Thursday, August 12, 2010

Smoking Away The Dream


There’s an area off my neighbourhood, a couple of streets away and actually a neighbourhood on its own, where the air is, from dusk to dawn, marked with a very distinctive smell. This neighbourhood, situated on the route to the local market, is a less developed and less civil one; there the poverty is visible and the norms of society are not so normal, if you get my meaning. There’s filth on the streets, the buildings are wooden and uncompleted and scattered in all directions(taking the wrong turn could land you in the middle of someone’s open-house bathroom), and the people are illiterate or with very little education.

But worse than any of these above-mentioned cankers, is the ever-present and growing situation of drug abuse(weed-smoking and the like), among the young people of the neighbourhood; a situation represented by this constant, distinctive smell in the air. Walk through the neighbourhood any day and you’re bound to twist your nose and sight a bunch of young men, and in some cases women, huddled together in any of the many bushes in the area revelling in an orgy of weed-smoking. Young, vibrant people both educated and uneducated, and unemployed to boot, wasting away their energy and time on stuff that ultimately ends them half-naked, bushy-haired and exhibiting crazy in the street, or locked up and confined in a psych-ward if they’re at all lucky, or behind bars if their not so lucky. And yet they don’t even seem to realise what they’re doing to themselves.

I have a personal attachment to this blog post, a little backstory unfortunately, serving as motivation. The consequences of having a family member hooked on drugs of any kind is not lost to me. I have a brother who has been addicted to marijuana for many years now. He began when he was in Junior High School, just like many others who get addicted. Peer pressure, you know how it is. A little cigarette here and there, passed around during afternoon break. Teenagers trying to be cool, ironically. Then from cigarettes to marijuana to heroine etc. Well, he got hooked; and as much we’ve tried to wean him off the addiction, it seems he’s knee-deep in it. And that’s the case for many young people today. My father, who is a pastor, came back from an excursion to the psychiatric hospital in Accra a little while ago with harrowing, heartbreaking stories of young men and women dotting every space of the hospital ground, bereft of their senses. Young people mostly Senior High School leavers, with or without a choice to further their education, decided on a moral downturn somewhere along the way, seems to be the tale of the tape.

And as pervasive and dangerous as the situation already is, it seems only to be growing. The recent spate of drug trafficking especially in the corridors of this part of Africa, raises serious concerns that needs to be addressed sooner than later. Our young people are already suffering from the calamities of addictions to drugs like marijuana, the last thing we need is an overdose of cocaine inflow in the country to add salt to wound. The government and the security services must take measures to ensure this development is halted before we become an African Mexico.

And to young people, here’s a piece of advice: nothing good comes out of trying to impress your peers who push you try out a sniff. Once you get addicted to get any kind of drug, God help you if think you can get off it easily.     

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Celebrating Mediocrity Or African Pride

My Pics 002So after an inspiring but ultimately disappointing second appearance by the Black Stars at the first World Cup to be held on African soil, I     stayed up late Monday night to watch on TV the live telecast of the arrival of the team and the pomp and pageantry that subsequently ushered them back home. I must admit I wasn’t so keen on anything football after the first couple of hours after the Uruguay game Friday evening. The sheer shock of the defeat and the manner in which it came was enough to rid me of all the love and joy I had for what was supposed to be the beautiful game. Although to be honest, it didn’t begin with the Suarez handball, no matter how despicable it was, but rather the Asamoah Gyan penalty miss. The kick, at the long end of one-twenty minutes of hard work, that was supposed to send Ghana, and the whole continent of Africa, to her first semi-final. So close and yet so far. Apparently it isn’t just Atlas who sometimes feels the wait of the world on his shoulders; the only difference is that I’m still alive today to write this blog and Asamoah Gyan totally shattered the hopes and dreams of an entire continent. But, ahem, being the writer that I am, soon objectivity sets in and I just have to see all of what happened(and is happening) in its true light. Therefore I’m driven to ask the question: What are Ghanaians really celebrating?

