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It Is A Tired Old Debate

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

Garden City, New York

Jan. 5, 2015

E-mail: okoampaahoofe@optimum.net

Yes, it is a tired old debate, even though I think the crusade to changing our National Anthem from Mr. Philip Gbeho's "God Bless Our Homeland, Ghana" to Dr. Ephraim Amu's "Yen Ara Asaase Ni," has far more substance than the equally prickly question of whether the country ought to revert to the old Eurocentric designation of our beloved nation as The Gold Coast. As the revolutionary and inimitably innovative Ghanaian poet - the leading Trokosi Poets rabidly hate his guts - and prominent educator Prof. Atukwei Okai put the question rhetorically in one of his celebrated poems, "Whose Gold Coast" are we talking about?

Nana Akomea has an irrefutable argument, when the Communications Director of the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) and former Member of Parliament for Okaikoi-South, poignantly observes that Amu's "Yen Ara Asaase Ni" (or "This Is Our Own Land") is thematically and rhythmically far more organic and esthetically empowering than the Gbeho-composed version which was, curiously but none the least bit surprisingly, chosen to embody our collective national spirit and ethos in the 1950s over Dr. Amu's unarguably more solemn, sophisticated and esthetically sublime composition.

To be frank with the dear reader, other than its symphonic piquancy, at least as played by both the bands of the Ghana Armed Forces and the Ghana Police Service, "God Bless Our Homeland, Ghana" never quite captivated my imagination. On the other hand, "Yen Ara Asaase Ni" is the proverbial equivalent of what the doctor ordered. It is both symphonically and lyrically impeccable, whereas the overwhelming majority of Ghanaians, including this writer, of course, have had to sheepishly struggle over the cacophony of a heavily stilted English language and a nineteenth-centuryesque musical arrangement with the sterile solemnity of a rhythmically halting flow.

It is almost certain that the political exigencies of the time had far more to do with Mr. Gbeho's anthem's being selected over the more esthetically coherent composition by Dr. Amu. In all likelihood, the fact of "Yen Ara Asaase Ni"'s having been composed in the Akan language had everything to do with its rather unwise rejection, if also because a pan-Africanist Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah did not want non-Akan Ghanaians to feel excluded from the independence celebratory equation, as it were. Then also, in those days, inter-ethnic relations, and even sub-ethnic relations, were quite volatile.

The "unpleasant" fact of the matter is that an expediently scheming Mr. Nkrumah had contributed to such volatility in no small measure. His running battle with the two most dominant of the Akan meta-ethnic polity pretty much guaranteed that Dr. Amu's far more progressive and Afrocentric anthem would not be selected. Otherwise, how did it come about that Mrs. Theodosia Asihene Okoh, the legendary designer of the Ghana Flag would not be accorded due recognition and afforded the same credit and iconic status as Mr. Gbeho? Try working Mrs. Okoh's consanguineal relationship with the Founding-Architect of Modern Ghana, Dr. J. B. Danquah, into the equation and you would not be far off the mark.

What makes Nana Akomea's tack, or approach, to the anthem-change debate quite worthy of our attention and consideration as a nation, however, is the NPP stalwart's suggestion that in order to make "Yen Ara Asaase Ni" more culturally inclusive, this originally rejected anthem could be translated into all the recognized major Ghanaian languages, including even the Hausa language, and be multi-lingually sung as festal national occasions, just like South Africa's "Nkosi Sikeleli ya Africa," which is not only sung in the various indigenous South Africa languages, but has also been adopted by several southern African nations.

And on the latter score ought to be promptly added that throughout the 1960s and well into the 1970s, in many Ghanaian elementary and middle schools, various translations of the South African National Anthem were sung at morning assemblies, usually immediately after the solemn rendition of "Yen Ara Asaase Ni." At the Akyem-Asiakwa Presbyterian Primary School, which yours truly attended for some two years, for example, "Nkosi Sikeleli" was sometimes sung as a recessional marching song. I suppose this was Ghana's modest contribution towards both Pan-Africanism, in general, and the southern African liberation struggle, in particular.

Indeed, I was initially tempted to admonish Nana Akomea to take his battle to the august floor of the House, having himself served there, once, as a bona fide member from Okaikoi South in the Greater-Accra Region. And then, of course, I exploded with laughter, realizing that the NPP Communications Director would have a far better chance with President John Dramani Mahama.


Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

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