I am nobody small boy
Possibly 60 years ago, I was pushed into the world by my beautiful mother. Unfortunately she died when I was probably 3 years or less. I had to survive at all cost. My grandfather had gathered his four cows and given in dowry for my mum. In return they were expecting house full of children who will be part of the farm hands from my mother. Not so since my mum will follow shortly after given birth to my brother who preceded her. So they did all what they could to ensure that I survive. Anytime I was naughty my grandfather was never tired of reminding of his four cows.
For a brief while I spent time in Kumasi with my father. Later briefly at Takoradi with my uncle. But all my formative years were spent in Zanlerigu, a small rural and farming village in the Upper East Region, 7 miles from Bolgatanga. Growing up, I was a tug of war between my great grandmother on my mother side and my grandfather. My maternal great grandmother thought my paternal side were not looking well after me since, I had lost my mother. Even when I was mischievous and jumped from a tree and broke my leg, news spread that I was left hungry and that is why I climbed trees for fruits to eat. I spent years between two homes.
Growing up without a mother, I was acutely aware of differences of treatment among children who had mothers and those who did not. Even in this peasant farming village, where everybody cared about each other. I loved the folktales told by the elders, especially the women in the evenings, after we have had heavy meals and were happy. I always sympathised with the underdogs in these stories. I still remember some of them and in turn have retold them to my children when they were young and they listened to them with joy. My daughter has adapted some of them and do retell them to young Africans in London.
In the 1960s and up to the 70s the propaganda against Nkrumah had even reached this quite village. I sometimes heard my grandfather say that gossips had it that that Nkrumah wanted to take the produce of the farmers and put into collective bans, which will be accessible to all and that wives will be the common property of all. I like the food being “collectivised”, but not the sharing of wives. So you can see the propaganda against Nkrumah.
I grew up a bit and was big enough to go to Tamale Business Secondary. In the third year I got involved in Ghana United Nations Students Association (GUNSA) students politics. For three years I participated in students debates mimicking the UN states structure. These exposed me a lot to progressive ideas. By the time I got into Sixth Form in NAVASCO, I would already call myself a socialist. In NAVASCO, I remember together with Kolon (Ibrahim) and some students we formed a Socialist Group and briefly ran a newspaper.
I got into Legon. I was walking from Legon Hall, when I saw a band of protesters shouting in favour of Popular Party for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). It was possible led by Takyiwar Manuh and Kwame Afful. I joined. After the protest I wanted to know why the protest was not in favour of Total Movement for the Independence of Angola (UNITA). Jonas Savimbi had a gorgeous beard and at that time I thought those who had Marx type of beards were true revolutionaries. Little did I know that he served the interest of the US and later damped when the MPLA could do it better.
Within a short time, I had joined the Pan African Youth Movement (PANYMO). A very articulate Kwame Afful schooled us in revolutionary ideas. In less than two months after I had been admitted to Legon, I found myself running errands to University of Science and Technology, to make contacts with comrades to support the struggle against the military dictatorship. It was also during this time that I established enduring friendship with Nicholas Atampugre.
By the end of the year, there was an emerging group of young progressives. We had our first Marxist study group sessions in the rooms of Mohammed Chambers and the late Ato Austin.
There were varying degrees of revolutionary activities and debates of the way forward. There were heightened discussions and disagreements among the left as to the way forward. It seemed those of us from peasant and working class background tended to forceful and wanted the revolution now, while those from middle class background were more cautious. I remember Taata Ofosu and I pasted posters over the Legon campus. We called on students to join RED STAR Study cells. That they were clandestine. Shey Shey (Akoto Ampaw) upon seeing them was furious and flabbergasted. He stormed to my cubicle and wanted to know why I could be so stupid. He did not even want me to get up from the bed I was lying but to answer whilst lying down. But Atams saved me from the pressure of Shey Shey. I was never that too argumentative and sometime timid.
