Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Judgment Debt – The Play: (Sombre, Absurd and Hilarious)

I want to write a play about judgment debts, and given the seriousness of the subject and its rather grave impact on our economy and society I believe that the drama should be a dark tragedy. As I see it, Judgment Debt, the Play should be all dark, sombre and moody with the characters moving in shadows like silhouettes against a fading wall. It will be silent and the only sound will be of wailing, as of the Bible passage in Matthew 2:7:

“A voice has been heard in Rama, weeping, and great lamentation: Rachel weeping [for] her children, and not be comforted, because they are not”.

Our tragic wailing would be long, tortured and hollow – unforgettable screeches of Ghana weeping for her children but she would not be comforted because prosperous they are not. The play would begin with a long parade of famished children carrying their broken chairs to schools under trees, followed by unborn babies who have died and gone prematurely to Heaven because of lack of medicines and hospital equipment; unpaid teachers, contractors, and national service personnel would follow; farmers, fisher-folk and all kinds of victim-folk would have their dismal turn on stage; potholes dressed as pots with holes will strut upon the stage; coming at the rear would be the unemployed, or the de-jobbed masses (with apologies to Wendy). The play being a Greek tragedy the rest of us who fall somewhere in between the cracks vacated by the main dramatis personae would form the participating chorus.

As with all good tragedies we need a hero and a foil, which will be easy casting in this case. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, or in this case, cometh the men because ultimately, the drama has to be about two men – Messrs Agbesi Woyome and Martin Amidu whose places in history will forever be tied securely to the anchor of judgment debt no matter which way the billowing gale of history will blow. In true tragedy fashion, different people will have different heroes depending not on the unfolding drama but their personal faiths and beliefs. That is the real character of politics in Ghana in the second decade of the 21st Century. Let us hear this verdict from the Qur’an Chapter 4, Verse 85:

"Whoever recommends and helps a good cause becomes a partner therein, and whoever recommends and helps an evil cause shares in its burden."

There is another way of looking at this drama. It is the theatre tradition known as the Theatre of the Absurd, in which nothing makes sense, perhaps except to a small band of insiders who are playing roles only they can understand. In this version it would be hard to tell whether we are celebrating or lamenting judgment debt because the lead characters would go looking for debts all night long and hug them like long lost relatives who will be presented to a bemused nation every morning. New revelations of judgment debt would be met with fanfare and ice cream for the children and champagne for the adults. Days without new judgment debts would be days of woes. Judgment debts are like the Prodigal Son – the longer they have been away the bigger the welcome party, and indeed the more profligate the better.

Once again, as with the Greek tragedy, in this absurdist version, we the people will duly constitute the participating audience; now passive, a bit talkative when required; show us the money and we will talk. If you will be my paymaster I will be your long-lost serial caller. We the people, just like the main characters will not have a clue what the fuss is about but we will jabber on because the chorus has to say or sing something for Christ sake. Sure, we understand it is all about power and the use of same to get rich quick. We understand it is not about us at all; indeed we might as well, as Bertolt Brecht advised, call on the politicians to elect a new people to govern since we have become useless bystanders looking on as they amass power and wealth and rub it in the sores of our wounded dignity.

That ought to be the proper tone for Judgment Debt – The Play, but unfortunately, the play in my head threatens to become a comedy every time I give voice to the characters. It cannot be anything but comic to imagine another hero of the Judgment Debt Movement, Mr. Okudzeto Ablakwa, whose daytime Job is the Deputy Minister of Information, spending night after night going through the archives looking for judgment debts. On stage we could put his feet in buckets of cold water and give him loads of coffee and colanuts to keep him awake as he goes through his onerous but patriotic task.

Comedy is about role reversals and making the improbable happen such as the Minister of Information reportedly introducing his own deputy at the latter’s recent judgment debt show. However, in the stage version all this would be cleared up in a few revelatory dialogue lines:

Questioner: Minister, may I ask you why you had to introduce your deputy and be the MC for him at this press conference?

Minister: Are you referring to my colleague Minister as my deputy?

2nd Questioner: Minister, the previous questioner was referring to your deputy sitting next to you…

(The Minister bends left as if to take instructions from his deputy)

Minister: Aha, I see your confusion. My so-called deputy is actually a full minister

Chorus: How? What? What do you mean?

Minister: Yes, Ghanaian journalists are complacent. If you had paid attention you would have noticed that my so-called deputy is now the Minister for Judgment Debts, a position that has been created secretly by His Excellency the President in line with the Better Ghana Agenda.

3rd Questioner: Minister…!

Minister rises to his full height.

Minister: ladies and gentlemen, you may have forgotten that His Excellency the President studied at the feet of our former mentor, the Master Strategist himself, who taught us that the most valuable military tactic is surprise and attack. In secretly creating a Ministry of Judgment Debt His Excellency the President deployed this tactic to great advantage and the enemy has been outflanked. At the end of the day, if the media are circumspect with their reportage and everything inures to the benefit of the nation as a whole we will all appreciate the wisdom of His Excellency the President… 

Chorus: What? How?

Minister: Well, my young deputy here is in actual fact my boss, and indeed the boss of a certain former attorney general who was not privy to the strategy…

As he speaks, the curtain draws slowly. The legend JJ – Jaguar Jokers is embossed on the velvet curtain. The chorus breaks into Ephraim Amu’s eternal anthem:

Yɛn ara asaase ni/Ɛyɛ abɔdenden ma yɛn/Mogya a Nananom hwie gu,/nya de too hɔ maa yɛn

Aduru me ne wo nso so/Sɛ yɛbɛyɛ bi atoa so/Nimdeɛ ntraso nkotokrane/ne apɛsɛmenkomenya

Adi yɛn bra mu dɛm ama/yen Asaase hɔ do atɔmu sɛ

Ɔman no sɛ ɛbɛ yɛ yie/oo Ɔman no se ɛnyɛ yie oo/Ɛ yɛ sɛ na ɔsɛ, ɔmanfo bra na ekyerɛ

In translation: This is our own cherished land/ acquired through the blood our ancestors shed for us/

It is now our turn to continue what our ancestors started/ Pride, cheating and selfishness has scarred our character/ and diminished our affection for our land.

Whether or not this nation prospers/ Depends on the character of the citizens of the nation.

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