Saturday, October 8, 2016

Dixcove, Ghana 1973

The following piece originally appeared in the Katharine Susannah Prichard (KSP) Past Tense Anthology in June 2016 

Dixcove Fort, Ghana 1973

Words of Wisdom

We had been staying in the fishing village of Dixcove for over a week and had settled into a comfortable routine of ambling down to the beach each morning, and waiting by the boats to inspect the day's fishing catch in the afternoon.

On Saturday evening, we heard there was to be a local funeral and were eager to stay around for the experience. As darkness fell, villagers gathered in the dusty square, below the imposing stone walls of the Dixcove fort. Shops around the square were lit by kerosene lamps and some food sellers were hunched over smoky braziers, roasting cobs of corn.

From a side street, drums started up and a group of dancers approached the square. The mood was contagious, with locals joining in, and I felt a child's clammy hand grabbing mine, pulling me into the throng. I did my best to follow the confident dance moves of the local kids, swirling hips to the rhythm of the beat, until I spun out to take a break with my friends.

At this point an African gentleman approached us. His thick-framed spectacles gave him the look of a professor, marking him out from the other villagers.

'Good evening my friends, you are most welcome to Ghana. May I invite you to my house, to share my hospitality.'

We followed him several hundred metres out of town, until we reached a brightly lit house. The entrance was up a tiled staircase and through a porch, leading to a spacious lounge room. His house, with its fluorescent globes blazing, was in sharp contrast to the darkness outside. We were amazed – this was 1973 and no one in rural Ghana had electricity. This gentleman must be a person of some wealth and status, to have his own generator.

His wife brought us cake and cordial while we made ourselves comfortable on their vinyl upholstered chairs. After a few moments of polite chat the gentleman went to his book case and retrieved a small black book.

'Do you know this book?' He held the book with reverence, opening the front cover.

'It is called "The Axioms of Kwame Nkrumah". We known it as "the little black book". It contains words of wisdom from our former leader.'

He gestured to a framed black and white photo on the wall showing a distinguished Nkrumah wearing the traditional Ghanaian Kente cloth robe, draped across his shoulder. We nodded and politely sipped the sweet cordial. After a suitable interval of exchanging pleasantries, we thanked him and took our leave.

The following day I left Dixcove and continued travelling along the coast of Ghana to the capital Accra. I never discovered the identify of our mysterious African gentleman, but he had planted a seed, prompting me to find out more about his hero Nkrumah. Kwame Nkrumah was Ghana's first Prime Minister after the country gained independence from Britain. He was a freedom fighter who had a grand vision for a pan-African future, free from the bonds of colonialism and tribalism. In 1966, while on a state visit to North Vietnam, Nkrumah was overthrown in a coup. At that time his government was aligned with the Eastern Bloc. After Nkrumah's overthrow, Ghana shifted to align itself with the West. Kwame Nkrumah never returned to Ghana and spent his last years in exile, where he wrote his little black book. Much later it was claimed that the American CIA were behind the coup to overthrow him.

What had started out that night in Dixcove as a quest for an African cultural experience, lead to something much more, giving me an insight into Ghana's tortured history and politics. Today Nkrumah is revered in Ghana and in the year 2000 he was described by the BBC World Service an "International symbol of freedom as the leader of the first black African country to shake off the chains of colonial rule". Now, I am left wondering about western interference in Africa and whether colonialism has really ended.

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