SPEECH DELIVERED AT THE 5TH GAW LITERARY AWARDS HELD AT THE OMANYE ABA HALL, AMA AUDITORIUM, THURSDAY, 16TH DEC. 2021 AT 6PM BY THE GUEST OF HONOUR, MR KOJO MATTAH, FORMER MD OF ARB APEX BANK PLC AND THE IMMEDIATE PAST PRESIDENT OF CIMGTHEME: HONOURING LITERARY EXCELLENCE
It is my pleasure to join the Ghana Association of Writers for the 5th edition of the Ghana Association of Writers Literary Awards. Since the inception of the awards over the years and after its comeback, it has become a significant event in the life of writers of different genres. It is my fervent hope that even as we gather here to pat ourselves on the back by awarding deserving award winners in the various categories of the award schemes, may it also be an occasion for us to collectively reflect the state of country and citizens as far as reading and writing is concerned and ponder on some trends and developments that have a material impact on the way the industry will be influenced moving forward.
Reading and developing countries are considered incompatible. This is due to the increasing apathy towards the habit of reading in these countries of which Ghana is not an exception. Existing and past scholars have provided a considerable account of such an abysmal reading culture in Africa.
Ladies and gentlemen, several developing countries, especially those in Africa, suffer from the canker of poor reading culture. Due to this, majority of countries in Africa are not informed because they lack the habit of reading. In some countries like Nigeria, Zambia, Uganda, and Malawi, scholars and other international initiatives have made provisions through research and funding respectively to help address this situation. Ghana faces the same problem, as majority of Ghanaians are apathetic towards reading. A very scary spectacle is amongst the youth and students.
These are the category of people who should consider reading as a very important life building process. Within schools, whether basic, secondary and tertiary, students only read when there is examination. This attitude stems from the fact that, the relevance of reading itself has not been identified and thus that intrinsic motivation towards reading a missing desideratum.
This has gone a long way to affect even the academic performances, common expressions in the English language and most importantly the thinking abilities of these young individuals on whose shoulders the future developments of the nation rest. What saddens me most is, even as we find ourselves within the age of information exploration, reading culture has not been patronized. Vital information is shared every now and then on social media, thus within the 21st century, reading culture should have been much improved within developing countries especially of which Ghana is not an exception.
What is even fascinating is that within the colonial epoch, people of the Gold Coast saw the relevance of reading and thus journeyed their way through books which contributed significantly to shape their cultural, political and social lives and also created a foundation which projected towards independence. During those glorious days, especially in the 1960s and the 1970s the prevalent characteristic culture was that of reading among the youth. One could vividly recall the common reading materials among students of such renowned writers like Ernest Hermingway, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, Cyprian Ekwensi, Camara Laye, T.M. Aluko, Atukwei Okai, Efua Sutherland, Martin Owusu, Ama Atta Aidoo, Leopold Senghor, Kofi Awonoor, Asare Konadu, Amu Djoleto, Francis Serlomey etc. As a matter of fact, this was the time when the culture of reading among Ghanaians was considerably high as compared to what one can observe now among the youth in the country today. Now the big question, will the reading culture survive within this era?
I feel very sad anytime I remember the famous or rather the infamous statement by Malcom X “if you want to hide something from a black, put it in a book”. While the context was in relation to the level of illiteracy among blacks at the time, the situation is not the same as literacy levels have improved significantly. I dare however ask: what is the difference between someone who can read and does not read and the person who cannot read? I am equally at pains with the negative impact social media is having on our spelling and diction especially among the youth. I wonder what will happen in the next five years if this trend continues. I will not be surprised if examiners are unable to read and understand exam scripts. Is that contributing to the poor performance of our children already? A stitch in time, they say, saves nine!!
It is against this backdrop that I passionately appeal to Ghana Association of Writers to further demonstrate several functional avenues where the reading culture can be encouraged. It is obvious to me personally that, the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) had taken note of the problem and is seriously doing something positive and practical for its solution. I am reliably informed about the Ghana Association of Writer’s current collaboration with the Ghana Education Service in helping the Ghanaian youth to cultivate the habit of reading and this is well organized through various activities and programmes which are intended to firmly inculcate the habit of reading in Ghanaian youth. Some of these programmes and activities initiated by the Ghana Association of Writers are: an outreach programme to open up literacy clubs in senior high schools in all the regions of Ghana. These clubs are being run by the students under the guidance of their teachers.
The Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) has initiated a programme known as GAW Sunday. This is held on the first Sunday of every month which features poetry recitals, storytelling, book reading, spoken word performance and music. GAW’s Read a Book Month in March of every year is in the right direction.
A literacy magazine known as GAWSOP Filla which features literacy writings and articles from second cycle institutions in the country is another feather in GAW’s cap. COVID-19 may have given us a good excuse to have a digital version of GAWSOP.
These rigorous campaigns with its relevant impact will encourage people to embrace the reading culture. There is greater optimism, with respect to the promotion of a reading culture through the avenues provided and modeling aspects of reading promotion strategies on the various best practices from around the world. Whatever forms the reading campaigns might take, it is incumbent on all role players to work together in pursuance of the vision of creating a reading nation of which all the award winners are a greater part of.
I am sure some of you may be asking how I got the opportunity to be the Special Guest of Honour, especially judging from my background as a chartered accountant, a chartered marketer and a banker? All the three professions lubricate the business world. I am also an avid reader. It would not be strange also that a lot of you have had your hands busy with some business ventures. Without a doubt there is no opportunity to underscore the need for literature in business. All businesses need people to patronize them, and so business literature covers a very important segment of options available to disseminate targeted information. How I wish this was a lecture so I could delve deep into the phenomenon of the critical and essential role literature plays in business.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, there are still fundamental issues that challenge us. However, we cannot stop but also continue to challenge the status quo and eventually cause a shift in paradigm. They will entail choices that will be difficult at times, and they require ongoing conversations and action plans between GAW and other stakeholders for the convergence and the decisions on the best path forward.
With that being said, I wish all of us a blissful evening as we celebrate and honour literary excellence in eight categories out of the twelve that was advertised. Congratulations to all the award winners and by extension to every writer in Ghana and beyond. You the writers are the heartbeat of the world. God bless us all.