Enimil Ashong Writes: Kwaw Ansah @ 80
On this day, I lower my cloth to waist level in the presence of greatness. It is the 80th birthday of Mr Kwaw Panyin Tsir (corrupted into Paintsil) Ansah, Ghana’s definition of film, one of the fathers of African cinema, founder of TV Africa, creator of, arguably, the biggest Pan African museum in Africa.
I bow to a man who knows how high he sits in the esteem of society, walks, talks and dines with the greats of this world, is publicly celebrated, at least, twice a year – has been since 1979 – but has never esteemed anybody lower than himself. He spins yarns with the mighty in the land as well as the lowest labourer at TV Africa, Film Africa Limited, Bisa Aberwa Museum and the houseboy in his household.
Before I pay, in full, the tribute due him, however, I beg to be heard out on a matter that I must get off my chest.
I plead with our current First and Second Ladies. Rather than fume and allow the lump in their throats to swell, they should recognize one reality: the tumult in the land is not noise. It is anger from a people whom Democracy has left behind, for whom 29 years of Democracy have brought no tangible benefits beyond the joy of hearing campaign speeches and patiently queuing in the sweltering heat of the African sun to vote every four years since 1992.
They don’t understand why there is never enough money to go round, to the extent that minimum wage this year was increased by only 6%. They are disappointed that teachers and nurses have to endure three to four agonizing years, post-graduation, to land a job, and yet “the money is there” always (at least, five MPs said so on the radio this week) to afford salary increases and allowances and buy cars for Article 71 officeholders because “to fail to do so will be unconstitutional.”
This anger is coming from the mass of the people whom George Orwell described in his book, ‘1984’, thus: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on the human face, forever“.
To our current First and Second Ladies, I say, remember that when the masses of Tunisia and Egypt could not look at the Orwellian picture anymore, the Arab Spring erupted. To all politicians, I say, a father who dresses better than his child to church is a failure.
Back to Kwaw Ansah.
He has spent the last 40 of his life collecting artefacts from across Africa – that is how he has spent his per diem during his travels – paying sculptors, carvers and painters, masons and carpenters to create life-size busts and statues of Africa’s heroes and curate them in the four-storey building at Nkotumpo that is the Bisa Aberwa Museum. At least, US$4 million has gone into it.
Kwaw Ansah’s life is a lesson in personal sacrifice. Carrying those huge carvings and sculptures onto planes has broken the man’s back. Today he has lost the use of the right arm.
People speak sneeringly about the bank loans that went into the making of ‘Love Brewed’ and ‘Heritage’, but they do not remember (or do not know) that there was a period in this country when every official government delegation from either continental Africa or the Diaspora, was entertained to ‘Heritage Africa’ with the objective of showing off Ghana’s Pan Africanist credentials.
Kwaw Ansah is unapologetically African, a passion equalled only by Nana Nketsia V and Professor Kofi Asare Opoku. In expressing his Africanness, there has never been a compromise. He rejected big money from foreigners who wanted to invest in TV Africa. Reason: their motive was counter-African. He walked off a big film deal, with the promise of enough money to have distanced him from poverty forever. Reason: the storyline compromised African values. He refused offers to water down the blackness of ‘Heritage’ though the “little tweaking” would have won its international distribution.
He is violently pro-African religion. One day, in the late 1990s, there was a ceremony at ‘Daily Graphic’. During the refreshment, Ansah happened to be near the doorway when he saw a protocol officer refuse entry to three Ga priests (Wulomei). He lost his cool. Lunging forward, he barked at the protocol officer, querying why Christian and Muslim priests had been ushered inside, and not the traditional priests. The proverbial Kwaw Ansah volcanic temper!