Rock the blessing: Time no dey! - Ace Anan Ankomah
Rock the blessing: Time no dey! - Ace Anan Ankomah

Rock the blessing: Time no dey! - Ace Anan Ankomah

(Speech delivered by Ace Anan Ankomah, Guest Speaker at the 2022/2023 University of Ghana, College of Humanities Academic Prizes Award Ceremony on Thursday, April 25, 2024.)


Madam Vice-Chancellor, Provost of the College of Humanities, thank you for selecting me as the Guest Speaker for this awards ceremony. I will speak about three mundane things: horses, alcohol and food. Then I hope to challenge the award winners, and conclude.


On 14 August 2023, my friend and brother Dr Nana’adzie Ghansah took me to visit a Kentucky horse farm. I met a thoroughbred racehorse called Medaglia d’Oro (trnsl. Gold Medal), winner of several major stakes races. Born in 1999, he retired from racing in 2004 to become a stud, mating with between 125 and 160 mares a year. When the mares have live births, he gets paid. 

In his first stud year, he earned $35,000 per birth (est. total $5.6M.) Like a company, he got acquired by a group of shareholders led by Dubai’s ruler Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, at a rumoured $45M value. The horse has worldwide demand because he is highly prepotent, readily passing along his own striking physical appearance, solid frame and level disposition. He leaves a legacy. In 2015 alone, 129 of his ‘babies’ won races around the world, and by 2017, his stud fee was $250,000 per birth (est. total $40M.) When we met last year, he was earning a reduced $100,000 per birth. I gawked in disbelief and literally ‘looked up to’ him. He literally ‘looked down on’ me and snorted, as if to ask ‘human, how much are you worth?’

He lives like a king in plush stables with controlled temperature and conditioned air, has an exclusive open-air, grassed paddock for his daily strolls and gallops, and does a daily 30-minute workout on an underwater treadmill. In 2018, the authoritative wrote that he had earned $500M in his lifetime! Why? He won his races. He leaves a legacy.

Now, let’s meet the teaser, another horse. Often, when mares arrive at the farm, they aren’t immediately ready for mating, are irritable, and may kick and bite. So, another horse is deployed to ‘tease’ the mare into readiness. He gets kicked and bitten. When he gets the mare ready, the teaser is dragged out, neighing in protest, and then the Gold Medal is brought in to stud. The studding is closely monitored and guided by a veterinary officer-led team. Why? The Gold Medal has won his races, and in leaving legacies ‘in his image and after his likeness,’ professionals ensure that, literally, no seed is wasted!

Paul wrote in the Script that ‘run to win.’ And, the ancient Jewish King, Solomon, propounded the concept of the ‘good person,’ as one whose legacy survives to the children of their children. The races you win and the legacy you leave combine to determine whether you are a Gold Medal or a teaser, or something in-between. Significantly, at the farm, we were only told about the teaser. He wasn’t shown off to us, we weren’t told his name, and we didn’t bother to ask to see him.


Next, we visited a distillery that makes a brand of the world-famous bourbon whiskey, mainly from corn. Eburo. Abele. They mill it: like we do. Then they ferment it, not by waiting for ‘natural fermentation,’ but by slow-boiling at a temperature, with the exact amount of yeast required, and over a period, all scientifically-determined. Then they drain, distil and store the clear liquid in sealed, charred new oak barrels for at least two years, and voila! the deep amber coloured bourbon whiskey, full of flavour and depth. But the boiler room smelled so pleasantly like boiling kenkey, that I asked: ‘What do you do with the kenkey, sorry the boiled mash, after you have drained the fluid?’ Answer: ‘We sell it to the nearby horse farms as horse feed.’ My potential fermented kenkey, kɔmi, dɔkon, banku, ɛtsew, mmɔr kooko, wo na lɛ okyiaw’, nsiho, boodoo, abolo feeds animals like the Gold Medal!

There is some fortuitously choreographed history. In 1920, the respective governments of the Gold Coast Colony and the United States banned alcohol. The Gold Coast’s Liquor Ordinance, passed on 31 December 1920, prohibited distilling and selling locally-brewed alcohol. Three results: (i) imported schnapps were forcibly incorporated into libation pouring, other rituals and events; (ii) distillers went underground, operating secretly in forests and remote villages, and (iii) the illicit alcohol deservingly got christened ‘Akpeteshie,’ which literally means ‘we are hiding.’

Earlier, on 16 January 1920 in the US, the Volstead Act came into effect, prohibiting manufacturing and selling alcohol, except use for scientific research, religious and medicinal purposes. Three results: (i) alcohol use in science labs ballooned; (ii) ceremonial wine consumption sharply increased; and (iii) doctors, permitted to prescribe just a pint of alcohol to a patient every 10 days, prescribed it to treat ailments including high blood pressure, anaemia, heart disease, typhoid, pneumonia and tuberculosis. 

Some doctors in Kentucky notoriously wrote prescriptions for the same patients every few hours, for example, for ‘la grippe’ (the flu), and then ‘coryza’ (the common cold), and then ‘pharyngitis’ (sore throat.) One doctor was cited for issuing 475 alcohol prescriptions in one day! By the time the Act was repealed after just 13 years, American doctors had issued an estimated 143M alcohol prescriptions. Kentucky has since developed its bourbon whiskey distillation into the safe, taught, learned and highly profitable science I saw. 

