African viewpoint: Births, marriages and deaths

Ghanaian women who dressed up to watch the royal wedding on 29 April 2011 Ghanaians could have taught the royal wedding guests something about fashion

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Ghanaian writer and former government minister Elizabeth Ohene reflects on how some conspiracy theories and clock-watching would be unfathomable on the continent.

Birth, marriage and death, and of course a few things in between, mark the three main pillars of human existence.

All three have been very much in the headlines in these past few weeks.

I was not sure whether to laugh or cry as US President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, made his address on the release of what the Americans are calling his "long-form" birth certificate to stop the dispute about him not being a natural-born American.

Start Quote

I still cannot believe there was no collection taken, more than a thousand people in the church and no offertory taken”

End Quote

I decided not to spend a lot of time on the weird phenomenon called "the birthers" that generated the dispute, because to borrow President Obama's words, I also do not have time for "silliness".

But I did think of what would have happened if an Obama had been faced with a similar situation in Ghana.

I suspect very few of the people who have been or would be president in Ghana have birth certificates issued at the time of their birth.

Fewer than 50% of current births are registered in Ghana and even less when it comes to deaths.

I just hope the rest of the world continues to accept our birth certificates that are often first issued when we are in our twenties and looking for passports.

Pushing back the years

But then of course if we were to start registering all births, it would also eliminate the type of truly remarkable entry I saw in the official government gazette last November.

Start Quote

Swaziland's King Mswati III at Westminster Abbey on 29 April 2011

Catherine really should have protested about the invitation to the Swazi king just in case William is tempted to emulate his example and try to add 12 extra wives”

End Quote

Published in this gazette was a sworn affidavit from a man who works with the fire service, to the effect that in view of fresh information that had just come to his notice, he was in fact eight years younger than he had always thought and therefore his records at his work place should be amended to reflect this new reality.

There is not likely to be any argument ever about the marriage ceremony that brought the whole world to a halt 10 days ago.

Like the rest of the world, I watched William and Kate's royal wedding.

Of course I was impressed by the pomp and pageantry and how everything went like clockwork.

Prince Charles was scheduled to arrive at 0942 GMT and he and his wife arrive at the abbey at 0942 GMT on the dot.

I think back on our functions and our inability to start or end at the scheduled time.

A big crowd at any function, especially a religious ceremony in Ghana, guarantees that the officiating priests will get carried away.

Here were these priests in Westminster Abbey being watched by more than a billion people and they are not tempted to bring down the holy spirit through the roof.

And I still cannot believe there was no collection taken, more than 1,000 people in the church and no offertory taken.

There was just the one African head of state on the guest list and Catherine, the new duchess of Cambridge, really should have protested about the invitation to the Swazi king just in case William is tempted to emulate his example and try to add 12 extra wives.

Oh yes, I liked the bride's outfit and the maid of honour was elegant but as for the guests, I believe Nigerian and Ghanaian women would have taught them a thing or two and brought far more colour to the occasion.

Kenyan men read local dailies with the headline on 3 May 2011 How Obama got Osama in Nairobi Kenyans reads about Osama Bin Laden's death in Nairobi where the US embassy was bombed in 1998

On the fashion front we are just so much better.

We were still trying to decide who had the tallest shoes when the announcement of the death of Osama Bin Laden came and ended all discussion on other subjects.

I think back to the first time the name of the al-Qaeda leader came to my consciousness; the day of the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 when some 224 people were killed.

Then I think of having to take off my shoes and being fingerprinted at airports and embassies and a quote comes to mind, which has been wrongly attributed to the author Mark Twain over the last week.

US civil rights lawyer Clarence Darrow said in 1932: "All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike someone they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction."


More on This Story

Letter from Africa

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    This article made me laugh out loud. Oh yes, you are absolutely right, African time is the cause of time. Those Africans would show up on time to other things not being held by Africans, but not their own...late all the time. In the hard economy, that three hundred invitation would be three time the size as invitees would bring their friends and family members. Nicely made my morning!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    What a refreshing article. I cracked up laughing. Well done. It is wonderful to see that some people still see the lighter side of life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Hi Elizabeth: Are you really suggesting the bride should have objected to the Swazi king's invite because of his multitude of wives? You clearly don't realize that the British royal family is one defined almost entirely by sexual infidelity. More generally, while I don't approve of infidelity, I actually prefer the honest African practice, to the hypocrisy of Westerners when it comes to marriage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I think Elizabeth is somehow notorious in her attempt to write some of these things. I hope she will be humble enough and take on some of the members of her political party where she was a minister. Everyone knows how much they are in the habit of coming late to functions and other vices. No offering was taken for sure but Princess Beatrice hat is on ebay. How about that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Forget the absence of both the "short" and "long" certicates -- Africa is the official cradle of the "birther" movement. Just turn your pen next door to the West for the latest "birther" drama -- a thousand dead bodies later!

    With the kind porous DNA that Africans have been brewing for milleniums now -- only the totally insane still believe in such cheap politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    "On the fashion front we are just so much better", writes Elizabeth Ohene. Oh dear. Shame the same can't be said for her spelling of US President "Barrack" Obama's name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I enjoyed reading your article too Ms Ohene. Do you and your readers know that "habitual lateness" to formal/not so formal events popularly known as "African Time" is not unique to Africa? Latin American countries including some Carribean Islands are also known to be notoriously late to events. You were right Nigerians or Ghanaians could show the British royal couple a thing or two about fashion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.


  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I couldn't help but laugh after reading your article Lizzy. If William and Kate's wedding had been done in Africa, more than one offering would have been taken and 'Africa time' applied. Even in the Western world, a lot of Africans finds it difficult keeping to time when invited to a birthday party or baby dedication. I was only told when I was born and the people born around the same time. No BC.


Comments 5 of 9


More Africa stories



Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.