It has been an interesting week in social media, hasn’t it?
Abraham Attah, star of Beasts of No Nation, won that award, and presented the award at The Oscars for Best Live Action Short Movie, which went to Stutterer. It was a great win for everybody in Ghana.
SO THIS HAPPENED
I want to tell a story, from a time I was still in high school, circa 2007. I had been appointed the president of Ashanti Regional Computer Club, which sounds much, much grander than it actually was. Per our constitution, I was supposed to convene a number of meetings in my term of office. Months passed by and no meeting had been convened, so the club’s organizer, who was a student of St. Louis Secondary School, took it upon herself to do so. With the help of other executive members of the club in her school, she organized the meeting over there, and with very short notice invited me to come and chair this meeting. I was absolutely unprepared and more than a little annoyed with these ladies, but duty had beckoned and I had to respond. I set out for St. Louis with another executive from my school, and we got there after an hour. We walked briskly to the venue of the meeting, he carefree, me besieged with a myriad thoughts on how to mentally finalize the agenda for the meeting. We arrived, exchanged pleasantries with the ladies and club coordinators, and after the sacrosanct opening prayer the meeting was underway.
THE MEETING STARTS
I sat on a lone seat facing everyone else. They all looked expectantly back at me. I don’t know how it felt for them, but for me the tension was palpable. I don’t remember what I said at that meeting but I do remember how I said it. Beloved, believe me when I say I did not excel in speech that day. I was tripping over words, leaving modifiers dangling, and worst of all, committed the cardinal sin of mixing Rs and Ls. It was not fun for me. I say ‘for me’, because judging from their mirth, it was quite enjoyable for some of the ladies. They could barely conceal their glee, and this only worsened my plight. I was mad for a long time at the lady who I saw laughing the most, and we only made up much later when we met in the university. Even then I wasn’t sure if she remembered that day or was aware I was ever mad at her, but I let sleeping dogs lie. Turns out she’s a sweet person after all.
THE BIG PICTURE
The point is, I know how it feels to have your language skills laughed at, and I have a sneaking suspicion a large percentage of Ghanaians do too. We Kumasi residents especially have to deal with a lot of baseless flack about various phonetic predilections. Perhaps it was this empathy that fuelled the massive online outrage that ensued after Ghanaians were informed that two well known radio personalities had mocked the speech of our dearest Abe. Appropriately, the two accused parties Lexis Bill of Joy FM and Jay Foley of Live FM duly apologized, and explained what they actually did. Most of the controversy surrounded their repetition of Abraham’s somewhat unique pronunciation of ‘Thank you’. Abraham Attah had won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead, a feat that truly made Ghana, including President Mahama, proud of our wonder boy. Obviously he had to thank the people who helped him on his path to success. That’s how the ‘Thank you’ came into the picture. To paraphrase Lexis Bill, they realized with the benefit of hindsight that their actions were in poor taste.
THE CONTROVERSY AND THE AFTERMATH
After their apology had been accepted and their crimes looked more closely at, it became quickly apparent to the discerning observer that the fury and wrath of Ghanaians far outmatched the wrongdoing. Even up till now comments pop up on social media and elsewhere condemning unnamed radio presenters who think they are better than everybody and insist on pulling down anyone who appears to be rising above them. This is where my concern lies – the outrage of Ghanaians.
What exactly is the nature of the relationship between Ghanaians and our ‘popular people’? Do we love them or hate them? Popular people may be a better term to use rather than ‘celebrity’, because even before the controversy started, many people declared Abraham Attah the only celebrity in Ghana. John Dumelo was hilariously accused of fighting with women for This Way chocolate drink while this young lad was competing for international awards. Majid Michel got his share, and other celebrities got theirs one way or the other. So when Jay Foley and Lexis Bill gave bloodthirsty people a toehold by their minor lack of discretion, it was converted into a fortified stronghold of lambasting.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS AND US
As a people I think our celebrities deserve much more respect than we currently give them. Social media has made it so easy to insult them with little or no consequence. Jon Germain, another radio personality, traded angry words with a Twitter user a few years ago because the person had made some disrespectful remarks about him, or more specifically his hairline. The controversial singer MzBel can hardly post a picture on Instagram without a barrage of insults. Our politicians have also taken to speaking rather harshly and often times disrespectfully about men of God who dare criticize their politics. We love to talk about upholding our culture. This is not our culture. People accused Lexis and Jay of Pull Him Down (PhD), but an honest look at things reveals that it was the other way round – some people were unduly taking the opportunity to pull them down. It is often said that if you’re not ready to be talked about, you’re not ready for success. In that regard I guess our celebrities have a thicker skin than most and know how to deal with the sometimes hard-to-please Ghanaian fandom. But you better believe that it gets to them on some level. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t see them bother to reply some of the accusations sometimes, and even getting angry on other occasions. Someone compared Bandex’s son Rahim Banda unfavourably with Abraham Attah, implying the former didn’t have real talent. How is this even remotely fair? He is also just a kid. Or is it okay to say mean things about him because he comes from money? It’s not okay.
We have many celebrities in Ghana. Abraham has added to their numbers. I am by no means saying we should treat them like demi-gods as some do elsewhere. Actually I’m saying the exact opposite. Let’s treat them like regular people. You wouldn’t think any less of your friend just because someone won an award somewhere, would you? Let’s treat our celebrities as friends. Friends we’re not jealous of. Congratulations, Abe. Ghana loves you. Yeah, all of us.