On Thursday March 12, 2020, the Ghana Health Service announced the confirmation of two positive cases of COVID-19 which had been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) a day before.
The announcement brought mixed feelings among Ghanaians especially that of fear overriding as people envisaged what the appearance of the then novel corona virus in Ghana holds for them as news of its devastating effect in other countries had been in the media for some months.
Three days after the confirmation of the two cases, on Sunday March 15, 2020 at 20:00 hours, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo visited the homes of Ghanaians with his first address to the nation on measures taken by government to control the spread of the disease.
The address which started with “Fellow Ghanaians…” led to the shutdown of all schools, churches, and the banning of all sporting activities and other large gatherings including cultural activities, weddings and funerals.
COVID-19 and culture
The COVID-19 pandemic did not only hit hard at the country’s economy, education and church services but also individuals, tourism, and cultural activities among others.
It was a solemn moment when the chiefs of the Tema Traditional Council (TTC) clad in red invited the Ghana News Agency (GNA) to the palace to announce to the public the death of the late Paramount Chief of Tema, Nii Adjei Kraku II.
The announcement of the passing of the Paramount Chief did not stand alone, it came along with the notification that the 2020 Kplejoo festival had been postponed.
Nii Armarh Somponu II, Tema Shipi who made the announcement said “in line with the solemn observation of the passing of the Tema Paramount Chief and the precautionary measures against the COVID-19, the Traditional Council has suspended this year’s Kplejoo festival, which was to take place on March 27, 2020 to next year”.
He said the elders had met with leaders of the various Kple Groups and Family Heads to ensure strict adherence to the directives from the Council and that of President Akufo-Addo on public gatherings and religious activities.
The TTC therefore ordered all groups to desist from engaging in any public activities including the usual procession adding that they had informed the Police to arrest and deal with any person who would go contrary to the directives, stressing that the situation was now a national security one.
This is how the usual euphoria of the celebration of the Kplejoo died out among residents especially the youth who often took active part in the festival as they formed the Kple groups. The groups use the Klejoo to embark on a procession of singing, dancing and merrymaking amidst the display of flags. They formulate songs to praise good leaders and criticize the wrong doings of those in authority.
The suspension also affected other segments of the cultural industries, the ban on social gathering affected the organization of festivals, and this had a rippling effect on businesses that were linked to these activities such as traders in the cloth production business, the performing artistes, food business, sewing and beauty as well as wellness business and film.
Ms Sandra Boison, Tema Metropolitan Cultural Officer indicated that the photography production business, event organizers, rental and sale of artifacts, as well as tourism all suffered greatly due to COVID-19 due to the need to observe the safety protocols especially social distancing and ban on social gatherings to curb the spread.
The name Tema is a corrupted Ga word, “Torman’ meaning the town of gourds which covers town between Nungua and Kpone along the coast of Ghana in the Greater Accra Region.
Tema is known to have the Greenwich Meridian passing through it in addition to housing some important establishment including the Tema Port and Fishing Harbour and large numbers of industries.
Tema indigenes are Gas and therefore commemorate the Kplejoo and Homowo festivals annually. As cosmopolitan as the town is, it houses other people from diverse cultural settings from other parts of Ghana.
To promote and forge unity among the people, the Tema Metropolitan Assembly (TMA) some few years back initiated the Tema Merifest Festival which provided the platform for all the people to display their traditions through colourful display of ethnic dances, music, dresses, food among others.
Public cultural institutions
Ms Boison disclosed that public funded cultural institutions had also been affected by the pandemic noting for instance that, last year the Centre for National Culture office in Tema and Kpone-Katamanso had to cancel all their programme outlined for the schools.
“An example is the creative arts festival on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which included drama, poetry and choreography performances which sought to educate and promote the SDGs among students.
“Also, some of our programmes were cancelled because we did not get any funds for it”.
She added that “currently, revenue generation has greatly been affected because of the pandemic. Therefore, government revenue for the sector is not impressive and a chunk of the revenue generated is used to address emergency situations caused by the deadly virus. This is affecting the funding for cultural programme”.
She however said that the Coronavirus created the desire of many Ghanaians who stayed at home during the lockdown period and even afterwards to rely more on cultural events such as drama series, musical concerts aired on television, radio and social media to take away the boredom at home.
She said tailors and seamstresses also ventured into the production of reusable face masks.
New normal for culture
She disclosed that her office had resorted to the use of virtual means to provide online cultural activities through social media, and virtual reality shows as a way to continue to fulfil the organizational mission, which is to promote, protect, and document the culture and heritage of Ghana through the arts.
She said “before the 2020 General Elections, the Tema Metro office of the Centre for National Culture joined the Peace campaign by coming up with poetry, and drama pieces on election violence and promoted it on social media.
By the end of the month of November, 2020 about 1000 people had benefitted from our message on peace.
According to her, this year; they intend to use social media and virtual means once again to organize training programmes on bead making, sewing, among others for the youth, adding that they would also come up with short films and documentaries that would address societal problems.
That however comes with its own challenges as she noted that, “our challenge in using virtual means is that, because this is a novel experience, these social media platforms we use must be boosted, and monetized in order to make them viable, and profitable for us to reach many people and also generate some revenue from the content we will provide. But there is no fund”.
Just like Ms Boison, it is the wish of residents of Tema and all Ghanaians that with the vaccine and protocols observance, the situation would normalise for the culture sector to revamp because “we have missed the face-to-face performances in the theatres and event centres”.
She appealed to the health administrators in the various districts to contact the cultural offices in their districts to help them use the arts to educate Ghanaians on the new vaccine in order to alley their fears about taking their jabs.