Hello friends! Meet Kweku Ananse – Ghana’s amazing Spider-man

Whoever thinks Spider-Man was invented by the West couldn’t be more wrong. Such a claim is, at best, only half-right — and that’s if he’s talking about the version that dons a red-and-blue costume, climbs along skyscrapers, saves entire cities and, away from all that drama, lives the quiet life of a devoted academic called Peter Parker.

There is another version of Spider-Man, however, though not nearly as handsome or agile as Parker and his alter-ego, and his fame owes more to brain than brawn. He is KWEKU ANANSE — one of the oldest, most eminent symbols of Ghanaian culture. You may have heard of him; if not, well, read on.

Now, ‘Ananse’ (a variant of which is ‘Anansi’), in Ghana’s Akan language, refers to the spider. Exactly what Ananse – – the folktale character — is, though, isn’t nearly as clear. Per the context he (or ‘it’, if you wish) is placed in, Ananse could be a spider, a man, or a combination of both (Spider-Man, yeah). There is more to Ananse, though; he is sometimes depicted as a god of sorts, and all those facets of his personality fuse to produce a larger-than-life. mosaic of a ‘deity-homo-arachnid’ — whatever that looks like.

The story of how this little guy got to lay claim to divinity, though? Well, Wikipedia — that great repository of knowledge — tells it best, via one of the best-known stories spawned around the Ananse legend. Here goes:

“Once there were no stories in the world. The Sky-God, Nyame, had them all. Anansi went to Nyame and asked how much they would cost to buy. Nyame set a high price: Anansi must bring back Onini the Python, Osebo the Leopard, and Mboro the Hornet. Anansi set about capturing these. First, he went to where Python lived and debated out loud whether Python was really longer than the palm branch or not as his wife Aso says. Python overheard and, when Anansi explained the debate, agreed to lie along the palm branch. Because he cannot easily make himself completely straight a true impression of his actual length is difficult to obtain, so Python agreed to be tied to the branch. When he was completely tied, Anansi took him to Nyame. To catch the leopard, Anansi dug a deep hole in the ground. When the leopard fell in the hole Anansi offered to help him out with his webs. Once the leopard was out of the hole he was bound in Anansi’s webs and was carried away. To catch the Hornets, Anansi filled a calabash with water and poured some over a banana leaf he held over his head and some over the nest, calling out that it was raining. He suggested the bees get into the empty calabash, and when they obliged, he quickly sealed the opening. Anansi handed his captives over to Nyame. Nyame rewarded him by making him the god of all stories.”

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Pretty cool summary, huh?
Actually, the final sentence of that lengthy narrative goes some way in explaining why all folk stories in the traditional Ghanaian setting are collectively named after Ananse, with the generic term ‘Anansesem’ applying regardless of whether or not they have the fellow among the protagonists. And that’s why, down here, we like to refer to him as ‘The Ubiquitous One’. He’s really everywhere, believe me.

Yet even in the many stories he actually lights up, Ananse doesn’t always emerge the hero. On the contrary, he is often portrayed — usually through his own fault — as a villain, but merely the kind of rascal whose mischief may just draw applause from the observer even on his worst days. The typical Ananse story has a sly friend trying to outwit all others and, in the end, proving too smart for everyone (himself included, of course), culminating in epic failure and embarrassment time and again. Such is Ananse’s legendary cunning that the designation ‘Anansesem’ also refers to any tale that is too good to believe. And such is the razor-sharp edge to Ananse’s wits that, as a popular Ghanaian saying states quite aptly, an attempt to deceive Ananse is effectively the ultimate act of self-deception.

Ananse, to my people, is almost real, which is why he features so heavily in mythology. He has his own household, comprised of some very interesting and diverse characters: Nyame (Ananse’s father and Sky-God); Asase Yaa (his mother and Earth-Goddess); Okonore Yaa (Ananse’s long-suffering wife); Ananse’s children: smart Ntekuma; Tikelenkelen the big-headed one; Nankonhwea with his spindly limbs; Afudohwedohwe barely able to save himself from falling over his bulging belly; and, oh, the beautiful Anansewaa, subject of Efua Sutherland’s classic novel (really, you’ve got to read that if you haven’t already).

It isn’t only in his homeland, though, that Ananse is celebrated. His fame, since the era when the transatlantic slave trade was a thing, has long transcended these shores. Of all the vestiges of home slave raiders attempted to flog out of their African captives, Ananse — along with Br’er Rabbit, a folk character of identical repute transported in the hearts of slaves from the Bantu-speaking lands of south and central Africa — was one of few memories that remained vividly etched on their minds after crossing over into the New World. It is believed that inspiration, conscious or otherwise, from Ananse’s guile armed those slaves who, in a bid to stand proud, resorted to craftiness in rousing themselves against their cruel lords.

