In Ghana, political leaders, religious leaders and leading rappers all have one thing in common.
Within the space of forty-eight hours, in the last week of August 2018, two prominent Ghanaian men had something to say, one on a song, the other in a tweet, about black people.
The latter of the messages was from Kwaku Sintim-Misa, a satirist and media personality popularly known as KSM. He tweeted, in the very early hours of Wednesday, August 29, suggesting that “God should recall black people and fix our defect.” (à la vehicle manufacturers doing a recall to fix defected cars.)
Two days earlier, Sarkodie, one of the continent’s biggest music artistes, had made his own comments about black people on his latest single, “Black Excellence.” The insidiousness of KSM’s remark is symptomatic of internalized antiblackness in Ghanaian society, among all classes of citizens; a condition woefully under discussed in national conversations, if at all.
Sarkodie’s Black Excellence starts out as a well-intentioned litany of advice to “the young ones” (though we realize early in the song that he’s really addressing young men, warning them against superficial women, among other things), which plunges into a harangue about black people’s thoughtless ostentation vis a vis the imitable frugality of white people.
Actually, it gets more facile. In the second verse, which is incidentally preceded by a clip from this (in)famous speech by Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, who implored Africans to develop themselves and not expect anything from their erstwhile colonisers, the Europeans, Sarkodie squarely attributes Africa’s chronic retrogression not to centuries of exploitation and onslaught of every imaginable kind by imperial powers, and, yes, Africa’s political elite, but to our attitude. A line from the song translates from Akan as: “it’s laziness that’ll kill black people, we don’t like to work.” A sentiment as absurd as this is familiar. (Did the musician Brymo not tweet the same thing only two years ago, about black people being “lazy and illogical?”) And it is this attitude of laziness that Sarkodie sets down all of Africa’s problems. This attitude falls right in line with the inclination of the economically privileged to ascribe people’s (economic) disenfranchisement to laziness, lack of self-belief, and negative mindsets. It is unfortunately typical that the effects of hostile, anti-people economic systems are conveniently pinned on such neoliberal tropes—classed Ghanaians, from former president John Agyekum Kufuor of years ago, all through to many other recent voices, have sung and still continue to sing this grating song.
After his woeful misdiagnosing of Africa’s condition, Sarkodie goes on, in Black Excellence, to admonish black people for constantly blaming their issues on white folks. His fault? Partly. For, those who know, know that all of this is merely a regurgitation of racist, colonial nonsense about black people. Although much heralded as one of Ghana’s “conscious” artistes, Sarkodie is not entirely new to spewing neoliberal dogma. There is a rather instructive part of the song where he admiringly name-drops Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet; and then offers curious buzzwords like “hard work,” “dedication” and “discipline” as exemplary characteristics.
That Sarkodie offers two ultra-rich men—whose exploitative and abusive practices are well-documented—as models to aspire to, illustrates the uncritical manner in which these aforementioned ideas are received—and spread. (Perhaps, we should be grateful that Donald Trump was not mentioned together with the other two wealthy white men; for, altogether, they form, for many a Ghanaian motivational speaker and their adherents, a trio of the go-to individuals for an embodiment of the hard-work-and-dedication-and-discipline-leads-to-success platitude.) Further, it is also emblematic of how self-appointed pundits—like KSM and Sarkodie—offer rather glib views as hot takes; failing, in these particular instances, to consider the historical contexts of the things they speak about.
It is beyond alarming for such dangerous utterances to go unchallenged, especially coming from an artiste with such clout as Sarkodie. As if our black wings aren’t already being clipped everyday, everywhere, by everyone, including our own big men. Thankfully, however, two things in all of this add up to provide some hope: Sarkodie tells us in the song’s intro that he hasn’t got it entirely figured out; and somewhere in the second verse, he raps that “what you wear doesn’t matter, what you feed the brain is worth more.” What hope? Hope that in his quest to get things figured out, he also feeds his brain with material beyond the genre of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret—which he posted a picture of himself reading, a few days prior to the release of Black Excellence. Inferring that he hasn’t yet read it, I’d suggest, for starters, Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.