There’s no doubt that the pain and disappointment I felt, and still feeling somewhat, is one that can be fully expressed by each and every man, woman and child on this continent who has any inclination whatsoever towards football and the bigger picture of African pride. Relegated to the background for so long it is only natural that whatever glimmer of opportunity to shine in the face of the world will be jumped upon. So sitting in my room watching the Black Stars descend from the plane into a human-aisle of cheering fans handing out bouquets and welcoming back their heroes got me thinking: Is a quarter-final appearance so satisfactory and such a huge achievement for Ghana and so many African countries, when Brazil sacked its coach after failing to get past that stage? Or was the expectation of the country so low that whatever disappointment suffered after the game was quickly smothered by the realisation of what the Stars had actually achieved?

Because here’s the truth: Not a lot of Ghanaians had much hope of us going further than the group stages, after a couple of not very impressive friendlies prior to the tournament itself, even if nobody was bold enough to admit it. But then the young men showed true character and resilience from the start and Ghanaians began to believe. For the first time in a long forgotten while an African team was showing the maturity and pragmatism typical of the Europeans and South Americans. And believe we did, until a certain Suarez was brave and gutsy enough to turn goalkeeper and keep his country in the race, even if he himself fell out. Now he’s the most hated footballer in the minds of most Africans, not very surprisingly; branded a cheat and despised for his willingness to suffer for his country. Whilst our men, presented with as equal an opportunity as there could ever be to progress, just had to go and shoot themselves in the foot, thanks to a seemingly selfish intent(what with the little row between Gyan and Appiah over who should take the pen). And yet we do welcome them back home with pomp and pageantry, not that we shouldn’t; they tried, apparently not hard enough. It wasn’t their fault, I’ve heard some say. So whose fault was it? Certainly not the one who flunked a glorious opportunity, no, it happens. Go the African way and blame it on anybody but yourself. That’s where my beef with all this stems from: our perpetual inability to not recognise our faults and find ways to address them, but rather throw the blame around. It’s true the Stars did well when they weren’t expected to; and unlike the other African countries we had better organisation, a long-serving coach, a good FA, and commendable government support. Those are all positives to take from, they raised the bar high. But if you do well when you’re not expected to, you should even better when you are. And that’s what we didn’t.

This may seem a harsh criticism, but only because its coming from someone who has no room for mediocrity. I’m tired of us Africans congratulating and patting ourselves on the back for average work, and blaming others for our mistakes. As much we applaud the Stars for at least the effort, we should as well accept that we shoot ourselves in the foot too many times. Imagining what could have been is painful work!        

Monday, June 14, 2010



So after a lacklustre start from the African teams the Black Stars fought hard to deliver to this continent her first win at the first World Cup to be held on her soil. Asamoah Gyan’s 85th minute penalty ensured Ghana took maximum points to the board and save a little face for the whole of Africa. A feeling deeply expressed by Asamoah Gyan's declaration. With the whole world looking on as South Africa hosted the Cup, a lot was expected of the African teams that represented the continent, with one of the them expected to at least make the semi-finals. And Ghana rekindled that hope with a win on Sunday.

The match itself was lovely to behold, with both teams intent on going forward. With the Serbians fielding their best eleven, the Black Stars looked a tad the underdog with her young albeit determined and skilful squad, and the likes of Appiah and Muntari on the bench. In the end however, the young men of Ghana displayed great ability on the ball and made life a little bit easier for themselves and the hearts of the entire nation in their second consecutive appearance at the World Cup.

But the thing that’s got me feeling all proud and more patriotic( if that’s possible) this wet Monday morning, is the leadership tendency of this country when everyone else seems unable to rise up to the task. Being the first Black African country to gain independence, we carry an unofficial tag of responsibility to set the pace for the rest of the continent to follow. And on more than a few occasions we have shown ourselves more than able to rise up to the task both politically and in sports. It wasn’t a year ago that the Under 20’s won the world cup held in Egypt for the first time. Also the first for any African side. Pace-setting is what this country seems to do best. In the last World Cup held in Germany, Ghana once again asserted her reputation by becoming the only country from the continent to progress to the second round of the competition. Ghana was the first nation from Africa to qualify for this World Cup, and on Sunday they proved why. And that’s just in the area of sports. Politically we do more than our share, setting examples in the area of democracy and good governance. Obama’s visit says it all. Not to drag on for long, the Black Stars have done themselves and the continent a favour, lets hope and pray that the rest of the African teams follow suit.         

