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Awakening Literary Prowess Among Ghanaians
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Opinions of Friday, 11 October 2013

Columnist: Gborglah, Felix Fate

Awakening Literary Prowess Among Ghanaians

: A Shared Responsibility

For a very long time, I've kept wondering why Ghana has not produced many great writers. Within the African shores, one could count 50 writers - living and dead - that are household names and very few of them would be a Ghanaian.

For every Ayi Kwei Armah and Ama Ata Aidoo we have, our close neighbour, Nigeria, has tens they can boast of. That we gained our independence 3 years before them made the puzzle all the more perplexing.

Many nights, I would stay awake, staring blankly into the drab ceilings of my room as if the answer to my bewilderment was engraved there. Never did I find an answer there. Neither did I find it elsewhere. At least until recently.

But now I have the answer. A sad, disturbing answer! While there may be many contributory and immediate causes, the root of the literary deficiency is an absence of an enabling environment. You ask how? I'll tell you in a moment. One important factor proficient writers always recommend to upcoming ones is consistency. Practice makes perfect, they would say. And one of the best ways to stay consistent is to enter regular writing competitions.

If nothing else, the incentive for winners would propel one to enter every interesting one and as such write regularly. One would also strive greatly to write a compelling entry.

Hence, one would learn how to properly go about it for optimal result. Even if one does not win a prize in the end, he would have learnt, and he improves and writes better.

Elsewhere, also, every well meaning education enthusiast would concur with me on the grounds that, the absence of this enabling environment amounts to, a relative degree, the weaken state in English language proficiency among Ghana students as identified by the Ghana Education Service. Besides these, it will also create an avenue for the various concerned bodies to rake in useful ideas from the intelligence of the youth. Alas!

There's a chronic drought of these writing contests in the country. In 2013 for instance, I've only found 4 essay competitions organized exclusively for Ghanaians.

These are: the Citi FM Write Away Contest; Yvonne Nelson Essay Competition; Insight Foundation Model Girls Essay Writing Competition; and the 2013 Ghana WASH Project Essay Competition. I do search the internet vigorously for them and check online writing resources, but these opportunities do not exist.

More than any other country, the U.S. leads the park in terms of promoting literacy and literary activities through writing competitions. To make a case study, the website, VolunTEEN Nation is a U.S. resource announcing writing and similar contests for Americans.

Going through its archives, I discovered to my admiration that it has published over 300 writing contests exclusively for Americans this year alone. Add this to the many global writing contests that Americans are still qualified to enter; and see how the figure will blow off your mind! Maybe I've gone too far. Someone could say the U.S. is a very rich country. Yes, that's true. At least, its annual GDP is $16 trillion dollars while that of the whole of Africa is just $1 trillion dollars.

Now let's look at the situation in Nigeria. Nigeria is also a developing country like Ghana. There are so many annual writing contests (and even workshops) set-up by various public and private institutions. For instance, the website, Naija Writers' Coach announces writing contests everyday.

In terms of geographical location it has 3 distinct sections: international contests, contests for Africans and contests exclusively for Nigerians. This year alone, it has published a total of 21 writing contests organized exclusively for Nigerians.

These contests are organized by different stakeholders: politicians (e.g., 2013 Atiku Abubakar Scholarship Essay Competition and 2013 Dickens Sanomi Essay Competition), media outfits (e.g., 2013 Channels TV Book Club Essay Competition, 2013 NaijaTeenz Essay Competition, 2013 BusinessDay Aspiring Writers Essay Competition and Premium Times Nigeria Centenary Essay Competition), NGO (e.g., 2013 Murtala Mohammed Essay Competition, 2013 PolicyNG Essay Competition, 2013 WHARC International Youth Day Essay Competition, AfriGrowth National Undergraduate Essay Competition, UBA Foundation national essay competition, 2013 Youth Support Counselling Consult (YCSS) Essay Competition and 2013 Yakubu Gowon Foundation Essay Competition), literary societies (e.g., 2013 Splendid Literature and Culture Foundation Essay Competition and 2013 Change Makers Club Essay Competition), religious organizations (e.g., The Muslim Congress 2013 Essay Competition and Crystal Muslim Organization Essay Competition), government agencies (e.g., 2013 Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPMN) Essay Competition) and even private individuals (e.g., 2013 Mike Okonkwo Essay Competition). A feat way beyond imagination is that, even a Nigerian student, Mr. Abdullahi, single-handedly organized a national essay contest for undergraduate students in Nigeria this year. Sensational indeed.

The above are effectively complemented by frequent, free-to-attend writing workshops too. I wonder why Ghana's case is a far cry from Nigeria's. Our society has important stakeholders too: government agencies, media outfits, NGO, religious bodies, individuals, politicians, etc. One wonders if the corporate establishments do not have corporate social responsibilities.

I would like to use this opportunity to congratulate Citi fm and her partners for their consistency in promoting writing among children in Ghana. Not forgetting others including MTN Foundation, Insight Foundation, Coca cola, the Jubilee partners, Yvonne Nelson and all the various outfits who made it in their power to organize any writing contest in our dear nation. This is a clarion call to the Ghanaian society. Now that we have all witnessed with grieve, a very quick succession in the unfortunate fall of two great giants in the literally arena, there is a more pronounced reason to see this to fruition.

The responsibility of promoting literary engagements and developing talents is a shared one. All hands must be on deck from all sides to ensure that our tomorrow will be better than today. Readers are leaders. So are writers. Now is the time to rise up and build a generation of young leaders.

I humbly submit......

Felix Fate Gborglah

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