Slay Queens and Bad Old Men

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You learn a lot about a society from how they treat their deviants. But I bet you can learn more from how those deviants respond to society’s treatment. So, Tracey Boakye says she sleeps with multiple men and is “smart” enough to “profit” from her sexual relations. And while she was at it, she mocked Mzbel for being an “old woman”, with a “greying vagina” who was stupid for sleeping with many men but does not have anything to show for it. In response, Mzbel mocked Tracey for unveiling that the source of her wealth is sleeping with men even though she had claimed in the past that her success is by dint of hard work. The reason for these jibes? Well, they are both squabbling about “the man” they both dated, and who seems to have ditched Mzbel in favour of Tracey. We still do not know who “the man” is. A third woman suggests “the man” in question is an ex-President, but Tracey denies it. Folks, this drama sums up Ghanaian morality.

Ours is a society run on a cocktail of traditional and conservative Christian morality. And these women (not the men) are the deviants for breaking the rules about sex, chastity and the sacredness of the woman’s body. In Ghana, a woman’s body is not hers; it is sacred for the society, to be covered and adored until such time when, through ceremony and tradition, it is married off into a husband’s control for sex and childbirth. A man’s body is his own, to will and use as he pleases, for work, wealth, sex, and even for violence.

The fallout of this exposé is the entertainment value of “the man” and the moral shame of these women who broke the rules about the sacredness of marriage, sex and the woman’s body, and dared to tell us. Tracey insists her body is hers to use as she pleases and refuses to accept the shame. But even Tracey admits that her freedom of her body is legitimized by her spinster status; she’s “nobody’s wife” so she “can do what she wants with her body”. There! But “the man” in question is married, which begs the question.

Tracey’s shaming of MzBel also unveils her transactional motivations to her use of her body. For some, this does not make her any different from a sex worker, an “ashawo” in local terms, but that judgement does not seem to apply to “the man” who clearly is having sexual affairs with multiple women in a similar transactional fashion, and is at least party to the transaction. Why is he not the slut?

But aren’t all relationships, including marriages a form of exchange? Don’t we choose our partners based on certain things we benefit from them? Aren’t all relationships full of exchanges where we give and take, and therefore exit the relationship when we feel we are giving more than we get or no longer like what we are getting? Remember when the girlfriend came to cook for you, you had sex and you gave her money when she was leaving? Remember when the guy did not give you money after all that cooking and sex and you were upset? Or that time you got upset that you spent all that money on the girl and she refused to sleep with you? Aren’t even marriages officially recognised as legal contracts? Are we that much better or different?

So perhaps this forces us to rethink what are the boundaries of acceptable exchanges in a sexual relationship, and if our norms are “correct”. Perhaps, the line between our morally upright exchanges in our “normal” sexual relations and the supposedly immoral exchanges of sex workers is only as thick as our emotional investment and branding. Because I’m sure sex workers also “love” their loyal and high paying customers. And if perhaps I’m wrong, then perhaps we are all wrong or both right. But should that matter?

Tracey Boakye is not a hero. No. She is not the villain. She is just a player in a game we built and set the rules. She didn’t break the rules. She is just playing the game using rules assigned to male players and dares to say it. But she has done a lot for the game too, by reinforcing its rules. She mocks another woman for not playing by the rules for women (or men) players and losing. She mocks her for still playing the game when she was supposed to have retired from the game at age 40 as is expected of female players in the game.

Tracey Boakye is just an anti-hero. And we give her our attention—in our homes, media, music, and even Parliament—because she matters. She matters for what we are, what we are afraid of becoming, and what we pretend not to be or like. She is us. So, shame on us.

Repositioning Black Bodies

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had and still have a racism pandemic. In the last few weeks, we are seeing the contestation over the value of black lives unfold in a theatre of protests in major cities all over the world. The current wave of protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis has reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and indeed protests against racism and racist policing, which dates back over a 100 years. But to say that the current events have reinvigorated the BLM movement is to suggest that the movement lost momentum. But did it? And the very demand for black lives to matter suggests black lives may not have mattered as other lives. And this is the very issue that has set my big head reeling. (Why) Did black lives (not) always matter?

Black People Have an Image Problem

Let’s “face” it, black people have an image problem. Images are powerful in their ability to shape beliefs, imagination, attitudes and reality; seeing is believing. Unfortunately, for hundreds of years, the image of the black body has been terribly negative. Colonialism depicted black people in Africa as brutes who needed to be civilized, and post-colonialism, the image associated with black people in Africa is that of poverty, hunger, corruption, civil wars and disease. In Australia, white settlers from Europe killed and decimated the societies of the darker skinned aboriginals because they deemed the aboriginals to be less civilized and unequal. The images of aboriginals remain largely negative in Australia, regardless of reconciliatory efforts in the national and political discourse.

In America, black people were brought in as slaves, sold and bought as properties of white people, and considered less human than white people. Since the abolishment of slavery, through segregation and Jim Crowe laws, the image of black people in America has been marked as low literate, low-status, deviant, violent and criminal. The global reach of American cinema and news means that these images are broadcast beyond the American continent into the minds and hearts of many people around the world. Recent media narratives in Australia about “African gangs” simply reified these “gangster” images of black people in American cinema and media. These stories are so powerful that even some black people believe these images about black people. Some Africans even agreed with Trump that indeed the continent is full of shit-hole countries. The image problem also translates into economic representations for black people. If you ever go to the United States, you will notice that black (and other coloured) bodies mostly occupy low-paying and low-status jobs.

Nobody is born with racism encoded into their DNA; people learn racism. When they learn about black people, these are the images that they learn; these are the realities that they encode into their memory, knowingly and unwittingly. How many people have we heard say and do something racist and yet insist that they are not racist? I am not discounting other serious systemic factors that are culpable; I have noted some of them above. Rather, I want to point out that these historical and systemic events and practices have institutionalized a bad brand image of deviance of the black body that is easily consumed and internalized by people who were born long after these systemic events like colonialism, slavery, and Jim Crowe ended. And this makes it easier for some people to treat black bodies with suspicion, fear and violence. To really make black lives matter, we must seriously make images of black lives better.