It’s also why Ananse has so many aliases throughout the Caribbean (terminal for so many African slaves): Bru Nansi (Virgin Islands), Annancy/Anancy (Jamaica, Grenada, Costa Rica, Colombia and Nicaragua), Anansi (Trinidad and Tobago), Anansi Drew (The Bahamas), Aunt Nancy (South Carolina), Cha Nanzi (Aruba), Kompa Nanzi (Curaçao, Bonaire) and Ba Anansi (Suriname), et al.

Fast-forward a few centuries and, in the face of modernity and its intricate web (forgive the pun) of strings, one might think our spider-man would struggle to retain a place in the spotlight and carve a niche for himself in the pantheon of latter-day superheroes; WRONG! Ananse is going nowhere and, in fact, has only pushed for a more pronounced presence in recent memory.

Among several appearances in the realm of popular culture, Ananse has starred in two episodes of ‘Gargoyles’, a Disney cartoon series, in the PBS children’s series ‘Sesame Street’, and a number of choice comics. For what it’s worth, Ananse is the proud bearer of the roots for half the name of English rock band ‘Skunk Anansie’.

And so, in more ways than one, Ananse continues to live — as much on our screens as by the fireside (where ‘Anansesem’ is traditionally told in rural Ghana) — neither to be drowned by the sands of time nor robbed of all the credentials that have always established him as one of Ghana’s greatest yet often understated ambassadors.
Move over, Mr Parker. . .
Ananse never dies!

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Morning After The Night Before: The Story Ebony Never Finished

She was talented, brazen, youthful, exuberant, and even refreshingly rebellious. She was an Ebony!

In life as in death, Priscilla Opoku Kwarteng and controversy fit well into many contexts.

In many ways, she was a mystery wrapped in a riddle hidden in an enigma.

She, known better by her stage name ‘Ebony’, was — and probably still is, to the few pitifully hopeful fans of hers who believe her reported confirmed demise is but a tasteless prank she’d soon snap out of — an enigma of a sort Ghanaian showbiz hasn’t seen since Daddy Lumba in his prime, a character who divided opinions so sharply you’d easily forget she sprang out of her teens  and into the realm of national consciousness not long ago.

Because of the sheer enormity of her body of work in the brief period she held us all spellbound, it is almost forgivable to lose sight of the fact that she was barely an adult who, in the face of a lengthy her rap sheet of alleged wrongdoing Ghanaians leveled at her, stood for what she believed in, lived and dared to be different.

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Truth be told, it’s hard to cast Ebony into a particular mould — her vivacious, dynamic self just wouldn’t permit it. For a dancehall artiste, she did gospel too well (more on that later), and for a girl whose sense of fashion would make her a perfect fit at any club on a sweaty Friday night, Ebony’s voice would hardly have been out of place as part of a sombre Sunday service choir. Like I said, you just couldn’t tag her — unless you were the ‘mortuary man’ at the Bechem Government Hospital charged with that uneasy duty.

It’s easy to remember Ebony as one of the naughty ones — her own nickname, identifying her as a self-styled ‘90s BadGyal’, left little doubt about that. Her eye-poppingly suggestive choice of clothing for music videos, live performances and even TV interviews, along with a catalogue of risqué stagecraft, did plenty to validate the said moniker. She was brazen in that regard, presenting herself in a manner that Ghanaians hadn’t had stamped into their orbital regions since Mzbel’s star dimmed — and, really, Ebony in many ways was like Mzbel, only more talented and daring. Half of the society she sought to entertain — an exuberant, even rebellious, youthful army seeking a poster figure for an increasingly liberal outlook — egged her on, while the other half — unwavering in their resolve to stay conventional and desperate to preserve norms of morality apparently being dragged down the drain by Ebony and her likes — slammed her afresh after each show.

Oh, and about her music itself? Where do I even start?

Well, let’s just say only her appearance made her lyrics — loaded with double entendres that would make even the notoriously vulgar Lumba envious — seem mild. If you could read between lines she rarely ever left unblurred, you’d easily realize hits like ‘Kupe’, ‘Poison’, ‘Sponsor’ and the incredibly popular ‘Hustle’ were packaged and delivered to convey so much subtlety.

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That, though, was just one of Ebony’s faces. Like the mythological god Janus, she had another which stared right in the opposite direction. For every ‘Dancefloor’ that begged to be wiggled to at the waist and would long remain a staple on the, er, dancefloor, (forgive the pun), there was a ‘Maame Hwe’ which tugged at even her harshest critic’s heart and has come to stay forever and a day as the anthem for the campaign against domestic violence in Ghana. And for every gospel-heavy ‘Aseda’(which, per revelations after her death, many now discern as an ultimately futile attempt to curb ‘prophecies’ about her premature death) that a mom-of-six trader at the Makola market would hum to herself as she assembles her wares each morning, there is a innuendo-laden ‘Hustle’ (the video of which actually has a market setting) that some Circle-based (a few ‘circles’ in Accra actually) ladies-of-the-night wouldn’t mind having as their unofficial soundtrack as they go about their nocturnal business.

To think that Ebony crammed all of this between 2015 and now is even more startling than anything she’d actually accomplished. It’s why she has had her genius acknowledged and has been mourned by many whose professional affairs have little to do with a music studio, including international football stars as well as past and sitting Ghanaian presidents. Indeed, while 2017 may have only been her second full year in the limelight, it already qualified as something of an annus mirabilis; the ‘Bonyfied’ album she launched in December last year was only her maiden compilation, but we knew it would only be the first of many. Now, though, it’s certain that offering would eternally stand alone as a body of work to be prized as a collector’s item, an enduring memory of one who did more with three of her 20 years on earth to define Ghanaian music than any of her gender — yes, there have been an awful lot of those, I know — has in contemporary history. Ebony remains in contention to become the first female ever to be named the upcoming Ghana Music Awards’ Artiste of the Year (the icing on what is expected to be quite a haul), anyway — and not just because of some sympathetic swing.

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Priscilla Opoku Kwarteng (Feb 16, 1997 – Feb 8, 2018)

But after all tears dry and the dust settles and the ‘pastors’ who have lined up to claim ‘credit’ for Ebony’s February 8 passing each enjoy their 15 minutes of fame (pending the next big tragedy, of course), and after the conspiracy theorists rest their cases about who predicted the misfortune [but shouldn’t have] and who could have averted it [but didn’t], the story would be told of a young lady who boldly bared her body and soul — literally — to Ghanaians all the way down till a saddening and sudden anticlimax.

To borrow the words of Roman politician and general Mark Anthony when he mourned another whose life was brutally truncated while at the peak of their powers. . .

Here was an Ebony!

When comes such another?

 

 

Shithole Countries: Trump’s latest remark have hung him out to dry

Mr. Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States has been an inspiration to far too many all over the world and the best part of it all is, true to character, he has absolutely no idea the effect he’s having. The conversations around dining tables, kitchens, family rides and or any other place families get together to share a moment all over the United States – and I dare say, all over the world – might have been centered on Donald ever since he was sworn in as the President of America. “If He [somebody like that] could make it up there, then you too [my little darling] can also make it.” You can imagine parents telling their young ones.

He’s not been one shy of controversy; always making silly headline-grabbing remarks on sensitive issues of international importance or engaged in a literal who’s-got-a-bigger-dick twitter back-and-forth with Kim Jong Un – the supreme leader of North Korea, or calling all media outlets who muster the courage to punch holes into his often incendiary [in]actions “Fake News” or … something childlike like those.

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I must say, at times, its been a joy to watch Americans twitch and bury their heads in their palms whenever Mr. Trump picks his phone, opens the Twitter App and steps into character: yet another shocking, immature and frankly humiliating 280-character rant with the relish of a schoolmarm passing on facts of life to her brood. He’s been a national embarrassment Americans would rather the rest of the world never saw.

Sorry lads! You voted him into power… Haha!!! Deal with it.

For the first time in American history, it’s become commonplace to have somebody question a sitting President of America’s mental health and Trump keeps doing very little pull the plugs on his drivels and his ever-decreasing approval ratings. He has zanily called himself a genius on an odd number of occasions in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary which, were he not so klutzy, would have noticed by now.

Out of his carefully selected deliciously inventive panoply of insults, Mr. Donald Trump on Thursday (Jan. 11, 2018), in a meeting with senators and House members on immigration, asked this: “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?”

…and Yep! He said “Shithole Countries” – apparently in reference to countries in Africa and Haiti. And that was a new all-time low. Heck, even by Donald Trump’s unbelievably low standards.

I honestly feel the maddening part of someone like Trump calling Africa a ‘shithole’ isn’t necessarily the fact that he called African countries shitholes because really, these countries all have their peculiar and not so peculiar problems. That is instructive to note. I’m not really concerned about semantics and diplomatic talk especially in relation to Trump because let’s face it, he probably hasn’t cracked open a dictionary to find out what diplomacy means in his life. I would have been so bothered, were it not for him. That’s fine.

His shithole descriptor isn’t insulting absolutely but it is the fact that if Trump started where my parents started or where many first-generational African immigrants started, he could never have accomplished what most of them have accomplished in their personal lives never mind step into the oval office.

He has been educated above his intellect: for someone with the intellect of a remedial sixth grader, earning a college degree would have been unthinkable were he not so white and privileged. Everything he has has been given to him on a proverbial silver platter. He has been intoxicated by the numbing comforts of entitlements; emblematic of white privilege – the fact the world allows certain people to live with far lower standards than everyone else and then hold others to very high standards. How on earth would an African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American or any other demographic become a President of the United States of America with such poor written or spoken vocabulary and reasoning?

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So the real insult is the fact that someone like that gets to dehumanize African immigrants in such a derogatory manner. Someone who’s not had to fight for a single thing he has and [has] no idea of what it is to struggle.

I don’t think the conversation should be centered on the ‘Africa is beautiful too’ narrative where we start to posture and take a few images of Trasacco valley, Airport Residential Area in Accra, Victoria and Banana Islands in Lagos by jumping on the ‘Africa the media doesn’t show you’ bandwagon. That simply is not accurate and it absolves most of the poor leaders of these countries of any blame.

The truth of the matter is, Africa is more of a shithole than it’s not. Those photogenic places you capture to swing the argument to the other side of the pendulum make less than 5%(conservative estimate) of the actual cities they are in and are hardly representative of the general state of the said countries. Also, those who lead the conversation from the west are mostly privileged Africans who lead relatively luxurious lives over their often-short vacations in festive seasons and are insulated from what the average African who lives in Africa experiences on a daily. Life for the majority of Africans in Africa isn’t what life really is supposed to be. It’s tough out there. These politicians can’t nitpick these convenient moments of outrage and pretend all is well in their countries. Fix up, Sirs!

That being said…

The real conversation should be the fact that African immigrants have a record of excelling in the US. African-Americans have been statistically proven to be the highest educated demographic in America. The average Nigerian-American over 25 years has two degrees and earns more than the average White-American. Africans emigrate to the States and excel in Engineering, Law, medicine, and commerce – their shithole descent notwithstanding.

Africans immigrants from shithole countries often do far better and are more capable of brilliance and making a positive contribution to the fabric of American life than Donald J Trump ever would.

America has a well-documented record of immigrants from ‘shithole countries’ doing well but unfortunately, they have President who isn’t only intellectually inept and morally bankrupt but is deeply ignorant and flawed in his thinking… and worse still, there are people who buy into his thinking.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Thomas Jefferson  

The United States of America has always been a nation of immigrants and in that, prides itself as the greatest nation on earth. It is a nation that derives its strength from its diversity. This was underscored in the declaration of independence: Land of the free, home of the brave. Donald Trump’s latest statement betrays the very core principles on which America was founded and maybe … just maybe, his words have finally hung him out to dry.

Own Goal: Messi’s Brilliance may have let Ronaldo back into the ‘Greatest Ever’ debate

Just in case you’ve been living in a bubble for the best part of the last decade, please be informed that the rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi is a pretty serious affair, to the extent that it even has its own dedicated Wikipedia page — uh-huh, that serious.

Few are certain exactly when it all began, but the first whispers of a grudge must have been heard when the pair flanked Brazilian Kaka for the 2007 Fifa World Player of the Year prize. Back then, Messi was that kid with the hair that fell to his shoulders while Ronaldo was still some way off from being the impressive physical specimen he currently is, but almost everyone could tell the foreseeable future belonged to them. And it has.

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Where it all began | Kaka, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo pose with their Golden, Silver and Bronze balls respectively in 2007

Since that night at the Zurich Opera House, official recognition for the planet’s finest footballer in whatever format — Ballon d’Or, Fifa Player of the Year, the version that resulted from a brief romance between those two awards, or the latter-day The Best Fifa Men’s Player — hasn’t gone to any other footballer but them. As has become the norm, if Ronaldo doesn’t depart with a satisfied grin at the end of an annual awards gala, Messi would. It’s been that simple: a straight two-man fight with no third parties involved.

It gathered momentum when, shortly after the pair clashed in the final of the 2009 Uefa Champions League, Ronaldo made a long-anticipated switch to Spanish giants Real Madrid. The move seemed perfect for the rivalry’s fast-growing following. Having both players in the same league, playing nearly the same opponents each season, and featuring either side of a fine line that would vividly highlight their many contrasts — the arrangement couldn’t have been more ideal.

Initially, though, it was no fun, at least for one faction. The first few years of their stay together wasn’t much of a contest; if anything, it was a gross mismatch, one that swung heavily Messi’s way. Three consecutive Ballons d’Or/Player of the Year gongs (henceforth referred to in this article as ‘BPY’) were grabbed by Messi, with Ronaldo looking a little less pleased each time he stood next to his nemesis playing bridesmaid. And that isn’t mere assumption on this writer’s part.

“I’m not going to hide from you that I was sad and angry,” Ronaldo confessed to Ballon d’Or organizers France Football regarding that frustrating period, after winning the latest edition of the prize. “I went to the award ceremonies and I never won. At one point, I was even demotivated. I had no desire to go. To be there for the photo didn’t interest me.”

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Lionel Messi and Cristiano have dominated World football’s most valuable individual awards for a decade now

The ‘best-of-our-time-or-just-maybe-best-ever’ debate seemed well and truly over even at that early stage, with the petite Argentine delivering the knockout to claim a seemingly unanimous decision. But just when all — especially the pro-Ronaldo fans — were off to bed, the tall Portuguese stepped up with one last card up his sleeves. Actually, it had been handed him by Messi — or, to use a phrase more apt in a poker setting, Messi showed his hand.He did so in the 2011/12 season, by some distance his most prolific as a footballer. Barcelona won neither La Liga nor Uefa Champions League that term, but Messi netted 73 times to win the BPY, going on to finish with an unprecedented 91 goals for the calendar year. So celebrated was that feat, it might just be the most outstanding of Messi’s many achievements. It was a statement, too, perhaps a golden signature to put the argument to rest once and for all. For Ronaldo, though, it was his cue — an inspiration to consider the battle, regardless of the 4-1 deficit incurred at the time, just started.

You see, between Ronaldo and Messi, one is generally considered the better footballer, while the other is deemed little more than a scoring machine — I’d leave you to decide who is tagged what. Or rather, to arrive at the crust of this article quicker, I’d just point Messi out as the former and Ronaldo the latter so we can move on. Goals had always mattered in this particular match-up, but Messi’s 2012 haul took them to all-new levels of importance. While admirably raising the bar, Messi had unwittingly reduced the feud to a matter of goalscoring, something Ronaldo had a reputation for doing slightly better. The watching world had taken note and, surely, Ronaldo couldn’t have failed to do same.

Over the years, he’d likely also learned that goals matter, not just in their numbers nor for their aesthetic value, but for sheer worth. Until that point, Messi’s had won Barça lots of titles, while Ronaldo’s had only propelled him through the scoring charts at the Santiago Bernabeu, with little reward for his employers. Since then, however, he’s roared his way back into the competition, bridging the gap and finally drawing level with Messi this year on five BPY crowns apiece. With four BPYs in five years (Messi got one back in 2015 to maintain some relevance), it’s quite fair to say Ronaldo has dominated the latter half of his rivalry with Messi in much the same stunning fashion the Rosario-born held sway earlier on.

It’s certainly helped that Ronaldo has outscored Messi in three seasons out of the ensuing five (hitherto, he’d never managed that feat even once in the duo’s stay together in Spain) but, more decisively, he’s turned up big in the most significant games. He’s been instrumental, the chief goal-getter, in each of Madrid’s last three European conquests. Last season was a classic example. Messi had been the more consistent scorer in the Champions League right up to the crucial quarter-final clash with Juventus, only to fizzle out in both legs as the Italians romped to a 3-0 aggregate triumph. Ronaldo, on the other hand, had been uncharacteristically blunt in the earlier rounds but sprung to life toward the end, hitting 10 goals in the last five games of that memorable run to glory, including two in the final’s drubbing of Juve. The trend has continued somewhat this season. While Messi’s chart-leading 13 goals in the league have Barça top and are nine better than Ronaldo’s surprisingly paltry tally thus far, the latter’s return in the far more esteemed Champions League is way higher (nine already, including strikes in each of the six group games contested) than Messi’s. Should Ronaldo keep scoring, doing so especially when the platform is biggest and the lights are brightest, Messi would struggle to keep up?

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Cristiano Ronaldo is now tied with Lionel Messi on 5 Balon D’or awards each

And it wouldn’t be anyone’s fault but his. Messi might still score the more reel-worthy goals, have a better comprehension of the team ethos, and even actually score more, but Ronaldo’s ‘selfish’ streak in the final third and greater ability to rise to the occasion would still tick the most boxes in the ‘goals’ column and grant him an advantage.

So if ever, after a Ronaldo BPY coronation (and one can’t help but feel there’s more of that on the way for the former Manchester United man, even at the ripe age of 32), a Messi fan insists the argument is really more about who the ‘greatest’ footballer is than about which forward has mastered the art of [effective] goalscoring better between the two, do remind him that their own little sweetheart changed the rules and lost the edge with that landmark scoring feat of his six years ago. He couldn’t help himself at the time as he was in the form of his life, of course, but, hindsight, he didn’t really help himself. Messi inadvertently aided Ronaldo instead and, after his freshly awarded fifth Ballon d’Or, the Sporting Lisbon graduate couldn’t be more grateful.

Once King; Now President: George Weah finally gets the Big Win with Liberia

Till date, he remains the only African to have won the coveted Ballon d’Or and Fifa Player of the Year prizes, and on Thursday, December 28, Liberian football great George Weah added to his enviable collection of feats.

Later this month, (January 2018) when Liberia’s new president is sworn in, there’d be a new name splashed on the door of the Executive Mansion’s top office: Weah’s. It’s an honor due him — only the third footballer to lead a country and the second from Africa — after he won the run-off of the 2017 presidential election. Success comes 12 years after he first contested the seat, and he’s spent the period following that loss to incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf earnestly raising his stock: earning his first academic degrees, temporarily taking his political ambitions down a notch to vice-presidential level (also failed), and triumphing at senatorial polls.

But now Weah is here. In the big time. Finally.

Liberians won’t find it too difficult adapting to the idea of ‘President Weah’, once ‘King George’; they elected him after all, and by quite a margin. For the rest of the planet, though, the idea of Weah walking the same corridors as the Trumps, Mays, Putins, and Zumas of this world is a strange one that would definitely take some getting used to.

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WEAH | He has never been afraid of the extra challenge

Indeed, for the rest of the planet, Weah would remain what he’s always been: a global soccer icon — Africa’s biggest yet, surely — and a living testament to football’s ability to transform lives for the better. Weah, the kid raised by his grandmother in one of the poorest parts of Liberia’s capital, rose to be ranked among the very best, most formidable footballers on the planet in his time. At the peak of his powers — circa 1995 — there was none better, as the achievements mentioned at the outset suggest. However, Liberia itself features little in any story written of Weah’s career and would be reduced to something of a footnote on his CV. Watch any highlight reel of ‘Weah’s Greatest Hits’ and chances are you wouldn’t see too many clips of him strutting in a Lone Stars shirt. He’d be remembered more for starring at AS Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, and — even in the final laps of his run at the highest level — Chelsea/Manchester City/Olympique Marseille, but the grandest he ever came close to accomplishing for his country was qualification to the 2002 Fifa World Cup. In the end, he and his team came agonizingly short during the said quest, missing the train to Japan/Korea by a single point.

It certainly wasn’t for want of effort. Few players would ever influence and carry their national team as heavily as Weah did Liberia. Captain, coach, and even benefactor when circumstances demanded, Weah was as big a figure for Liberia off the pitch as on it. There really was little else he could do for his country that he didn’t and, to his credit, Weah never held back. His stellar career ended in 2003, but Weah hadn’t given up on achieving some form of success with Liberia, even if away from the field. Just two years later, he made an audacious bid for the presidency, on the ticket of the self-led Congress for Democratic Change. Incredibly, he won the first round (though not by enough votes to secure victory outright), beating the more experienced, Harvard-educated Sirleaf — only to suffer a reversal of fortunes in the second round.

Weah bitterly disputed the decisive results but eventually resigned himself to reality, withdrew a little into the background to construct a bigger profile for himself, and returned for a second bite of the cherry this year. This time, though, there was to be no surrendering his first round advantage, defeating Sirleaf’s No.2 Joseph Boakai quite comprehensively.

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WEAH | Captain, Leader, Warrior, King… Now President

And so Weah is president-elect — now what?

Well, Liberians would certainly have high hopes, despite concerns about his ties with the former head of state and warlord — now incarcerated in Britain but still very powerful in the realm of his nation’s politics — Charles Taylor (Taylor’s ex-wife Jewel is Weah’s running-mate). Football and politics do share parallels, but Weah would be delusional to think excelling in the latter is as easy as leading 10 other men in the former. His new responsibilities would test every muscle of his, stretch him more than any game of football ever could. In a venture that has brought out the worst in even the very best, potentially plummeting the approval ratings of even the most popular, the patriot in Weah and his fame alone wouldn’t be enough for political success.

He need not be told just what would be required to deliver. He asked for this — his big chance to finally win big with Liberia.

He certainly has it now.

Nigeria’s Art of Flowery Language

In a series of letters from African journalists to the BBC, novelist Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani touched on the art of Nigerian verbosity.  First published on BBC Africa on February 5, 2017.

By: Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani

My friends in the international media are perplexed by the flowery language often used in press releases from Nigerian officials.

The pretentious diction, dying metaphors, and padded sentences would make George Orwell somersault in his grave.

Take, for example, this paragraph from a press release by the Nigerian parliament:

“The seminar is aimed at making good the promise of the National Assembly that we are on the same page with the President Buhari led administration and in line with the legislative agenda, that there is a synergy between the National Assembly and the Presidency in the fight against corruption.

“It is to reaffirm the point that you cannot clap with one hand. It is our way of saying that there must be a legislative strength to back the anti-corruption stance of the present administration.”

Here is another example, this time a paragraph from a Nigerian military press release:

“The Nigerian Army in synergy with other security agencies under its constitutional mandates… acted responsively in order to de-escalate the deteriorating security scenario in-situ.

“Instructively, the military and other security agencies exercised maximum restraints against the odds of provocative and inexplicable violence that were employed against them…

“It is rather inconceivable for any individual or group to have decided to inundate the general public with an anecdote of unverified narratives in order to discredit the Nigerian Army in the course of carrying out its constitutional duties despite the inexplicable premeditated and unprovoked attacks…”

Such long-winded passages can also be found in the local press, which commonly use expressions such as “the remains of the deceased have been deposited in the mortuary”, “men of the underworld”, “hoodlums” and “tantamount to insubordination”.

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Foreigners wonder why Nigerian government officials do not opt for simpler language.

Are they intentionally trying to confuse the public or to conceal information?

Well, these press releases are simply following an age-old Nigerian tradition of verbal ornamentation.

For us, important information has always been best conveyed with grandiloquence.

Writing a love letter

Back in my teenage years, long before the era of texting and sexting, there was only one way for a Nigerian boy to prove his sincere feelings for a girl: By writing a love letter.

Any boy serious about catching the attention of the girl he fancied knew better than to do it in simple English. He had to find the right big words.

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If his vocabulary was lacking, there was always that nerdish classmate of his who, for a fee in cash or kind, could take on the role of scribe plenipotentiary.

Either that or the boy could copy verbatim from a love letter already written by someone else.

And so, the typical love letter that many of us Nigerian girls received went something like this:

“My dearest, sweetest, most magnificent, paragon of beauty, I hope this letter finds you in a current state of sound body and mind.

“My principal reason for writing this epistle is to gravitate your mind towards an issue that has been troubling my soul.

“Even as I put pen to paper, my adrenalin is ascending on the Richter scale, my temperature is rising, the mirror in my eyes have only your divine reflection, the wind vane of my mind is pointing north, south and east at the same time.

“Indeed, when I sleep, you are the only thought in my medulla oblongata and I dream about you…”

If these sweet nothings were from a boy in whom you had absolutely no interest, the thing to do was to set his letter ablaze, enclose the ashes in an envelope and promptly return to sender.

Nigeria’s notorious 419 internet scammers adopted this same tradition of using high-sounding words.

Persuading gullible foreigners to part with millions of dollars and pounds is serious business, definitely not a task for everyday words and simple sentences.

A typical excerpt from a 419 scam letter reads something like this:

“Dear Sir,

“I do not come to you by chance.

“Upon my quest for a trusted and reliable foreign businessman, I was given your contact by the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I hope that you can be trusted to handle a transaction of this magnitude.

“It is risk-free, as all modalities have been put in place for a smooth and successful conclusion.

“Thus, I crave your distinguished indulgence and honest cooperation to guarantee that this mutual transaction will be executed under a legitimate agreement that will benefit you and lend credence to my humble belief in your honesty and trustworthiness.”

Like the 419 scammers and the love-struck lads, many Nigerian government officials choose the path of verbosity, expansiveness, and repetition in their press releases.

Of course, it is tempting to, as usual, blame the British for all this, for bringing us their English language and their pen and paper.

But then, communication was not any less complicated in the days before Nigerians learned to write press releases in English.

‘Wear out your listeners’

As veteran Nigerian journalist and author Peter Enahoro noted in his 1966 classic, How to be a Nigerian, the power of Nigerian oratory is measured by the strength of the speaker’s legs – and what better way to ensure that your speech never ends than to punctuate every sentence with a proverb or parable about the tortoise or the monkey.

According to Enahoro: “A sprinkling of logical conclusions is permissible but not vital… If there are two ways of making a point, one short, the other long, plug for the longer route… The idea is to wear out your listeners because the power of your oratory will be determined by the strength of your endurance.

“If your listeners save their sanity and survive you, then you have made a poor speech.”

Despite modern technology, the general rules of Nigerian communication have obviously not changed much since Enahoro’s observations.

Many still hold on to the ancient belief that complexity of message is proof of power, intellect, and influence.

