In this deeply symbolic book published in 1968, Ayi Kwei Amar vividly captures the seemingly endless spiral of corruption, moral decadence and spiritual death in post-colonial Ghana.
The book tells the story of a nameless man who struggles to reconcile himself with the reality of post-independence Ghana. Referred to throughout the book, as simply, “The Man”, he refuses to take a bribe, something that angers his wife.
The Man keeps a humble job, and despite the constant naggings of his wife, he lives an honest life, even if that condemns him to a life of poverty. He represents the lot of the common man in Ghana – who has no choice but to reside in the poorest slums and live from hand to mouth.
On the other hand are Ghana’s new leaders, “the black masters” who prove to be worse than the colonialists. They partake of corruption and other vices with such impunity that it has become the way of life for some. Koomson, The Man’s friend, is one such politician. His immense wealth results from his corrupt activities.
Similar stories of corruption and moral decadence abound throughout the book. In another incident, we are told of a bus conductor who is abusive to his passengers and other road users, including a pedestrian crossing the road. The abusive conductor and his derelict bus are symbolic of the newly independent Ghana, heavily ridden by corruption and indigence.
Other notable characters in the book include “the teacher”. Like “the man” he abhors the corrupt society that Ghana has become. He chooses to stay away from it all by becoming a recluse. He has given up hope that society will ever shake off corruption, hence his symbolic exit from the society.
When a military coup occurs, there is some hope that things might change, but sadly, life continues as usual. The military officers join in and start to take bribes too.
The Man helps Koomson, the politician escape from the country through a faeces-ridden toilet-bucket crevice. Ironically, The Man also follows Koomson through the ‘shit-hole’ implying that even those who have avoided corruption are affected by those who engage in it.
Although the book focuses on post independence Ghanaian society, it is symbolic of many other developing countries, where corruption remains a major problem at all levels.
For the common man, there seems to be no end to the scourges of corruption and moral decadence. Indeed, it appears the saviors or the “beautiful ones” as Amar calls them, are not yet born”