Feature Article of Monday, 18 June 2012

Columnist: Tawiah-Benjamin, Kwesi

In Honour of Prof Paa Kwesi Mintah: The Style Is The Man

I hope I wouldn’t come across as patronising if I put it out that Professor Paa Kwesi Mintah is my hero and role model. Everybody needs a figure to look up to. Even accomplished world leaders and globally acclaimed entrepreneurs have confidants who review and advise on their professional and private conduct. Besides Paa Kwesi, I can always count on the careful but often firm admonitions of the present Public Relations Director of the Ghana Police Service, DSP Cephas Arthur. He knows my style. He also knows my person very well. And being a student of English, he is able to connect that a man cannot divorce his style from his person: The style is the man. You communicate who you are, your beliefs, fears and suspicions when writing. And often those who have followed your writing can see traces of your penprints even when you choose to write under a sobriquet.

Professor Kwesi Mintah also knows my style. We haven’t met before (well, not that I remember) so I presume he doesn’t know my person as well as my best friend Cephas Arthur does. Yet, he is able to predict my subject matter and line of argument before he consumes a syllable of my writings. And he is always spot on: They are usually about a certain professor, the constant reference to academia and scholarship, and a comment or two on life in the West, particularly experiences in Britain and Canada. Then, of course, the often too irritating use of the personal pronoun that is predictably me. I would also attempt to play the umpire and pontificate in issues I haven’t exactly mastered. Typical me. Prof Mintah would have a few more to add.

When I started a newspaper column for a Ghanaian newspaper years ago, I was eager to know how I was faring. I was particularly concerned that I was sacrificing a few of the rules of the game with impunity. I tasked DSP Arthur to critically vet the first three issues I submitted to the paper, and every other issue thereafter. He was quick to point out a certain journalistic malady and some grammatical flip-flops. He noticed the same problems Professor Kwesi Mintah has been commenting on for years: He observed that my writings betrayed my training in English Criticism and judased my unrepentant fondness for Romanticism and Shakespeare. We had sat under the distinguished lectureship of Professors Martin Owusu and Aloysius Denkabe (Paa Kwesi, please indulge me a little this time). We carried with us lessons and theories from Quashireshire to Patapas, where a magical wind blew over us and our spirits were renewed. (Paa Kwesi and Sam Duodu, please, still indulge me, just this once, I promise). The DPS teased that I toned down on Shakespeare, and as we were taught at the communication school, stick to the subject under discussion. But he was also quick to concede that my only option was to communicate my style–my person–likes–dislikes–Shakespeare–Professors–since they were etched on my soul. They would always come through anyway. As a person, Cephas likes moderation. He hates excesses–excesses of any kind. And that comes through in his critiques. He has very few options there.

Style is a very personal thing. Professor Paa Kwesi Mintah has his style, too. Mark how he writes his beautiful English. He is probably the only commentator on this forum who numbers his points. He is very detail, and appears to religiously apply rules on mechanical accuracy to the letter. Now, that is not just good writing; that is style–his style. He dares to be different and would not waver in his one man crusade to get writers to write his style. When he pretends to pronounce our collective judgement on what makes good writing, he is harmlessly communicating his style. Other commentators who move to stop him from being too personal with me are talking just like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, preferring restorative and progressive critique to retributive justice. You share the same style with Burmese Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. If conflict is the essence of drama, style is the essence of writing. A dramatic style is also somebody’s gift of writing.

Akadu Ntiriwa Mensama (My daughter Sonnet’s godmother) is a satirical, hyperbolic style unto herself. Prof Kwame Okoampah-Ahoofe is Dr. J.B. Danquah ‘done up’ and Nkrumah ‘done in’. Franklin Cudjoe is fact, fact fact. Daniel Pryce is admirably verbose. You get to learn the meanings of some unusual words. Malik Baako is documents and more documents. Tawiah is Professor Shakespeare resurrected and teaching play-writing at a popular university in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail in England is simplicity made gorgeous. And you dear reader, you have the best style ever, because it is only you who is reading this your way.

Do I dislike Prof Paa Kwesi Mintah’s constant reminders? No. Am I worried that he is writing such fine English under a pseudonym? Not me. Do I suspect that he may have some personal scores to settle with me? Not at all. Am I a “wannabe intellectual struggling in Canada and pretending to be some top notch writer?” By Jove, I am not a wannabe. Prof Mintah is a well lettered person, telling by his diction. And he may be Ghanaian. It doesn’t matter whether he lives in New Jersey or Kumawu. I honour him for his good services to cyber communication. Prof, this is for you. Lechaiyim!

Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin