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The shock announcement that revealed the true state of pockets

The shock announcement that revealed the true state of pockets

Earlier this week, my historical novella, New Currency, described as “a compelling and enjoyable short novel”, was launched in Accra, at the Ghana International Press Centre.

The launch was organised in collaboration with the publishing house, Smartline Publishing of Accra, on Wednesday, October 12.

New Currency is a story I wrote in 1979, about the impact of the traumatic 1979 demonetisation on one woman, Ama Dufie, and how it changed her life.

To refresh memories, the following official explanation gives the background to the demonetisation, which took place from March 13 to 26, 1979.

“Currency Demonetisation
“On 9th March, 1979, the Government announced the introduction of new cedi notes to replace the old ones at a discount of 30% for amounts up to ¢5,000 and 50% for amounts in excess of ¢5,000. The old cedis were therefore, demonetised. New denominations issued included ¢1, ¢2, ¢5, ¢10, ¢20 and ¢50.”
In response to that shock development, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article, what may be considered a companion piece to the novella. Taking a walk down memory lane, it is reprinted below:

THE 1979 ARTICLE
“Truth will out” goes an old saying. Indeed, truth IS out: The truth of the true state of people’s pockets, wallets, pillows, purses, handkerchiefs, scarves, attics, waist bands, brief-cases, socks, mattresses, trunks and cloth corners.

More important, now we all know who our true friends are. People who have long masqueraded as our friends of a feather have been found out. Traitors! People who have all along spoken as poor people; people who identified themselves with us as belonging to the ‘nnte-yie’ class; people who have joined us in hearty condemnation of the ‘ate-yies’, and shared our day dreams of future riches, have all been unmasked by General Akuffo as hypocrites.

The cedi-changing announcement of March 9 (1979), has helped us discover that our so-called pals have not simply money, but CASH.

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To rub salt in our wounds, they have the audacity to ask our help not only in counting their ‘reds’, but also to take them to the bank and change them! Those who used to do their counting at midnight behind giant bolts and family-size padlocks, now invite even co-tenants to help them assess their cash.

Those who used to hide their hands under office desks to check their pay packets now spread the ‘reds’ (notes) carelessly on table tops. Those who used to secret them in their socks (“That way you’ll have to knock me out first before you reach my money,” explained an experienced Accra-dweller. “The pick-pockets haven’t yet accomplished picking socks.”) now stuff them into their pockets.

The repercussions in homes and lives will last long after the March 26 deadline. How can the relationship ever be the same again between a woman who it suddenly turns out has ȼ50,000 and an unsuspecting husband who thought his wife was just a petty trader, and who has been buying everything for the household, from salt to eye-brow pencil?

If a husband who has been moaning about poverty all these years and who has always given his wife the impression that he has just spent his last cedi, and who said he couldn’t afford a cloth for her at

Christmas, today confesses that he has ȼ30,000 right there in the house, how do you suppose the wife will react?

If the currency move has taken us unawares, our friends and relatives have given us even bigger surprises. Who could have guessed that so many people had ‘banks’ at home? The question is, why do people not bank their money?

Apart from the ‘kalabule’ reasons, there is one genuine reason why some people like to have cash with them at all times: the utter uselessness of cheques in Ghana.

Only one or two of the state and private enterprises will accept cheques, even company ones, in spite of the fact that issuing a ‘dud’ cheque is a criminal offence. A businessman told me about being asked to pay for goods he had bought from a company in cash – all ȼ132,000! Even the Electoral Commissioner refused a cheque for the registration of a political party (Miss Asamany’s Mother Ghana Solidarity Party).

Does the banking system not have measures against bad cheques? Why should the practices of a few dishonest people so inconvenience the thousands of personal cheque-book holders? What good is my cheque-book if I can issue cheques only to myself? What kind of a system is this, where they will accept your cheque only if you are known to the managing director?
If I didn’t know better, I would say that the exercise is purely to take the money from one group of people and give it to another.

Some cashiers of some of the banks and, sadly, even some managers, are allegedly doing brisk business through the back door, like charging ȼ500 on every ȼ5,000 changed. Then there are those people who have suddenly acquired a profession, money-changing; taking contracts to change money for a fee. Our ability to manoeuvre every situation to advantage is really great.

Surely, we must all be congratulated, for we have surpassed ourselves. We have graduated from queuing to buy toilet roll to queueing in to buy money.
PS – For those who would like to, but don’t have the qualification to put some letters after their name, all Ghanaians are now entitled to add these very distinguished letters after their name: ‘Q.S.’ (Meaning? Queue Specialist. (Column of Friday, March 23, 1979, ‘The truth is out!’)

As stated in the novella, I have dedicated it “to the adults who lived through the turbulence of 1979 Ghana, as a necessary reminder; and to the youth of today, who know little or nothing about those harrowing times. Hopefully, it will provide them with some insight into this period in the country’s history.”

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