Category Archives: Ghana

Rapid Fall of Germany’s Overseas Empire

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 365-394:

Today, a bronze historical marker in Belgium memorializes the first British shot of World War One and the first death in battle involving British troops. According to this marker, the opening round of uncountable millions was fired by Corporal Ernest Thomas of C Squadron, 4th Royal Irish Dragoons on August 22, 1914, in a cavalry action near the town of Casteau, Belgium. The first combatant killed, a German uhlan (mounted infantryman), is credited to Captain Charles B. Hornby in that same action. Captain Hornby pierced the unfortunate uhlan’s heart by saber thrust—an ironically old-fashioned death (on horseback, with a sword) in what was to become a decidedly modern war (mechanized, faceless), its human toll exceeding 14,000,000. But the markers’ assertions do not stand historical scrutiny; their authors disregard earlier campaigns in far-off Africa.

The first British shot of the war actually occurred on August 5, fired off by Regimental Sergeant Major Alhaji Grunshi, a black African soldier serving with British Imperial forces a few miles north of Lomé, in German Togoland. The first recorded British death in battle, one Lieutenant G. M. Thompson of the Gold Coast Regiment, took place sometime over the night of August 21–22, also in Togoland: Lieutenant Thompson, given command of a company of Senegalese Tirailleurs, fought it out with German askaris in a confused action in the thick bush on the banks of the river Chra. His comrades found him in the morning, lying dead and covered with insects in the midst of his slaughtered command. They buried them that way; the Senegalese arranged around Lieutenant Thompson’s grave like a loyal pack of hounds around the tomb of a Paleolithic chief.

After less than a year of war, the German Overseas Empire—one of the main catalysts for the war in the first place—seemed nearly at an end.

In China, on the other side of the globe, the small German garrison holding the Kiao-Chow Concession found itself besieged by a Japanese Army 23,000 strong, supported by a small contingent of the 2nd Battalion of South Wales Borderers. The Concession—a 400-square-mile territory centered in the fortified port city of Tsingtao on the Yellow Sea—had been ceded to Germany in 1897 as compensation for the murder of two German Catholic priests by anti-Christian Chinese mobs. Tsingtao’s commandant, Kapitän zur See Meyer-Waldeck, held out against the siege behind the city’s thick walls for two months, under continual bombardment from land and sea as Japanese Infantry assault trenches pushed relentlessly forward. Realizing the pointlessness of further struggle against the combined might of the Japanese Army and Navy, Meyer-Waldeck surrendered his garrison of 3,000 German marines and sundry volunteers at last on November 16, 1914. It came as a surprise to him that the Japanese and the British were fighting together against Germany—they had signed a secret mutual defense treaty in 1902, only now bearing fruit.

Meanwhile, Australian, New Zealand, and Japanese forces easily captured German possessions in the South Pacific. These included the Bismarck Archipelago, the Caroline Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Marianas, Palau, New Caledonia, and Samoa—where the Kaiser’s barefoot native soldiers sported fetching red sarongs beneath their formal German military tunics—and Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, now the northeastern part of Papua New Guinea. Here one intrepid German officer, a certain Hauptmann Herman Detzner, who had been off exploring the unknown interior with a contingent of native police, refused to surrender and remained on the loose in the wilderness for the duration of the war. He turned himself in to the occupying Australians on January 5, 1919, wearing his carefully preserved and outdated Imperial German uniform—a kind of German Rip van Winkle who had been asleep in the jungle while the world changed irrevocably around him. By July 1915, of Germany’s prewar colonial possessions, only German East Africa remained.

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Filed under Britain, Cameroon, China, Germany, Ghana, Micronesia, migration, military, nationalism, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tanzania, war

Ghana’s Breadfruit Revolution

I only recently heard about this story of a drought-resistant food revolution in Ghana. Modern Ghana reported on 2 August 2012 that “The African Breadfruit Revolution has begun! And it began in Ghana!” Here are a few excerpts.

The Ghana Alliance against Hunger and Malnutrition (HAG) announced to Samoan and Fijian news agencies October, 2011 that 870 Samoan variety breadfruit trees, each about 250 mm tall, had arrived to Ghana from a mass propagation facility outside of Frankfurt, Germany.