Changing the Narrative

There are potentially many ways to reposition the black body away from negative associations. I will highlight only one here—representation. About 2 years ago, I went to have a roundtable discussion with participants of the African Leadership program in Melbourne about problems African entrepreneurs in Australia face. A participant noted that many black and white customers alike don’t usually trust African entrepreneurs as capable of delivering on certain services simply because they may not know any black people in such roles. Another who agreed blatantly confessed that even when they were told that a university lecturer would be coming to speak with them that day, they assumed that I would be white. I took no offence; I understood. I cannot tell you the number of times I have walked into my own lecture and been asked if I am a student and been met with surprise when they find out I am the lecturer. I know that many of my students have never been taught by a black person before. So, whenever I walk into any classroom at the start of the semester, I know that I will represent a new image of the black body they have not seen before. This is the repositioning of the black body that I am campaigning for here.

It is progressive to talk the talk of supporting BLM by posting a message, joining a protest or taking a knee. But are we willing to walk the walk of contributing to a better representation of the black body? In a recent article for Marketing Week, Mark Ritson unapologetically pointed out the “hypocrisies” of brands like Nike, Adidas, Apple, L’Oréal and Spotify who loudly proclaimed their support for the BLM movement all over social media and yet do not have a single black person on their executive boards. But this is a rather common omission in the executive teams of many Australian workplaces including major brands like NAB, Rio Tinto and Qantas. This omission in places of status and power is a missed opportunity to rewrite images of black bodies over the long term.

Each black body we can locate in a position of high status contributes a page to a better image of black lives.  For example, if all news media, advertising, television and film industries put more black bodies on their executive boards, then it is more likely than not that these institutions will be more responsible in the images they present about black people. If more white people are managed by or work in the same roles of high status as black people, they will have a better image of black people. If customers see that the businesses and institutions that they receive services from are partly run by and managed by black people, they will have a better image about black people. If black children see that black bodies occupy important roles in society, they will grow up aspiring to a better image of the black person. If young white children grow up seeing black bodies occupying important roles in society, they will grow up with a better image of black people.

We have seen the number of young white people who have joined these recent protests in America. I speculate here that these are young people who grew up during the Obama presidency and growing up with the image of a black body leading the nation had an important effect on their perception of black people. They don’t just believe; they know that black lives matter. Obama’s presidency—for better or worse—was indeed significant for all black lives all over the world. More of such representation is needed because one image, no matter how powerful, is not enough to rewrite centuries-long negative stories of black lives.

If there is anything to learn from the past, it is this: protests and movements come and go; they may lead to some immediate changes to calm sentiments, but they do not usually succeed in rooting out the problem. The Akan proverb, “we do not prune a dangerous tree; we uproot it” is salient here. Police reforms and legislations may reduce some forms of police brutality, but it won’t really remove negative images of black people from the minds of people; people make the police.

Real change that will be sustainable for generations unborn is a change in the narrative around the black body. If we can treat black people as people, report crimes by black people as crimes and not as black deviance just as we report white crime as crime, if we can positively discriminate for black people by putting black bodies in positions of high status and visibility, then we will be making black lives truly matter in a way that all lives matter. This is true for black lives as much as it is for all people of colour. But if we limit this to grand speeches and PC social media posts, then we are simply pruning the tree of racial discrimination until it grows again to painfully claim more black lives and dignities, and then we will hit the streets again to repeat this theatre of protests. But to what end?

Gillette the Fuck Outta Here! Or No?

Image result for gillette best man can be ad

Guess who is facing the shame shave now? Gillette’s controversial ad that seeks to address ‘toxic masculinity’ has racked up millions of views, lots of praise but zillions of backlash. Watch it here. I think Gilette’s actual error is that they designed communication tactics without a proper branding strategy. Yes, the preachy tone annoys me but I’m not swayed by the Youtube dislikes and all the brouhaha. That’s always bound to happen when any brand takes a stance on such issues.

But the difference between people burning Nike shoes and people flushing Gilette razors is that Gilette is not going to really win any new customers with this. This type of positioning is very much what Nike likes to do; that’s part of their brand strategy. So it will continue to work for them. But Gilette is not known for this; that’s not been their strategy, and one ad (a tactic) is not enough. That surely will piss core customers off but it won’t really appeal to liberal demographics either because they would think it’s not authentic. Ask Pepsi. Same fuckery. You people never learn!

So dear Gilette, here’s my advice to you. If you mean business double down on this. Don’t apologize, don’t retreat, and don’t surrender. It will be worse if you chicken out, maybe not chicken, chicken is delicious. Just don’t back down, you hear. Rather, if you build a brand strategy on this and you stay consistent with it and stay patient through the storm of angry customers, you will make this work. For motivation, see Dove’s Beauty Campaign. This Rome won’t be built with a single ad. I will just ignore that lousy website. Come again because I’m sure this is not the best you can be.

Heineken, Mark Ritson and the Ghanaian Politician.

Poor Pepsi, they had to fuck up for a beer to get a shot at our hearts. If you have not seen Heineken’s World’s Apart social experiment campaign, you should; it will certainly not leave you indifferent. In tackling feminism, transgender rights and climate change, Heineken pairs strangers to bond, unbeknownst to both that they had opposite views on one of these social issues. After they seem to bond over talk and activities (thank you, college town social psychology professor), they both watch pre-recorded videos where one person admits their utter disdain for a social issue that the other person strongly supports. Alas, the dilemma of cognitive dissonance (thank you, college town social psychology professor, again)! You’ve just met and bonded with someone only to find out later that they are strongly opposed to something that you really care about. Would you walk out on them or stay and chat about your difference over beer? To their credit, they all elected to share a beer and iron out their differences.

