Chinua Achebe’s Nothing but heathen filth…’

BY: Brig Gen Dan Frimpong

Recent intensification of insults and violence in Ghana reminds me of Chinua Achebe’s novel, Arrow of God.

In it, one of his characters tells another that, “whenever you open your mouth, nothing but heathen filth pours out.” Unfortunately, Achebe’s characterisation appears to have gained firm roots in Ghana with incredibly amazing use of insults.

As children, we were taught to be civil to everybody, especially to adults. We were taught to be respectful and decorous even in disagreement. Violence was shunned and violent people had no respect in the society.

Somehow, at a time in our history, massive doses of violence got injected into us. The language that accompanied the violence was hate language and invectives.

A generation later, we are seeing the fruits of the violence we sowed. Violence and insults since then have grown exponentially with perpetrators now openly glorifying their violent actions.

Old Man’s Lamentations

In a recent chat with an elderly friend in his seventies, he stated that “General, until last week (end of January 2019), I was proud of myself as a Ghanaian. After the events of last week, however, I have lost that confidence in myself.

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Yes this country has seen judges killed and Generals shot! Where did all that violence take us? Now in a democratic dispensation, we brag about all sorts of masked people in Police vehicles inflicting savagery and thuggery on fellow Ghanaians, with the Police helpless and unable to maintain law and order.

How can I feel safe and secure? God help this country!”

Truth to Power

Two very senior police officers have in recent times spoken truth to power.

They have stated categorically that the lack of tenure for the IGP makes him a mere pawn on the chess board of the powers that be.

In an earlier article, I made a similar argument for the CDS. What the authorities may not realise is that, while the status quo may appear to serve their purpose, in the long term, it undermines and weakens the security of the state.

History of Government

One of the early political philosophers, Thomas Hobbes, said: “in a situation where everyone has to fend for himself, society sooner or later will drift into a jungle situation of survival of the fittest.

Life will then descend into anarchy or “state of nature,” and be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

There was, therefore, the need for the majority to cede some of their power to an authority he called sovereign.

John Locke later refined Hobbes’ idea of the state represented by a government into a Legislature, an Executive and a Judiciary.

A major responsibility of government is to provide security and infrastructure from the taxes the citizens pay. Where citizens fear for their lives as expressed by the elderly man, then there is a failure!

Failed States

At the United Nations, Ghana has the international reputation of being one of the foremost peacekeeping nations in the world.

Since 1960 in the Congo, Ghana has sent troops to restore and maintain peace all over the world in faraway places such as Cambodia.

One needs to experience what it means to keep peace in a failed state to understand what violent rhetoric and the collapse of state institutions such as the Police and the Armed Forces can result in.

Already, with institutions working, filth has engulfed us such as is the case in the war-torn countries we go to keep peace in.

Schools under trees have become part of our national life! Our roads have become death traps with V8s arrogantly driving us off the road sometimes pathetically led by police riders whose dangerous riding suggests scant concern about their lives.

Wake up Call

For a 70 year old saying that, in spite of our chequered history of coups, revolutions and murders, recent events make him feel ashamed of himself as a Ghanaian, portends that all is not well. We have kept peace in other countries.

Let us not create conditions for others to come and keep peace in our dear country

The writer is former CEO, African Peace Support Trainers
Association (APSTA)
Nairobi, Kenya.