Mr Asamoah Boateng is being cast in the role of someone who will go down in history as “the Ghanaian Marie Antoinette”. He is reported to have said on a radio station that those of his constituents who were complaining because they could no longer afford to eat fufu, should “eat konkonte”! Konkonte is made from cassava, and in the Akan areas of Ghana, where his constituency is situated, cassava products, such as konkonte (or what the Ga call dzidzi) as well as gari and akple, come a poor fourth, after the staples − plantain, yam and cocoyam − by way of dishes of choice. Like Marie Antoinette (wife of the French King, Louis XVI) who is alleged to have said “Let them eat cake”, when it was reported to her that the peasants of France were starving because they had no bread to eat, Asamoah Boateng (“Asabee”) is said to have suggested konkonte for the hungry people. This, of course, was immediately interpreted as a snobbish and insensitive reaction to his constituents’ complaints. It is fufu they wanted to eat, not konkonte!
Now, if he did say such a thing, then Asabee is a very poor politician. In a democracy, one’s political opponents are always waiting for one’s verbal diarrhoea to strike and make one commit what Mrs Hillary Clinton called a misspoken” indiscretion (during the 2008 campaign for the Democratic Party nomination against Barack Obama), so that they can use the indiscretion to woo away one’s supporters, saying that uttering a line like that was most unwise.
That aside, if Asabee knew his own party’s history well, he would have remembered that once, when the leader of the Progress Party (the parent party of Asabee’s New Patriotic Party), Dr Kofi Busia (Prime Minister of Ghana from 1969 to 1972) made an innocent remark, lamenting the fact that some people in Ghana’s rural areas were forced to drink water that was “worse than the [treated] water in his toilet”, his political opponents jumped on him and never allowed him to live it down. “Busia does not respect the rural inhabitants,” his political enemies claimed. “He’s adversely comparing the water they drink to the water in his toilet!”
Indeed, even Marie Antoinette too, probably, never made the “Let them eat cake” remark that has been widely attributed to her in the history books. Never mind – her political opponents used it to incite so much hatred against her, during the French Revolution of 1789, that she was convicted of treason and executed by guillotine in 1793. Similarly, there are people in Asabee’s constituency who, given half a chance, would string him up on the nearest tree, without breaking sweat. People are touchy about the food they eat, and it hurts them a lot if they think you’re looking down on it.
Asabee’s troubles with the Ghana Bureau of National Investigations alone should make him go down in history. But that’s not enough for his detractors. They have now amplified the story by editing it to read like this: when Asabee was detained at the BNI for interrogation, he was offered konkonte to eat! And do you know what? He refused to eat it. Yeah − he who had suggested that others should eat konkonte, had refused to eat it when it was offered to him by the BNI.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe the story. It is definitely an apocryphal story; or what the Nigerians call “a tori with k-leg”. They mean to tell us that a fearsome organisation like the BNI have a sense of humour? How could it have sussed out that it would be funny to get konkonte for Asabee? Even if it did, since when has the BNI begun to issue bulletins on the diet it provide its detainees? That organisation is not exactly fond of telling the public anything whatsoever about whom it “invites” into its cells and how it treats them, is it? You try to go there to ask for someone they have arrested! In nine cases out of 10, they will tell you they don’t know what you’re talking about. Their business is to conceal information, not provide it. Unless, of course, they want to destroy someone’s reputation.
Furthermore, the “BNI konkonte for Asabee” story has, as far as I know, not been reported anywhere else apart from a totally irresponsible website that publishes almost any nonsense anyone sends to it about Ghana, whether it’s true or not.
Apart from the disgusting sadism exhibited in the comments on the website, there is a lamentable lack of concern shown there about the legality or otherwise of Asabee’s detention, and also about the way and manner in which the BNI and other investigative agencies should behave towards the Ghanaian citizenry, generally, under constitutional, civilian rule. In a country that has endured military rule so often, it is extremely important that the difference between constitutional rule and military rule should be absolutely and clearly marked, and it is awful that the BNI should be acting as if we were still under military rule.
This is especially so, as President John Atta Mills, whose commands the BNI is supposed to obey, is a law professor; and the National Security Advisor, under whom the director of the BNI is supposed to operate, is, himself, a soldier who has taken the trouble to qualify fully as a lawyer. The rule of law is a difficult thing to implement, but the constitution obliges the BNI to do just that. It should cleanse itself of the whiff of authoritarianism that makes many believe it is the KGB and NKVD combined, irrespective of what party is in power.
Anyway, a discussion of the rule of law is not the main purpose of this article. I am primarily interested in the konkonte issue. And here is the secret: when I was a kid, I was very partial to konkonte! I used to steal away from home and go to the market to buy konkonte and eat it there! A woman called Maame Amma sold konkonte in the market, and I used to hunt around for discarded cutlasses and other ironmongery, which I sold to the local blacksmith for a penny, twopence or when I was particularly lucky, three pence. I would then blow almost all of the money on konkonte.
The konkonte made by that woman was of such a quality as is difficult to describe. It was very smooth, and it was brownish-yellow in colour (not the unappetising dark grey, getting towards black, that you sometimes see). It was beautiful when it came out of her big pot and she cut it into smallish portions, each of which cost just one penny. One penny’s worth was enough to give me a nice breakfast, upon which I could stand tall and face the day’s schooling.
The woman used to make the most delicious palm-nut soup to go with the konkonte. One of the ingredients she used to give her soup its peculiar taste was the tail of a cow, which had been broiled over a coal-fire, and left to “cure” for at least two days. She then boiled it until it was so soft that the bones could be easily split by one’s teeth. It sweeted bad! Especially when one sucked out the slightly salty bone marrow.
Sometimes, too, she used the entrails of the cow. She gave you a piece of stomach, as well as a piece of intestine. Soft-cooked small intestine tasted out of this world. To balance the taste of the soup, Maame Amma put in smoked herrings − another delicacy. After one had gorged oneself with her soup, one needed to wash one’s hands well with soap, otherwise one’s teacher would ask questions when one handed in one’s exercise book. Some of the really bad boys among us gave her soup a special name: Ebon, nso yedi (which is to say, “it pongs but we savour it”.) Sometimes, to make other boys jealous, one would only half-wash one’s hands and deliberately pass a hand near their noses. “You’ve been to Ebon!”, they would say. And one would half-smile, with the sheer complacency of one who knew something but wasn’t telling.
My mother never made konkonte at home, though she knew how to make it. That was its attraction − it was something “exotic” that one couldn’t get at home. Other “non-domesticated” stuff that we liked were fula, kafa and koose. Our parents frowned on them in much the same way that modern parents are always going on about how their kids prefer “fast foods” such as McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried, to home-cooked food. Our fast foods had this distinction, though: they were absolutely healthy. Our foods were so non-fatty that when I look back on the entire 10 years I spent in primary and senior school up to “Standard Seven”, I can’t say I remember even one single child who showed any signs of embarking on the road to that modern would-be destroyer of childhood fun − obesity. And, of course, we would refute any suggestion that konkonte is such a sub-standard meal that only an insensitive snob would recommend that one should eat it. To any such suggestion, all I for one would say is, “Charlie, you don’t know anything, do you? Konkonte is ‘low-cost’? Tchah!”