I read Valerie A. Sackey’s review of Nana Ato Dadzie and Kwamena Ahwoi’s book titled Justice Francis Daniel Annan: In the Service of Democracy (See MyJoyOnline.com 2/21/11) with a mixture of admiration and contempt. “Admiration,” because the critic meticulously subjects the book to the salutary sort of literary criticism that is sorely lacking in the Ghanaian media.
Not quite long ago, for instance, Mr. Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, then working for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), did a piece that was supposed to be a review of a collection of editorial writings put together by Ms. Elizabeth Ohene, the former cabinet member of the Kufuor administration and a former editor of Ghana’s Daily Graphic. Needless to say, Mr. Sakyi-Addo’s review, which was absolutely no review at all, was, to say the least, utterly embarrassing.
The writer/critic gave the keen and avid reader no sense that he had, in fact, read the book. Which is not to imply that he had, indeed, read the book; for it was quizzically obvious by the end of the introductory paragraph that Mr. Sakyi-Addo would not live up to the promise made to his audience. And predictably, the rest of the article simply catalogued a litany of tribulations allegedly endured by Ms. Ohene at the hands of the Rawlings government.
For a journalist in the employ of the BBC, I found such critical travesty to be all the more troubling. I was, thus, not the least bit surprised when several months later I learned about Mr. Sakyi-Addo’s parting of the ways with the world’s number one broadcaster. It made perfect sense to me, because his poor excuse of a book review had more than amply convinced me that Mr. Sakyi-Addo was simply a lazy book critic, which means one who hardly read beyond the blurb or dust-jacket and an introductory page or two.
It also set me wondering about the sort of curricular fare administered by the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ). I wondered, for instance, whether like me, the instructors of the GIJ’s writing programs assigned book reviews, among other forms of esthetic and critical/literary writing, to their students. By and large, though, I am inclined to believe that the generally poor quality of book reviews, as well as literary output, in general, has far more to do with the fact of Ghana lacking a firmly established reading culture.
By the latter is meant the fact that most literate Ghanaians often read for purely academic and professional purposes. Only a negligible few among us habitually read for sheer entertainment value. And this jarringly shows up in our generally stilted writing style and diction.
Anyway, in the comments forum of MyJoyOnline.com, one commentator, perhaps out of diffidence about his own writing abilities, suggests that Ms. Sackey’s supposedly “half” Anglo-Scottish cultural background most likely is responsible for her laudable linguistic flair for the Queen’s English, as it were. For the avid reader, though, the next most logical question becomes: How about the critic/reviewer’s obvious command of the subject of her critique?
In sum, one does not have to be Anglo-Scottish or even Anglo-Irish, for that matter, to be able to enviably cultivate the heavenly art of critical thinking, which is exactly what meticulous reading is fundamentally about.
Needless to say, I was deeply fascinated by the great sense of ease with which Ms. Sackey seemed to have made a proverbial short work of Messrs. Dadzie and Ahwoi’s book. What was, however, flabbergasting is the fact that a think tank like the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG) had apparently so facilely and recklessly consented to the use of its imprimatur, and thus its institutional credibility, for the publication of a book which appears to have scarcely left the rudimentary stage of a first draft.
Was such patently unwise decision taken more with an expedient view of cashing in on Justice Annan’s quite remarkable reputation, or this was simply a classical example of the kind of abject intellectual lassitude for which Ghanaians have become rather notorious?
Anyway, what uniquely piqued my interest was the former Information Director for strongman Rawlings’ spirited, albeit patently shallow, attempt to indemnify, as well as “hagiographize,” her sometime paymaster and political idol at all costs. For instance, whereas then-President Jerry John Rawlings had apologetically told the BBC that “Dzelukope Jeremiah” had, in fact, roughed up his estranged veep at a cabinet meeting, we have Ms. Sackey, in her otherwise commendable review of Justice Francis Daniel Annan: In the Service of Democracy, vehemently denying that any such incident occurred at all.
This is quite curious because earlier on, the now-late Mr. Vincent Assiseh, who also happens to have been my uncle-in-law, had also denied Mr. Rawlings’ severe beating up of then-Vice-President Ekwow Nkensen Arkaah, a man who was older than Mr. Rawlings’ own mother! I was, however, none too disturbed by such clearly unconscionable breach of decorum, being that Mr. Arkaah, presented with the plum of high political office, had dismissively chalked off the barbaric anti-Akan assassination of the three High Court judges and the retired Army major to a pure “understandable act of revolution.”
Ms. Sackey’s rather cynical and downright lame attempt to portray an emotionally volatile and physically violent Mr. Rawlings in picture-perfect “sangfroid” terms, falls flat and seriously undermines her credibility as a self-proclaimed sentry in the eye of the proverbial storm. For instance, the critic cannot bring herself to fully accepting the fact that a pistol-packing Flt.-Lt. Rawlings had, indeed, broken a staff – or walking stick – in halves in a furious fit, although on this particular occasion, the former Information Director of the Castle Information Bureau was out of the loop. Instead, she simply conjures another incident which occurred in her presence, in which her boss had, presumably, broken an “HB” or “2B” pencil, it is not quite clear which, to both impugn the credibility of Messrs. Dadzie and Ahwoi, and in the process humanize Mr. Rawlings beyond reality and, of course, recognition.
For most Ghanaians, sympathizers and foes alike, Mr. Rawlings is temperamentally positioned somewhere between a terrorist, with remarkable patches of gray here and there, particularly where prime beneficiaries of his Robin-Hood regime are concerned, and a thoroughgoing bully of epic proportions.
By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI) and author of “The Obama Serenades” (Lulu.com, 2011).