Feature Article of Tuesday, 18 September 2012
, the Proverbial Gyan and the Ghanaian Flavor
WASS ‘ay???’ was the usual refrain from colleagues when one questioned the absurdities of the conditions in West Africa Secondary School (WASS) in the mid-eighties. In pigeon English, the expression translates ‘WASS we dey’ to wit, this is the WASS way. Until 1988 when it was relocated to Adenta, the school was located in Accra New Town. When we enrolled in 1984, the place was good for anything but a school. The disjointed shacks that passed for classrooms had seen better days. The notorious Texaco boys who had in their fold some of the most dreaded armed robbers (some of whom were executed by firing squad ) of the time were not only our closest neighbors but also shared classrooms, dormitories and any of the scarce free space around the school with us. Our classrooms were their sleeping place and the ware house for their staple- marijuana -which they stored in the broken ceilings. On many occasions, when nature called, they responded right there in the classroom. Because of the latter activity, students and teachers alike will abandon the classroom for days until some of us felt we’d missed our lessons long enough, so we will spread some ash on the excreta and sweep out the abomination in order to get a few teachers back. Thanks to those days at WASS, some of us witnessed ‘action’ beyond what was created in Hollywood. On a couple of occasions soldiers we believed were commandos, stormed the place during school hours and played ‘dzulo ke police’ with the Texaco boys. We ran and ducked at the sounds of the guns and enjoyed the cowboy stories when the raid was over. I have come to realize that it was not just the WASS way, but to a large extent it is the Ghanaian way. I still can’t explain why parents didn’t put any pressure on the politicians to get the school moved many years before a students’ agitation forced the issue, but if you need convincing, there it is, Ghana ‘ay???’ – it is the Ghanaian flavor, the politician’s haven, where the applause for mediocrity is so loud nobody can hear the cries of neglect.
When Ghana hosted the African Nations Cup final in 2008, game tickets were sold in advance and tied to seats. Imperfect as the system was in those days, I was one of those who thought it was a great first step and that civilization had arrived. How wrong I was. On my way to watch Ghana vrs Malawi at the Accra sports stadium on the 8th of September 2012, I heard some sport commentators lamenting the seeming lack of interest from Accra fans as seen from the empty seats in the stadium thirty minutes to kickoff. Ironically, when I got to the stadium less than fifteen minutes to kickoff, there were hundreds of fans outside the gate looking for tickets to go watch the match. Officially, tickets had run out. A friend of mine managed to get us VIP gate GH?20 tickets. After paying for what is supposed to be a luxury seat, we watched the entire game standing with many others because there were no empty seats. We ran from the eastern to the western section with the same results-no seats. The VIP tickets sold outnumbered the seats available. Incidentally, the VIP section was the only section in the stadium that didn’t have empty seats. When we finally took our stand to watch the match, we had to endure a nauseating stench from the toilets that stayed with us for the duration of the match. No body warned us that the toilet cleaners had joined the popular single spine strikes, so it must be for shortage of Dettol and other cleaning materials on the market. A couple who were bold enough to bring their less than 6 months old baby to watch the game swapped seats to no avail. I couldn’t help laughing at the sight of a couple of radio commentators running Twi commentary with mobile phones pressed to their heads as they struggled for space and view. They stretched their sentences to make up for un-sighted actions on the field. The next time you hear an incoherent commentary drowned in the stadium chants, just understand that it is part of the Ghanaian flavor. Perhaps the radio station was not accredited to use the commentary box leaving the commentators to jump over spectators to bring you what they can see.
Fifty-five years after independence, we make ticketing for a football game look like rocket science. I recall a day in the eighties when a red-eyed rough looking guy walked up to a spectator at the chair-less popular stand of the Accra sports stadium, and insisted that he owned the spot where the latter stood to watch the game, because he always watched his game from that spot. When the spectator refused to give up the spot, he ended up with a cracked skull. It seems we haven’t moved far from such madness. There are those of us who wish that the stadium will be made family friendly so we can comfortably watch games with the whole family. We will love to buy tickets and be assured of our seats before we head to the stadium. We will love to walk through the gates without harassment, get into the seats that we have paid for without contending with matadors and enjoy the whole atmosphere at the stadium. It is not fair that we are estopped from enjoying a stick of kyikyinga (kebab) during recess by the lack of good cleaning program at the toilets. There is no value in messy queues at the gate that enrich pickpockets. It seems there is greater demand for the sheltered seats at the VIP stands; can someone stretch the shelter to cover more sections in the stadium? Wishful thinking, Ghana ay???, we’re doing just fine, who cares?
On the match itself, it was difficult to miss the fitness of Asamoah Gyan or the lack of it. The baby jet seems to have lost his speed and sharpness. He tried to conceal his lethargy with needless appeals to the referee for assistance. There were many, especially in England, who could not fathom why a 26 year old talented striker will abandon the highly competitive English premier league for the less glamorous league in the Emirates. But most of those guys do not know what it means to grow up in Africa. They will never understand that for most Ghanaian talents, your short football career is also your one shot to rescue not just you, but your family from poverty. They know nothing about football age. Over here, for lack of a meal, many former football greats perish, so when presented with the chance to play in an obscure league in the Middle East for three times what he was making in the glamorous English premier league, Asa ,as the English love to call him, had a decision to make. He could choose to gamble on his talent to make him both famous and rich in good time, or he could choose to grab the riches immediately and risk getting lost on the radar of world football, and he chose the latter. It is for good reason that many great players only choose to play at the emirates at the twilight of their careers, but for Gyan, he abandoned the challenge of the great leagues, the dream of conquest, and attempting to upstage the very best in the greatest theaters of the game. He may have made a great economic decision , but it seems the decision is already having a toll on his game. He must find ways of keeping his game at the top in the absence of true competition, or risks becoming a proverb. If he continues to flop like he has done of late playing for the national team, the Sheiks may soon change his status from a footballer to Liaison officer for Africa Affairs, and the next time the Sheiks approach a talented player in a high flying league, his manager will call on the proverb- remember Asamoah Gyan.
Gyan has had a great career so far in the shirts of Ghana but there is still a lot for him to achieve. Almost a goal every two matches, two world cup appearances, BBC Africa player of the year and an African cup final are enviable achievements. But he is yet to win a cup or the CAF Africa footballer of the year prize. His penalty miss also denied Africa its first semi-final place in the world cup, a record he must be hungry to correct. Soon, an African country will make it to the semifinal and the final, and nobody will remember the nearly men of 2010. Realistically, Asamoah has only one chance to correct this in 2014. But the question is, is he hungry for these and more? Asa could just have told himself , "Onipa beyee bi, na w'ammeye ne nyinaa” to wit “Man came to accomplish a part, not the whole” when he embarked on project Middle East. He might have looked at his CV and assured himself, “kitiwa biara nsua”, no achievement is too small. Politicians get applauded for commissioning KVIP in the 21st century, he has done better than that, “Ghana ay???”. No one can begrudge him for choosing the millions, but Ghana must look for our goals to take as to the next world cup, and it seems we must look beyond Gyan.