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Public protocols and my waist pains by Prof. Kwesi Yankah

Public protocols and my waist pains by Prof. Kwesi Yankah

I wonder when I will get used to public protocols in customary se9ngs: standing
on the approach of a big chief; bowing to greet at 90 degrees; kneeling before
the Most High, and all other postures that simply mean, ‘you are a small fry in
front of a big man.’ In my peculiar case, let me add ‘adjusFng your cloth to say
Happy Birthday, Otumfuo.’

In one such effort, I became an object of public ridicule. 1999, at a farewell
recepFon held at Manhyia by Otumfuor Osei Tutu for Hon Kojo Yankah, then
outgoing AshanF Regional Minister; I had worn my ‘Christmas’ cloth, set to
serially shake hands with chiefs and elders lined up at the recepFon grounds. I
did not quite reach the third in-line, when I was reprimanded to retreat and
reverse my cloth wear before further damage. The problem? Walking with a
swagger to the event, I had completely forgoTen to leave behind my leU-hand
ways, and had worn my cloth as a ‘leUee’ exposing my leU shoulder. Within
seconds, I was called to order and had to comply, ending up with the clumsy
looks of an Achimota boy in cloth wear. That explains the nickname Nana Otuo Serebuor, Paramount Chief of Asante Juaben, instantly gave me: ‘Forced

Looking at one current presidenFal candidate, I marvel at the physical effort
involved in his extraordinarily low bow greeFng chiefs, and keep wondering if his
lower back column is endowed with any bones. If so, he should accept my
congratulaFons, but need not mock at rival compeFtors who could bow to chiefs
in courtesy, but struggle to rise. The Walewale candidate will grow up one day,
and join the club called Waist Pains! A deep bow of course signals deep respect,
but let the ‘Bawu Bow’ conFnue even aUer power has been won. The culture of
leU-hand waves while in power, must stop.
As for the ceremonial stand-up to authority, it begins with the ‘obeisance’
rouFne as soon as Teacher steps the classroom:
‘Class stand! Obeisance,’ says the class prefect.

‘Good morning teacher, good morning friends.’ A brief stand-up salute is the
norm, and reminds Teacher of their authority, and respect they command.
Throughout primary school in Ehyiamu and Osenase, no pupil dared to default
in those courtesies: the cane Teacher wielded was enough deterrent.

Then come frequent stand-ups at church service which are procedural and signal
veneraFon unto the Supreme Being. But this poses knee challenges if extended
to a marathon sFnt, parFcularly on an empty stomach. FaFgue and hunger may
set in should Pastor insist on all 8 stanzas of the Charles Wesley Hymn,
dispensing no mercies upon any waist pains within. In churches where hymns
are slow and dragged, you pray you survive through the last stanza. But Pastor
noFcing widespread unease from the slow pace, may quickly intervene to your
rescue: ‘we shall now sit and sing the last two verses;’ which oUen triggers a
collecFve sigh of relief almost followed by applause.

The issue with churches is the blasphemy implied if you should be seen dragging
your feet or grumbling, when asked to stand in the name of the Lord. Pardonable
excepFons are new arrivals; but oUen caught on the spot are truants and chronic
absentees who have forgoTen church rouFnes, and oddly remain seated when
everyone is on their feet, and keep standing when all else are seated. That
anomaly turns eyes in your direcFon. But it is also an act of self-betrayal, and a
reminder for the ‘culprit’ to see Pastor aUer church, and quickly repair his baTered image in the Fthe register. The climax of all this is the cultural mandate to stand, not for the Supreme Being, but his mortal counterpart on earth. At funerals, woe beFde you if the MC announces the arrival of a big chief and his reFnue, and urges the enFre
gathering to be upstanding as he goes round greeFng. Knowing that chiefs do
not hasten to greet, but walk gently and in majesty, please reach for your
Panadol medicaFon if you have chronic waist issues. Smart mourners hesitate to
rise unFl the great chief has come in close proximity to their secFon; they then
stampede to their feet, straighten cloth wear and respond to royal greeFngs,
internalizing their fury.

There was one incident, however, I can never forget at a big funeral in our
humble Agona neighborhood. May 2016. Being an important funeral, the Yankah
brothers were in full aTendance seated on the front row at the western wing,
our beTer halves seated behind us. Having been upstanding on the arrival of a
few sub chiefs, one other arrival found us dragging our feet. ConsultaFons
started among us. Is that notorious man also a chief? AUer further mouth-to-ear
chat, our leader directed we should remain seated, for that man whom he knew
very well, was a fake chieUain. Thus while the enFre congregaFon was
upstanding the rebels remained seated, as the ‘chief’ did his rounds with hand
waves. Within yards of our space, the fake chief hesitated and grudgingly bowed
to us, as he hobbled to his seat somehow deflated.

In Ghana’s history, there are a few known protocol breaches denigraFng our
Heads of State or naFonal anthem in public. One was between John Ndebugre
and Jerry Rawlings in Bawku December 1991; and a few have happened in recent

When such breaches occur, may our Leaders not be provoked to overreact in
public; they should conFnue their rounds ignoring the culprit; or beTer sFll, peer
at the culprit with an ‘evil’ eye.

Public protocols and my waist pains by Prof. Kwesi Yankah

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