As you would expect—and in no small way thanks to Pepsi’s idiocy—Heineken’s campaign has been very well-received. It has been shared millions of times on social media, and news media have made it a point to add it to their headlines. Heineken was on a frat house party celebration for their huge campaign win until my friend and also marketing’s grumpy grandpa Mark Ritson came along.

In a manner that only Mark knows how, he tore into Heineken, labelling their effort “absolute crap”. His simple explanation is that this campaign will not guarantee Heineken more beer purchase and the money could have been better allocated to profit-generating efforts. Just like his one-man war on the digital craze, Mark uses Heineken’s case to remind us of the other thing he hates: putting obsession with brand purpose over brand profit. Now, I know Mark seems to enjoys his middle finger up, me versus the world, King Kong ain’t got shit on me brilliant performances of intellectual tantrums. But if you will forget that he is British, you will see that his war on everything that colours the dreams of today’s marketers is more than cynical self-righteousness. He always has a point. But on this very issue, I disagree with Mark and here is why.

In Ghana where I come from, every election year, people contesting to become Members of Parliament do not campaign by promising their constituents that they will make better laws and represent their opinions when elected, as expected of an MP. They rather go round promising to build roads, public toilets, schools and hospitals that constitutionally is way outside of an MP’s job description. Along with these promises they give out cash, food, clothes, farming and fishing equipment and sometimes cars to curry votes from their constituents. If you ask any of the politicians, they will tell you it doesn’t make sense but everyone does it. If you don’t do it, you stand no chance of winning the election even if you are Jesus Christ (even he had to do some miracles to earn his celebrity status). Come the next election cycle, the MP is not evaluated on his activities in parliament but on whether he delivered on those promises. Promises have become a hygiene factor in Ghana’s politics.


Promises are to the Ghanaian politician what purpose is to brands: it has become a hygiene factor in branding. Mark is right that profit is the key goal of a business and no amount of pimping that fact will hide the king’s donkey ears. There is no shame in admitting that, and a marketer must bear that in mind at all times; if something doesn’t add to the sales numbers in some shape or form, then don’t waste sleep over it. The question we should be asking here is if truly brand purpose does not add to the bottom line. Mark doesn’t think so. I disagree.

Since the days after World War II, brands have increasingly told stories of how they do more than just meet a functional need. If Karl Marx saw the sort of fetish products have become today, he would rattle in his grave. From the Malboro Man in the 50s to Nike’s Jordan gravity defying ads in the 80s and 90’s to Heineken’s recent campaign, we have seen an escalation of brands telling stories of how their products are more than just what functional jobs they do. Brands differentiated themselves on these so-called symbolic and psychographic attributes.

For a long time, we called this brand positioning, and I sat in Mark Ritson’s Brand Management class at the Melbourne Business School where he preached the good news of brand positioning. Brand purpose is the next phase of that now well-embedded expectation that brands do more than sell products. If brand purpose is useless then brand positioning is useless. Then even corporate social responsibility is crap too. As it stands, neither is.

jordan newton

So like the Ghanaian MP who keeps campaigning on the promise that his job is more than making laws, brands keep telling us that they do more than sell products for a profit. Just like the Ghanaian constituents who now evaluate their MP on that promise made, today’s consumer also judges brands on that promise that they do more than sell products. Brands told us, we believed them and now we hold them to an ever higher standard.

If Brand A does something more in addition to selling products, then competitor Brand B has to outdo them else we will be less pleased. Pepsi shit their pants trying desperately to cancel Coca Cola’s Red campaign. Now that Heineken has had a hit, keep your eye on their competitors. They are planning a comeback. Of course, this is exactly what pisses Mark off but the reality is that the days of marketing conversation being about just profit is long gone. Today, marketing is about profit and purpose, just like the MP’s job in my home country is about making laws and building public toilets. That was not how it was meant to be but that’s what it has become and will be; it is what it is.

Brand purpose—even more than brand positioning—allows brands to tell stories. Of all people, Mark should know that people love stories; he tells them all the time. Stories allow people to suspend reality and dream, imagine, get out of their lives for a moment. A story does not have to be true, it just has to be authentic, and people will believe it. Heineken didn’t even have to admit the possible reality that some people walked out angrily after the revelation and did not sit down for a beer. Our brains had us all rooting for a narrative closure of happily ever after. Hollywood doesn’t exist for no reason.

The very fact that Mark notes that any beer brand could have done this campaign is exactly why it is good for Heineken that they got to do it. Yes, Heineken does not feature prominently in the ad but that is also how they achieved authenticity. They made us believe it is more about the issue than their beer. We believed them and now look, we are talking about Heineken’s ad, not that beer ad. So I disagree with Mark that this campaign will sell Heineken no beers; he doesn’t know that for sure. What we know is that it gave Heineken awareness and brand exposure; that is the necessary first step to brand equity and purchase. This is the same logic that Mark used to support why Ivanka Trump’s brand has benefited from her political involvement, despite the liberals’ brouhaha.

Today, some consumers demand that brands take a stance on social issues. As I have said brands showed us that they could do that and so we are simply holding them to their word. Australian brand Thank You. is entirely built on the brand purpose to end poverty. Even IKEA and ALDI, brands who do not play in the fanciness arena are now finding brand purpose in supporting LGBT rights and environmental protection. No brand wants to be like that very competent guy who run for MP in Ghana but refused to make promises and share freebies and ended up losing to the horribly less competent guy who did exactly that.

The contribution I make here is that brands must look to align their brand purpose stories with their brand positioning. A medley of stories works well if it has the same theme and that theme should be the brand’s positioning. Heineken has long positioned its brand around social engagement and camaraderie. This campaign told a story that fit into it. Similarly, Dove’s positioning on beauty strongly aligns with their purpose-driven campaigns on challenging Western beauty norms. Brand purpose if well used is a lever towards that ultimate goal of profit.

