The River In The Sea
(The Autobiography of Akenten Appiah-Menka. Published by DIGIBOOKS LTD, P.O.BOX BT1 TEMA. Tel. NO. (0) 22 414719/720
IF you were to ask any "publisher" who operates in Ghana how the publishing business was going for him, he would, if he were honest, tell you that he's barely managing to "survive".
"Ghanaians don't read!" he would add. In exasperation.
So sad, isn't it? For if people don't read, no-one will write for them. Even if people were to write, they wouldn't get anyone to publish what they had written, for publishers, like writers, cannot live by air alone! Writers and publishers must eat; they must sleep in decent places; and they must obtain medical attention when they fall sick. If they have offspring, it is their duty to look after them.
It is because Ghanaians don't care enough about such issues that our book-shelves are empty. We cannot compare ourselves, for example, to our neighbours, the Nigerians. For they, from the days of the "Onitsha wayside bookshops", have managed to keep both writers and publishers alive by looking after them very well indeed.
We too have first-class brains, but many are perishing every passing day with everything that is in them. Into graves.
Every time a person with a good brain dies, a whole library goes into the grave with him or her. We know this; we constantly talk about it with regret. But we do nothing and the situation continues to remain the same.
If only we knew what we are losing by being so lackadaisical about our vanishing literary potential! (Well, it's hardly surprising, seeing that we don't even care a damn about our land, our rivers and our streams - the source of our very life itself!)
I repeat to you in plain English that we, as a country, are the losers. And pathetic losers at that. For in failing to support a virile writing and publishing culture, we deny ourselves one of Nature's greatest blessings to us.
Woaaa look! - I was glancing through one of the few books to be published here, thanks to Fred Labi's DIGIBOOKS, when I came across a very unusual occurrence. What was it?
I read the words of a politician who was prepared to tell the world the truth about himself, even if it made him look bad!
A politician without egotism? A politician with a good sense of humour, who
could, moreover, tell jokes about himself, instead of only making fun of his opponents? Yes!
Believe me - such men do exist. Well, this one, for sure, is no more. His name was Akenten Appiah-Menka, and I wish, whilst he was alive, that I had cultivated a friendship with him.
Appiah-Menka wrote a first-rate autobiography before he passed, and in it, we learn so much that should make those of us with huge egos ashamed of ourselves. He tells us frankly about his very humble origins; especially, how he had to stow away in a boat to Europe before he could obtain the education that enabled him to qualify as a lawyer in England. Whilst studying, he worked part-time as a mortuary attendant ! Tell the truth now: would you tell us that if it was you?
Appiah-Menka has left us an amazing book which all our young men and women who are in a hurry to make money (while neglecting the studies that alone can earn them a respectable living) should be made to read.
After his studies, Appiah-Menka came back to Ghana from England to practise as a lawyer in Kumase, and some of the cases that were brought to him in his lawyer's chambers were absolutely hilarious.
There was this taxi driver who came to him one day to confess to killing the husband of a woman with whom he was caught having sex,
"What happened?" Appiah-Menka asked the man.
"I stabbed him with a knife".
"Of course, he would have killed you if you had not killed him?"
"I don't know!"
"But you were acting in self-defence?"
Oh, and another one: if you were a lawyer and you successfully defended a counterfeit currency dealer and he paid you , would you expect to be paid with counterfeit money?
But one of the best parts of the book, as far as I am concerned, relates to an episode that provides the reader with a unique insight into how big foreign businesses operate in African countries like ours.
There are more interesting cases: Appiah-Menka was consulted one day by a prominent chief who was exercised over the desire of a British firm to take over a lucrative business operating on his stool lands. The chief wanted his state to become part-owner of the business before it changed hands. But the prospective owner wasn't having any of it. He had "made friends" with the military Government then in power in Accra, and that Government assumed the final say on the matter. Appiah-Menka sued it on behalf of the chief.
What happened next? .
If you read Appiah-Menka's account of the incident carefully, you will realise that very little ever changes in Ghana with regard to economic issues. Appiah-Menka found his client, the chief, invited by the foreign businessman to visit his firm in London. The chief accepted!
Shortly after hut he had left, another invitation came - this time, for Appiah-Menka himself. He was needed to "advise" his client on proposals being made to him in London! Why there?
Appiah-Menka found out: as soon as he arrived in London by first-class air ticket, he was handed an envelope with five thousand pounds in it (a lot of money in those days when sterling was worth about 2.80 US dollars!) He was invited to "go shopping in London" with it.
Now, should he have accepted it?
Next, he was visited by a tailor from Saville Row (the street with the most fashionable men's clothing in London). He was asked to choose from six different materials for making men's suits!
Again, should he have accepted the offer?
The answers to these questions are of permanent relevance to us in Ghana and indeed, to the people of all developing countries with natural resources that foreigners want to exploit.
I tell you this - you could do worse than order the book to discover Appiah-Menka's very frank approach to these issues. That he was honest enough to share his dilemma with his readers is commendable. For these were "temptations" which, I daresay, most of us might most readily welcome! And the foreign businessmen who continually milk our continent of its riches, do know that - damn too well. When will we prove them wrong if we don't analyse the problem as candidly as Appiah-Menka does, in this book?