After 17 years of various features in the Ghanaian media including the past year as a columnist in the ‘Graphic’, it is the ‘love-hate’ relationship with some of my readers that most fascinates me, especially the oxymoronic emotional conflicts afflicting that same individual reader! Today, I would like to reflect over this extended period of affirmatively disruptive write ups.
Does the writer then write to please his committed readers or does he simply stay true to his convictions? Does the writer avoid potentially controversial topics in the hope of retaining his readership with benign topics? Will the writer ever succeed in pleasing all men at all times with every write up? How concerned should a writer be about the image he spawns with what he writes and should he be overly concerned lest he disappoints with a certain unanticipated opinion piece?
Over a decade ago, a book I read on effective writing proffered some useful advice; a unique and distinctive writing style would develop with time with the absence thereof not preventing the young writer from borrowing unashamedly from creative expressions from more experienced writers. Further, that the writer, if he is to be significant, ought not to be afraid of taking on controversial issues which may well be the burning issues on the minds of readers which through careful observation and reflection can spawn a thoughtful and engaging piece that would touch people at the innermost core of their values, leading possibly, to significant reframing.
These words of wisdom have proved invaluable over the years. And in looking up to others, I have been in awe of the BBC’s Alistair Cooke whose Sunday mid-morning “Letter to America” became a regular staple in medical school: deep, poetic with the right tinge of humor. Mention must also be made of James Ariel Ringo Djarbeng, my literature teacher in Achimota, who, true to his word, taught us word craft for life and not simply, to pass examinations.
My first published article was in 1995 in a newspaper called “People and Places.” It was an exciting experience and an affirmation of the appreciative praise I had previously received for written school essays. I quickly transitioned into the ‘Mirror’, arguably Ghana’s best weekend weekly featuring fairly consistently in the “My Turn” column. It was only near the final years of medical school and in my immediate posting to Dzodze in the Volta region that it suddenly dawned on me, that for almost two-three years, I had been experiencing the writer’s drought; nothing written. I felt overwhelmed with work and many resolutions to start writing again failed over and over again.
Late one night in 2005, Dr. Omane Boamah and Kwasi Pratt Jnr offered me a life line. They asked that I share my experiences of the practical early workings of the National Health Insurance Scheme from my perspective as a district medical practitioner. Having always held Mr. Pratt in very high esteem, and given my brotherly relationship with Omane, no, did not seem to be an option. When I asked Mr. Pratt how soon he wanted it, he unrepently said “Massa, I need it now! ”
I would therefore attribute what I have thought of as the second phase of my writing to these two individuals primarily because since I wrote that piece in 2005, I have never stopped writing, not even during those times when I could not get published as often as I wanted in the Graphic and was at times afflicted with doubt about the integrity of the pieces.
There was something else that the Kwasi Pratt experience taught me. I know my writing is a bit quirky with sometimes unusual turns of phrases. On some lonely nights, I often wondered whether people really understood what I was trying to communicate. Kwasi Pratt cured me totally of that burden when on radio one morning, he gave the kind of eloquent explanation to my written piece that left me in absolutely no doubt that not only had he had fully understood what I was trying to communicate, he had also through his enhanced analysis shown a deep appreciation of what I had only implied. It was a really calming experience for me that day and in jest, I said to my myself that if Mr. Pratt could argue so convincingly with my words on paper, then I would never speak again. Let me write and let Pratt talk.
Do I write to support any political party? To this, I would say that if Biko wrote he liked, then I write what I believe. And if my convictions attract praise and opprobrium from some in equal measure, then so be it. I cannot however claim naivety about the political undertones of some of my pieces. Indeed, in one piece congratulating my school mate Samuel Gyimah’s rise as an MP in Britain’s Conservative Party, I was bold enough to reflect on how he had moved to the right while I had moved more to the left of centre in political ideology. Given that my articles remain an everlasting testament however, I have sought at all times to remain fair and true to my personal convictions.
Through it all, my aim is not and has never been to become the perfect writer. And neither has it been to succeed in pleasing all men at all times. I have simply seen myself as someone sitting by the roadside of life, reflecting our passions, fears, contradictions and our fight to lift ourselves from our development morass unto a higher pedestal of dignified livelihoods for all our peoples through our individual and collective leadership.
After two weeks of writing in praise of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, an avid reader of the column walked into my office and said with some disappointment, “I never realized that you liked Kwame Nkrumah so much. I am going to give you a book written by a man who lived through the Nkrumah regime and I am quite sure you will change your views about him. Some terrible things happened in Nkrumah’s regime” I thanked him, told him that I felt Nkrumah was a great leader and looked forward to reading his book. At the same time, another good friend called with the burning question, “Are you CPP or NDC?”
Not too long after this came what was interpreted at the time as a blistering attack against the Honorable Alban Bagbin, then Minister of Health. To some, this was as anti-NDC as it got. Portrayed by some as a premeditated attack against my now good friend, the Ministry’s Chief Director wrote a stinker back. What was perhaps not appreciated was that it is difficult to see the same problem festering for decades and hearing the same solutions, failed ten years ago, being offered once again. Of course it was nothing personal as I personally explained to Bagbin who proved far more tolerant as he explained what he thought of as “broad range of interventions” to solve the problem of inequitable distribution of health workers.
I have received my fair share of being anti-NPP too in the past year. Through it all, I have reflected thus, if a senior member of a credible political party incites people to attack other tribes in Ghana and so called enlightened people do not have courage to condemn it, but rather find it in them to point fingers at me for slamming it, is it my cry or your silence in the face of obvious outrage that should provide cause for concern? Whose values should worry us more?
When I analyzed the final Presidential debate and concluded that John Mahama had been the most Presidential on the night, that immediately put me in the NDC corner of Ghana’s unyielding political space. And then two weeks ago, I challenged President Mahama in a blistering piece to tell us how much of our problems he intended to solve and by which time within the four year mandate? A nine year old girl is reported to have read it and asked the mother, “Mommy, is your friend NPP?” On the same article, a good pro NDC friend accosted me last week and lashed out, “You! How could you do that to the President? Your attacks were totally unwarranted. Isn’t it too early? Don’t you know it is not all the promises contained in the manifesto that can be achieved? No, it was too much.”
It’s all well and good and through it all, we shall continue to give thanks.
Author: Sodzi Sodzi-Tettey