Nothing will substitute better product performance. No other purpose beats profit. But no one said these are the exclusive duties of a brand. Brands must do these and more. Purpose-driven ads are just the next phase of brands being more than selling to make a profit. Soon, brands will be expected to do more than just have purpose-driven campaigns. Somewhere in some corporate boardroom, some marketing person is planning that next move. Check!

Dialectic of the Village Fools: Nana Addo and his 110 Problems


Two friends, Apuu and Tɔɔ meet on a dead path somewhere in their village in Nanakrom

Tɔɔ: Apuu

Apuu: Tɔɔ. You are a fool to fools

Tɔɔ: That makes me a bit wiser than you my well-decorated fool

Apuu: I hear Nana Addo’s bald head has become a public drum

Tɔɔ: What has Nana Kyeiwaa Part 4 done this time? Falling asleep again?

Apuu: Look at this fool. Are you the only one who has not heard that the sleeping beauty has swelled ministerial appointments to an unprecedented 110?

Tɔɔ: Yes. So what?

Apuu: So what? Is your grandfather’s cocoa farm income going to pay their obese salaries, garden boy, driver, and Legon girls? Even some people who voted for him want to shine his head. This is a serious matter, you fool.

Tɔɔ: I see. The old man has 110 problems and a bitch ain’t one? He disappoints me.

Apuu: You painful fool. This is not the time for unproven ashawo allegations. Our economy is in trouble. People are working hard but their efforts end up in the devil’s pocket. Nana Addo promised so much; how could he now be so insensitive to our plight? What does he need 110 people for? The Finance, Energy, Agric, and Local Government Ministries have 3 deputy ministers each. What kills me is that even the propaganda club called the Information Ministry has 3 deputy minsters. Can you believe that nonsense?

Tɔɔ: Ah, I am surprised people are complaining now. I thought we had it coming. Didn’t people notice that the man appointed 40 ministers for various roles? That is some 38% increment in number compared to Mahama’s 29. That percentage reflects his overall number of 110 compared to Mahama’s 98. I think the old man has been consistent. So why are people crying now? Or Ghanaians can’t think in percentages only in absolute numbers?

Apuu: Ha! This fool has suddenly grown smart and cocky. Who cares about percentages? We think in terms of cost and tax payer’s money.

Tɔɔ: Who doesn’t? We say we want a democracy. Well, a democracy is a representational government. If our population has been increasing, and not remained static or declined, then it makes sense that we increase the number of ministers who serve the increasing population. I tell you what. I think this is a commendable text-book application of a key principle of democracy. It is a brilliant experiment that I think everyone else who lays claim to a democracy should note. Let the old man be.

Apuu: My friend, even established democracies who have larger populations than us do not have such overpopulated ministerial portfolios. The UK has 21, Australia has 20, and the US has 15; meanwhile Nanakrom has 40. What kind of over-learning is that! And then we have to pay them all these ridiculous amounts of money and benefits. For what?

Tɔɔ: Well, you are talking about established democracies. Ours is not, so I reckon we need more people to do the work, don’t you think? In any case, these countries you cited operate a federal system. That is very different from our unitary state system. If Ghana were a federal state, then each of the ten regions will have its own governor, cabinet, parliament, police, and members of the judiciary. Of course then we wouldn’t need 40 federal cabinet ministers because the states would handle many of their own domestic issues, including raising and using their own funds. But we are not. I don’t think that we are doing anything abnormal here with 40 cabinet ministers for 28 million people. As for the monies we pay, even the President of Ghana does not make half what a cabinet minister in America makes.

Apuu: Tɔɔ, I think you are lost in your head. You shouldn’t even be making that comparison. Those are advanced economies. We have big problems and cannot afford to even dream of getting close to them. The average annual income per person in the US is over $53,000. Do you know the average income per person in Ghana? $3900 a year! That is 7% of what an average American earns. So if I am to follow your kantamanto logic, why should our president be earning 19% of what an American president earns. Why shouldn’t he earn 7% of that? Don’t even get me started on all the allowances and galamsey monies that no one accounts for. And he is there doing job for the boys adding ministers like he is doing long division. And you also have the audacity to defend it. You must be out of your mind.

Tɔɔ: I am sure I am because I have succeeded in smoking out a fool’s temper. Look, your argument is sound. But then if we have more problems than America, then certainly our president and ministers deserve to be rewarded more because their work is harder. Using average income is fair. But if America with their $18.9 trillion national debt can afford to take care of their president and ministers, we can also certainly manage around our national debt of only $22.7 billion to take care of our politicians who have more difficult problems to solve. Anaa?

Apuu: Massa, massa, Daavi’s apio is toasting your brain. What has any politician ever done for you? What hard work? Don’t get me worked up. I have not had my breakfast yet.

Tɔɔ: Apuu, this is not really about the numbers, is it?

Apuu: What do you mean?

Tɔɔ: I mean the problem you and many people are complaining about has got nothing to do with the number of minsters or what they are being paid.

Apuu: Did I have water in my mouth when I was talking. Ah, ok so what is about.

Tɔɔ: I think the actual problem pertains to a general perception that people in politics do not add much value to the welfare of the populace, except to their own back accounts.

Apuu: Oh but that is obvious. After all, most ministers get their jobs as rewards for campaign exertions and not due to their competence for the job.

Tɔɔ: Good, so regardless of their competence, you think they treat their appointments as pay checks for campaign effort and use them to cash out unthinkable financial rewards.

Apuu: I don’t disagree. I think that every additional minister is just another another “greedy bastard” to feed.

Tɔɔ: You see o. Because if we really believed that every minister is another competent human resource to work for our welfare, then we would rather ask for more numbers. After all, as the Akans say, “a lot of meat does not spoil the soup”.

Apuu: Yes, this one is a case of adding more bad nuts to the other bad nuts that we are painfully chewing but can’t spit out.

Tɔɔ: So you agree with me that although the financial cost of maintaining ministers in Ghana is high, that is not really the problem.

