A PANEL DISCUSSION ON AMA ATA AIDOO, PART 4
This is an unedited transcript on the panel discussion on Ama Ata Aidoo that took place on Sunday, July 2, 2023. Recordings are on YouTube https://youtube.com/watch?v=UcU_0wg8Y00 and Facebook https://fb.watch/lxuJHdZY0s/
The Soul, Spirit, and Sensibility of Ama Ata Aidoo That I Encountered
By Akwasi Aidoo
I first met Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo, the iconic writer who passed away on 31st May 2023 in the year 1966, soon after her book, The Dilemma of a Ghost, was published. It was a very captivating book that I virtually memorized, together with some classmate as we were studying for our GCE O-Level Examination in Secondary School.
When I met her, I told her about how much we had learned from the book which highlighted for us the imperative of cross-cultural bridging and bonding. Her response was: “Akwasi, look out for more because we have to focus seriously, as humans, on embracing each other and prioritize the ties that bind us.”
Although we were not biologically related, our shared surnames made us connect as “self-adopted siblings.” She always called me “Mo Nua Akwasi” (“My Brother Akwasi”) and I also called her “Mo Nua Panyin Ama Ata” (“My Elder Sister Ama Ata”).
Over the years, my continuous encounters with her demonstrated to me that her Soul, Sense and Sensibility were always deeply embedded in what I call her CREDIT, which is my acronym for her indefatigable passions.
The C of her CREDIT was her Creativity. Her knowledge building, attitude, beliefs, values and practices were all creatively inspired. At a 2003 convening of African thought-leaders in Addis Ababa on African regional integration and development organized by the Special Initiative for Africa (which I led at the Ford Foundation), she made this memorable statement: “Creativity is the cornerstone and foundation of African integration and development across all the sectors. We can’t be one and thrive in our quest for paradigm shift without thinking outside the box.” Her prolific literary works also bear witness to her creativity.
The R of her CREDIT stands for her Resilience. This was clearly shown after her life-threatening vehicle accident in the early 1970 when she was driving back to the University of Cape Coast from Mfantsipim Secondary School (one of the leading Secondary Schools in Ghana) where she had gone for a meeting. She became physically handicapped, but never gave up her spirit of physical public engagements, advocacy and travels across the Globe.
The E of Ama Ata’s CREDIT was her Equity-focus in everything she did. One of her outstanding quests and advocacy was when she served as Minister of Education in Ghana in the early 1980s. She firmly called for a new policy of free education and meals for all students, and especially for female students who were often most marginalized in the educational system. Her commitment to that policy also stood out when she resigned after the policy was not fully implemented.
The D of Ama Ata’s CREDIT refers to her unalloyed Dedication to African liberation. Relocating to Zimbabwe during the Gukurahundi Genocide from 1982 to 1987 was one expression of her soul, spirit and sensibility of dedication. An estimated 20,000 deaths were caused by the massacres, which were reported as genocide by the International Association of Genocide Scholars. Towards the end of her stay in Zimbabwe, I was teaching at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and attended a Seminar on “Southern African Responses to Imperialism” at the University of Zimbabwe when I saw her again. When I met her, I asked: “Mo Nua Panyin Ama Ata, why did you move her at a time of atrocities?” Her response was: “Mo Nua Akwasi, we must be dedicated to sowing the seeds of liberation from imperialism and also from within our own independent nations.” She supported the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education with curriculum reforms and development for a united nation building. The First Lady at the time, Sally Mugabe, was her friend in Ghana in the 1960. But she left Zimbabwe when the Mugabe regime became more dictatorial and authoritarian.
The I of her CREDIT is how Inspirational she was to many young people. One anecdote was when I graduated from University of Cape Coast, I was invited by the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Professor Francis Agbodeka) to answer a question. It was whether I would like to be one of three graduates to be included in a list of candidates for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to do postgraduate studies at Oxford University. I enthusiastically agreed, and when I got outside from the Pro Vice-Chancellor’s office, I run into Ama Ata who said this me after I told her what I had just done: “Mo Nua Akwasi, but why?! Didn’t you know that Cecil Rhodes was an imperialist and racist who exploited Zimbabwe and Zambia and even named them after himself, as Rhodesia? It’s all blood money!” I went back to the Pro Vice-Chancellor to reverse my decision and diplomatically turned down the request to be included on the list of candidates for selection. I’m still proud of that and a million thanks to Mo Nua Panyin Ama Ata – this is no criticism of Rhodes Scholars on my part, but rather a deep appreciation for the progressive inspiration I got from Ama Ata and how that shaped my life going forward.
The final alphabet T in Ama Ata’s CREDIT speaks to her Team-spirit. In 2000, while I was heading the Ford Foundation’s West Africa Regional Office (and later led TrustAfrica), I thought of providing support for Ama Ata Aidoo to mentor (or rather “Wo-mentor”) emerging African women creative writers; and I spoke to her about the possibility. Her response was: “That’s a great idea, but I would rather go for a team approach to it.” Hence, her establishment of Mbaasem Foundation, which again exemplifies her deep commitment to the civic role of the arts (https://mbaasem.wordpress.com/ & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mbaasem_Foundation), with initial funding from us. Last year, I also got Open Society Foundations to grant her a modest $50,000 to complete her manuscripts of two books, thanks to the generous decision by Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei (one of their Program leaders in Senegal). Again, she had a Personal Assistant (Josephine Gyimah) to team up with her to manage the grant. The books, tentatively titled Zero Means Downstairs and Rejection and Other Stories, are said to be completed; so, hoping they will be published posthumously soon.
In a nutshell, Ama Ata Aidoo was a stalwart inspirer, resilient advocator of equity and deeply dedicated to creativity and team approach for achieving all the good things she did in her life on this Planet!
Mo Nua Panyin Ama Ata, Rest in Eternal and Perfect Peace and Glory. And warmest greetings to my Beloved Mother who also joined the domain of the Ancestress 45 years ago.
See you again someday on Freedom Street!!!