'While many are worrying about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs and it is getting more difficult every day,' Robert B. Zoellick, President of World Bank,
April 11, 2008.
There are certain periods and events that some people of my generation in this country would quickly wish to forget, and one of them is the period between 1981 and 1992, with a high point in 1983. During that time, a regional secretary gave an order in the Eastern Region for farmers in the Eastern Region not to harvest fresh corn- from their own farms. The corn was to be allowed to ripen and dry before being harvested, thereby making it ready for conversion into dough and then kenkey
Fresh corn was not (and is not) a recipe for kenkey, but many Ghanaians ordinarily enjoy it as a snack. However, in a period of acute food shortage, a farmer who had planted corn might not be merely harvesting the fresh corn to cook or roast as savoury or delicious hors d'oeuvre or appetizer or snack. It was to satisfy a burning or biting hunger, famine or starvation.
Anyone who was caught harvesting fresh corn or cooking, steaming or roasting it was 'drilled' by 'vigilantes', and the corn seized. 'Vigilantes' were mostly unskilled, unpaid, young men who got indirect payments from goods seized from those who hoarded them or sold them above the 'controlled price'.
The pangs of hunger were visible on everyone except the architects of the so-called 'Revolution', and this was typified in the 'Rawlings' chain' (the visible collar bones of the hunger period of the early Rawlings's regime) that Ghanaians sported.
That was how some Ghanaians found themselves in this critical, desperate, reproachful period of our history- a period that saw so many restrictions, hardships and difficulties- a curfew from six o'clock in the evening to six o'clock in the morning ; controlled prices of goods ('essential goods' or 'essenco') which were not available (and departmental stores were empty save for brooms and brushes); severe punishment- (instant justice) for hoarding- cigarettes , 6 tins of milk, 6 pieces of wax print , 6 empty beer bottles. Travellers had to go through difficult times because Ghana's borders were closed. But nobody could talk- Rawlings himself spoke of a 'culture of silence' However, those going to, and coming from, Nigeria always had a way out. With a few nairas, one could buy one's way out at Aflao, Leklebi-Darfur, Honuta and other border towns.
The immigration authorities in Ghana, Togo, and Benin seemed to understand the situation and were very sympathetic. The vehicles were always available and the outward journey- towards Nigeria- was usually by 'short- short'.
The Ghanaians who had travelled to Nigeria especially- would return home with loaves of bread, small, small bags of rice, small bags of semovita, small bags of rice, and small bags of wheat. As for soap, the border guards would seize anything more than six cakes, leaving the people with no other choice than 'don't touch me' which, as its name implied, left the user's skin susceptible to all kinds of skin diseases
The black market for currencies triumphed and the Ghanaians who were returning to Ghana as 'Agege returnees' or 'Agege deportees' had ingenious ways of 'importing' Naira (the Nigerian currency), dollars and pounds: It was a simple matter of cutting a bar of soap into two halves, digging a cavity into these, stuffing them with the cash and piecing them together again, or, one could tear open the flap of his trousers, stuff it with notes and re-sew the flap. There were so many clever ways to outwit the Customs, Immigration and the border guard.
The 'Agege returnee' was a term used for those who had returned on their own from the sojourn to Nigeria, mostly teachers, lecturers, doctors, nurses and other professionals. An 'Agege deportee' referred to those who had been forced out of Nigeria, mostly young unskilled men and women who had been attracted by 'Naira-power' (the heavy value of the Nigerian currency) to join the 'Agege-train' (exodus to Nigeria) to hustle for naira and other convertible currency. Some would return with new clothes, new shoes, six tins of sardines, six cakes of toilet soap (imperial Leather or Joy), and of course, the ghetto blaster with which they would parade their village streets 'blasting soundz' to the delight of darkness-consumed villagers.
There appeared to be so much pressure on the available food in Ghana. People would be found queuing at a 'kenkey' seller's place- not to buy cooked 'kenkey' as President Mills did, but to buy the uncooked stuff, and take it home to cook himself or herself. These scenes were typical in the cities, where 'atwemo' became a substitute for bread, and one could have a lunch of 'aweasu' or 'koose' and a piece of coconut. In the villages, people became very innovative- trying all sorts of 'new' menus.
For those who liked 'fufu' (pounded plantain, pounded yam or pounded cocoyam mixed with cassava), it was a weekly affair, and one had to resort 'kokonte' (fufu made from dry cassava flour). 'Kokonte' became such a delicacy especially with groundnut soup or palm-nut soup. Meat and fish were rare, and one could find himself lucky if they could lay hands on 'Ewura- Efua' and 'kpanla' fishes which were relatively cheaper and relatively more abundant. I cherish 'kokonte' so much that it is on my list of prized menus. I never miss it on a Saturday or Sunday morning when a 'kookoo ase kuraseni' like me visits Accra. Of course, on weekdays, my breakfast is either 'koko' and 'koose' or 'kenkey' and 'kpakposhito' with a few small fishes like 'Keta school boys' to go with it.
By Africanus Owusu-Ansah