Apuu: Well, the general complaint is specifically about the cost of paying salaries, allowances, support staff, and so on.

Tɔɔ: Yes, but you can see that what they are actually complaining about is having to spend so much remuneration for personnel they do not value highly anyway. I think reasonably, people would not mind paying a lot for extremely good service. But in this case, people do not see the value for money because they strongly assume that political staff do not add much value to the people’s welfare.

Apuu: I can agree with that. So what’s your point?

Tɔɔ: I think what Nana Addo needs to be really responding to—in deeds, not words—is that these 110 are going to add value to the economy and welfare of people; that they are not there for chop chop; that this is not a job for the boys, but jobbing for the people. If he shows authority on this and show through obvious change that the 110 are really delivering results we can see, people will even ask for more ministers.

Apuu: I must admit, for a moment, you stopped being a fool. You are right. But I am afraid you are also being a hopeless optimist. I don’t think the old man has shown any evidence so far that he will uproot corruption as he promised.

Tɔɔ: Don’t be an impatient fool. Let us give him time. That is why I consider this an experiment. I agree that it is so abrupt that it irks people. But sometimes the only way to implement change is to take a Nike mantra, and just do it. Democracy can be slow, so maybe he is being a decisive leader and doing what he thinks will help him do the job he wants to do. Let’s give him time. But let us also be vigilant citizens and yes, let us criticize when we must. In four years, the ballot box will give us the chance to pass an overall judgment on the old man and his 110. Until then, we will keep watching; we will keep checking if the promised change is making any difference in the weight of our pockets.

Apuu: I will tell you what I need now?

Tɔɔ: Palm wine?

Apuu: Fool. Palm wine and some meat. Why just palm wine? Do you want to kill me?

Tɔɔ: Hahaha. I think we are in the same boat.

Apuu: Well, let us take this conversation to Daavi’s spot; good meat and an educated palm wine always open the brains up.

Tɔɔ: Ah! God bless Daavi.

Marwako vs. The People of Ghana


The Ghanaian “consumer jihad” against Jihad Chabaan and Marwako is a public trial for our business systems and support institutions. Chabaan, the Lebanese supervisor at Marwako’s Abelemkpe restaurant allegedly shoved a female employee’s head into blended pepper (chili) apparently for spoiling the blender. So far thousands have signed petitions, ministers, celebrities, the second lady and Amnesty International have joined the pre-trial jury that is calling for heads to roll.

Chabaan is facing trial, but he is not alone here. Marwako has been put on trial and the consumer jury has already sentenced the brand to a lifetime boycott without parole. The police are on trial, and are being judged for their ability to carry out due process. Government is on trial to determine if it will help make an example of this case. Every employer and brand in the country is on trial as employees who have been assaulted, abused and cheated sign up as witnesses against unfair business and labour practices.

The lucky culprit who has escaped trial but should be on trial is our mediocrity, our culture of silence and “leave it to God”, our willingness to forgive and forget unforgivable and poor customer services, our fear of power, and our “short-term memories” that easily bury fatal negligence by service professionals. A petition that calls for an end to “inhumane treatment of Ghanaians by foreigners” is reasonable under the circumstance, but myopic because it is not only foreigners who mete out inhumane treatment to Ghanaians. This is the mediocrity of thought—the lucky bastard—who has escaped trial.

I too celebrate this trend of activism. The Ghanaian consumer is holding a brand accountable for its abuse of its internal customer—an employee. Excellent. But unless we make such public trials a culture, we may only be making an example of a piss in the ocean. So let’s report offences and workplace abuse, complain about poor services, write online reviews, and share our terrible service experiences on social media. Let’s hold ALL businesses and brands accountable, now and always. Vela damus!

Branding the Enemy: NDC, NPP and the Politics of Stigma


My unfortunately educated brother, Yaw Boateng Festival once told me a story. It is common knowledge that the traders in Kumasi Central Market are NPP mouth soldiers. So once, just to piss them off, he decided to play the NDC spokesperson in an argument with them. One of the women rebuked him angrily, “You, we sent you to school to educate you and you have turned out to be an NDC member”. I bet you didn’t see that coming. I bet you did.

There is a chronic perception that the NDC is the party of the uneducated, the so-called verandah boys. The NPP on the other hand is the party of the elite, well-spoken and educated people. The woman’s statement is probably the crudest way I have ever heard anyone represent this belief, and yet, alas, there it is. The NDC and NPP have such divergent brand images in this regard. But the jury seems to agree that NDC’s image is a problem.

First, let’s interrogate the validity of each party’s perceived brand image. Is it really true that NDC is the party of illiterates? Well, that is a questionable assertion. The NDC has provided three presidents and the NPP two, and it is only the NDC who gave us a PhD holder as president. I have heard some NPP friends say NPP has more “men”—that is educated people—to run the country than the babies with sharp teeth that the NDC has been assigning to ministerial portfolios. Besides the misogyny of this assertion, I am not convinced by this one either. Many of the current batch of NPP ministers under Nana Addo are recycled from Kuffuor’s government. The new faces like Ken Ofori Attah were co-opted from the public, just like Mahama co-opted Prof Jane Opoku-Agyeman. So where are the “men”?

Here’s where I think the issue lies: history. The NDC is a re-imagined and rebranded military regime. Like all successful military leaders and dictators, Rawlings was a populist. His NDC was then birthed in this image of populism, appealing to the commoner, engaging with the unremembered villager and raising affection through charisma, drama and politics of action. And consistently in the NDC, these things are rewarded over anything else. That is why babies with sharp teeth thrive in this party, and only very likeable people front the NDC as presidential candidates.

The NPP on the other hand is built on tradition: a tradition of an organized educational elite who seek to oppose an existing political process. The UGCC was established by elite men to oppose colonialism and through the Danquah-Busia tradition, was reborn as the NPP to oppose what they saw as Rawlings’ undemocratic regime. This is why the NPP seems to have a factory of elites, appeals to the educated, and follows tradition to choose their presidential candidates.

