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The best books on Ghana: start your summer reading here

A literary tour of Ghana takes in the early disappointments of independence, a woman’s search for personal freedom, and the gradual evolution of democracy.

 

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah

This morality tale’s unnamed narrator, a railway clerk in Accra, strives to maintain his integrity amid the corruption that surrounds him in newly independent Ghana. His refusal to accept bribes, despite struggling to make ends meet on his meagre salary, angers those around him – especially his acquisitive wife.

The high hopes he had for the country at independence have soured, and he is bitter that things have grown rotten “with such obscene haste”. “The man”, as the narrator is referred to, views the new leaders as trying “to be the dark ghosts of Europeans” – aping the repression and rapacity of the country’s white former colonial masters.

Armah’s acerbic debut novel excoriates President Kwame Nkrumah’s government for the graft and extortion that were rife in 1960s Ghana. A military coup in 1966 overthrows Nkrumah but, rather than heralding better days to come, it merely brings “another group of bellies [that] will be bursting with the country’s riches”.

As the man continues to grapple with providing for his wife and children and resisting “the rot” he sees everywhere, a misspelled inscription on a bus (which provides the book’s title) offers a sliver of hope for an end to the ugly realities of the day.

Armah, born in the Gold Coast (now Ghana), lives as something of a recluse in Dakar, Senegal.

 

Changes: A Love Story by Ama Ata Aidoo

The provocative and engaging tale of a young woman in modern-day Accra who challenges sexism and social mores, Aidoo’s story resonates beyond Ghana.Esi Sekyi, a smart, spiritedcareer woman, feels stifled in her marriage. Finding her ambitions curbed and freedoms constrained by her husband, she decides to divorce him.

No one Esi knows is remotely sympathetic. Her sharp-tongued grandmother chastises her, saying women must do “the serious business of living with our heads and never our hearts”.

And her best friend, Opokuya Dakwa, who wants more freedom in her own marriage, reminds her: “Our people have said that for any marriage to work, one party has to be a fool … And they really mean the woman.”

Esi meets Ali Kondey, a successful businessman, and is charmed by him. They become lovers, and Ali – a Muslim who is married and has children – urges Esi to become his second wife. Curiously, for such a fiercely independent woman, she agrees.

Later, as disillusionment with her polygamous marriage sets in, she reflects on life “stretching ahead like the Yendi-Tamale road when it was first constructed: straight, flat and endless”.

Aidoo wears her feminism on her sleeve, and gets her message across with sly humour rather than being preachy or shouty. The author, also a poet and playwright, served briefly as minister of education in the 1980s.

 

My First Coup Detat by John Dramani Mahama

Mahama’s first coup – which he experienced as a seven-year-old – was the army’s 1966 ousting of Nkrumah, who had led Ghana to independence from Britain nine years earlier. It proved to be a life-changing experience for the author. His father, a government minister, was held by the military for more than a year and came back a changed man.

Reinventing himself as a rice farmer, Mahama Sr became extremely wealthy. He eventually returned to politics, only to be forced to flee the country after yet another coup.

His father plays a big part in Mahama’s endearing memoir, in which he recounts his coming of age – in tandem with his newly independent country – during Africa’s “lost decades”. During that bleak post-colonial period – from the late 60s to the 90s – the continent was bedevilled by economic stagnation and political turbulence.

Mahama delivers an intimate, insider’s account through personal stories, and weaves in some of Ghana’s own progress and pitfalls along the way.

The cycle of coups finally ended in 1992, when the country adopted a new constitution and entered into an era of democracy that brought “the return of hope”.

Like his father, Mahama went into politics. He published this book during his term as vice-president, and went on to serve as president from 2012 to 2017.

Pushpinder Khaneka is the author of Read the World: A Country-by-Country Guide to the Best Books on the Global South

Article via The Guardian