Elizabeth Ohene writes... My brother died

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
The writer, Elizabeth Ohene
The writer, Elizabeth Ohene

It is six months since I last wrote my column for the Daily Graphic. It means my brother, Lawyer Emmanuel Ohene, has been dead for six months. It was his death that made me decide to take a break from writing the column.

He was 71 and even though he had been unwell for the last three years of his life and very ill for the last six months before he died, his departure hit the stuffing out of me and destabilised me far more than I had envisaged.

As anyone who knows anything about me would testify, I tend to have strong opinions on things and my brother’s death made me look at things differently.

His death certainly generated enough subject matters on which I could have written lots of articles, many of them were predictable, like burying him within three weeks after he died.

We are still having to answer questions about why we buried him so fast! But I have already had a lot to say on the subject of Ghanaian funerals and keeping dead bodies in the morgue and the family fights that seem to always accompany deaths.

On this occasion, none of the drama that accompanies death in Ghana could interest me enough to want to write. One thing you learn with age is that the world doesn’t change to suit your mood.

As I moped around, life continued, an election campaign went into full gear, elections were held, which produced interesting results: those who won were more disappointed than those who lost.

Parliament became the scene of high drama and has continued as such with no end in sight about how the business of the House will be conducted without every vote going to the wire and causing internal wrangling within the two parties. 


None of it got me out of my emotional stupor, at least not enough to push me to want to go public with my opinion.

The pandemic continued on its merry way, confounding experts and lay people, believers and sceptics alike.

Then Atu died. He was the son that I have shared with his mother all his life. He was the son that ensured I did not feel the absence of my Koranteng and who brought endless joy to all around him.

With Atu gone, I felt even less inclined to write or make public comments on anything. Throughout the period, every once in a while, the editors of the Graphic would send me gentle reminders asking when I would start writing.


I kept giving deadlines that came and passed. When I was able to resist writing about people in the NPP making declarations on running as flag bearer for the party in 2024 when there wasn’t even a functioning government yet in place, I told myself I was no longer the woman I used to be. I contemplated coming to the formal conclusion that my writing days were over.

I was surprised the thought of not writing anymore didn’t sound as horrifying as I had imagined it would.

It seemed that was it. I wondered if I needed to make a formal statement announcing my retirement, I rejected that because I thought it would be presumptuous.

Best to simply fade away without ceremony, I decided. Then a producer at the BBC managed to shake me out of my indolent state and I did a Letter from Africa for them last week after finding one reason or the other not to do what I had been doing for the past 12 years, since my brother died.

Running out

Having done that, it dawned on me I was running out of alibis for not writing for the Daily Graphic and I would have to resume where I left off.

For reasons not clear to me, some people think I should have something to say about the case of the textbook with the offending tribal sentiments.

I wouldn’t have chosen this as the subject with which to break my six-month silence but I accept that these things do happen.

I have tried to find a copy of the book without success. I am making my comments based on what has been published on WhatsApp platforms and newspaper headlines.

Two things have attracted the most objections in this illiterate book. That the Ewe came from outside Ghana and they are juju-loving, to use the terminology of one newspaper.

In telling the story about how the various groups got into present day Ghana the book paints a romantic picture of the Akans and their legendary migration from the ancient empire of Ghana, while the Ewe were projected as recent arrivals.

I have never heard of anyone contesting the lands occupied by various Ewe groups. My family has lands in Abutia where we trace ownership from the first group of arrivals from Notsie.

The Ewe groups celebrate with pride, the big escape from the tyrant king Agorkoli in Notsie. The Anlos celebrate Hogbetsotso and others make journeys to Notsie to trace our origins.

In other words, if the Ewe celebrate their migration is it any wonder the accusation of coming from somewhere is constantly being thrown at us?


Then there is the reference to juju, which it appears the authors believe is a characteristic of the Ewe.

It says in the book that Ewes worship Voodoo. Now I am an Ewe and where I come from we do not worship something called Voodoo and we have never done.

When I was young, the fetish in Abutia was said to be powerful and people came from afar to consult.

I have never understood why we have never made money out of it. To the best of my recollection, the Abutia fetish, Atando, I believe it is called, with all its powers, was very local; the people who were said to have powerful fetish/juju were the Nzemas.

President Kwame Nkrumah was said to have protection from Kankan Nyame, the Nzema fetish. In recent years, I have heard of Antoa, said to be an Ashanti fetish.

The late Flt Lt J.J. Rawlings was forever daring people to agree to settle disputes or prove their innocence at the Antoa shrine.

I never once heard him challenge anyone to Nogokpo, which is in southern Volta and said to have a powerful fetish.

I am not quite sure when juju became an insult in Ghana. I travelled by road from Accra to Kumasi over the weekend and I saw a number of midsize billboards advertising the services of fetish priests along the way.

They did not sound to me like people who were ashamed of their trade.

The main complaint I have about this publication, masquerading as a textbook, when it isn’t, is that it has a language deficiency and should not be allowed near children.

They marry themselves indeed.