Not since the decades after the mutiny on the Bounty has such a large shipment of the Pacific Islands breadfruit arrived to Africa.

HAG made no announcement in Ghana about the project or to where the little trees went for nursery care – the Bunso Agricultural Research Station near Kade – as it was meant to be a bit of a secret until the little trees grew up to field planting size….

The trees are of the Ma’afala and Ulu Fiti varieties of Samoa in the Pacific Islands which produce up to 500 kg of fruit per tree per year and, in Samoa, have complementary fruiting seasons resulting in shorter hungry months. The present Ghanaian breadfruit produces perhaps 250 or 300 kg per year….

You can have your ecoforest and eat it, too!

No other tree holds the promise of carbohydrate security that breadfruit does….

The Bunso shipment is believed to be the first large, new variety breadfruit shipment reaching West Africa’s shores since the 1840s when missionaries brought at least one Tahitian variety from the Caribbean to Ghana and beyond. This was just a few decades after the legendary voyages involving the mutiny on the Bounty when other such breadfruit-dedicated voyages brought Tahitian and other Pacific Island breadfruit varieties to the Caribbean.

 

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Filed under Caribbean, economics, food, Germany, Ghana, Pacific

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

Kapuscinski on breezes and buses in Africa

From The Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuscinski, trans. by Klara Glowczewska (Vintage, 2002), Kindle Loc. 200-213, 312-318:

A bus in Accra has a wooden body, its roof resting on four posts. Because there are open walls, a pleasant breeze cools the ride. In this climate, the value of a breeze is never to be taken for granted.

In the Sahara, the palaces of rulers have the most ingenious constructions—full of chinks, crannies, winding passageways, and corridors so conceived and constructed as to maximize cross-ventilation. In the afternoon heat, the ruler reclines on a mat optimally positioned to catch this refreshing current, which he breathes with delight. A breeze is a financially measurable commodity: the most expensive houses are built where the breeze is best. Still air has no value; it has only to move, however, and then immediately acquires a price.

The buses are brightly ornamented, colorfully painted. On the cabs and along the sides, crocodiles bare their sharp teeth, snakes stretch ready to attack, and flocks of peacocks frolic in trees, while antelope race through the savannah pursued by a lion. Birds are everywhere, as well as garlands, bouquets of flowers. It’s kitsch, but full of imagination and life.

The inscriptions are most important of all. The words, adorned with flowers, are large and legible from afar, meant to offer important encouragements or warnings. They have to do with God, mankind, guilt, taboos….

Bus at Boumnyebel

Grace Lines bus at Boumnyebel, Cameroon

Every now and then our bus stops along the side of the road. Someone wants to get off. If it’s a young woman with a child or two (a young woman without a child is a rare sight), there unfolds a scene of extraordinary agility and grace. First, the woman will secure the child to her body with a calico scarf (her small charge sleeping the entire time, not reacting). Next, she will squat down and place the bowl from which she is never separated, full of food and goods of all kinds, on her head. Then, straightening up, she will execute that maneuver of a tightrope walker taking his first step above the abyss: carefully, she finds her equilibrium. With her left hand she now clutches a woven sleeping mat, and with her right the hand of a second child. And this way—stepping at once with a very smooth, even gait—they enter a forest path leading to a world I do not know and perhaps will never understand.

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Funereal Language Revival in Northern Ghana

The occasion of the 1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation seems an appropriate moment to note a recent post by Mark Dingemanse of The Ideophone about an encouraging bit of language revival in Siwu, spoken in the Volta region of Ghana: the return of traditional funeral dirges. (Note that Siwu is the language, Kawu is the place, and Mawu are the people, suggesting a noun-classification system most definitely related to those in found Bantu languages.)

Speaking of parting, it is only rarely that dirges are heard in Kawu nowadays. Two factors are contributing to their decline: firstly the fact that many churches discourage their use, preferring edifying hymns instead. The reason behind this, I am told, is that the dirges reflect a pre-Christian worldview and as such are to be eschewed by true Christians. A second factor has been the coming of electricity to the villages halfway the nineties, which has led to loud music taking the place of the dirges during the wakekeepings. Elsewhere I wrote that “culture is a moving target, always renewing and reshaping itself”, yet at the same time I can’t help but lament the imminent loss of such a rich vein of Mawu culture.