So the answer lies with history. The NDC is a populist military regime reborn as a political party; the NPP is the new face of a tradition of elite opposition to the dominant political process. For this reason, the NDC has been seen as the common man’s party and the NPP has been seen as the educated man’s party. By current practices, in reality, neither party is more significantly elite or populist. But their respective histories have given them their current image and such images have been enduring.

Hardcore party members will fire me over this and argue that this is not true. But I will encourage them to do some market research first and not get pointless intellectual erections over this. What is more important is for us to interrogate the value of the respective party’s brand image now that we know why many people perceive the parties in that light. You must wonder, what is wrong with being populist? Why does the NDC have to bear their image as stigma and the NPP wallow in the privilege of their image. Well, that is a freaking complicated question. But the easy answer lies in our culture.

The Westernization of our culture since colonial rule has made us believe that the educated person is more valuable and intelligent than the uneducated person. In Ghana, a gentleman [krakye] refers to an educated man, not a well-mannered man. Indeed, it is now a global perception that education is the key to progress. The general perception then is that it is better to have an elite group running the country. Even if they are book-long, that is still more respectable than having a bunch of know-nothings directing the affairs of our country. For this reason, the NPP is perceived to have a better image than the NDC.

Of course this has not stopped the NDC from winning elections, and you cannot also rule out tribal voting in our politics yet. The NPP has been justifiably branded an Akan party. Again this is steeped in their history as well as their decision to choose only Akan presidential candidates till date. They have a real opportunity to change this trend with the very competent Dr Bawumia; it is an opportunity that will be unfortunate to say the least if they don’t take it. But I won’t digress into this matter today because this is not yet a problem. I don’t consider their Akan image to be a stigma since there is no stigma in being Akan or being any tribe for that matter. I don’t have the tolerance for tribal and discriminatory nonsense. So let’s stick to the stigma that has proper teeth.

Here, there is a looming danger for the NDC. If you look at the voting patterns of the last 20 years, more educated people tend to vote for the NPP, whiles more uneducated people tend to vote for the NDC. It is increasingly becoming a social crime for an educated person to be or vote NDC. This is regardless of the fact that both parties have been led by elites and have had populist manifestos and campaign strategies. It has everything to do with their image. If this pattern is to continue, we can then project that as more and more people become educated and the less educated people phase out, over time, the NDC will be seriously threatened as it will lose its core voter base. I know this looks gloom.

What should the NDC do? I have seen some attempts to challenge the perception that you don’t need an education to run a country well. Nonsense. No where in history has that ever been true. Wisdom is not in the classroom but it lies in education, and these days education is formal and in the classroom. Fighting such a well-established belief is a horse that won’t run.

So should the NDC engage in an explosive rebranding towards a more elitist outlook? That may be considered inauthentic—a mere imitation of their opponents—and may end up alienating their still large core following. Should they stick with their current image and make the most of it, hoping against time that such projections are unfounded and will not hurt them in the long term? That’s also a risky venture.

Politics—like religion and marketing—is a game of perception, and perceptions beget image. I am not sure if they know, but the NPP has a glaring flaw in the way their party’s brand is presented. And the NDC has some interesting assets sitting deep within the stigma of their verandah boys image. I think the NDC has the perfect recipe to make an amazing comeback with a different brand position that will play out on the strength of their current image, and exploit the flaws in the NPP’s image. It will also serve them well in the long term.

But…I am not going to provide any specific ideas here to help either party. Plus, I don’t do stuff like this for free anymore since I am paid well for my ideas. But if someone is interested ahead of 2024, you know where to find me. Wink.

Superman and the Virgins: Marketing Sex and Stigma in Ghana


Mighty Power, Kasapreko Alomo Bitters, Cargo Gin Bitters, Joy Dadi, Agya Appiah, Adonko Bitters and now Guinness Ghana’s Orijin Bitters. These are just examples of the growing market of unapologetically bitter alcoholic drinks that promise the sweetness of sexual odyssey. I say odyssey because like the Greek mythologies, these drinks are championing a shift in how sex has been socially handled in Ghana, from a women-shaming exercise to a men-as-hero shaming game. It is subtle and yet disturbingly powerful, and someone has to say it. Can I?

Once upon a time, female virginity was a virtue. Today, well, who knows? But I remember the days when the conversations on sex was heavy on keeping girls in check to ensure they were married off as virgins. Weird part is boys were set free to explore their sexual machines and so you wonder who they were sleeping with, if all the girls were thus being kept in the virginity loop. I remember when Reggie Zippy had that “Virgin” hit where he markedly queried that “every dude says he wants to marry a virgin, but it is the same dudes who do not let the girls keep their virginity”.

Skip the irony and the underlying politics was even more questionable. Religious and Moral Education was geared towards taming girls right between their legs. Priests used the story of the woman caught committing adultery and brought before Jesus to remind women that they, not the men, would be the gongs of shame if they don’t keep their legs closed. Stigma was piled on teenage pregnancy, and in every school I went there was always that girl who was branded the “chop bar bowl”, “school prostitute” or “area girl”. Meanwhile, guys shamelessly shared their conversations between sports and how many girls they had slept with.

Sex then was a tool of women-shaming and control. I am not really sure that has disappeared entirely but certainly now the value of female virginity has diminished. Women now take an active part in conversations on sex, and frankly do not mind talking about their sexual adventures with others. In fact, the collective narrative has so shifted that in the movies and media, sexual conversations are now more vivid and led by women. This has slowly confronted many of the taboos on sex, ripped off the sacred mask of virginity and largely dismantled the sex-as-women-shaming cultural machinery.

But this has led to a massive change in the conversational tide on sex, and it is both fascinating and disturbing. Sex has now become a men-shaming tool…and it lies subtly within the army of products that are advertised with the promise of increasing sexual performance…for men. Let me explain.

