Sun, May

elizabeth ohene

    • Courtesy of the Upper West Regional Girls’ Education Officer at the Ghana Education Service (GES), we all now know that not a single girl has ever completed the Sawoubea Junior High School in the Wa East District in the past 25 years.

    A bit late in the day, I accept, but I am increasingly having to ask over and over again, if there is a generally accepted understanding of what constitutes Ghanaian culture, what is Ghanaian and what is un-Ghanaian?

    • This myth has persisted that the Black Stars of old sacrificed and loved Ghana more than the rest of us and played for no recompense. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I don’t know why the sports journalists are reluctant to state this.

    There are two subjects guaranteed to make headlines: children attending classes in unsuitable structures, and old players of Black Stars who have fallen on hard times.

    • Then one of the young men asked me the question which sounded more like an accusation: “But you are not really black, are you?”

    It is 1991 and I am in Bloemfontein, capital of the Free State province of South Africa.

  • We do not like science very much in this country. We prefer to ascribe spiritual and miraculous explanations to all things that happen in our lives. Accidents, deaths, ill health, passing and failing exams, finding a partner, wealth, poverty, good fortune - none of them have scientific explanations.

    • There is some level of authoritarian and dictatorship in the level of governance they have. We have taken our democracy as absolute and we are doing anything we like. That is the difference between Ghana and Rwanda.”

    Last year, lots of Ghanaians appear to have visited Kigali, the Rwanda capital. I assume this is so because of the number of times I got photos of the streets of Kigali from Ghanaian visitors.

    • And I wonder about someone having eight children.

    I return to a subject that seems not to interest many people in this country.

    • There are those who specialise in organising events; they plan the décor, they hire out the crockery, they have huge warehouses full of tables, chairs, fancy plates and cutlery and glasses and table linen; they employ carpenters, decorators.

    One thing does lead to another.

    • Now I know that a word can be stretched while in use to mean things it was never meant to convey but it seems to me now the use of the word ultimatum has gone way beyond proper usage in our country.

    There is a word that now features so frequently in the public discourse of our country that I have had to go and make sure the word means what I thought it did.
    Every day in the newspaper and on the radio, someone or some group is giving the government an ultimatum.

    • On the theme: “Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights,” UNICEF and other UN agencies have been committed to the cause of girls and women; and have over the years supported communities to appreciate the role of women in all strata of society.

    In Ghana, 19 per cent of girls marry before their 18th birthday, one in three girls aged 15 to 19, that is 39 per cent in Ghana, has experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives and 22 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 years do not go to school, or work or engage in social activities during menstruation.

    • It will be a happy day when they accept that criticising them doesn’t mean you are against them. Strange how they dish it out, but can’t take it.

    Last year, I wrote a column about Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and think tanks. I am revisiting the subject and I crave your indulgence if there is a lot of repetition.

    • I suppose the first difficulty is, can those in the diasporas mark or celebrate something here without the full participation of those of us here?

    I stopped worrying long ago about whether you can celebrate the anniversary of an unpleasant event or not. I no longer even agonise about whether I mark or celebrate an anniversary. Everything becomes a celebration in the end.

    • I went to the site last Saturday to see things for myself. First lesson when I got there, virtual is not the same as the real thing. The original six-week target had already been changed to 12 weeks, but ....

    If ever there was an ambitious project in this country, it must be the 100-bed Infectious Disease Centre being built at the Ga East Municipal Hospital.

    • Is there anything Ghanaian about the time I get up or go to bed? Could I not just be a morning person or a night owl and still be Ghanaian?

    The human race, I understand, is made up of morning people and night people. There are those who are at their best and most productive in the early morning hours and then there are the night owls, who really only come into their own during the night.

    • In other words, I can’t expect someone else to come and praise my city, if I don’t do it myself. Maybe there is a hidden beauty that I have been unable to see, but the truth about our city is that it doesn’t work.

    I thought it was brave of him to have appeared at his vetting in Parliament stating that he wanted to make Accra work. If you live in Accra, or have any reason to come to our capital, you would wish our minister well, you would pray that he did succeed in making Accra work indeed.

    • When the Floyd murder story broke, many people took it personally here.

    In the BBC's series of letters from African writers, Ghana's Elizabeth Ohene writes that George Floyd, whose killing has sparked a global debate about race relations, has been immortalised in the West African state that was central to the transatlantic slave trade.

    • That struggling body which managed to bring out the “I can’t breathe”, under the weight of the policeman, could have been any of them.

    It felt personal. As I watched the breath ebb out of George Floyd under the deliberate weight of the knee of the uniformed white police officer on his neck, I felt the asphyxia myself.