In Bolga, we also ran a newspaper called “KPANA”, a frafra word meaning the spear. This was in honour of resistance of our people against colonialism. In Bolgatanga with Atams, Dominic Kaluti, Peter Akoto and others formed the Frafra Youth Movement. It was also used to fight for land rights of the indigenous people whose lands were confiscated for co-called development without any compensation.
I am not telling my story in any chronological order. I remember Kofi Klu had returned from Cuba and came and stayed with Taata Ofosu and was introduced to our collective. Eventually he moved and stayed most of the time with me in my room. Kofi Klu had great ideas, even though he was younger than me. He had brought a lot of publications from Cuba, such as GRANDMA and we enjoyed reading them tremendously. At the height of our idealism, Taata, Kofi Klu and I left for Bonsu (a cocoa extension farm) to set up a guerrilla camp. We ended up enjoying palm wine and were the envy of the agricultural workers who saw us as privileged and brothers of Uncle D, the plantation manager who hosted us and never questioned our idealism. We produced a magazine and I am not sure whether it was distributed.
It was the period of intense struggles across Africa. The time of the struggles against the Acheampong military dictatorship and the Union Government concept. Soon we linked with other progressives outside the Legon campus including the Kweku Baako group and had joined discussions and meetings. We were also active with Africa Students Union (ASU) led Kwasi Gyan-Appengteng and I think Kwasi Pratt was also active.
We moved from campus politics into networking and connected with trade unions in Accra. We enjoyed more particularly our meetings with the workers of the Accra Brewery, since invariably it ended with us having the coldest drinks ever straight from the brewery.
Gradually we became dominant in students politics and more especially when Kwasi Adu became the NUGS National Secretary and eventually Nicholas Atampugre became the first National Co-ordinating Secretary of NUGS. We had excellent contacts with foreign students, especially Tesfay Teklu who mentored us with constant advice. There were the lecturers such as Eboe Hutchful, the late Emmanuel Hansen and Chris Hesse whom we looked up to for inspiration.
We spearheaded struggles against the Acheampong regime. The campuses were no go areas and closed several times. Kofi Klu suggested that in order to advance the struggle we should come out with a magazine, and he suggested we call it ALUTA. Kofi, Taata, Yeebo, I and later Atams moved to Cape Coast University where we linked up with Kolon and Napoleon Abdulai and as well as other progressives in Cape Coast University. We produced the magazine ALUTA, which was a sensation and contributed a lot for anti-union government opposition. Taata wrote column called CHATS AT TRO-TRO STATION that was immediate hit and quoted in many places.
The People’s Movement for Freedom and Justice (PMFJ) and many people especially workers sacrificed a lot and contributed to ALUTA sustainability. I do not remember the names of the workers to acknowledge. I remember one particular worker at Legon Estate department who supplied us with papers for free. Also the various workers who allowed us to use their duplicating machines and due to heavy work broke down often.
ALUTA was supported by the students’ leadership especially Gertrude Zakariah. Though we did most of the write up, workers gave us papers and duplicating machines. My fingers were often so blackened with duplicating ink that I would never have had a girlfriend on campus. The students were marvellous and distributed the magazine across Ghana and it became the hotpot of the struggle against the Acheampong regime. Yeebo and I were arrested at a Northern Students meeting in Bolga hand cupped and brought to Accra because of ALUTA.
We were leaving the universities and were worried that if we left without establishing an organisation to bind us together, we will be swallow by the general society and will not be in touch and all what we had done will be in vein. This debate intensified shortly after 4th June 1979 military uprising that brought Jerry Rawlings and junior officers and other ranks into power. Together with a group of friends we formed the June Four Movement (JFM). We argued then that June Four Uprising was the culmination of the struggles of our people for justice and equality in Ghana, and therefore, it was important to name our organisation, JFM. This was against the judgement of others and who in fact left the group because they were of the view that JFM could be linked to the events of June Fourth. We worked cooperatively with Nubuor Ababio organisation called the Peoples’ Revolutionary League of Ghana (PRLG). Active was also the New Democratic Movement (NDM).