Meanwhile, in the Gold Coast, the 1920 prohibition was only repealed two days before Independence Day, 37 years later. Even when the new Parliament passed the 1959 Spirits (Distillation and Licensing) Bill to legalise distillation and sale, with royal accent, the then Governor-General never brought it into force. ‘Akpeteshie Independence’ came only when the Republican Parliament passed the 1961 Akpeteshie Act. 

However, even then, to be a distiller, one had to belong to a recognised co-operative society. As recently as 1996, the police still hounded ‘independent’ distillers and impounded their products. This only ended in 1997 when the Supreme Court in MENSIMA v ATTORNEY-GENERAL, by a narrow 3:2 margin, declared this requirement discriminatory and unconstitutional. The lead judgment by Justice Ampiah explained that ‘the word [Akpeteshie] came into use because of the obnoxious law which empowered the police to apprehend distillers [and]…sellers of the liquor,’ and that it ‘acquired such notoriety that it was invariably referred to by various appellations such as “bomkotoku,” “kill me quick,” “ogogro,” “mete megyaho,” “maka maka,” “kwankyensorodo,” “VC 10,” [and] “fametu.”’

Contrast: one country removed the prohibition after 13 years and allowed a teachable and replicable science in safe distillation to emerge. Another country required its Supreme Court, 77 years later, to remove the last vestiges of a colonial prohibition with a blaze of judicial appellations, and largely still brews Akpeteshie (and for that matter pito, nsafufuo, doka, mmɛda, ahey etc), in nearly the same way as the great grandparents. 


We have had kenkey from time immemorial: Ga kɔmi, Fantse dɔkon, and that unforgettable Asante dɔkono prepared with pre-cooked palm oil, vegetable and dried fish stew in the middle. Yet apparently, the most recent revolution in kenkey production happened when the then Governor Gordon Guggisberg reportedly introduced the corn mill to the Gold Coast. This, according to unverified oral tradition, led to Accra re-christening the meal then called ‘otim’ (hence ‘otinshinu’) as ‘kɔmi.’ I struggle to believe that this popular culinary delight is named after an imported mechanical contraption, ‘abele tsɔne,’ the onomatopoeic ‘nika-nika.’ But where is a university-documented history of the evolution of kenkey in Ghana?

History suggests that the 1919–1927 Governor, Guggisberg, was a ‘domfo-kumfo’ (promoter-destroyer) who supervised the local alcohol prohibition and introduced the ubiquitous corn mill. In 2024, the Ministry of Agriculture estimates that 90 percent of all corn mills here are imported from Asia and Europe. About nine percent are cobbled together from old corn mills, with only about one percent manufactured locally. Thus, for over a century, to be able make and eat kenkey, we make other countries rich.

It’s Saturday morning. You are patiently salivating in the line at your local waakye joint. Just when it is your turn to be served, and with about 20 people in line behind you, the seller announces, almost proudly, ‘waakye no asa,’ ie, ‘the waakye is finished.’ To your groans, she retorts ‘me waakye no ɛnso tɔ, nti ɛyɛ a mo mbra ntɛm,’ as in ‘my waakye sells faster than hot cakes, so come earlier tomorrow.’

Right there, a growth opportunity is lost to this necessity entrepreneur, because ‘perhaps what you measure is what you get. Most likely, what you measure is all you’ll get. What you don’t (or can’t) measure is lost.’ So, tomorrow, she will prepare the same amount of waakye, and then this ‘history’ will repeat itself. Meanwhile, this table-top/kiosk waakye necessity entrepreneur has one thing in common with opportunity entrepreneurs, the Papaye and Marwako franchises: they all sell boiled rice. I am waiting for the franchises and delivery services of my three most favourite boiled rice joints: the one by the big gutter in Labone, the one near Tip Toe in Kokomlemle, and the one by the road in Nyaniba Estates. That is the difference between the necessity entrepreneur, who works just to survive, with limited capital and options, and the opportunity entrepreneur, who seeks unexploited entrepreneurial opportunities in the market. 

Whoever first said ‘kitiwa biara nsua,’ within a fundraising context, probably meant well. But in reality, standing alone, ‘kitiwa sua.’ And, I am yet to identify which of earth’s mighty oceans was made from little drops of water, because for the most part, little drops of water either evaporate or are wiped away! Today, I read that the Ferrero and Mars families, owners of the two largest private chocolate companies, saw their fortunes surge to $161B last year. According to Oxfam, that is more than the combined GDP of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, the largest cocoa bean producers. A decade old viral video shows an interview with an Ivorian cocoa farmer who said, ‘Frankly, I don’t know what one makes from cocoa beans. I am trying to earn a good living with growing cocoa. They make good food from them, but I’ve never seen it.’ Reality: ‘you’re either at the table or on the menu.’