Friday, June 4, 2010

Caught Up In The Fever

This past week has been hectic, to say the least. In the last few days, especially, I have been mighty occupied with work. A lot of work. I’ve been upping the ante on my schedule to try to beat a deadline and also get the momentum going on my debut novel, before I’m completely immersed in the euphoria that is fast beginning to hit the country and continent as a whole, thanks solely, to the approaching World Cup in South Africa. Africa’s first World Cup, of course. Being a huge lover of football( and I say huge in a euphemistic sense, with obsessive the true word here) it is highly unlikely that I would get enough work done over the full month the tournament would span, seeing as I wouldn’t miss this most historic event for anything. That’s why I’ve been staying up late and getting up earlier than usual in an effort to get as much work done as I possibly can.

But on Wednesday night I couldn’t help but put a couple of things on hold to sit in front of the TV to watch the Ghana Black Stars play Holland in the first of two friendly matches scheduled in preparation for the World Cup. I had to see the game because like every football-loving Ghanaian, the Black Stars live in any football game is one for the archives and not to be missed. Add to that the need to satisfy the curiosity surrounding the shape and form of a team bereft of one or two key players in the run-up to the World Cup and you have a solid excuse. In the end, however, it was precious time wasted, as I sat through ninety minutes of agony with a visibly deep frown on my forehead and my head slovenly rested in the palm of my hand. The Stars rather too friendly for the tag of the match, going down by four goals to one to a Dutch side that didn’t even playing to their full potential. And there has been several reasons given for the poor showing: precaution against injury the major one. Whatever it is I pray the Stars see the need to perform well in this Africa’s first World Cup, as we continue to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the number one Pan-Africanist.

Because whether we like it or not, more than half the world is waiting with baited breaths, poised to jump in for the kill should anything negative, no matter how minute it might be, happen in South Africa in the course of the tournament. Over the years this continent has been dubbed “dark” by the West, producing nothing good besides its natural resources and unable to take care of its own, much less the whole world. The sad truth is, the big picture always seems to reflect that tag, with wars and conflicts the major headline heading out of the continent. So it shouldn’t be surprising if the rest of the world is a bit apprehensive about heading out to the “dark” continent to play in the World Cup. All we can do is hope and pray that the better developed SA will make the continent proud and prove to the world and ourselves that we’re gradually moving away from the tag of “dark” continent. So good luck to all the teams participating, but more so to the African teams. May your youthful exuberance make us proud.        

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Young People And Social Networks

So I decided on the subject of today’s blog after my twelve going on thirteen year old brother came home from school Friday afternoon all smiles with the news that he’d finally gotten himself a Facebook account. He’d signed up, as he very happily put it. Apparently the authorities who run the computer lab in his school allow for a bit of web surfing time to the upcoming teens, and almost all of them found the most popular site in Africa irresistible. Now my brother, he’s barely a teenager, not nearly old enough to sign anything, and from what I know of signing on to a social network like Facebook, you have to be a certain age.

So I got to asking him how he was able to do achieve this magnificent unprecedented feat, but stupid me, shouldn’t I have known! The internet, and in this case Facebook, as we all know, or like to think we know anyway, isn’t exactly this artificially intelligent super machine able to determine the true age of a user merely by the speed of their typing. It’s controls couldn’t be more open to manipulation. All you needed was a little embellishment of your age and you’re in. And that is what my little brother did. Seems simple enough, right? But why go to the trouble?

