[ 2010-09-14 ]
Lost in translation
John Atta Mills, a former academic who was sworn
in as Ghana's president more than 18 months ago,
has been nicknamed "Prof Dolittle" by the
In our series of viewpoints from African
journalists, Elizabeth Ohene, a minister in
Ghana's former NPP government, considers how
political jibes can get lost in translation.
We have been having some interesting times here in
Ghana recently with language.
It started with the leader of the main opposition
National Patriotic Party (NPP), who has a way with
words, calling the president of the republic:
The word 'purge' evokes images of unpleasant or
nasty medicines for bodily functions”
The president - former university professor John
Atta Mills - was not in town and his spokespersons
reacted as though he had been called an obscene or
And yet the professor Dolittles or Doolittles that
come up when you Google the name are not people
that anybody should mind being compared with.
They tend to be famous scientists or interesting
characters from English literature, like the
doctor who speaks to animals.
Now I can imagine being called, and indeed I have
been called worse, names than Dolittle.
But for a week, the full machinery of the state
was deployed to convince all Ghanaians that our
professor president was not a "professor
In the middle of all that, an even greater row
broke out when the chairman of Mr Atta Mills'
National Democratic Congress (NDC), called a press
conference to complain about the judiciary.
A little background is required here: The
attorney-general has been having a torrid time in
the courts recently - as has been the habit in
Ghana every time we are under constitutional rule
- and has lost a number of high profile cases.
Continue reading the main story
There are many ways of killing a cat”
The NDC chairman claimed that the courts and the
judges were biased against his party. He asked the
chief justice to "purge the judiciary" or the
party would do it for her.
This, in a country where the word "purge" evokes
images of unpleasant or nasty medicines for bodily
People do like taking purgatives here but it
remains essentially a very private and not public
The idea of the ruling party officials lining up
the judges and forcing purgatives down their
throats or rectums to empty their stomach contents
sounded repulsive and tensions went up all round.
A helpful journalist asked the NDC how he intended
to do the purging and he, being in his previous
life a university psychology lecturer, thought he
would employ some fancy language to explain.
"There are many ways of killing a cat," he said.
Cats are a culinary delicacy in some parts of
In other words they might administer enema to the
judges, or give them castor oil or mist alba or a
very hot chilli meal or whatever the current
popular purgative is that people use.
Not surprisingly all hell broke loose: The party
chairman was not only going to administer enema to
the judges, he was going to kill them as well!
The problem is that the word "kill" in whatever
idiomatic phrase cannot be used in conjunction
with judges in this country.
Continue reading the main story
He was happy his opponent referred to him as
'Professor Dolittle' rather than 'Professor Do
We have a history and this ruling party has a
history of their antecedents abducting judges who
gave rulings they disagreed with and killing
And then the NDC chairman also happens to come
from a region where people are not cat lovers or
to put it less delicately, they eat cats; in other
words, they kill cats and they would obviously
know all the various ways of killing a cat.
Then the professor president came back into town
and told the nation he had no intention of
interfering with the judiciary.
No journalist asked him which method of killing a
cat he preferred. But then the president comes
from a part of the country where cats are not a
And as for administering enemas to judges, it
might well be that since we have a female chief
justice, the delicate operation of giving her an
enema was to be left to the attorney-general who
is also female.
And the president said he was happy his opponent
referred to him as "Professor Dolittle" rather
than "Professor Do-Nothing".
It would seem purging would be outside the scope
of work of the professor.
Source - BBC
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