Back to the tours, the real game changers were the tour guides and their obvious depth of knowledge in the history and science of their respective industries. I inquired. The horse farm guide was studying EQUINE SCIENCE AND MANAGEMENT at the University of Kentucky. The distillery guide had a degree in DISTILLATION, WINE AND BREWING SCIENCE from the same school.


In one afternoon, I experienced two of Kentucky’s blessings: horses and corn, not to mention the more famous fried chicken we had for dinner afterwards. Ghana is, maybe, more blessed. But they haven’t stopped at those blessings, repeated supplications for blessings with every singing of a national anthem, created myths and taboos about them or, worse, undertaken a path of destruction by ‘galamseying’ them. They are working it, developing them, building curricula, teaching and producing graduates to practise and improve them. They are killing it, rocking their blessings.

My mantra now is that development first comes when we (1) look to what we do, (2) document them, (3) jettison the myths and taboos about them, (4) rather, find the science in them, and then (5) develop technologies and industries aimed at making what we do (a) easier, (b) interesting, and (c) marketable. By that, we will evolve, develop and improve on workable, sustainable, generation-surviving and fortune-changing strategies, systems and structures.

I challenge today’s award winners with the balanced wisdom of one of modern Ghana’s foremost music philosophers, Charles Kwadwo Fosu aka Daddy Lumba in his song Sika (Ohia Yɛ Ya). He cautions against laziness, and sings that ‘the same God Who says, “do not be anxious for what you will eat, drink or wear,” also says “if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.”’ Now, when Lumba (Dwaben Fosu) quotes the Script, you better take it seriously! So, stop encouraging laziness, humouring lateness, suffering foolishness gladly, tolerating tardiness, cheering average or below par performance, celebrating mediocrity and mollycoddling the bourgeoning beggar, defeatist and victim mentality. Declare, like my best friend’s WhatsApp DP, that ‘I’m not here to be AVERAGE; I’m here to be AWESOME.’ Time no dey!

Exercise your mind by reading widely; develop tough mental muscles by thinking broadly. Challenge yourself to be excellent. Excellence is not the enemy of good: it is but another aim, target and step, a reason to wake up tomorrow. If the true length of the frog is only determined at its death, ensure that the tape to posthumously measure yours is yet to be manufactured. Time no shԑdaa dey!


Robustly challenge conventions and traditions. Every tradition was, once-upon-a-time, an innovation or coping mechanism. Today, if a tradition’s only justification is the defensive and often snotty ‘that is how we do things here,’ then I strongly suggest that that tradition is now calcified, fossilised, ossified and irrelevant. Fearlessly discard it. It is powerless. You won’t die! Time no dey like that!

You have it all. In my time here, we did not have such grand awards events: all I got was a book prize. So, let’s skip the faux ‘humbleness.’ You graduated on top of your respective classes and subjects. You deserve to be here. Today, you are Gold Medals. Congratulations. Let that marinate. Enjoy the moment. You’re the best; BUT make it count after here. You are blessed; BUT make it work after here. You cannot be the best in class and then flunk life, becoming a human ‘teaser.’ Work your blessing; kill it. Dream big; make it count. I dare you to rock your blessing. Time no dey!

A lady I happen to know quite well, returned to grad school here 13 years after completing undergrad studies. Then aged 35 with three preteen children, she still won the 2003 Professor Ben Amoako-Adu Award of Excellence as the Best Graduating Student in MBA Finance. Currently, she is head of a leading bank’s operations in 18 African countries, and has just been voted the 2024 Top Woman to Watch in African Banking, Finance and Investment. On the recent International Women’s Day, she posted: ‘I am here, I deserve to be here, I earned my spurs and stripes, Through grit and the Grace, I will achieve and accomplish …and yes, I am a woman.’ Time no shԑdaa dey like that!

Nike says ‘Just Do It.’ But add the Script that ‘it is not [only] of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.’



I believe that each time we sing ‘God, bless our homeland Ghana,’ God answers and blesses, making us certainly ’over-blessed’ by now. But I dare us to rock those blessings. Someone said: ‘live full, die empty.’ I say, ‘Live, rocking the blessing! And Die, still rocking the blessing!!’ Time no dey! And one day, buy a yacht and name it ‘Someday Came.’

I once wrote a poem titled BEYOND THE ORDINARY, which concludes as follows:

‘The EXTRA in the word “extraordinary”
Is what the extraordinary 
Has over the ordinary:
That thing beyond the ordinary. 
If we can think beyond the ordinary,
If we can look and see beyond the ordinary,
If we can imagine and dream beyond the ordinary,
If we act and work beyond the ordinary,
Then we will be beyond the ordinary
Then we will truly become extraordinary.’

A version of this poem is published in the recently-launched book titled LETTERS OF HOPE TO MY YOUNGER SELF, edited by Aba Cato Andah and Zoe Baraka. An editors-autographed copy of this book is available for each award winner. You may pick a copy at the door as you leave. 

Congratulations once again, and permit me to specially congratulate Michael Appiah-Kubi, the Best Graduating Male Sports Personality, on behalf of The Union Ghana, the sports club I proudly belong to, and which sponsored his education here. 

I hope that I have spoken for all the sponsors. Thank you for your time and attention, God bless you. Now go out there and rock the blessing! Because Time no dey!

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