Tell Me the Old Old Story

Fri, 16 Mar 2012 Source: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi

One of my favourite hymns is Tell Me the Old Old Story which was on a much-thumbed page in my school Church Hymnary in my school days. To this day I feel a bit of a shiver when I hear its dying strains because it is one of a number of items in my personal auditory archive that recall my school time and the age of innocence. On Independence Day last Tuesday, Mr. Cameron Duodu, one of my mentors, wrote an article on his blog at www.cameronduodu.com, and for some reason I found myself humming the tune of the song Tell Me the Old Old Story after I read his splendid piece.

The article is about what independence meant to the writer but in those two thousand words he managed to convey a sense of where this country was at its political birth and the ambitions and aspirations it thrust on its citizens and the reciprocal responsibility with which those citizens responded. The world in which Mr. Duodu, educated formally up to the Middle School Certificate, could study on his own to become one of the most educated men I have ever met, has almost disappeared. The institutions, characters and personal attitudes that made this possible are probably extinct. That is a tragedy. This is what Cameron recalls of that time in his life: “I only possessed a Middle Form Four (Standard Seven) certificate from school. But I wanted to advance myself, and through an organisation called “The People's Educational Association” (PEA) I began to attend lectures on history and English Language. Through these lectures, I met a man called Mr E C E Asiamah, who came down to Asiakwa from Abuakwa State College, Kyebi, to lecture us once a week. He was sent to us by the University of Ghana's Extra-Mural Studies Department. He loved the English language, and he communicated that love to us. So we listened to him with rapt attention and devoted time to the essays he asked us to write. He had studied at the University of Ghana, Legon, and it was he who made me see, for the first time, the importance of reading a lot and absorbing a lot through reading. I loved the man and wanted to go to the University in order to be as knowledgeable as he was”.

With Mr. Asiamah’s encouragement and personal tuition Cameron Duodu passed his O’ Level in fifteen months but note that he adopted Mr. Asiamah as his role model for his knowledge and not his money. Today, the idea of a young man wanted to be as knowledgeable as anyone would be edited out as improbable if you included it in a novel. Today’s role model for young men don’t do knowledge; instead they do money, and it doesn’t matter how it is acquired; they do big flashy cars and mega big houses. This is the current narrative. Today’s role models don’t do discipline instead they push everyone aside in the effort to to bend the world to their will. That is the current template of personal success and it is this attitude that even young recruits exhibit at work because the myriad of motivational speakers tell them that they have to be assertive at everyone’s expense.

Contrast this with what pertained at work when Mr. Duodu joined the Ghana Broadcasting System, which was one of the most reputable broadcasting companies in the outpost of the crumbling British Empire. In his own on words: “I found that rigid standards existed at the GBS. When I got my appointment letter, I had to undergo a medical examination. They operated a voucher system for claiming allowances which you could never cheat. To ensure absolute subordination, ”queries” against you could be written by those above you, that were placed in your “personal file” and which would be taken into account if you were being considered for promotion. If you got a “case” outside, say in a court, a copy of the document concerned would be placed in your personal file”.

This world too has disappeared and in its place we have attitudes shaped by a complete misreading of democracy and over-enforced creed of personal advancement at the expense of communal well-being. Today, we are taught, especially by some of the new-fangled churches that communities do not matter and it is each one for himself and herself. The national ethos appears to revolve around the unspoken mantra: do as I do not as I say.

It is this national schizoid tendency that is at the heart of our national disorientation and not anything to do primarily with the media per se. Let me explain. In this country we are all preachers of the good word but do not necessarily do the good deed. We characterise ourselves as God-fearing, hospitable, peaceful and honest people but that is not the picture of ourselves on the ground. I always cite examples from our traffic and driving behaviour because that is when you see us in our true colours. You can also see us for who and what we truly are when we are trying to get the best in a business deal. You might argue that this is the same all over the world, and I would agree with you completely, but in which case the exceptional Ghanaian attitudes that we claim are window dressing.

Of late, we have all expressed concern about the rise in the use of abusive and intemperate language especially in political discussions on radio, and many people see this as a problem of the media which can be cured when we sanction the media in some form or another. However, the media, as is often said, reflects society and not the other way round. Indeed, I would argue that our politics also reflect our values and therefore what we are seeing in our political media is the true reflection of who and what we are.

This is logical in the twisted consciousness of our time. We all want the media to discuss development issues and to trumpet our triumphs and positive attributes. And don’t get me wrong, there are many positives in this nation that need to be trumpeted, but the media cannot talk about them if that is not what our national priority is about. We all think that we are on the side of the angels while the other side, no matter how defined, is the devil, so when we demand accountability it means not us but the other side. This cannot be right.

What is even worse is that there appears to be no more Mr. Asiamahs to guide and inspire young people to advance themselves and their society and community. As for public institutions they serve the interests of those who work in them and not the public. If you doubt it, try this simple test: at every public institution for whom is the car park reserved? Of course, it is reserved for the top brass who work there and the Joe Public has to find some place three hundred meters away under a tree to park. Yes, the workers must have their parking lot but they must CREATE the space for the public for whom they are employed in the first place. What is worse, taxis are not allowed. Well, well!

We should have used our Independence anniversary to tell some old old stories because we have a lot to learn from the early years of independence. Ironically, when fewer people were educated and more people were technically poorer than now; when houses were small and cars very small and few; things seemed to work because leadership at all levels accepted its responsibilities. That is the key. Let those who can, tell us the old stories over and over again.

This article first appeared in the Mirror in Ghana

Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi