Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Diamond and the catapults

When leaders lose their heads


I remember exactly where I was and what state my mind was in before my phone beeped twice. Before my wife beat Daniel, my assistant, in becoming the harbinger of bad news: “Prez Mills just died. True”; her text message read.
Moments before the unwanted messages came, I had just found out that I weighed exactly the same as a sack of cashew nuts: 80kg. I was looking at how unappealing those sacks looked and wondered if there was anything I could do to help me dissociate myself from them. There was a part of my brain that kept looking at my dissolved six-pack and accusing me of not only allowing myself to weigh the same as a sack of cashew nuts, but also looking like one. For a guy my size, 70 kg is often good enough. Fortunately, just remembering why I was standing in Bouake, in Cote D’Ivoire, stammering in French, was enough reason to wake myself up and start writing with light again. 

I remember after reading the second text message, I lifted the camera to my face, impulsively trying to block the message out but like a slow acting drug, it finally hit and I watched my soul sink slowly down and I involuntarily whispered to my host: “Le prĂ©sident du Ghana est mort”. Even if a million sacks of ugly nuts had been dumped on my happiness, would it have made me this sad? In that cathartic moment, the weight of my nation’s loss made faces at me and sneered at our naivety when we looked at that precious diamond in the face, put him in our catapults and shot him about like a common piece of stone. A nation of fools. A nation of ingrates. A nation of ignoramuses. Which one were we? What did it matter? What will it change? For the first time in a long time, making a photograph was no longer the most exciting thing in the world to me. Who can blame me? I had just been dragged into a season of mourning and a feeling of shame without my permission. 

Today, as most Ghanaians acknowledged or celebrated one week after his death, I couldn’t help but notice that some folk are still busy trying to vilify the dead man because they are afraid he may influence December’s elections. Don't get me wrong. Prez Mills was no perfect leader. In fact, I think his sickness made him less effective than he could have been. But the man is dead! So stop looking at every red band, duku, every red mayarfi, brisi and every red and black kaba and slit and thinking “sympathy votes”, “NDC votes”, stop panicking and mourn your king.  There's more to life than coming into power.  This is not time for cheap politics. We are  a nation in mourning. After we’ve shed our tears and sent him off with dignity, I do hope we will take at least three of the lessons he taught us:

“Nothing is more important than peace”.  “Never join them in the gutter”. “Let them miss you when you go”.

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