Ayi Kwei Armah is a popular Ghanaian writer well known for his scatological portrayal of his society in The Beautyful Ones are not Yet Born as diseased, corrupt, and morally cancerous.
He is a strong critic of the dysfunction in the Ghanaian society and the lot of other African nations held by the jugular by the agents of neocolonialism Ngugi wa Thiong’o harps on in his post-colonial novels. Ayi Kwei Armah has also authored several other novels critical of the dysfunction in the society.
In “News”, Ayi Kwei Armah examines the recycling of obscene corruption and bad leadership with the change of hands that come with coups. There is change in dictatorship but the same ‘cat-eat-rat’ system remains. He posits that every coup plotter has nothing good to offer aside the perpetuation of the same vices he criticizes in the government he ousts.
“News” is an assessment of the several coup d’etats and attempted coups that became rife in most African countries in the first decade of their independence. The poem echoes the poet’s disappointment at the festering societal rottenness despite the frequent forceful changes in government.
In other words, the poet sees only the change in who commits what atrocity and not the necessary social reforms messianic governments promise at inception of power.
In Nigeria, there was a coup d’etat on January 15, 1966, which saw the ousting and gruesome assassination of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and other political allies. Some of the reasons cited for staging a coup were corruption, violence, electoral crises, and bad governance.
Barely six months later, there would be another coup staged for slightly modified reasons. Nigeria would go on to spend about thirty-five years of its independence in the claws of military rule, witnessing a total of nine coup d’etats and a civil war along the way. Every time, the coup plotters cited the same reasons. They promised reforms which were not forthcoming.
In Ayi Kwei Armah’s Ghana, things were not any different. On 24 February, 1966, a military coup that would usher in General Ankrah ousted Kwame Nkrumah’s administration. The coup plotters justify their takeover by charging that CPP administration was abusive and corrupt.
In 1969, there was another coup and yet again, the reasons for it are not much different for those mentioned by the 1966 plotters.
Ayi Kwei Armah’s “News” points out the hypocrisy of the coup plotters, their blame game, and the futility of the whole exercise.
In “News”, the poet relays the news of an “attempted coup” which is obviously not the first to fail. The ringleaders are targeted as “the latest scapeleaders in the game of neocolonial chairs”.
He draws a defining line between the people’s views and his view. For him, forceful changes in government or attempts to are facilitated by a system forced on his society by colonial powers — inseparable that even after independence, the system wins and the rot festers.
He points at the failed coup, what would have been “a relatively bloodless coup”, as an application of wrong measures to a neocolonial problem; to the continuing representation of European interests by their African replacements.
The coup plotters “play the redeemer”, “trying individual cures for social cancers”. The societal system is cancerous. The poet sees reform in terms of a total overhaul of the system rather than the sustainment and perpetuation of the system by “another small tight group”.
Ayi Kwei Armah faults the perception of the people that reforms will come while the system initiated and instituted by the colonial powers still stands.
As typical of the writer in his prose works, he employs words like “social cancers” and “abscess” to describe the extent of how things have gone south.
The last three lines of the poem, “on the sliver of our continental home/we’ve been conned into calling/our state” remind us that the partition of Africa into countries is actually a European project; that African states are European realities forced on us.
The poem sums up the rife military coups in African countries in their early decades of independence and the futility of these disrupts in democratic processes as they are counter-intuitive. It offers a criticism of the futile process of “straining to slash apart the current ruling knot” and “substituting another small tight group for the one serving its bitter time”.