That supposed proof is probably more important to the Nigerian government official than whether or not you understand what he is trying to say.

Now that the chips are down, Defiant Black Stars must earn their keep

No rally, no barrage, just a meek wilt, and surrender: The Black Stars have a lot of soul-searching to do going forward.

Defiance.

It’s not the worst tool in the box, but it could be when wielded wrongly.

Three years ago, Ghana’s senior national team misused it spectacularly, defying the powers-that-be — and logic itself — in holding the nation to ransom at the Fifa World Cup in Brazil, refusing to play a minute of football till huge appearance fees owed them were paid in full.

It was a show of defiance the boys would get condemned for by their countrymen; an ill-timed, ill-advised display of guts they’ll pay for till this hurt and scarred generation is replaced by the next. The Black Stars have tried all they could in quest of redemption: they’ve been contrite, resolute, even brilliant on occasion. Heck, they even attempted winning the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations — coming desperately close, in fact — just to reclaim some love!

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What they hadn’t tried, though, was the one thing which got them entangled in this mess in the first place: defiance. They had a couple of chances building up to this failure to secure a World Cup berth in Russia next year to right their wrongs and perhaps warm their way into the hearts of Ghanaians again; the first – most probably the biggest – of which came against Rwanda in their final Afcon 2017 qualifier. It wasn’t an opportunity they were expecting, however, only one afforded them unwittingly by the Ministry of Youth and Sports’ reluctance to provide the usual luxuries on offer when international assignments were due.

Armed with the excuse that Ghana’s place at the following year’s Nations Cup in Gabon had already been booked, and that the result versus the visiting Amavubi would be no threat to the hosts’ position as Group H leaders/winners, the State arbitrarily decided to withhold funds allocated to be spent on the players’ ticket fares from their respective stations overseas (reasoning that such expenses could be spared if local players were called up instead, for the game) while slashing the usual winning bonus in half.

Were the already invited foreign-based professionals going to be coughing up their own travel costs? And were they even going to bother being at their best in a game which offered so ‘little’ in any actual gain (financial or otherwise)?

Well, to their credit, they did — and an expression of bloody-minded defiance was key, though for all the right reasons this time. The boys didn’t just show up against the Rwandans. They came with intent to win — even if Grant didn’t exactly put his strongest team out there, perhaps in assessing what alternatives he had with respect to squad depth ahead of an upcoming Russia 2018 qualifying game — and only a late equaliser from the east Africans robbed Ghana of a third straight home win in the Afcon 2017 qualifying series.

Not everyone was impressed, of course; an overwhelming majority of Ghanaians probably still considered the team a bunch of spoilt brats ever so willing to have their way. Still, they’d won some over, hadn’t they?

One venue the Black Stars felt they commanded a fair bit of goodwill was the Tamale Stadium which was going to be the ground the team was hoping get their World Cup Qualifying campaign off to a brilliant start. It wasn’t to be, as the doggedness of their first group opponents – the Cranes of Uganda – coupled with the harsh afternoon sun as one would expect at any venue in Northern Ghana – temperatures topping 37˚C as some points – meant the best Ghana could get from that game was a goalless soulless draw.

Not the kind of result you’d expect from a team with any fighting chance of making a Mundial more so, when Egypt – also housed in the same group and have been absent that the world stage for nearly three decades – was breathing down their necks, hellbent on wrestling that sole ticket the group had to offer from Ghana. A subsequent, almost inevitable defeat to Egypt in Alexandria were all the signs the Nation needed to realise situation was dire and that the time had come for everybody to put their shoulder to the plough and rescue our ‘beloved’ Black Stars from the quicksand it was in however traitorous we feel the team had been in the past.

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The nonchalance and a resolve not to forgive the players by a large section of the Ghanaian media and the general populace might have overstayed their welcome and probably left a tad bit too late when the final nail was all but driven into the Stars’ coffin after yet another damning draw at home to group minnows Congo Brazzaville. Now, with nothing to play for, a new-look Black Stars’ fight and defiance in Kampala in the penultimate group game won a few more admirers and left many feeling they could have done a bit more to help the team fight. Ghana has now finished the 2018 World Cup Qualifying series in third place – behind Egypt and Uganda – drawing four, winning one and losing the other.  Now the chips are down. Time to dress the wounds and pick the best balm to soothe and bring some relief going forward.

If the team’s rebelliousness in the past implied they didn’t give a damn about national interests, they’ve now oozed the same trait to show they do care after all.

With so many more battles to be fought — versus a fandom which remains largely skeptical of the Stars’ motives, a sports ministry growing increasingly hostile towards the team, and an FA caught in-between — in going forward, they’d have to ooze some more of that.

Defiance.