Now that it is no longer shameful for women to have and talk about sex, men must be ready to have sex as long as women want. The man who is unable to do that is a disgrace to all men. Hence, the marketing campaigns call on you to get your hand on one of these sexual-performance enhancing products so that when you go on the road, you don’t run out of fuel before you reach the woman’s desired destination. The banner word for men-shaming is premature ejaculation, where mature ejaculation is decided by the evaluative tastes of your woman. Just as we used to shame non-virgin women and heralded virgin women, now we shame the bedroom Usain Bolts and hail the Haile Gebrselassies of sex. The tides have turned.

I have had conversations with guys who boast of their ability to have sex for hours. There must be an exaggeration in there, right? Maybe. But I am fascinated by this successful creation of the mentality that a real man—the new Superman— is the man who is able to take a woman on a sexual marathon till she wants no more. The man who is unable to do this is no man, and should be ashamed; his place shall be among the eunuchs!

And this is an issue even for married people. If you don’t perform in bed to your wife’s satisfaction, you are toast. I know guys who court other people’s women by asking them if their men perform well enough in bed. If you slack, before you know, someone is eating your thing for you. Hmm!

Oh yes, and girls are pushing this agenda big time. For girls, it’s not only the performance, even the size of the manhood counts. A girl once told me that girls have a way of telling if a guy is small or big: guys with big butts tend to be small in between their legs and vice versa. Some guys are checking their behinds right now, I tell you! So girls do share stories with their friends about their sexual experiences, giving grades on the guy’s performance, and if they will “do” the guy again based on his performance. My guy, you know that’s what happened to you and that’s why the girl is no longer replying to your text. From a marketing perspective, poor performance does not beget repeat purchase, but you see where the conversation is going.

This change in the cultural discourse on sex is what is now transpiring in the massive marketing of sex-performance products for men. Sex doesn’t have to be healthy anymore; it just has to last long. The woman will decide the duration, and the man must simply keep it up and standing, ready to “open fire” on call.

So the next time you see that advert promising you a better sexual performance and you find your insecure self considering a purchase, think again. And if you go about strutting your stuff as a sexual superman, reconsider if you are not simply playing to the script of shame, where you recognize the shame, and worship it by showing how you appease its sanctions. Sex as a tool of social shaming has simply swapped its gender victim, and I don’t know where to stick my moral dart on it. Sigh. I need a drink. No, not Adonko Bitters! God!! Were you even reading!!!

The Masturbation of Time


Pumping fireworks to mark new years, popping champagnes to celebrate birthdays, and turning the clock to mark changes in seasons. These are acts of self-pleasure to mark days that are otherwise ordinary for others, elsewhere. The elevation of certain days above others like the Thank God it’s Friday fetish that turns responsible people into canneries of drunken sailors is arguably nothing but pure self-pleasure. If the world stopped celebrating Christmas, New Year, birthdays, Valentine’s day and their many tributaries, life will still go on perfectly.

There is therefore merit in the argument that everyday is a new day, and an opportunity for change, for resolutions, and fresh starts; you do not need to change calendars to feel so. You do not need an elevated day with a contentious history to celebrate your mother, love, or your Messiah. While you wait for the glamour of a new year, a new government, a new house, a new car, a new house, and a new job to be thankful and hopeful, every other moment that you consider ordinary is an empty space for you to feel all these things. Simply put, make hay while the sun shine; do not wait for an eclipse!

The above argument is a philosopher’s stone and which in my rugged opinion should shatter most glasses of disagreement. But we must not be too quick to dismiss the utility of the deliberate ritualization of some days as more superior to others. Because the marking of some days as eventful and sacred, even if its seems logically pointless, is an important reminder of our own mortality, like the measure of time itself. Let me explain.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of humans is our ability to measure time. Our chronometric ability to connect seconds to millenniums is the only way we have mastered time, even if it masters us all with death. But this is exactly why me mark time, that we may know how to measure the length of our days, when to expect death, and when to celebrate our ability to evade death.

When we celebrate certain days as eventful, we do so to inherently remind ourselves that we are on a temporal lease. While every second counts, only certain moments, like new jobs, new years, birthdays are worthy reminders of our mortality. We do not celebrate every second, hour and day because we do not want to remind ourselves every so often that we are on death’s waiting list. Call it terror management, if you please.

Thus when we do remind ourselves, on occasion, we do so with pump and revelry, not just to give the middle finger to death, but also to cover the underlying terror with a show of pleasure. We celebrate birthdays as a pleasurable increase in lifetime, not as a terrifying incremental proximity to our death; we celebrate Mothers’ Day as salutations to our mothers, not as a reminder that we might be reading the same words in their funeral tribute one day; we celebrate new years as moments of hope and a fresh start, not as a collective migration of humanity through time towards a probable apocalypse.

So although we ought to celebrate every day as opportune, and not just elevate some days as more special than others, we still need such self-pleasure of occasional pump and ceremony to tolerate our otherwise inevitable slow march to our end. On this day of the commemoration of my birth, I raise a glass to all the special relationships that have filled the void of my inevitable march to the grave. While I am here, may my tenancy of time be a source of joy to other co-tenants of time: you. Happy birthday to me, and to you as well; it’s a new day for you too, dammit!

The Tipping Point of Bribery


The only difference between paying tips and paying bribes might just be semantic. I’m not drunk; let me defend my sobriety.

It was at LaGuardia airport. The taxi driver dragged my bag out and threw it on the ground, slammed the trunk angrily and screamed, “fucking nigger” as he marched with fuming inelegance into the car and sped off. What did my mischievous self do this time to upset a taxi driver? No, I didn’t box his ears from behind, are you crazy! I probably should have blown air on his bald head but considering that’s where I’m literally “headed” I was prudent not to endanger karma.

So what did I do to piss off this “yellow cab” driver? I did not have enough cash to pay him a tip. Well, I also thought tips were only a highly recommended voluntary extra payment, but well, this guy actually demanded it, and when I showed him all the cash I had was only enough to pay my fare, he gave me this top notch unforgettable exit service.

