“Land Of A Million Magicians”, one of the significant plays of Mohammed Ben Abdallah, the renowned Ghanaian and African playwright is undoubtedly a reflection and replica of the situation that prevailed in Ghana during the hectic days of PNDC governance of the country in the 1970’s and the 1980’s under the leadership of Ft Lt. Jerry John Rawlings of blessed memory.
During the era of the late 1970’s and the 1980’s under the governance of the S.M.C military rule, the PNP civilian rule under President Hilla Linman,Ghana’s economy had sunked down so much that it reduced the quality of the living standards of ordinary Ghanaians to a level of struggling for survival. And this hard way of living was aptly described as “magic” which implied that Ghanaians were like magicians in their efforts to live under the negative impact of the shattered and chaotic Ghanaian economy which had resulted from long misrule, mismanagement; and an entrenched corruptible practices by many Ghanaians holding public offices.
The economy of Ghana was in shambles; and hardships, suffering and misery were all over the place as only a few Ghanaians could afford three square meals a day!
Starvation and malnutrition had claimed the lives of some Ghanaians; and it was a matter of survival of the fittest in the Ghanaians society during this period of time.
Through a military coup de tat, Ft. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings suddenly emerged onto the Ghanaian political scene for the first time on 4th June 1979 and for the second time on 31st December 1981 in genuine attempts to rescue the economy and to solve the socio-economic hardships and the widespread misery that had engulfed the whole Ghanaian society dueto an entrenched and widespread corruptible practices by some Ghanaians.
In fact, life was very hard for many Ghanaians. Consequently, a great number of Ghanaians fled the country, under this severe negative impact of the Ghanaian economy to other countries, particularly neighbouring Nigeria, whose economy had greatly boomed as a result of oil discovery along the Niger River; Libya, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe etc to earn decent living.
The foregoing was the exact picture of the Ghanaian political and economical situation which had debased and dehumanized ordinary Ghanaians; making it extremely difficult to live healthy and meaningful lives as human beings.
“Land Of A Million Magicians” is set at a place called Nima, a slum suburb area of Accra, the capital city of Ghana, where the indigenes are mostly populated by northern Ghana ethnic groups; and other ethnics groups from West African countries like Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cote De Voire, Togo, Benin, Cameroon etc who mainly communicate in the Hausa language.
These People live hard and bustle life styles in horrible, challenging and overstretched environment, which have inadequate social amenities such as good accommodation, drainage systems, public toilets, incinerators etc. This place is also overcrowded, and the inhabitants live dehumanizing lifestyles such as gambling, armed robbery, alcoholism, drug addiction, prostitution etc.
Defying all warnings from friends, colleagues and well-wishers that he would suffer persecution and arrest by the ruling political authority of the day because the play is extolling criticism; and is a political satire by virtue of its message lampooning the existing unhealthy and bad socio-economic situation of the country.
Abdallah went ahead and put his “Land Of A Million Magicians” on the Ghanaian theatrical stage for Ghanaian audience.
Abdallah was not persecuted or arrested for his “Land Of A Million Magicians”rather the play was acclaimed and popularly enjoyed the Ghanaian theatre audience taste.
In his typical “Abibigoro” concept of African theatre tradition, Abdallah employs a large cast and through music, dance and spectacle, he weaves his story around the hero, Mummuni in a skillfully devised plot structure.
In a prologue addressed to the audience, Mummuni the hero, gives a vivid insight into the sordid environment of Nima, which dictates the life styles of the people to live in dehumanization and squalor.
In fact, this kind of living is also applicable and relevant to the other slum areas of the cities in African countries like Lagos of Nigeria, Nairobi of Kenya, Kampala of Uganda, Addis Ababa of Ethiopia, Johannesburg of South Africa, Harare of Zimbabwe, Kingshasha of Congo Leopoldville, Dakar of Senegal, Bamako of Mali, Lome of Togoland, Duala of Cameroon etc.
By a systematic critical analysis and evaluation of “Land Of A Million Magicians” it can be safely asserted that this play depicts the true living conditions which existed in the Ghanaian society prior to the emergence of Ft. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings on to the Ghanaian political scene in his genuine intention to change the bad socio-economic situation for the better.
By virtue of the theme of “Land Of A Million Magicians”, it can also be asserted that the sordid socio-economic conditions that faced ordinary Ghanaian citizens during the era of the late 1970’s and the 1980’s have resurfaced and are evident now in the present Ghanaian society.
Many ordinary Ghanaians are facing economic hardships, and can hardly afford three square meals a day; let alone afford basic social comforts such as descent accommodation paying for their children’s or ward’s fees to acquire university education etc.
The present socio-economic situation which is characterized by hard living conditions, can be described as history repeating itself; as the ruling government of the day is making genuine efforts by its policies and programmes to make Ghanaians, to live descent, respectable and comfortable life styles.
As a matter fact, creative writers are by nature seers and prophets to the society in which they live. They can foresee the dynamics of the society and determine the outcome by their writings or creative works. They can do critical analysis and evaluation of values and virtues that can sustain the society; or immoralities and vices that can degenerate a society, and lead to its decline and fall.
Abdallah’s “Land Of A Million Magicians” satirizes the Ghanaian society of its various immoralities and vices that are evident today to fulfill this unique natural gifts of creative writers.
In the light of this fact, Ghanaians can learn much from their present hard living conditions to get strongly united as one people with a common destiny; so that they can work individually and collectively to effect a change in their living conditions for the better.
Finally, I have optimism for the present Ghanaian socio-economic situation, and I assert that Ghanaians will be able to learn from “Land Of A Million Magicians” and fully support the ruling government in every way in order to make it possible for the Ghana Beyond Aid Agenda very realistic and meaningful, but not a mere rhetory.
“Land Of A Million Magicians” is very significant, relevant and meaningful to the present Ghanaian socio-economic situation; which is possible for a change by a strongly united, willed and determined Ghanaian people at the present time.
By Michael Akenoo