Elizabeth Ohene (middle) and Robin White (right), Journalist with the BBC, and  UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (left) in 1989
Elizabeth Ohene (middle) and Robin White (right), Journalist with the BBC, and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (left) in 1989

Regrets, I have a few


By the time I was six years old and in Primary Two in my village in Abutia, I had been convinced that my future prospects did not lie in the Arts and Craft sector. 

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I discovered quite early that I was not enjoying the Arts and Craft classes.

As I recall it, the girls were expected to gather the cotton hairs on the cotton plant, which I think grew wild around the village, and bring to school to be used during the Arts and Craft lesson. 

The idea was to teach us to spin yarns from the cotton hairs and the boys were to be taught to weave, using the threads the girls would have spun.

I don’t think there was much progress in this because there wasn’t a specialist Art teacher and not many of the teachers knew how to spin the cotton.

There was a loom, but it was not used very much and I don’t know what then happened to it.

The girls were also expected to bring clay and there were many afternoons spent trying to make pots and bowls.

 Even though pottery was a popular female undertaking in those days in my part of the world, I never made one successful pot or “asanka”.

In much the same way I never made a drawing or painting of an orange or a banana, or a tree or a human face or body, or a building or an animal of any kind that would look like the object I was attempting to draw.

This was the situation the first day in an Art class and this is how it ended.

Why could I not be taught to draw?

At the beginning, nobody could accuse me of not being interested and I did so yearn to have my painting displayed along the wall of the classroom as those of some of my mates that were regularly pasted.

By the time I was in Secondary School, Art classes were a nuisance.

As soon as we entered the class, I could feel the withering, disdainful look and the mocking laugh from the teacher. 

She was a famous artist and I think she couldn’t understand how anyone could be so bereft of any artistic talent.

Later on, as a gown-up, not only did I develop a keen interest in art, and spend good money buying art pieces, I actually enrolled in an Art class.

Okay, I wasn’t hoping to learn to paint at that stage of my life, I think I was 37, this was an Art Appreciation class and I learnt about and could talk knowledgeably about Mona Lisa, The Girl With the Pearl Earrings, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and of course I had my own Ghanaian artists that I followed.

I confess I never could see what the magic was about Pablo Picasso, but I put that down to my not being a natural artist.

On the good days, I was tempted to say if only my Art Teacher of old could see me now. 

But how I wish Art Class could have been made a bit tolerable for those of us without any artistic talent.


***

It is 1979, June 4th is in full flow, I have been appointed editor of the Daily Graphic and things are a bit chaotic.

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Two officials from national security came to the office to tell me that the university students were angry with me and were coming into town the next day to demonstrate.

I called the staff in the newsroom and told them we were going to have unfriendly visitors and we should do our best to receive them well and explain our position to them.

An hour or so later, a friend who is a retired military officer and was, at the time, making high end furniture in Kaneshie comes to invite me for lunch the next day.

We had been told the demonstrators would be at the Graphic offices around 10am.

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At 12 noon, there was no sign of them, my lunch date arrived, and my colleagues said I should go for lunch.

 It was a delightful lunch and at 1.30 pm, my friend and I started on the journey back to the Graphic offices.

As we approached, it looked as though the office had been in the eye of a full-scale hurricane as everything had been turned upside down with trash, tree branches, placards and the walls plastered with graffiti of the most violent language.

The most recurrent being LET THE BLOOD FLOW, and E. OHENE MUST DIE. 

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I tried to tell my friend I had been forewarned there would be a demonstration but had no idea it would be so dramatic.

He did not look in the least bit surprised and when we got to my office which had been turned upside down, he still looked unruffled.

It was the first and only time he had invited me to lunch. 

Somehow, once I got into the whirlwind of those chaotic events, I never got to ask him to tell me his story.

I have never known that bit of the LET THE BLOOD FLOW story and I feel the poorer for it.

***

As things turned out, I left Ghana in something of a hurry in January 1982 and only came back when my father died in 1991.

Imagine my surprise when I am in downtown Accra and I see in fading, but bold letters, painted on the walls of the Electricity company, E. OHENE MUST DIE.

Come on, I told myself, this wall has not been painted since June 1979!

I should have gone and posed by that faded graffito and taken a photo. Regrets.

***

I am with the BBC and I have been sent to cover an election.

The BBC stringer is a famous journalist in his country and through his good offices, I spent a day with a presidential candidate, and I am given unparalleled access. 

I interviewed the candidate and contrary to his reputation as a difficult man, he was very courteous and charitable towards me.

 It all went very well.

Then the office in London asked me to write a personal portrait of the candidate.

This is a regular thing that I have done on many occasions.

 I have had to interview some pretty, unpleasant people in my life and this man was not one of such by any stretch of the imagination.

So, why on earth did I write such an unnecessarily mean thing about the man?

I was suitably chagrined when our eminent Ambassador Victor Gbeho, who heard my report on the radio asked me ever so gently if I hadn’t hit below the belt.

The man won the election and became president and I never found a way to apologise. I do have a few regrets and will be uncovering some more.

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