Why does a twelve year old already overburdened with homework, suddenly feel such a strong need to be on a social network? Because as far as I can tell he has enough networking going on with his outdoor-loving friends. Could it just be because he sees his older brother on the phone(on Facebook) chatting away with friends and sharing opinion on social issues and to see who poked him, and wanted so much to be part of this community? Or could it simply be the age-old syndrome of younger brother wanting to be like older brother? Perhaps it’s both. But the way I see it, the former is more likely the case, seeing as the onset of the 21st century ushered in an age of digital technology akin to the genetic makeup of young people. The internet and all its benefits including social networking. Young people all over the world, including myself, love to stay in touch with each other, and have loved to do so since time immemorial. What has changed in the 21st century is that we are no longer just staying in touch by meeting face to face on campuses and in parks and at church. We’re meeting up even when hundreds of miles apart. And we’re making friends with people we’ve never met. And that is what’s cool about all this!

I remember the period before I joined the community of social networking, every where I turned there was talk about a particular social network be it Facebook or Twitter or MySpace. And the pride that went along with it. Oh, I’m on Facebook and Oh, I’m on Twitter! Used to wonder what the fuss was about. And then I couldn’t listen to a radio programme without hearing the words “And you can post your comments on our Facebook page”. Apparently there was a whole community of people from all over the world out there somewhere sharing thoughts and opinions that I was missing out on. And seeing as I’m not one to miss out on big things, I joined Facebook. And now I can say “Oh, I’m on Facebook and Twitter”. And it was great. Still is great(most of the time). I made new friends with people from all over the world. Blacks, Whites, Asians. Absolutely no boundaries whatsoever. Not the colour of your skin or tone of your accent. It was just a big bunch of likable people willing to extend a virtual hand of friendship. And I haven’t looked back since then. But it hasn’t been all rosy, I can tell you. It hasn’t been all rosy. There have been times when I’d thought of signing out and never coming back. Why? Well here’s why.

Because it tends to get addictive. No sooner have I woken from bed and I just have to go online and see who poked me, sent me a message or said what. I used to brush my teeth before I spoke to God in the morning. Now I go online before I brush my teeth. My email inbox used to do that to me, but now it’s Facebook. And that’s not even the worst part. More often than not you get to make friends who post interesting things on their page. Posts you can think about and comment on. And then there are the ones who seem to have nothing but, excuse the language, absolute crap to say. Posts that have no meaning whatsoever. Talking about body parts and sexual innuendos over and over again. But you can’t unfriend them since they send you birthday wishes on your birthday! Then again it just might be the freedom that comes with social networks. I’ll tell you this, no matter how bad a post might be, or however irritating it is to have someone tag you a photo, it only goes to highlight how much freedom there is to be had with social networks. And that is why young people are so smitten with them. Because, like one female Facebook friend of mine said, “It’s an avenue to make new friends and reunite with old ones, and even meet your future spouse!” I bet she’s looking forward to that one. Another one observed, “It’s a place to speak your mind freely”. Because so much of Africa has been under military dictatorships for so long, and the consequent lack of freedom of speech it brings, and because so many of Africa’s youth have missed out on the experience due to wars and conflicts, I guess we will jump at any opportunity to be normal free-speaking, opinionated youths!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Welcome To My Blog!

Hi, there, all you potential visitors to and readers of my blog. Welcome! I hope you find the thoughts of an imaginative and opinionated young man interesting. I know I do. My name is Nana Kwarteng, and I’m an aspiring writer. I’m also an ardent supporter of everything youth and young people, and this is my blog. This is my mouthpiece. It’s is a site devoted to the problems and concerns of young men and women, from social issues to politics to identity conflicts. If it affects the youth, it’ll be blogged about.

Young people of today, including myself, are more aware of the world we live than ever before. We’re concerned about our future, the environment, our various national governments and it’s politics, and we want to talk about them. More importantly we want to be heard when we talk about them, seeing as we’re the beneficiaries and sufferers of all that goes on in the world today. And what better way to be heard than through the liberating medium of the internet. Through blogging!

So over the coming weeks and years(hopefully) expect to be inundated with blogs on all issues from dubious politicians manipulating young people for a selfish evil end to crazy social topics like relationships. Cause if it affects the youth, it’ll be blogged about.