At the leadership level, the JFM was very democratic with a Steering Committee. However, it metamorphosed into a Jerry Rawlings organisation, after, we invited him into the organisation and allowed him to assume the leadership. It became very undemocratic when Rawlings was declared the National Chairman. Though it spread rapidly with so many branches across the country after Rawlings joined it, at the leadership level it was weak. Rawlings and the co-plotters wanted it so. Unfortunately when 31st December 1981 occurred, we all forgiving and used the JFM and later the defence committees to legitimise the coup. Some of us also assumed positions in the government and at the level of national leadership of the defence committees.
Even before 31st December 1981 coup, some of us were doubtful of Jerry Rawlings commitment to the struggle of our people. For me in particular the fact that Kojo Tsikata was influential person on Jerry was enough to allay my doubts of him. I should have kept to my better judgement.
Hardly, six months into the coup and after Rawlings had become legitimised, cracks soon emerged with the leadership of the PNDC, the Interim National Co-ordinating Committee (INCC) of the People and Workers Defence committees, and the government. The Rawlings faction was clearly very anti people. Rawlings threatened us and that he will deal with us if we did not toe the line he wanted. Using various subterfuges and outright terror, tribalism and divide rule tactics the genuine left were eliminated. Atams, Taata, Bawah, Explo and as well as others cadres of the JFM were arrested. Before the events of November 1982, I had been arrested with Johnny Kwadwo, but released subsequently. I escaped arrest marginally as I arrived in Yeebo’s residences after Rawlings had raided the place and arrested cadres of the URF. At the top of his voice, I was told: “Where is Yen, I want his gun”.
I had to flee. I left for the North with support of defence committee workers of the Produce Buying Agency of the Cocoa Marketing Board. In Tamale, I was supported by comrades who were still in government and were not hunted like I. Eventually I found myself in Nigeria with the support of Alabira Ibrahim, who gave me some money. I was introduced to friends who were in Benin Kebbi and hosted by Bukari Isah though he did not know me he and his wife treated me like a brother. The late John Achuliwor together with Farouk, one of the Nasser’s brothers were really nice to me.. I was also well received by Saa Dittoh in Ibadan University.
We also met comrades from Ahmadu Bello University. Mohamed Siddique was very helpful to us. In general the comrades in Nigeria did not believe that we were running away from a revolution in Ghana. They wanted a Rawlings. We told them to take ours for free.
For one and half years and together with other comrades we got asylum in Lome. Other ranks who shared our perspective broke jail and joined us in Lome. Our group, Gariba, Nubuor, Explo Kofi Nani, Richard Abonie and I were hated by wider opposition forces in Lome because of our association with Rawlings. We were also regarded as socialists and those small boys. The other ranks soldiers such as Braimah, Eric Asare, Baba Kankani and others looked up to us. They shared the food and meat that was bought for them by the civilian opposition forces with us. Some soldiers made a botched to overthrow Rawlings and several of them were killed. Kwame Agyeman, one of the cadres of JFM was picked up and nobody is sure what happened to his body. Kwame used to stoned security forces that used to follow Rawlings and Kojo Tsikata into Legon.
It was not easy staying in Lome. I received some money from the United Nations Refugee agency. I was in a quandary. Kofi Explo Nani and Richard Abonie advised me to join Gariba and go to UK, otherwise we will soon exhaust the money and none of us will be the better. This ease my conscience and I left for London, knowing very well that I was not abandoning anybody.
We were determined to expose the corrupt and anti-regime of Jerry Rawlings. We made a lot of connections and very soon our centre became the nerve centre of progressive forces all over Africa. The late Dr. John La Rose, who was founder of the New Beacon Books and also Convenor of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books used to say that apart from the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa, the United Revolutionary Front (URF) was the most organised African group in the United Kingdom. He advised that we should not see our exile as misfortune but rather use the opportunity and advance in the society including active politics within Britain. We were so engrossed in our so little Ghana and African struggles that we did not heed to this advice.
