The Writer
The Writer

My talking drums story

“We need leaders. We need responsible citizens, sufficiently dissatisfied with things as they are and impatient enough to do something about it, intelligently, quietly, wisely. We need critics too, for dissenting is a serious, worthy, and honest pursuit.”


This quote was on the top of the contents page of every issue of Talking Drums. I will get back shortly to the quote, but let me start at the beginning of the Talking Drums story.

Talking Drums was the weekly news magazine on West African affairs that my two friends and I founded and ran in London from August 1983 to July 1986. I am telling the Talking Drums story because my son has just completed one of those labours of love and digitised every issue of the magazine that he could find and uploaded it all on the internet. The address is 

My two friends and I, Kofi Akumanyi, (I can’t bring myself to refer to him as the late, even though Kofi died in November 2009) and Ben Mensah had been together at the Graphic until the 31st December 1981 coup d’etat when I was sent on indefinite leave in January 1982 and I ended up in London. I was in Wolfson College on a fellowship when Kofi and Ben arrived in London with their young families around May 1983, having also been chased out of the Graphic.

We were angry that the coup had interrupted the prospects of building a strong, editorially independent and state-owned newspaper under a democratic dispensation. 

The stories coming out of Ghana were heartbreaking, at least from our perspective, but the regime in Ghana had quite a good press in the UK and we kept reading about how only a strongman like Rawlings could save Ghana. 

So, we decided we had to put an alternative viewpoint out there about the Ghana reality to counteract the fashionable revolution story that was in the British press. 

Of course, we were hoping to reach readers in Ghana also with this alternative viewpoint since the new authorities had made sure that only the official view was available in Ghana.

I don’t remember how we decided on the name Talking Drums for the paper, but I know there was no argument. Let me now get back to the quote at the beginning of this piece.          

Sadly, for me, I have been unable to find the source of this quote. I don’t think I crafted it, for when I first used it back in September 1983, I did not claim ownership, I put the words in quotation marks but did not add the source from where I was quoting. 

On Monday evening as I sat down to write this article, I went to the collection of old Talking Drums copies and the first one I picked was dated December 5, 1983. I must say that even though it is almost forty years old, it makes mighty good reading, and the stories sound alarmingly current. The lead headline said DONOR NATIONS TO GHANA RESCUE.Plus ca change.

There is an article by Anis Haffar, with an alarmingly current title, CLOSER ENCOUNTERS WITH INTERNATIONAL BANKING DEFAULTS. He was living in California at the time and was one of our most regular contributors. He would testify he was never paid a cent for his pieces. Was he also simply dissatisfied enough and wanting to do something intelligently, quietly?

Newspapers used to have such interesting Letters to the Editor? I suspect the questioning, the whimsical comments all now probably end up on WhatsApp platforms. 

There is an article in there with the title “NO SIR, I’M NOT NIGERIAN”.  It tells you that time was when to be a Nigerian in the UK meant you were immediately seen as very rich and taxi drivers would jump to open cab doors for you. It did not last very long, but it happened. 

Indeed, by the end of the month in which this article is published, December 1983, the Buhari-Idiagbon coup d’etat had taken place and with it, a dramatic change in Talking Drums.

The coup in Nigeria, which Talking Drums reported on as Africa’s Day of Shame, meant there was a sudden influx of Nigerian politicians into London and the paper had a bigger target of anger apart from Ghana. 

We provided a ready avenue for those among the Nigerian politicians who wanted to voice their displeasure against the coup d’etat. 

We interviewed and carried the defiant messages of Umaru Dikko, Minister of Transport in the ousted regime, now suddenly turned into the most notorious fugitive.  

Was it Ben Mensah, Advertising manager who negotiated how much we charged for the double centre pages in the paper to publish the Umaru Dikko statement? 

Then there was Isyaku Ibrahim, the businessman who had supported Shehu Shagari and he decided to demonstrate his anger at the coup by supporting the magazine. He would order 200 copies of the paper to be delivered somewhere at the other end of the globe. He brought his nephew, Musa Ibrahim, to join the editorial team and with him came a much-needed insight into Nigerian affairs. His column, Whispering Drums, had a dedicated following among the Nigerians.


The business part of Talking Drums did not thrive quite as well as the editorial side which brought so much drama and kept us on our toes. All three of us were writing. I discovered for example that if need be, I could write three different articles one night. 

Kofi Akumanyi was in charge of the design and typesetting. Mary Mensah, Ben’s wife, was our organiser and cool head; when everyone else was losing theirs, she did all the typing and kept track of things in the office. 

Tina, Mrs Akumanyi, wrote short stories to be published in the paper, came into the office once in a while to set up a book-keeping system, unfortunately, all three of us were no good at it. 

Ben Mensah was advertising and circulation manager, and his experiences would fill a book. It was very frustrating not to be able to get the magazines into our target countries, Ghana and Nigeria, but we had enthusiastic support among the West African communities in the UK and Europe and the USA. We mailed individual copies to people we knew in Ghana and Nigeria and sent six copies each week to the Castle, so we knew the authorities in Ghana were reading us.


Something interesting happened in Liberia. The distribution there was going quite well until I wrote something about Master Sergeant Samuel Doe that the authorities did not like. 

They had a system at the airport where all incoming newspapers and magazines would be read and if there was something in it that was not to their liking, they would confiscate all the copies; but here is the interesting bit, they would pay for all the seized copies. So, if we sent 250 copies and there was a paragraph in some article the authorities did not like, they would seize them and not allow them to be distributed, but our distributor would be paid for all 250 copies. 

By the beginning of 1986, it was dawning on all of us that the military regimes in West Africa had come to stay. Many people who had sworn to fight them were making their individual, personal arrangements and going back or at least having made peace with the authorities, did not want to be associated with Talking Drums. 

One day in July 1986, we decided we had reached the end of the road and the Talking Drums adventure came to an end. That office down the street from the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead had accommodated our highs and lows for three years. There was a Chinese takeaway joint next door, our favourite beer was Colt 45.


Now, thanks to Koranteng, Talking Drums is online, and available to all. As Koranteng put it on his blog: “I give you the archive of Talking Drums, the West African news magazine, a window into the continent's life from 1983 to 1986. Enjoy at your leisure” 

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