No – “the ravens of the sky” have not been transmogrified into the Duke of Edinburgh. The story of the birds will be continued next week.
(In journalism, we fear the fact that our comments on an issue might become “stale” if we don’t have our say when everyone else is talking about it!)
The late Prince Philip was visitor to Ghana three times – he came here by himself (from 23rd to 28th November 1959); then he came again – with his wife, Queen Elizabeth The Second, twice – in 1961 and 1999.
The first visit of the Duke demonstrated his pluck as a man. The Queen had been invited to visit Ghana in 1959, at a time when our Prime Minister, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, had made it clear that he wanted to turn Ghana into a Republic and become head of state himself. (Ghana had achieved independence on March 1957 with the Queen as its head of state – a position exercised on her behalf by a British Governor-General. The first Governor-General was Sir Charles Noble Arden Clarke and the second was the Earl of Listowel).
The ruling circles of the UK, which was then under a Conservative Government, were not happy that the Queen would be visiting a country that was about to change its constitution from the monarchical type into a Republican one. They imagined that if the Queen visited Ghana just before the change, it would men that she had given her blessing top the change. Fortunately for both countries, the matter was taken out of their hands by biology: the Queen became pregnant!
But such was the affection in which the UK royal family was held in Ghana (the Queen had been represented at our independence by a lovely lady called the Duchess of Kent) that in order not to disappoint Ghanaians, Prince Philip was deputed to come to Ghana in place of the Queen.
The visit went very well indeed. But politics did rear its head during the visit – in one instant. At Kumase, Prince Philip was visiting a hospital when he was informed that the son of a prominent Opposition man, Mr Joe Appiah (who had been placed in preventive detention by the Nkrumah Government) was occupying a bed in the hospital. The Prince spontaneously went over and talked to the boy, who complained that his father had been detained without trial. The Duke comforted him and the incident was widely reported by the British press (they always sent a contingent of news-hounds to accompany the UK royals on foreign visits.
Two years later, the Queen came herself – accompanied by the
Duke. This visit also attracted political controversy.
In 1961, Ghana was troubled by violent opposition activity. Bombs were thrown into several public places, injuring some people and British politicians expressed the fear that the Queen might become the victim of a bomb blast if she appeared in public with President Kwame Nkrumah. Among personages who expressed anxiety about the safety of the royal party on the visit was Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, the venerated Sir Winston Churchill.
However, the Prime Minister of the time, Mr Harold Macmillan, had himself paid a visit to Ghana the previous year: on a tour of Africa which also took him to South Africa, where he made the speech that gave him an indelible place in history – his “wind of change blowing across Africa” warning top the racist government in South Africa. So Macmillan sent his Defence Minister, Mr Duncan Sandys on an RAF plane to come and “case the joint” in Ghana to find out whether the Queen would be safe or not.
Mr Sandys returned to London to give the visit the thumbs-up. And the Queen and the Duke came. It was a most joyous visit. At a crowded military parade held at Black Star Square in Accra, the Ghanaian comedian, Ajax Bukana, stole the show by dressing up as
a tramp, with padded clothing, and discarding elements of his outfit onto the tarmac, as he marched and saluted the royal party. The Queen endeared herself to Ghanaians by joining in the laughter that greeted Ajax’s antics.
During the Duke’s visit to Ghana in 1959, I noticed that the press party accompanying him included the star foreign correspondent of the London Daily Express, a man called Rene McColl. In those days, foreign correspondents were given a lot of space by heir newspapers, and they were also given very big headline. I had read pieces by Rene McColl from Egypt (during the Suez war of 1956, following the invasion of Egypt by Britain and France, in collusion with Israel.)
I had also followed Mr McColl’s dispatches from the Hungarian border, during the invasion of Hungary in 1956. From Ghana, he reported that the people were overjoyed to see what they called “De
Dook Edinboro” and were sad that “De Queen Mama” had not been able to come.
I was sceptical about any Ghanaians calling the Duke De Dook Edinboro” and the Queen “De Queen Mama.” It sounded a wee bit like the type of language found in novels by colonial writers.
So I sought Mr McColl out in his hotel one day and complemented him for stepping out of the royal press party and listening to what Ghanaians said. I watched his face as I said this.
He twitched slightly but didn’t give much away. But I thought I saw him trying to suppress a slight smile of guilt.
I went away convinced that Rene McColl had made up those “pidgin English” quotes!
I was appalled, for the books I had been reading about journalism, written by British authors, made it quite clear that it was totally unacceptable to pretend that one was reporting facts when, in fact, one was indulging in a bit of fiction-writing.
From then on, my attitude to foreign correspondents changed, and became a bit more sceptical whilst reading their flowery reports from far-away places !.
By CAMERON DUODU