    • The six are to be carved out of four of the current 10 regions in the country.

    The Justice Brobbey Commission has proposed the creation of six new regions.

    • A lot has been said and written about the poor and disadvantaged in our society not being overawed by the threat of COVID-19, because they see hunger as a bigger and more immediate threat.

    At the beginning of the year, I was having a conversation with a friend about what Ghana and Africa should do to enable us to make this elusive breakthrough to economic success.

    • For the moment, however, it is enough to say congratulations to the first female Vice-Chancellor, on becoming the vice-presidential candidate of a major political party.

    One thing struck me in the ongoing tussle between the Auditor General and the Presidency: the Auditor General is entitled to 44 working days leave in a year.

    • A year and ten months later, my sister arrived. My aunts said my mother had set up a girls’ school in their brother’s home.

    I am probably being melodramatic here, but I can’t think of a better way of putting this. My birth was political.

    • Last Sunday, Mr Akufo-Addo announced the government was about to start a huge hospital building programme. He said the pandemic had exposed just how badly underserved we were with hospitals and he would build and equip 94 new ones within the next year.

    In our series of letters from African writers, journalist and former Ghana government minister Elizabeth Ohene writes about the new normal - from how to hold a socially distant election to attending online funerals.
    Since the outbreak of Covid-19, we have come to accept that our lives have been turned upside down.

    • Mr Bukari is reported to have said further in his letter that he had exercised judgement contrary to what he had known the President to stand for and require of servants in running the country.

    I have always been fascinated by the phenomenon of the high-rank sacking of the political kind. The sacking of a Minister of State always has an aura of drama, even a relatively painless one like the departure from office of Mr Rockson Bukari as Minister of State at the Office of the President.

    • The state of the African Regent Hotel broke my heart, but I am writing not about this particular hotel really, I am using the experience to highlight what is happening to hotels in general.

    It is not often I am lost for words nor reduced to total incomprehensive silence. I have lived through quite a number of crises in my long life and have been suitably impressed with how devastating this current global crisis has been.

    • There is no avoiding it, COVID or no COVID. The drafters of our national Constitution did not make any room for manoeuvre. Come hell, come high water, come pestilence, come war, the term of an elected President comes to an end on January 6. Therefore, we must have our elections.

    The one message I have taken to heart among the COVID-19 protocols is that unless it is very important, I stay home.

    • ... or were the Kenyans going to speak no ill of the dead and send home the conquering hero who had ruled them for 24 years?

    A week ago, the former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi was laid to rest at his Kabarak home. Many things came to mind when the news came that the 95-year-old had died.

    • Singing and,especially choral and group singing has been identified as one of the activities most likely to spread the virus. This happiest of human activities is being snuffed out.

    I sing when I am happy. I sing when I am sad. I sing alone, I sing in choirs, at least I used to and I sing along to songs and music generally.

    • Today, I know what he did and one of the frustrations I have is that social norms do not allow me to describe exactly what happened and I am reduced to saying I was defiled or sexually molested.

    I am not quite sure I had considered what the effect would be if I went public with the story of my having been sexually molested.

    • The coronavirus crisis has presented us with the perfect opportunity to do something about markets in this country. It would be tragic to let this opportunity go to waste.

    We have a crisis on our hands. If you start thinking of all the problems this coronavirus has thrown up, you might go mad. I am, therefore, limiting myself to little things that we can do something about.

    • Because, like the "Mami Alata" in days of yore, the Nigerian trader would stay open for one would-be buyer and not close up for three days to go to a funeral.

    We see them as too loud, and abrasive and chaotic and we believe they think they can outsmart everybody, especially Ghanaians.

    • There will never be enough money made for galamsey to cover the cost of providing safe water to the whole community when the water body and the rivers have been destroyed.

    When your personal interest happens to coincide with the general interests of the community, it is very easy to do the right thing.

    • Then there are those who up until now had never stepped out without their sophisticated, expensive mask, aka, make-up; and now they are being forced to appear unadorned, or to use my friend’s agonised words, going outside your house without any make-up and without lipstick is like appearing naked in public.

    I have been trying to find something, anything, to like about masks. Now that a mask has become an obligatory part of the attire that I have to wear once I step outside my home, I realise I better find some reason to like it.

    • As she repeated over and over again, Twi was not a national language and she expected that there would be some places in this country where a person could expect to be safe from being spoken to in Twi.

    The Americans, I believe, have a name for what they all agree is good for America; they call it motherhood and apple pie.

    • Today, the forest is gone. He planted a lawn in his house in the village and was mocked mercilessly; whoever heard of growing grass on the compound when it should be swept?

    Thirty years ago, on June 3, 1991, my father, Stephen Kwasi Ohene, died. I am writing about him because I believe he typifies the many people who built Ghana by simply doing what they knew to be right and their stories hardly ever get told.

    • Among the declaration of war and all the other complaints Mr Ametefe made in his encounter with the media in Ho last Thursday, I was interested in his assertion that the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS) belonged to them and the current Vice-Chancellor was not one of them.

    Who owns the public universities? I know this seems like a strange question to ask. But I have been grappling with this question since last week’s outburst by Mr Henry Ametefe, the Volta Regional Chairman of the National Democratic Congress (NDC).

    • I have now come to the conclusion that pre-existing conditions are not necessarily physical, they are more a state of mind. For example, look around our streets and see the number of signposts advertising cures for diabetes, kidney, lung and heart diseases. We believe in cures and have always struggled with the concept of managing a health condition.

    There are new terms that have entered our everyday language with the advent of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

    • I need not go into the hard reality that we would indeed pay for the free water since every cedi the Government of Ghana has and spends, comes from us, the people.

    In the Ohene household when we were growing up, there was a scientific explanation for everything, especially anything to do with health. If you complained of a headache, there were a number of questions that you would be asked: have you moved your bowels today? how much water have you drunk and did you sleep well?

    • But on Saturday, they were working and I wasn’t in the mood to worry about what was a normal Ghanaian situation of going from construction to rehabilitation, with no maintenance in between.

    Last Saturday, I went to the Accra Sports Stadium and watched the opening match of the Women Africa Cup of Nations between Ghana and Algeria.

    • The Tamale Interchange is the headline item on the first phase of what we are calling the Sinohydro projects.

    If all goes according to plan, the President of the Republic will be in Tamale this morning, Wednesday, to cut the sod for the construction of an interchange in that city.

    • And oh yes, once upon a time, they said girls couldn’t do Mathematics and sports that required thinking couldn’t be done by Black people.

    Has anyone seen the United States Olympics Women Gymnastic team? If you haven’t, please go and take a look. It wasn’t that long ago when specialist writers were telling us that gymnastics was beyond Black people. It was a sport for white people and that was it. Just take a look at the USA team. It looks pretty Black to me.

    • Ghana has got a new public holiday - on 4 August. Since the holiday this year happened to fall on a Sunday, it was celebrated on the following day.

    In our series of letters from African writers, Ghanaian journalist and former government minister Elizabeth Ohene explains the politics - and grammar - behind a new public holiday.

    • There is always an argument about how many of us there are. There seems to be a general reluctance to believe whatever official figures that are put out about anything and everything.

    I don’t know if we are calling this census the 2020 Census. We get counted every 10 years and the last time was in 2010. As we all know, the census should have taken place last year, but the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic put paid to that and we are instead having to do it this year.

    • I pointed out to her that when the BBC paid me, they had no interest in where I lived, be it rent or mortgage would be my problem and not theirs. The same goes for my electricity, water, gas and other bills and they expect me to be at work at ...

    I hesitate about joining in discussions on finance and monetary issues because I know my limitations. When the conversation turns to quantitative easing, my voice goes down and I leave it to those who know about these things.

    • At 63, we should not really be having arguments about these things now. We should have a clear identity of how we celebrate March 6, which would not be subject to change by the organising committee of the year.

    I have been wondering about how we celebrate our Independence Day anniversary. I have a problem with our public functions in general, which I feel drag on for too long. But it is not just the length of time the celebration takes that irks me, I feel that the Independence Day celebration in particular is an event that is not certain about its identity.

    • I spent my formative years in the Volta regional capital Ho but I don’t recall that I knew or had any idea where the court building was in the town.

    This past week, I have been thinking about what building there is in a Ghanaian town or community that will be regarded as the most important or which defines the town and community.

    • Mercifully, the President does not do the All Protocols Observed bit, and I must confess this phrase irritates me intensely.

    Our public functions go on for too long. Okay, this is not exactly a new or particularly profound observation. Anybody who attends a public function in this country knows this, has complained about it and we live with it.

  • Life as an MP in Ghana is traditionally a short-lived stint, partly because of a tradition of mocking longstanding MPs as "Mugabe", writes journalist Elizabeth Ohene, herself a former MP, in our series of letters from African journalists.

    • I have been waging a lonely unpopular battle about the rate of population growth in our country and against women having so many babies, but to no avail.

    In our (BBC) series of letters from African journalists, Elizabeth Ohene considers the controversial proposal to limit women to having three babies in Ghana.

