A Jingle from Ghana’s Famine of ’77

Forty years ago, Ghana (and much of West Africa) was suffering under a famine. Starting around 1970, the Sahel Drought brought a dramatic change in rainfall and crops began failing year after year. By the late 70s, it was a serious crisis and the people of northern Ghana were suffering horribly.

This all came to my attention recently when a Mamprusi friend shared an jingle he remembered from his youth:

Alikaama zamaanni, Baba yi kyɛŋŋi Gambaga
Alikaama zamaanni, Baba yi kyɛŋŋi Gambaga
“Baba, kulim ka labi na, kyɛm ka labi na”
Ka Baba gyɛ suuri.
“Kulim ka labi na, kyɛm ka labi na”
Ka Baba gyɛ suuri.

I asked another friend who lived in Gambaga at the time if she was familiar with the tune and she sang it for me to record.

It translates to:

At wheat time, Baba went to Gambaga,
“Baba, go home and come back, go and come back”
And Baba was ticked off.

They both recalled how in 1977-78 the government promised food relief and rations of wheat to the starving people of Mamprugu. They would head to Gambaga, the district capitol, for the handouts but they were disappointed over and over at the lack of aid.

One friend recalls that they hired the youth to unload the grain from the trucks. She would haul huge heavy bags all day long until the trucks were empty. Then they would pay her in grain. It was just a small bag that she’d receive but she recalls being happy because they were so desperate at the time.

I did some research and came up with this telling August 1977 New York Times article about northern Ghana’s famine that confirmed my friend’s account. It explains that lots of foreign aid was coming into the country but corrupt regional officials were diverting up to 50% of the relief goods to “others not seriously affected by the famine.” The poorest, the disabled and the mentally challenged were the first to die. There were also reports of suicide by parents with no hope to feed their families. It was a terrible time.

I wish I could say this type of corruption is a thing of the past but unfortunately it still plagues relief work in Ghana. Just a couple years ago famed Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas exposed the theft of USAID food for malnourished children by corrupt relief workers in the Upper East Region. He found some of the stolen food for sale in the Northern Region’s Tamala market where I have shopped! You can watch the fascinating 25 minute exposé on Youtube.

“When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.” – Proverbs 29:2

It’s a daily battle to not let the wicked discourage us into inaction and bitterness. Instead, we have to seek to be righteous examples as we work in provide relief to those in need. We need to work with integrity and transparency. We also need to constantly remind our Ghanaian brothers and sisters in Christ that we are new creations who are to have new desires to obey God and a new passion to serve him.

“Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.” – Ephesians 4:22