However, during my last fieldtrip there were some signs of a renewed interest in the genre. For example, one pastor told me that he had been reconsidering the rash dismissal of the dirges by his church. Realizing how important the dirges had been in containing, orienting, and canalizing the feelings of loss and pathos surrounding death, he felt that the Christian hymns did not always offer an appropriate replacement. Another hopeful event was that I was approached with the request to help record a great number of dirges in Akpafu-Todzi in August 2008. This was not just to record them for posterity (although this was part of the motivation), but also very practically so that they could be played at wakekeepings. I gladly complied with this wish of course. The result is a beautiful collection of 42 dirges, sung by eight ladies between 57 and 87 years of age. The first time the dirges were played at a funeral they sparked a wave of interest.

via Culture-Making, where Nate adds a lead-in: The cultural fall and rise of the traditional funeral dirges performed in the Volta region of northern Ghana: brought low by Christianity and recording technology, brought back by the same.

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A Bad Omen: Nkrumah vs. Cocoa Farmers, 1954-57

From The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence, by Martin Meredith (PublicAffairs, 2005), pp. 24-27:

After winning the 1954 election, Nkrumah seemed set to make rapid progress towards independence. But he encountered unexpected resistance centred on his conduct of government. In the final stages of colonial rule, the Gold Coast, once a model colony, was riven by such bitterness, division and violence that it appeared in danger of breaking up.

At the core of the crisis was cocoa money. To protect cocoa farmers from price fluctuations, the colonial authorities had established a Cocoa Marketing Board (CMB) which each year fixed a guaranteed price for farmers and acted as the sole buyer, grader, seller and exporter of cocoa. Once in office, Nkrumah instructed the CMB to keep the price as low as possible, aiming to raise funds for development projects. But the CMB soon became notorious for corruption and mismanagement; it was regularly exploited to distribute credit, contracts, commissions, licences and jobs to CPP [Convention People’s Party] supporters. An official investigation revealed that the CPP used a CMB subsidiary to enrich the party’s coffers, to coerce farmers into joining the party and to control petty commerce.

Soon after the 1954 election, Nkrumah announced that the price paid to farmers would be fixed for a period of four years at a level less than one-third of ruling world prices. This decision provoked a surge of anger across Asante, the central forest region where half of the country’s cocoa crop was grown. Not only farmers but cocoa traders, merchants and businessmen based in the Asante capital, Kumasi, resented the loss of income. A new opposition party, the National Liberation Movement (NLM), sprang up, proclaiming to defend Asante interests and culture against a central government it portrayed as corrupt, dictatorial and bent on undermining the beliefs and customs of the Asante people. With the blessing of the Asante paramount chiefs and backed by fervent support in the Asante heartland, the NLM demanded a federal constitution prior to independence, giving Asante and other areas that wanted it a substantial measure of local autonomy.

Nkrumah saw the issue as a struggle between a modern democratic government and the feudal power of traditional chiefs trying to protect the old order. But he misjudged the extent of popular support for Asante institutions. As the NLM and Nkrumah’s CPP struggled for ascendancy, violent disturbances broke out. A bomb attack was made on Nkrumah’s house in Accra. Alarmed by the disorders, the British government refused to set a date for independence and eventually insisted on resolving the issue by calling another general election. At the polls in July 1956, Nkrumah’s CPP won an outright majority, 72 of 104 seats, though only 57 per cent of the votes cast. While the CPP received 398,000 votes, the opposition tally was 299,000 votes. Satisfied with the result, Britain finally pronounced a date for independence: 6 March 1957….

No other African state was launched with so much promise for the future. Ghana embarked on independence as one of the richest tropical countries in the world, with an efficient civil service, an impartial judiciary and a prosperous middle class. Its parliament was well established, with able politicians in both government and opposition. The prime minister, himself, then only forty-seven years old, was regarded as a leader of outstanding ability, popularly elected, with six years of experience of running a government. The country’s economic prospects were equally propitious. Not only was Ghana the world’s leading producer of cocoa, with huge foreign currency reserves built up during the 1950s cocoa boom, but it possessed gold, timber and bauxite.

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Filed under Britain, democracy, economics, Ghana