Kapuscinski meets a member of Ghana’s New Class

From The Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuscinski, trans. by Klara Glowczewska (Vintage, 2002), Kindle Loc. 144-179:

Baako enjoys great prestige among the young. They like him for being a good athlete. He plays soccer, cricket, and is Ghana’s Ping-Pong champion.

“Just a minute,” he interrupted, “I just have to place a call to Kumasi, because I’m going there tomorrow for a game.”

He called the post office for them to connect him. They told him to wait.

“I saw two films yesterday,” he told me, as he waited, holding the receiver to his ear. “I wanted to see what they’re showing. They’re playing films schoolchildren shouldn’t go to. I must issue a decree that forbids young people to see such things. And this morning I spent visiting book stalls throughout the city. The government has established low prices for schoolbooks, but the word is that retailers are marking them up. I went to check for myself. Indeed, they are selling them for more than they’re supposed to.”

He dialed the post office again.

“Listen, what are you so busy with over there? How long am I supposed to wait? Do you know who this is?”

A woman’s voice answered, “No.”

“And who are you?” Baako asked.

“I’m the telephone operator.”

“And I am the minister of education and information, Kofi Baako.”

“Good morning, Kofi! I’ll connect you right away.”

And he was talking to Kumasi.

I looked at his books, stacked on a small cabinet: Hemingway, Lincoln, Koestler, Orwell, The Popular History of Music, The American Dictionary, as well as various paperbacks and crime novels.

“Reading is my passion. In England I bought myself the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and now I’m reading it little by little. I cannot eat without reading, I have to have a book lying open in front of me.”

A moment later:

“I’ve got another, even greater hobby: photography. I take pictures all the time and everywhere. I have more than ten cameras. When I go to a store and see a new camera, I immediately have to buy it. I bought a film projector for the children, and show them films in the evening.”

He has four children, ranging in age from three to nine. All of them attend school, even the youngest. It is not unusual here for a three-year-old to be enrolled in school. The mother will send him off, especially if he’s a handful, just to have some peace.

Kofi Baako himself first went to school at three. His father was a teacher and liked being able to keep his eye on his children. When he finished elementary school, he was sent for high school to Cape Coast. He became a teacher, and then a civil servant. At the end of 1947, Nkrumah had returned to Ghana having finished university studies in America and England. Baako listened to his speeches, which spoke of independence. Then Baako wrote an article, “My Hatred of Imperialism.” He was fired from his job. He was blacklisted, and no one would employ him. He hung around the city, eventually meeting Nkrumah, who entrusted him with the position of editor in chief of the Cape Coast Daily Mail. Kofi was twenty years old.

He wrote another article entitled “We Call for Freedom,” and was jailed. Arrested with him were Nkrumah and several other activists.They spent thirteen months behind bars, before finally being released. Today, this group constitutes Ghana’s government.

Now Baako speaks about broad issues. “Only thirty percent of the people in Ghana can read and write. We want to abolish illiteracy within fifteen years. There are difficulties: a shortage of teachers, books, schools. There are two kinds of schools: missionary-run and state-run. But they are all subject to the state and there is a single educational policy. In addition, five thousand students are being educated abroad. What frequently happens is that they return and no longer share a common language with the people. Look at the opposition. Its leaders are Oxford- and Cambridge-educated.”

“What does the opposition want?”

“Who knows? We believe that an opposition is necessary. The leader of the opposition in parliament receives a salary from the government. We allowed all these little opposition parties and groups to unite, so they would be stronger. Our position is that in Ghana, anyone who wants to has the right to form a political party—on the condition that it not be based on criteria of race, religion, or tribe. Each party here can employ all constitutional means to gain political power. But, you understand, despite all this, one doesn’t know what the opposition wants. They call a meeting and shout: ‘We’ve come through Oxford, and people like Kofi Baako didn’t even finish high school. Today Baako is a minister, and I am nothing. But when I become minister, then Baako will be too stupid for me to make him even a messenger.’ But you know, people don’t listen to this kind of talk, because there are more Kofi Baakos here than all those in the opposition put together.”

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Filed under Africa, democracy, education, Ghana, nationalism

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