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What Abraham Atta teaches our politicians and journalists

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Fri, 4 Mar 2016 Source: Francis Kwarteng

PRESIDENT JOHN MAHAMA ON ABRAHAM ATTA

“Congrats @AttahNii. Such a positive positioning of the Ghana Brand. We can do with many more Abraham Attah’s…”

This presidential eulogy extended to Abraham Attah is quite in order, for we have no major reservations about it, at least as long as we can tell. The point is rather that, which Ghana brand did Abraham Attah project on the world stage? This question President Mahama did not make any clearer in his brief yet pregnant eulogy to the child star. And if the so-called Ghana brand is about the Ghanaian movie industry, then we are afraid to say that there is nothing like it in Ghana today, to say the least.

Again, that industry is, unfortunately, culturally ectopic and both artistically and aesthetically still-born for the most part. Also scripts authored for the movie industry, particularly Ghana’s English movie industry, are generally badly written and thematically ill-structured by way of dramatic and topical expression and intellectual projection, and also highly imitative of dying foreign cultures, spoken accents and mannerisms, and formal dramaturgy. That is to say, it looks as though there are no professional script writers in Ghana.

As a matter of fact that Ghana brand, if it were precisely about the movie industry, should go to Nigeria, the so-called Nollywood. It is a shame that that dramaturgic zoo called Ghallywood did not discover Abraham Attah. No wonder Kwaw Ansah, one of Ghana’s and Africa’s priceless primordial film-makers, does not want himself and his corpus of artistic works to be associated with Ghallywood. This is understandable.

Yet, while we are at liberty to share in Abraham Attah’s international glory, artistic fortunes, and fame, a gifted boy whose noble achievements we deserve and are qualified to appropriate and even brag about as own, because we share a nationality with him, we may, on the other hand, forget in our moments of delusional elation and misplaced jubilation that Abraham Attah, was, if we could add for discursive emphasis, not too long ago a street hawker, a peripheral figure whose story is somewhat close to Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.”

WHAT ABRAHAM ATTAH MEANS TO US

Abraham Attah was discovered on the street selling dog chains. In fact Abraham Attah is an embodiment of all the shameful contradictions in our society. Like the United States, Ghana also has abundant resources in the area of human capital, only that the “pull-him-down” syndrome, so-called, ethnocentrism, gender inequality (sex in exchange for movie roles), and the political environment in part tend to frustrate the full blossoming of these potential talents as they should. These are some of the clear instances where we tend to always side with the practical sense and wisdom of Pastor Mensa Otabil.

However, we will like our dedicated readers not to get us wrong on this one. Pastor Otabil sometimes makes a lot of practical sense, as it were if only he can remove his partisan blinkers and thereby look closely at the larger Ghanaian society and political landscape with intellectual, political, and moral objectivity. Beyond that, we have observed South Korean, Japanese, Indian, and Chinese schoolchildren building robots and solving complex mathematical, scientific, and social problems, a feat Ghana’s NASA robotic scientist Ashitey Trebi-Ollenu is trying to replicate across Ghanaian schools.

Even so, in the 21st century when others are exploring Mars and beyond, many gifted Ghanaian children still study under trees developing cold and pneumonia in the process, because many of these children write in their books while lying supine and prostrate on bare concrete floors, even while our largely non-functional and non-functioning parliamentarians enjoy an assortment of furniture imported from China and their air-conditioned spaces. It is also in this larger context that one of our alcoholic mathematics professors, now late, and a professor of numerical methods and computer programming (FORTRAN), once told his class of which this author was a member, that, “When the white man is exploring the moon and beyond, the black man in Africa is only preparing to explore his villages.”

What a shame! What do Ghanaian politicians feel when Abraham Attah mounted the world stage and made Ghana and Africa so proud? The other questions are: What if pneumonia and cold had killed Abraham Attah as one of the students of Kperesi in the Upper East Region? Or, what if a car had accidentally knocked down Abraham Attah and killed him while he hawked on Ghana’s dangerous streets?

Will President Mahama and Ghanaians be celebrating him today if any of these had happened?