Fast forward two weeks later, I was in a taxi again in New York, this time to JFK and here I was, being given a sermon by this taxi driver on how my tip should be really good considering all the shortcuts he was taking to get me to the airport in time for my flight. Of course, this time I came prepared with enough to tip. Let’s say I had been properly schooled.

I am not the only one with stories about how service providers in the US have used coercion and persuasion to take tips from people. In fact when I shared my story, it aroused series of similar testimonies in different settings from restaurants to bars where service providers have sometimes even specified how much tip they want. I don’t know what God thinks about it, but these guys are making us pay tithes to them too, and for what, services we are already paying for.

For someone like me who comes from a country famed for bribery, this extortionist punch of tips has had me seriously rethinking bribery, as I know it, having worked in and with public institutions. I think that for all the jiggery-pokery of semantics and the socio-legal permutations, we overestimate the innocence of tips and the guilt of bribery. I am still sober.

There are two distinct differences between tips and bribes: time and transactional space. Tips are often paid after the service and bribes are often paid before the service. The intent is supposed to in the case of tips appreciate the service received, and in the case of bribes influence the service about to be received. Well, if you think about it, it’s all about influencing behavior, and the timing can easily be shifted. If I frequent a particular restaurant and pay heavy tips always, needless to say, I would seriously influence future transactions and the service rendered to me. We have all been to places where certain customers are received as local heroes and given preferential treatments because they tip heavier. So unless it is strictly a one-off transaction, tips influence future services like bribes.

Even in one-off transactions, one could very well argue similarity, within the scope of anticipated reinforcement. In anticipation of a tip as reward, I offer good service to influence both your decision on if and how much tip you would give. If the ensuing tip does not match my expectations vis-à-vis the effort outlay, then I would want to kill you, like my first taxi driver, so it better. Or I may shamelessly negotiate a favorable outcome by overtly linking my effort to the anticipated tip, like my second taxi driver. Whichever way you shift the payment within time, tips can influence behavior just as bribes do. It’s a game of influence.

However there is the second factor of transactional space that challenges the above argument—tips are paid in private transactions whereas bribes are paid in public transactions. Even if you paid a public official money after a transaction because you were elated with the service, moralistic regimes are likely to proclaim it bribery rather than a tip. I could see sense in the argument that we should not permit people who render services to the public, whose roles call for objectivity and impartiality (private businesses are permitted to be as biased as the devil’s wife) and whose jobs are funded by our taxes should not be placed in the game of influence, be it tips or bribes.

But why not! Why shouldn’t public officials be allowed to take tips? I would like to pay a tip to a cop for stopping me to check my car trunk in the middle of the night, just in case I have finally killed Sefa and put him there to rot. Because the last time I checked we pay tips to supplement the low wages of staff. Well, arguably, public officials, especially in my low-income Ghana are paid way worse than their private sector counterparts. As a matter of fact they need those tips more, you see. I believe like the private business, it will be that extrinsic motivation that finally gets public servants off their “it’s not my father’s business” attitude into rendering Jedi services. What’s good for the private goose should be good for the public gander, don’t you think.

I’m not saying they should break the law, or subvert processes, I’m only saying we should consider letting the customer influence the quality of service they receive from the public service provider, as they do the private ones. You are right; the nihilist within me is at work, but why not. Why should we bother with delineating bribery from tips when there is absolutely no axiological difference between them, when they both seek to influence. We may not be dealing with the headache of bribes if we normed it by tipping it from its moral low ground of corruption to that moral haven of candor that its identical twin, tips enjoy.

Else, let’s abolish both, because they are both, in my opinion pointless equally as they are useful equally; equally capable of evil as they are of positive utility. I pay taxes that pay the public servant, well, so do I pay for the services from that restaurant. If I am required to pay tips to the latter, why not pay tips to the former. If it is inappropriate to pay tips bribe to the public official, why should I be required to pay bribes tips to the waitress?

Of course I won’t pay a tip to the police for arresting me for murder, but why can’t the victim’s family do that. Surely, it will motivate the cops when they stand in the cold checking car trunks the next time. [As an aside, cops certainly won’t be harassing/shooting black citizens for pointless reasons, considering that may not help their tips; I doubt any cop will say they don’t want a black person’s tip. I don’t think any waitress has refused someone’s tip on the basis of his or her skin color yet, why would cops].

If my consular officer refuses me a Visa, he’s not getting a tip from me, because I am not satisfied with the service, dammit. That does not mean he should give me a Visa if I do not warrant it, but he would more likely be nicer about refusing me the Visa, and will be likely to show me how to make an improved application, rather than dismissing my application like it was a letter from his wife’s divorce lawyer.

We wouldn’t have to police bribes in the public sector or make it this sacred thing that is conducted with cultic diligence. Public servants won’t have to shamelessly stall on their work to signal an invitation for bribes before they hasten to duty. The rules of engagement will be clear: if you want extra payment, do your job, and well, and the satisfied customer will reward you. If the private sector is allowed to maintain such a practice and it has not degenerated into mass madness then the public sector that regulates the private sector should be able to do it. Else, like the Aussies, say no to bribes, say no to, tips. What you earn is what you have earned. No room for extra nonsense!

Now I think I am getting drunk in my head, but hey, give this drunkard a break! The point is, any money marked as extra payment will almost always influence behavior whether it is paid before or after the transaction. It can be good such that it leads to better services, and it could also slip into insanity, if it is subverted for exploitation. If any culture decides it’s good to have such a practice, then it is hypocritical to call it “bribery” if it is paid before a service, and “tips” if it is paid after the service, because the outcome is the same. If due to lack of imagination you limit it to just the private sector but you assume cynicism when it comes to the public sector, then it is unfortunate and discriminatory.

Well, I’m crazy, obviously. Let those with a more sane opinion on this matter throw some my way.