We had series of meetings with comrades from Ghana studying in the former Eastern European countries in what we termed the August meetings. The main aim was to build a revolutionary democratic organisation to advance the interest of our people.
Together with Napoleon Abdulai, Nicholas Atampugre and the Nigerian and other African comrades, we set up the Africa Research and Information Bureau (ARIB). ARIB published the Africa World Review (AWR), a popular magazine that reviewed African problems from an African perspective. Napoleon and I combed London and tried to understand a desktop publishing software that we procured to use it ourselves so as to cut down on cost.
Our networks brought us into contacts with progressive organisations in UK and across Europe. With the support of the Militants of the Labour Party of United Kingdom, we started a magazine called the Revolutionary Banner. At the time of the Culture of Silence in Ghana, brought by the Rawlings dictatorship, the Revolutionary Banner produced in the UK and smuggled back to Ghana was probably the only magazine at that time that exposed the bankruptcy of the Rawlings autocracy. Later on we joined with other progressive forces in the United Kingdom and formed the Democratic Alliance of Ghana (DAG). We produced a newspaper called GYE NYAME edited by Addae Seebo, which was smuggled back to Ghana. Together with the traditional right wing forces of the Busia Danquah heritage, we fought against the dictatorship in Ghana and ensured that eventually Ghanaians took up the struggle and today, we have multiparty system in Ghana.
Kwesi Pratt Jnr visited us in London after released from one of his several detentions. We were afraid for his life, should he return to Ghana. Kwesi was determined to go back to Ghana and told us categorically clear that he could not stay in the UK. We agreed that since he was determined to be sacrificed he should do so in grand style. Meet Johnny Hansen and other elements of the opposition forces, the Busia Danquah tradition and formed a united movement against the Rawlings dictatorship. That gave birth to the Freedom for Freedom and Justice (MFJ).
Yes, this is a sketch of my story. Nothing glamorous about it. Are there any lessons learnt?
In the 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the middle classes hated our guts. They called us those small boys. I say I AM NO LONGER ANYBODY SMALL BOY.
I remember my 60th years of existence. It has been a long hard battle. Things have not be glossy. It is not all that glitters is gold. Given different situation, will I do what I did? Yes. But with hindsight, I will be more observant. I will smell all those who claim to be singing the same tone whereas they represent different interest. We all have different interests. For younger generations I will continue to tell them that people like Jerry Rawlings are the greatest frauds that Ghana has produced. In 1979, he stated that his intervention was to cut the revolution in the middle. In 1982, he destroyed the revolution.
People can be really very nice. Others can be very cruel and may make you enemy without any reason.
When I was arrested with Yeebo during the Acheampong era and brought down from Bolga to Accra, the people we thought will represent us were afraid and did not want to associate should in case they were identified and also arrested. It was Sakkua Agambilla, then SRC President who stood firmly with us. A worker in Volta Hall bailed us. And it was workers that ensured that I was not arrested by Rawlings and safely sent me down to the North. In exile, we had a lot of acrimony, infighting and intolerance. Despite the efforts that were made for a united front against the dictatorship, we had our differences. We have people who claim to be progressives and committed to working people interest. Yet they can be very arrogant to fellow progressives. I sometime ask myself, if you claim to represent the interest of people and can be arrogant, how will you relate to working people? We are nowhere near what we wanted to achieve in the 70s or 80s and in several respects, I may say we have regressed.
Unfortunately I do not have the energy to be the “boxer” that I was during those hectic days both in Ghana and the UK. I am a practical person and not much of an intellectual. With age, I may not be able to be the boxer that I used to be.
However, if some of us are willing to move on. Share our experience with the younger generation. Guide them. We never had guardians. Forget about the past problems, we may move this dear country of ours forward.
It has been an experience. And I have survived and hopefully will continue to survive to tell my story. AND I AM NOBODY SMALL BOY.
By Nyeya Yen