    • If the VIP is scheduled to arrive at 10a.m., the schoolchildren are lined up by 8a.m. and that means even if by some miracle, the visitor is on time and arrives at 10 a.m.,...

    One of the things I hated as a schoolchild was to be lined up by the roadside to wave at a visiting important personality; often a minister of state and very rarely, the Head of State of the country.

    • But I do know that Mr Kudzordzi and his gang look suspiciously to me like they need the services of psychiatrists.

    I now know exactly what is meant by the saying, “I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry”.

    • I don’t know how many Ghanaians are actually aware of this dramatic change in our status, or if they care for that matter.

    I can’t speak French to save my life. I have A level in French.

    • atThe story about my friend the First Lady is repeated in differing forms. Another friend of mine was called to a family meeting six months into her appointment as a Minister of Ste and presented with ...

    I tell a story about a friend of mine who became a First Lady. I am not sure I should mention her name, so, let’s say she was a First Lady in an African country. A week after the inauguration ceremony at which she became First Lady, she went to her village to have a meeting with the group of women she had been helping for much of her life.

    • I suppose there is nothing new about women being judged on how they look rather than on what they do or how they do things.

    Last week I appeared to have touched some raw nerves with the piece I named Maybe we want them to steal.

  • I note that advertising is in the news. The dreadful event at Kasoa, in which two teenage boys reportedly murdered an 11-year-old boy, is being blamed on the unrestrained advertising on our television channels by fetish priests and occultists which are influencing innocent minds.

    • The children of policemen entered the police service, the children of soldiers entered the military, the children of prison officers joined the prison service, the children of fire service officials, followed their parents into the service, if they wanted to.

    A few days ago, I watched a video clip of an angry young woman threatening hell and damnation against the President of the Republic.

    • The idea of questioning a doctor does not come easily to most of us.

    I accept that medical doctors are special. I have a medical doctor brother who is special and I shall write about him one of these days.

    • At the moment, our roads do not feel like there is any rule of law in this country.

    I have it on good authority that the biggest number of people arriving at Accident and Emergency departments in all hospitals and clinics in the country are motorbike riders and those they have been in contact with.

    • In his mid-year review statement to Parliament on Monday, the Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta spent a long time explaining to us how we got into the huge energy debts that are ...

    I have always felt and said that Economists are a breed apart. Every time you hear or read a budget statement by a Minister of Finance, you get even more convinced that economists are a special breed.

    • I had been hoping that the entry of the virus into our country would make us all so frightened we would want to change our behaviour, but it looks like we haven’t been frightened enough.

    I am not sharing fear and panic if I state that we haven’t yet seen the worst of the current trouble we are in. You only need to see the figures and the graph of the rise and rise of the coronavirus in Ghana to realise that more infections of COVID-19 will be discovered.

    • The Church has found itself in a mess precisely because for years, it had adopted the GES attitude of recommending transfers as punishment or solution to serious problems.

    Over the weekend, I came across two lamentations from a policeman and a teacher.

  • Sixteen years is a very long time. I have living proof of what 16 years looks like in my house. My favourite niece Akua of Dwaben and Abutia was born 16 years ago, she is taller than me and a fully grownup young lady.

    • The saddest ones have been from other women who say that by writing the article, I have given them the strength to face up to the abuse they suffered during their childhood and which has continued gnawing at them through adulthood.

    I suppose you can’t write on sex and expect not to raise temperatures. Usually when I write on any subject, I take the position that I should not get involved in whatever discussion that is generated by the article.

    • Two young Canadians on an internship programme in our country have been reported kidnapped in Kumasi. We are all praying that the security agencies will soon have a breakthrough and end the ordeal of the young women.

    There is a saying in my language which translates literally as, “The monkey says it isn’t the man who has perched him on his shoulders and is parading him around that annoys him so much as the man who shouts: ‘heh, look at that monkey’.”

    • As he rises to make his statement, none of these doomsday scenarios would be playing on Ken Ofori Atta’s mind. He has things to smile about: we are exiting from the IMF, his Adwuma Budget has made room for 165,000 public sector positions made up of 100,000 NABCO graduates, ...

    Tomorrow will see one of the regular Big Events of Parliament enacted on the floor of the House. The Minister of Finance, Mr Kenneth Ofori-Atta will come to the House and present the 2019 Budget on behalf of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

    • And why would your host think it is OK to invite you for lunch and start serving food at 15:00 or invite you for dinner at 19:00 and offer you food at 21:00?

    In our series of letters from African writers, Ghanaian journalist and former government minister Elizabeth Ohene explains why clock-watching in Ghana is a waste of time.

