable and a far cry from the celebration at his death--it is not uncommon for somebody to die at the hospital because family members were unwilling to foot their medical bills.

A good question to ask is "What will the money be used for?"

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mrs. Rawlings's website vandalised?

We know Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings will pick up nomination forms later today (Tuesday) to formally register her desire to be president on the NDC's ticket. The event will be followed by the launch of her campaign tomorrow at the Accra International Conference Centre.

It will also be recalled that in December last year her fans built www.fonkar.org as a portal for furthering her cause. It is interesting, if not disturbing, that the site that once hosted the gorgeous former first-lady posing in traditional African wear now hosts a series of photographs of Atta-Mills.

The rest of the website seems intact, but the quality of the home page has drastically deteriorated--a suggestion that the vandals, if they are responsible for this, were either significantly less competent or were in a great deal of a hurry.

Three questions remain:

  1. Has the website been vandalised?
  2. If it has been vandalised who did it?
  3. If not have the FONKAR loyalists changed their minds on the eve of the biggest announcement?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sometimes I sympathize with politicians

Vice president Mahama had to address the May Day parade in Accra because the president was in Tamale. As usual, he made a promise that was supposed to calm workers: All workers will be migrated to the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS) in September.

Apart from the fact the implementation of the programme has been questionable and fraught with difficulties, a five month window seems like an awfully short period of time to implement a policy which took (at least) one month to implement for teachers who are only a fraction of the work force.

I am sceptical of the government's ability to deliver on this promise. I think the vice president's action is one of those instances in which a well-meaning politician is forced (are they really forced?) to tell a lie an untruth just to appease the electorate. If they deliver, I will openly congratulate them, but if they fail it will not be the first time and nobody will be surprised.