ABRAHAN ATTAH’S ACCENT

Lest we are not misunderstood, we are not saying President Mahama and Ghanaians should not celebrate Abraham Attah and his achievements—far from it. What we are rather bothered about is the hypocritical nature of the Ghanaian and the politician! Then some badass radio journalists have the nerve to make fun of Abraham Attah’s euphonious accent, saying he said “Tenk you” instead of “Thank you.” What? Is Received Pronunciation Abraham Attah’s native tongue? Did Fela Kuti achieve his international stardom by singing in the Queen’s English and throwing his rich Yoruba accent? Thus, no amount of spoken locally-acquired-foreign-accent mannerisms can undo or equal the superb and spell-bound dramaturgy of Abraham Atta in “Beasts of No Nation.”

Thus apart from Anas Aremeyaw Anas, Komla Dumor, and a few others who have been honored on the world stage, which of the journalists who mocked Abraham Attah’s accent has mounted a world stage as Abraham Attah did on behalf of Ghana and Africa, let alone present a touching acceptance speech to the international community? Did Bob Marley not sing in the Queen’s English and gave interviews to international journalists in his native patois? What about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s thick accent? What about Djimon Hounsou’s accent? And what about Charlie Chaplin who probably never spoke a word of Queen’s English in his silent movies?

Do we know Charlie Chaplin, for instance, did not make a transition to sound films from the 1930s? The fact is that Abraham Attah’s superb dramatization in “Beasts of No Nation,” an independent film based on a novel of the same name, a piece authored by Uzodinma Iweala, a Harvard-trained Nigerian-American English and literature major and a Colombia-University-trained medical doctor, a son of ex-Finance Minister of Nigeria Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, exemplifies what the African is capable of achieving on the global stage with other competitive players.

What is more, the title “Beasts of no Nation” is also a titular album released by Fela Kuti. So, the movie “Beasts of No Nation” is African in its titular thrust and dramaturgic essence, for Fela was African in cultural, intellectual and terpsichorean aesthetics and political musicology, if we may add. Thus we have two Africans, Abraham Atta and Uzodinma Iweala, and a cast of African and people of African descent making us, Ghana and Africa, proud. Can our wicked, unpatriotic politicians, parliamentarians, and members of the judiciary make us that proud? Hell no! Yet we like to associate intelligence with how good or excellent one speaks or writes the Queen’s English!

All these, in spite of the fact that, the cast spoke English in various regional and national accents and cadences, as one would have expected of a diverse cast whose internal constitution comes from different continents, namely Africa, America, and Europe. Technically, Fela’s sophisticated pidginized and Yorubized musicology makes total nonsense of the locally-acquired-foreign-accents of these fake actors, actresses, and journalists we have in Ghana today, men and women who will dare question the verbalized artistry of Abraham Attah’s acceptance speech. And who says Abraham Attah cannot speak English? What is all this nonsensical infatuation with English all about!

Are there not parliamentarians, pastors, and politicians in Ghana today who cannot speak English? Did Azumah Nelson speak the Queen’s English before he won any world title? Can ex-President John Kufuor speak Queen’s English as fluent as the English parrot? Did Albert Einstein speak the Queen’s English? How about Mansa Musa, Jesus Christ, Buddha, Prophet Mohammed, Okomfo Anokye, and Imhotep? To take another immediate example, let us consider Chinese leaders who mostly speak Mandarin on official visits to the West, to mention but England and the United States, where human and computer-aided machines translates Mandarin into English for their hosts.

Let us give space to aspiring actors and actresses to dream and think big, a case Dr. Ben Carson makes so powerfully in his book “Think Big: Unleashing Your Potential for Excellence,” for, after all, any human being can think and dream big without necessarily doing so in the Queen’s English? As a matter of fact, there are many British people who dream and think big in the cockney accent.

OUR FINAL THOUGHTS

LEILA DJANSI

“I am so happy for Abraham Attah. I am also sad for him at the same time. Because, unfortunately, unless Cary and co make that smart decision to relocate Abraham Attah to the US, his career cannot be sustained in Ghana…”

Abraham Attah’s sudden rise to global fame exposes the contradictions in our society. Among other things, his success tells us that school and education are good but not necessarily everything, yet they are also everything. Fortunately, we have explored aspects of this theory from the standpoint of Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligence.” His success also tells us which responsibilities the society at large, politicians, civil society organizations, and parents are shirking.

We bring up this matter because Mr. Beautiful, a blacklisted Kumawood actor, has said President Mahama’s tenure has seen an unprecedented improvement in the movie or film industry. Bulldog, Shatta Wale’s former manager, supports Mr. Beautiful’s observation. But David Dontoh believes and thinks otherwise, saying that theatre has collapsed under President Mahama.