    • I do not advocate a Ghana that serves as the zoo for the rest of the world to come and see animals that have been hunted to extinction whilst we remain “underdeveloped”, but I fear we are losing the balance.

    The journey from Accra to Ho, the Volta regional capital, is about 150 or so kilometres long. Once upon a time, it took me an hour and a half, driving my tomato red Austin Mini Cooper from my gate at North Labone in Accra to my parents’ home on Mawuli School campus in Ho.

    • Surely that would not be simply an attack on Iran, it would be an attack on world civilisation and it would demean us all.

    I am not quite sure at which stage we, as a people, started thinking it was a bad idea to admit that something was good if it was.

    • There are lots more of them (126.7 million) than there are of us (plus or minus 30 million), and I understand that in 2018, there were 78.3 million motor vehicles in use in Japan. And yet there was nothing like the chaos of Accra.

    I have been in Japan. I had quite forgotten just how enchanted I was with Japan the first time I visited.

    • He does not want to be sent to Ghana because he thinks that would be a worse punishment than being sent to prison.

    As I sat down late Monday night at my laptop to write, I was thinking that Kwaku Adoboli had finally resigned himself to being put on the chartered flight to be deported to Accra on Tuesday.

    • In a press statement, the court said: “Mr Ratelband is at liberty to feel 20 years younger than his real age and to act accordingly.

    I have been following a story in Netherlands that has gone viral and should interest us here.

    • Three weeks after he got to West Germany, word reached the embassy here in Accra that the young man had applied for political asylum. Needless to say ...

    I read that the Ghanaian passport is ranked 78th by something called the 2020 Henley Passport Index. According to this index, our passport provides visa-free/visa on arrival access to 65 destinations, while we need visas to get to 161 destinations.

    • I am a great admirer of adult education and lifelong learning. The definition of lifelong learning makes you feel this is something that is good and we should all aspire to. Here is the definition, ...

    I am following the uproar generated by the special audit on the GETFund with a lot of interest. No prizes for guessing the source of my interest. I served for six years as a Minister of State at the Ministry of Education, and the GETFund was therefore very much part of my daily life during the period.

    • Before the events of last Saturday when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the postponement of the elections four hours to the opening of the polls, ...

    Nigeria, our big and powerful neighbour, never ceases to amaze me. Just when you think they cannot possibly do anything that can surprise, they find something to outdo themselves.

    • Some publications these days and some of the stories that our news outlets put out obviously tick the first with the news box; but would fail the reliability and truth test. Unfortunately, the damage that is done first with the news cannot be undone.

    I don’t quite remember when the concept of the information overload came into use.

    • If our statistics department were working well, they would tell us how much it costs to bring up a child from pregnancy till he/she reaches free SHS and President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo takes over responsibility.

    I know there are climate change deniers.

    • And here we are with farmers unhappy about a bumper yam harvest, because there is a glut on the market and yam prices have crashed.

    I like yams. I like everything about yams and I would eat with relish, every meal that is made from yams. I think my love affair with yams must have come from a famous grand uncle who was a farmer in Abutia when I was growing up.

    • I think there were 15 or so of us reading my Honours degree course in my year, these days there are more than a thousand students in one class.

    I suspect I have to declare an interest.

    • It seems to me that part of the problems we have now emanate from people wanting to run without having learned to walk, and sometimes, without having even learned to stand firmly, ...

    I am always fascinated by stories of child prodigies.

    • I haven’t met anybody yet here in the Sekondi-Takoradi area who seems uncomfortable or unhappy about the referendum that has sliced off a big chunk of the Western Region.

    I am in the Western Region on duties, not usually associated with my everyday activities.

    • According to the statistics from the Customs Department, some 656,232 tonnes of the stuff, worth $331.2 million, were imported into the country in 2017. I have ...

    Food has been on my mind. That is not saying very much, I admit, for food must necessarily almost always be on your mind. There is no other activity that takes up so much of our time, energy, resources and passion as food.
    Once upon a time, you could tell immediately where in the country you were and who you were dealing with, judging from the food that was on offer around you.

    • Maybe the experts should stop expressing doubts and then we shall listen. The campaign season is upon us.

    Almost six months into the arrival of COVID-19 in our country, we can probably make some general statements about how the virus has fared in our midst.

    • There seems to be something called “Eweland” which is said to be at risk from the creation of an Oti Region.

    At the last Census in 2010, out of the 25 million people in Ghana, almost two million people said they were Ewes. I am one of them.

    • And this being an election year in Ghana, we have had priests predicting who will win the presidential elections scheduled for 7 December.

    In the BBC's series of letters from African writers, journalist and former Ghana government minister Elizabeth Ohene writes about why she avoided New Year celebrations.

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