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Book Review:

Title: Letter to Jomo
Number of pages: 327
Authour: George Sydney Abugri
Publisher: Illumin8 Publishers, Accra, Ghana
Reviewed By: Anne Catherine Ofosuhene

Letter to Jomo is the work of a Ghanaian journalist who turned the news, his personal observation of human nature and a sense of impish humour into an entertaining and invaluable work of some social economic, political and historical significance.

Literature, drama, creative non-fiction, satire and journalism embrace with consuming passion in this collection of satirical essays from the poluar column of the same titile which has been running in Ghana’s leading daily newspaper the Daily Graphic, for close to three decades. The author’s prose is linguistically adventurous, literarily rhythmic and pleasantly unusual.

Sydney Abugri describes his book a passionate social and political statement couched in light-hearted journalistic discourse, a thesis on national life and the journalist’s life experiences. Letter to Jomo, he insists, is unapologetically non-conformist.” It is prose, poetry, prose-poetry and an amalgamation of all three”, he emphasizes.

The fact may be a source of irritation to some literary critics but Abugri’s style certainly does not appear to conform to any rule-full classroom prescriptions, so that a critic could easily put it in a box and give it a generic label. The closest genre Letter to Jomo comes closest to as a work of creative non-fiction, is that of Literary Journalism.

He has since worked variously on the Graphic as a reporter, regional correspondent, feature writer, features editor, editorial writer and weekly columnist.

Two-time Ghana Journalist of the Year and former BBC correspondent Kwaku Sakyi-Addo comes up with his verdict on the book: “Outstanding. Delightful. Humorous. Articulate. A brilliant, objective sketch of Ghanaian politics and way of life.”

Literary editor and writer Nana Banyin Dadson picks up the complimentary rhythm of editorial endorsement of the book, with his own comment: “ With tongue in cheek and whip in hand, the writer of “Letter to Jomo”, packs current situations within half-page spaces and drives them by excellent prose to tickle or wallop depending on which side one finds oneself on.”

The Ghana News Agency correspondent who covered the launch of Letter to Jomo at the British Council in Accra, is of the view that the writer’s unrelenting demand for social discipline and official accountability and responsibility in a satirical mode, has helped to establish “a relationship between African literary aesthetes and ethical leadership.”

“Not many can present their views clearly and succinctly on paper, Much less in a newspaper. To articulate one’s views with such panache and in such an unusual way is rarer still”, Professor Anthony Dadzie, formerly of the Department of English at the University of Ghana, Legon, notes in a forward to “Letter to Jomo.’

Professor Dadzie notes how the author examines “serious and not so serious” social, political, economic, religious etc. problems with such levity that they produce a poignant and humorous effect on their Readers.

“In this, Abugri reminds us of neo-classical scholars like Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson whose satiric mode throws the subject of satire in such a vivid relief that we are left in no doubt as to who is the butt of the satire”

Professor Dadzie however notes of the author, that “Sydney does not degenerate into verbal abuse as some of the 18th century writers did, but he achieves the same effect by his light hearted treatment of serious issues, even when he barely conceals his odium for the activities of some people as well as particular events!”

Every single one of the humourous essays in this 327-page book is a sparkling gem of literary journalism in its own right: A few randomly quoted paragraphs may illustrate the point:

{Road safety}: “A biggish type, who must be of mixed African, (probably Ghanaian) and Caucasian parentage, goes zooming down one of the loops of the Tetteh Quarshie interchange on one of those huge motor bikes with snarling engines and a seat so fixed as to have the rider’s butt inclined skyward like the backside of a rhino about to defecate.

He is weaving perilously in and out of two parallel streams of motor traffic with hair-raising abandon, the back of his T-shirt flapping about wildly in the wind, exposing a “macho” back. It is darned scary, Jomo, but scarier still, is the fact that the guy has no crash helmet over his skull…”

{International diplomacy}: “Yankee Queen Laura Bush arrived at KIA this week on board a Boeing 757 and was preceded down the gangway by a whole legion of suited, eagle-eyed secret service agents. There were the usual bouquet girl and local government officials beaming with smiles and bubbling with bonhomie.

Yet the way it all went, Jomo, you would have thought there were cannibals also lurking around somewhere on the tarmac waiting to eat up Mrs. Bush or something.

You should have seen how Yankee dogs took over responsibility for security at the airport from local police officers on duty. Dogs? Yes sir, Jomo. To the utmost bewilderment of our compatriots, hyper-active police dogs airlifted onto our soil by Mrs. Bush’s security detail, strained excitedly on their leashes, as they sniffed through a fleet of marked Ghana Police cars in search of WMD!

{ The uniqueness of the individual}: A bloke goes and buys himself a pair of jeans and when he wears them he looks incredibly flamboyant. Another fellow seeing this goes off quickly and buys himself the very same type of jeans, see? He disappears into a dressing room and re-emerges in the jeans, looking like an ageing circus baboon in sack cloth.

Wondering what might be the matter with him, the fellow goes to the first bloke to seek an explanation. The bloke offers him free counsel in a few words: Go get some style! Get some style? What does that mean? Where can a bloke get some style, Jomo?

{Soccer hooliganism}: Once upon a time, the Kaladan Park in Tamale was a grassless pitch which appeared to serve more as an arena for routine violence and hooliganism than a football stadium. An unwritten rule of the place said home teams needed to win if there was to be peace at the end of every match played there.

The match played at Kaladan Park which did not end with cracked skulls and broken bones was the exception. If the referee of a league match at Kaladan did not overlook an infringement by a player of the home team or dared to disallow a goal scored by the host team, then why, the bloke must have taken a fat bribe from the visiting team, and deserved the beating of his life…

I recall going to the Kaladan Park in 1982 to cover a league match which was interrupted by violence on such a scale as to have necessitated the intervention of armed soldiers. There was firing of warning shots and bullets buzzed about like enraged bees.

I scooted for the open spaces at maximum human locomotive speed and vowed never to enter the park to cover a league match again. Not even with a brigade of bazooka-toting sharpshooters for body guards!

{The police and human rights}: “I hear the police chased and beat up many protesters in Accra yesterday.”

“What had you expected?” That the police would stand by and let the demonstrators burn lorry tyres in the street?”

“The police are routinely callous. I once saw a policeman chasing a man with one leg down a street ...”

“The policeman had one leg?”

“No, no, no ... the chap he was chasing ...”

The book will be of great interest to students and teachers of journalism, media researchers, social scientists and politicians and literary artists. “Letter to Jomo” certainly promises to make it to the best seller list in Ghana and should make an impact on the international book market.