Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Call Me Ambassador, not Honorable... (Africans Love their Titles)

After failing in his bid to become the Member of Parliament for Abuakwa North, Victor Smith was recently in the news. According to Mr Victor Smith, he didn't appreciate people referring to him as “Honorable Victor Smith”. He preferred to be addressed by his proper title “Ambassador”, never mind the fact that he's no longer the Ambassador to the Czech Republic or anywhere else for that matter. In his opinion, he was above the title “Honorable”. Up until then, I didn't even know there were title rankings.

Ghanaians love their titles. The only other group of people I know who love titles as much or perhaps more than us are our neighbors the Nigerians. Ghanaian love titles so much they make up titles where there are none and often get offended if they aren't addressed with those titles.

A Nigerian Title: Friend of the Governor

Self made titles seem to be the specialty of Pastors who form their own churches. Gone were the days when one had to spend long years in Bible School just to become a Pastor. The Pastor then had to serve for some 10 years to become a Reverend and the titles got better only with years. These days any post pubescent young man with a congregation of 5 can call himself a Reverend. Some become Reverends overnight. Then there are the Reverend Doctors, Right Reverends, Right Reverend Doctors, Bishop, Archbishops, Apostles, Prophets etc.

However, the acquisition of titles overnight is not the sole monopoly of 'Mushroom' Pastors. In Ghana, we have a Comedian called Bishop, a boxer called Professor and in the neighborhood I grew up in, a cobbler called Doctor.

The people most sensitive to titles are those who actually earned them especially academically. You can't blame them, it's not easy studying for so long. In the University, there was a certain lecturer in a certain faculty who had 3 PhDs and also happened to be a chief. His students called him Dr. Dr. Dr. Nana X (where X replaces his surname and Nana is the title for chiefs). If you ever happen to go to a Ghanaian program and the Chairperson is being introduced, all his titles have to be mentioned and if possible, where he got them from. If the MC forgets to mention one title, the chairperson will correct that mistake upon assuming his role. He would say something like, “The MC didn't mention it but I also have a PhD in Pharmacology from Birmingham University in the UK”.

This whole title craze is not restricted to people but also to institutions. It's hard to find a Junior High School these days that is not an International School or International School Complex and every nursery school is a Montessori. Every Church is International, every shop a Super Market, every chop bar serves continental dishes and the list goes on. Everyone is claiming one title or the other.

Titles are part a part of the Ghanaian upbringing. Calling people who are older than you or in higher positions by their names is taboo. You have to call them Uncle or Auntie if they are significantly older than you. You put a “Brother, Bro or Sister” before their names if they are a few years older. In the secondary schools, you could be seriously punished for not adding “Senior” to a senior's name. I remember calling my Dad by his nickname one day. Unknown to me a concerned citizen heard this and even though my Dad didn't mind, this concerned citizen took offense and later gave me a long lecture on being respectful to adults. The lecture included random Bible verses and Ephesians 6:1-3 was quoted more than a few times. 

The irony/hypocrisy of this Blog post isn't lost to me. My name is Dela but most people refer to me as Efo Dela. “Efo” being a title of the Ewes for an older or influential male.