DC Kwame Kwakye and his Special English Diction
DC Kwame Kwakye and his Special English Diction

DC Kwame Kwakye and his Special English Diction - Occasional Kwatriot Kwesi Yankah writes

Kwame Kwakye, the legendary District Commissioner during the Nkrumah days, was a household name in the 1960s. I was in elementary school when I sniffed his presence in the neighborhood, Akim Oda which was 30 kilometers away from Duakwa.


But fragments of Kwakye’s profile were brought closer home through a colleague student of Odasco, who in dull moments lit the sky with the DC’s hilarious quotes. 

'Today is a great day, and a great day is today, and today is a great day…’ said Kwame Kwakye, as he flipped through his prepared speech whose early pages were missing.  

His saloon car, VW Beatle convertible, loudly foreshadowed his presence while I attended school in Akim Achiase. Its registration number AA 104 was a historical landmark, representing the exact number of seats in Ghana’s parliament most of which belonged to Kwame Nkrumah’s CPP. If you had that kind of parliamentary majority, Krobo Edusei could easily tell you, ‘The CPP can do anything except turn a man into a woman.’

Born in 1912 Kwame Kwakye was a school dropout, and fitted squarely within the ‘Verandah Boy’ paradigm where men of limited literacy could climb to high echelons of power. In 1949 when Kwame Nkrumah formed the Convention People’s Party, Kwakye  joined the wagon since its principles and grassroots orientation mirrored his own lifestyle. His diligence and close affiliation with the masses earned him the position of District Commissioner for the Birim District in 1959. The growing popularity of Kwakye over the years, gave him access to Kwame Nkrumah himself who  fondly called him ‘Charles De Gaulle,’ after the then president of France. The access he had to high government officials tremendously boosted Kwakye’s development agenda, and facilitated the several high class infrastructure in his district: the classic Agona Swedru-Oda road, Central market, Oda Government Hospital, Oda Secondary School, and a Fire Service station. But this was boosted by the national fame he had gained through his peculiar Ghanaian English which threw audiences into fits of laughter.

As guest speaker at a ‘speech day’ in Oda Secondary School, Kwakye once groped helplessly for the English equivalent of  kɔtɔkorɔ, the ‘curved drum sticks’ used by drummers. After a futile search he coined the phrase,  ‘wooden koana,’  which was a rare combination of English and Twi (koa, to bend), and has now come to stay in comic settings.

On several occasions he represented Kwame Nkrumah at public events, DC Kwakye apologized for Nkrumah’s absence. The President being busy, could not ‘division himself into twice,’ for which reason ‘I stand here in the leg of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah today.’

When he was late for an important meeting one day, his apology for the late attendance was also a self-introduction: ‘Colleagues, I am the Late DC Kwame Kwakye.’

If Ghanaians owed a debt of gratitude to Kwame Nkrumah,  DC Kwakye had a peculiar way of conveying this: ‘If not Kwame Nkrumah then me, I am the who? All of you, you are the where?’ This was a virtual transliteration of Twi expressions (Nka me ne hwan? nka wowɔ he?) that conveyed the President’s impact on every Ghanaian.

‘Then Mr DC what’s your occupation?,’ quipped a newspaper reporter.

‘I occupy the whole of Akyem Oda district,’ was DC Kwakye’s supposed response.
After he and his entourage had been well seated and given the customary drink, it was for their host to politely ask the guest, ‘Mr DC, what’s your mission here today?’

Kwame Kwakye: ‘My mission? I am a Roman Catholic.’

And when he became a topic of discussion all over the district, he knew it was a mark of his fame and dignity.

‘Because of my ‘dibiality,’ people are working myself arithmetic,’ (εnam me dibrε nti nkorɔfo rebu me ho nkontaa) implying, ‘Due to my dignified position, people gossip about me.‘

Finally when Kwame Kwakye had gone to visit a colleague who was not home that day, he left him a simple message: ‘When he comes please tell him DC Kwame Kwakye passes away.’

Here was a politician who boosted his political fortunes turning a deficit in English proficiency into a creative art. Indeed Kwakye was fond of his indigenous Akim dialect, and considered English as an anomaly in local government. In giving English a distinctive Ghanaian touch, Kwame Kwakye was in part subverting its purity, but also protesting the power relations it imposed in the local context.  The Gomuas of Central Region decided to convey the local perception of English  in the name of one village: ‘Brɔfoyedur’ meaning ‘English Language is a Burden.’ Kwame Kwakye’s claim to fame was in the art of dislodging the burden posed by English, by bringing it down to the masses.

Today, there are several variants of Kwakye’s peculiar diction across the country, and so have many Kwakye surnames arbitrarily attracted the title prefix DC, to perpetuate the memory of Ghana’s folk hero, DC Kwame Kwakye.

The question is whether Kwame Kwakye was the sole author of words and phrases ascribed to his name. As with the numerous quotes attributed to President Robert Mugabe, historic figures who are known for a peculiar diction or literary style are often over-credited with quotations, far in excess of phrases they coined. Indeed the claim that  Kwame Kwakye uttered the statement, ‘My mission is Roman Catholic’ can only be a fallacy; for  DC Kwakye in truth was a staunch member of Awisa Methodist Church, not Roman Catholic. A quotation in oral tradition is sometimes  a celebration of broad literary strokes pioneers left behind: the abstract footprints,  and not the real thing. DC Kwakye knew this, and never protested fake quotations attributed to him when he was alive. To him, that boosted his popularity and opened up opportunities for infrastructure development.

Finally, to my good friend Lawyer Ace Ankomah who comes from Akim Achiase within Kwame Kwakye’s jurisdiction. Please consider adopting fragments of Kwakye’s diction into your legal jargon; this could help breathe life into boring submissions at court. Ace, how about the following:
‘My Lord, Your Honour, I stand here in the leg of Koo Hia my client….’

[Kwesi Yankah is a Fellow of American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and Fellow, Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences.] 
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