What Mr. Beautiful does not however say is, if there are marked technical and professional improvements in script writing and directorial productions, say, in the movie industry. So the hard question of improvement becomes a loaded question of ideological relativism, political patronage, and screwed perceptions of bloated personal importance.

But the government cannot do everything. And government is not everything. Government should be an enabler and overseer of the public good. Not less. This is where Pastor Mensa Otabil and his laundry of practical wisdom and commonsense come. It still is a collaborative effort nonetheless. We are here referring to government and the private sector working closely together to build an enabling environment for the blossoming of entrepreneurial spirit, human capital, and creative talents.

This is why our politicians must leave acting for the likes of Abraham Attah and get down to real business of rebuilding our “pull-him-down-syndrome” society, for, acting, we may probably all know, is about the politics of pretense. The epigram we attributed to Leila Djansi may speak to this syndrome in part. But politics is not and should not be centrally about the dramaturgic enactment of pretense, which is what our duopolistic politics in the Fourth Republic is all about.

Our politicians and technocrats should therefore put a stop to the politics of pretense and get down to real business, for politicians can no longer afford to behave as actors and actresses, as Abraham Attah. Our journalists should also take a page from Abraham Attah’s sincere acceptance speech, a speech that comes from the emotional recesses of his heart and soul, his inner being, and delivered without the creeping corruption of partisan politics. The dramaturgic maturity which Abraham Attah displayed in “Beasts of No Nation” should send a strong signal to our journalists and politicians that, they need to act mature and not behave as the partisan politicians and tabloid journalists, respectively, they actually are.

For instance, Abraham Attah has proved to be more mature and better spoken than politician Kennedy Agyapong and journalist Afia Schwarzeneggar! In other words, Abraham Attah has shown more maturity on the international stage and in “Beasts of No Nation” than our journalists and politicians have otherwise done in the Fourth Republic. More importantly, though, we do not want to refer to our politician animals as “beasts” that deserve “no nation” among respectable human beings!

Abraham Attah, Fela Kuti, and Uzodinma Iweala make that eloquently clear in a novel, music, and movie!

WHAT NIGERIAN FILM-MAKER AYO SHONAIYA HAS TO SAY ABOUT ABRAHAM ATTAH

“Discovered in Ghana while hawking on the street, and cast in the film ‘Beasts of No Nation.’ In a year he has been groomed, developed, coached and he just won Best Male Actor at the Independent Spirit Awards.

“He also presented an award at the Oscars last night, and already filming his 2nd film. He did not start getting media attention until we all saw his WORK. He was not used as a social experiment and he is not a subconscious charity case you can donate to just to leverage on his media value,

“The difference between Ghana and Nigeria is not only in jollof rice. Congratulations Abraham!

Of course, Ghana and Nigeria meet in Abraham Attah and Uzodinma Iweala, the gentleman on whose novel “Beasts of No Nation” is based.

CONCLUSION

We need to unearth the Kwame Nkrumahs, the Denzel Washingtons, the Bob Marleys, the Fela Kutis, the Mercy Johnsons, the Peter Toshes, the Kwaw Ansahs, the Azumah Nelsons, the Olu Jacobs, the Patience Ozokwors, the Sarkodies, the Miriam Makebas, the Komla Dumors, the Michael Jacksons, the Anas Aremeyaw Anas, the Whitney Houstons, the Cheikh Anta Diops…in our child street-hawkers and their colleagues studying under trees!

Let us therefore join hands in this collective endeavor of creating an enabling environment, even as Abraham Attah enjoys his hard-earned global fame in the probable likeness of Macaulay Culkin, famous for the movie “Home Alone.” Our adult movie actors and actresses have a lot to learn from Abraham Attah as well. There is a lot we need to learn from the external in this regard. It is a shame that Rocky Dawuni was honored with a Grammy nomination but largely ignored in Ghana.

References

Ghanaweb. “Mahama Congratulates Abraham Attah.” Sourced from citifmonline.com. March 1, 2016.

Ayo Shonaiya. “Meet Abraham Attah, Ghanaian Street Hawker Turn Actor.” How Africa. March 1, 2016.

Ghanaweb. “Relocate Abraham Attah, His Career Can’t Be Sustained in Ghana.” Sourced from zionfelix.com. March 1, 2016.

Columnist: Francis Kwarteng