By Manasseh Azure Awuni
When I received Efo Kodjo Mawugbe’s call summoning me to his house, I sensed all was not well. But the tone of his voice did not give me the faintest clue that he was calling me say farewell and to give me an assignment. It didn’t suggest that he was ill. But the call carried a tone of urgency. It came before 6 a.m., making my heart pound.
“Manasseh, this is what has become of me O,” Efo said and beckoned me to a seat next to his bedside. I was speechless for most part of the morning. But Efo spoke. Very deeply. He sounded philosophical, like a father advising a son before embarking on long distance journey. I didn’t know why. But he did. He finally came to the other main reason he had called me.
“I want you review my book,” he said.
“Yes. The last time I checked with Uncle Ebo Whyte, everything was on course and it’s almost ready.”
Efo was my mentor and though he had said he liked my writing, I didn’t know he was so much confident in me to want him to review his first novel. That challenge gladdened my heart, but what was to follow alarmed me, saddened me.
“I wish I could live to see its launch but even if I die before it’s ready, please, review it for me,” he said, he added.
“Efo, don’t say that,” I protested. I had heard stories about dying people giving important messages to their loved ones before passing on. But I didn’t believe that was what Efo was doing. For me Efo was too young to die. He was too huge an asset to lose. He and I hadn’t finished what we had started.
I was yet to send the second draft of my play for Efo’s assessment after he had made me realise, without telling me, that my first draft was a poor job. “Drama is quite different from prose,” he said before giving me the “4th Draft” of his award-winning play, The Prison Graduates. He also handed me his 2006 play on Ghana’s Golden Jubilee, Free Juice for All, both of which I’m yet to return. “These are original copies. I would normally give it out but you take it.”
A number of people have shaped my life and career and Efo Kodjo Mawugbe was one of them. When I applied to study in the Ghana Institute of Journalism five years ago, my aim was not to become a journalist.
“I want to be a writer and so I want to shape my writing skills in Ghana Institute of Journalism,” was what I filled in the admission form requiring applicants to state why they apply to study at GIJ. But before I discovered my love for journalism, I had discovered writers whose writings tickled me. And I approached each of them with the same message: “I want you to be my mentor.” But amongst all, it was Efo Kodjo Mawugbe who had time to actually teach me.
I ambushed Efo when he appeared on GTV’s Breakfast show to talk about his play, Ananse Kwaku Ananse. He said it was part of programme to rekindle the interest of Ghanaians in drama and theatre. I was on practical attachment at GTV so before he ended the interview I had pitched camp outside the studio. I introduced myself, told him how admired his works, and how I wish he could mentor me to become like him. But Efo did think I should be like him.
“You have what it takes to be more than me. Aim at that,” he told me.
By my final year at the GIJ, Efo was more of a father than a mentor. He was generous in sharing his wealth of experience and knowledge. I would go to him after lectures, usually near the close of the day. His life experiences and grim determination inspired me. “You’ll find things difficult but never give up,” Efo told me after the story behind his success in drama.
He had developed interest in the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation’s radio drama and had written a play to be considered. On two occasions, the producer did not mind him because what he had did not fit the description of radio drama. But he would not relent. It was his resilience which won him the sympathy of the producer, who finally taught him how to go about it. So he started writing and said his motivation was hearing his name mentioned on the nation’s broadcaster.
But Efo’s favourite producer would soon leave the stage and when he later travelled all the way from Kumasi to submit a radio play, it was rejected. Efo felt deject but not dissuaded.
“When I got to circle, something told me to try BBC,” he recounted. “I went straight to the post office and posted that same play GBC rejected to BBC without any correction. I received a response later with payment.”
When it was usually time to go home, Efo would not let me walk to Tema Station to queue for trotro. And he would not let me alight at Kaneshie because he insisted it wasn’t safe. Dansoman Junction at Odorkor was where he would give me “something small” to charter taxi to Dansoman while he went to Bubuashie. I would accept it after a weak protest, then cross over and wait for a trotro. That “something small” was capable of doing something big. The man was generous.
Efo Kodjo Mawugbe will be remembered by many people for diverse reasons. Lovers of theatre and drama would not forget his enormous contribution to the development of arts and theatre in the country. Newspaper readers will forever remember the Letter to Dora column in The Mirror newspaper. What some of them may never know is that the Araba Kwantsima Season they so much admired was the man who will be laid to rest on October 28. Efo once told me how men had often sent emails asking him out for lunch, thinking he was a “she.”
Mr. Vance Azu, a staff writer of The Mirror says Efo Kodjo Mawugbe’s Letter to Dora and Professor Kwesi Yankah’s Woes of a Kwatriot were columns that really gave the newspaper a lot of readership.
“Even those of us working at The Mirror struggled amongst ourselves to read Efo’s column before we processed it for publication,” Mr. Azu recalls “It was an interesting humorous column and it made the paper very popular.”
“I still have bundles of The Mirror of many years ago because of the Letter to Dora column,” admits Seth Bokpe, a journalist. “I fell in love with the column and when I was growing up, and I never missed it.”
At the University of Ghana’s School of Communication Studies when the death of Efo was announced, someone said Efo’s enormous knowledge of the Ghanaian culture was the reason she watched TV3’s Ghana’s Most Beautiful contest. Efo was one of the judges.
Efo might not have been heard on radio or platforms talking politics but some of his works are critical of our national failures.
“The University of Science and Technology and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research should have by now developed a simple portable cocoa-pod breaking machine that would have saved the farmer the back breaking task of having to break every single pod with a cutlass or stick to remove the beans,” he wrote in the Free Juice for All.
His radio drama, The Prison Graduates, which won the BBC International Playwriting Competition in 2009, is perhaps one of the greatest political satires of our time. Through four characters, Efo summarised the reasons for Africa’s woes:
“Until sub-Saharan Africa accepts the blame for her predicament, we will still be a long way away from a practical solution to her problems. So long as Sub-Saharan Africa produce what her children do not consume and continue to consume what she does not produce, the sub-region and her children shall continue to be at the mercy of the developed countries.”
For Mrs. Georgina Mawugbe, Efo’s wife for 37 years, Efo Kodjo Mawugbe was “a real husband, a teacher and my director. He truly loved and cared for his family. Though we slept together, we often woke up in the morning to find his text messages on or phones, inspirational text messages. We will forever miss his jokes.”
In our society today, tributes have become works of fiction. But, Efo, you truly deserves yours. You have not left a “vacuum that cannot be filled.” You shared your knowledge liberally and created opportunities for others to excel. If individually those of us who have drunk from your fountain of knowledge cannot fill your shoes, we can do so collectively.
Efo Kodjo Mawugbe, I join Efo Senyo, my favourite boborbor artiste to say:
Mia norvi xede nyuie
Xeyi loo, xeyi na dzudzor
Dzudzor le nutifafa me
Mawu na nor kpli wò
Gbadegbe miaga va do go
Eye wò dorworwor nyuiwo
Adze wò yome!
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