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Opinions of Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

So fare well then, 'De dook edinboro!'

Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip

The late Prince Philip was a visitor to Ghana three times – he came here by himself (from 23rd to 28th November 1959); then he came again – with his wife, Queen Elizabeth The Second, twice – in 1961 and 1999.

The first visit of the Duke demonstrated his pluck as a man. The Queen had been invited to visit Ghana in 1959, at a time when our Prime Minister, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, had made it clear that he wanted to turn Ghana into a Republic and become head of state himself.

(Ghana had achieved independence on March 1957 with the Queen as its head of state – a position exercised on her behalf by a British Governor-General. The first Governor-General was Sir Charles Noble Arden Clarke and the second was the Earl of Listowel).

The ruling circles of the UK, which was then under a Conservative Government, were not happy that the Queen would be visiting a country that was about to change its constitution from the monarchical type into a Republican one.

They imagined that if the Queen visited Ghana just before the change, it would mean that she had given her blessing to the change. (Their real fear, however, was that Dr Nkrumah, as President, would seek to create a socialist society in Ghana.)

Fortunately for both countries, the matter was taken out of their hands by biology: the Queen became pregnant!

But such was the affection in which the UK royal family was held in Ghana (the Queen had been represented at our independence by a lovely lady called the Duchess of Kent) that in order not to disappoint Ghanaians, Prince Philip agreed to come to Ghana in place of the Queen.

The visit went very well indeed. But politics did rear its head during the visit – in one instant. At Kumasi, Prince Philip was visiting a hospital when he was informed that the son of a prominent Opposition man, Mr Joe Appiah (who had been placed in preventive detention by the Nkrumah Government) was occupying a bed in the hospital.

The Prince spontaneously went over and talked to the boy (who was to grow to become a famous writer and philosopher, Kwame Anthony Appiah). He complained to the Duke that his father had been detained without trial. The Duke comforted him and the incident was widely reported by the British press (they always sent a contingent of news-hounds to accompany the UK royals on their foreign visits.)

Two years later, the Queen came herself – accompanied by the Duke. This visit also attracted political controversy.

In 1961, Ghana was troubled by violent opposition activity. Bombs were thrown into several public places, injuring some people and British politicians expressed the fear that the Queen might become the victim of a bomb blast if she appeared in public with President Kwame Nkrumah.

Among personages who expressed anxiety about the safety of the royal party on the visit was Britain's wartime Prime Minister, the venerated Sir Winston Churchill.

However, the Prime Minister of the time, Mr Harold Macmillan, had himself paid a visit to Ghana the previous year: on a tour of Africa which also took him to South Africa, where he made the speech that gave him an indelible place in world history. This was the “wind of change blowing across Africa” warning to the racist government in South Africa.

Macmillan and his wife had been charmed by Dr Nkrumah on their visit to Ghana. So he sent his Defence Minister, Mr Duncan Sandys, on an RAF plane to come and “case the joint” in Ghana to find out whether the Queen would be safe or not.

Mr Sandys returned to London to give the visit the thumbs-up. And the Queen and the Duke came. It was a most joyous visit. At a crowded military parade held at Black Star Square in Accra, the Ghanaian comedian, Ajax Bukana, stole the show by dressing up as a tramp, with padded clothing, and discarding elements of his outfit onto the tarmac, as he marched and saluted the royal party with humorous, “Ajax-executed” movements. The Queen endeared herself to Ghanaians by joining in the laughter that greeted Ajax's antics.

During the Duke's visit to Ghana in 1959, I noticed that the press party accompanying him included the star foreign correspondent of the London Daily Express, a man called Rene McColl. In those days, foreign correspondents were given a lot of space by their newspapers, and their bylines were also displayed in very big type under huge headlines.

I had read many pieces by Rene McColl from Egypt (during the Suez war of 1956, following the invasion of Egypt by Britain and France, in collusion with Israel.) I had also followed Mr McColl's dispatches from the Hungarian border, during the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

Well, from Ghana, he reported that the people were overjoyed to see what he said they called “De Dook Edinboro” and were sad that “De Queen Mama” had not been able to come.

I was sceptical about any Ghanaians calling the Duke “De Dook Edinboro” and the Queen “De Queen Mama.” I suspected that McColl was indulging a wee bit in the practice whereby colonial writers used an unnatural, deliberately-created language to depict the speech of “natives” in Africa and elsewhere. Especially in novels and travelogues.

So I decided to test the theory in person. I sought Mr McColl out in his hotel one day and complimented him, with my tongue in my cheek, for stepping out of the royal press party and mixing with Ghanaians to listen to what they actually said.

I watched his face as I said this.

He twitched slightly but didn't give much away. But I thought I could detect him trying to suppress a smile of guilt.

I went away convinced that Rene McColl had made up those “native-speech English” quotes!

I was appalled, for the books I had been reading about journalism, written mostly by British authors, made it quite clear that it was totally unacceptable to pretend that one was reporting facts when, in fact, one was indulging in a bit of fiction-writing.

From then on, my attitude to foreign correspondents changed. I became a bit more sceptical whilst reading their flowery reports from far-away places! I have noticed, in recent times, that American journalists, in particular, get called out by their own colleagues whenever they “make up quotes” in their stories.