Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Choosing Conscience: A review of Mawuli Adzei's 'The Jewel of Kabibi'

Title: The Jewel of Kabibi
Author: Mawuli Adzei
Date of publication: 2014
Publisher: Masterman Publishing Ltd
Pages: 272
International book number: 978-9988-1-9219-8
Reviewer: Edzordzi Agbozo

The famous physicist Albert Einstein opines that we should “never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.” Conscience is the ultimate guide of man and when lost or exchanged for anything else, humans cease to be humans. The preservation of conscience in life’s sojourns is the ultimate mission that the major characters in The Jewel of Kabibi strive to fulfill.

The Jewel of Kabibi is Mawuli Adzei’s debut novel and concerns itself with negotiating Ghanaian life through the provocation of minds to such glaring but often unidentified issues as child prostitution, the problematic head-porter business in urban Ghana, socio-political and religious hypocrisy, the entanglement of the young in the hypnotic magnetism of material and financial fulfillment and the ultimate triumph of the few good people over the many evil ones. In the very end, the conscience of the good set the path for the liberation of the whole society by exposing the ruthless lords who for their aggrandizement stifle everyone else .

The economic gap between northern and southern Ghana may, to an extent, be attributed to human creation: a result of bad policies from colonial to independent eras. In this novel, the author reminds us of this fact; whipping up our conscience to look at the direction of vulnerable geographiesThe main character, Salma (11 years old), escapes from a planned forced marriage between her and the affluent octogenarian Baba Askan. Tongka, Salma’s father, also gets to increase his financial fortunes from this marriage. Salma left northern Ghana to Accra (the national capital) with the hope of living a better life and fulfilling her dream of becoming a scholar. Accra, however, converted her from a young girl with dreams into a kayayo (Ghanaian expression for head-porter) and latter into a prostitute. 

Risky, another very significant character, is a product of illicit coitus between a minister of state and his housemaid. The powerless housemaid gets sacked by the powerful. Risky then grows up on the street to become a criminal. Abena, Risky’s mother, attempted to expose the evils of Danfo, the (dis)Honourable Minister of the Interior. She was killed by the minister to protect his image. Abena, though dead, has her conscience intact while the minister, despite his efforts to cover his crimes, was finally exposed by James Morgan. James Morgan is a journalist, a representation of the few good human beings who strived to choose conscience over anything else. In the end, he has to flee to preserve his life and liberate Salma from the spell of prostitution.

Being a debut novel, The Jewel of Kabibi, contributes significantly to literary dialogues on Ghanaian social life. The themes of the novel are worth contemplation. The issues in this novel have the capacity of replacing dawn broadcasts on radio and sermons on the pulpit, given that Ghanaians are ‘religious’ people. Even the way of disposing off excreta, the protean electricity supply, bleaching, lateness to work and corporal punishment in schools are questioned.

The Jewel of Kabibi defies chronological plot and rather weaves the narrative in an unexpected but organized manner. The brevity of the chapters is very apt. Each chapter reads like a short story in their own right. This characteristic is observed in all Mawuli Adzei’s novels and poetry; a style for which Veronique Tadjo of Ivory Coast is also very known. The masterful incorporation of cultural nuances and the simplicity of language are major strengths of this work. An astonishing observation is that, the author comes across as a feminist, giving exposure to major problems that women face. To advance a feminist theory, James Morgan who liberated Salma from prostitution and Risky, who ‘protected’ Salma from bad clients, are men just like the author himself. Sala and Bente, who introduced Salma into prostitution by having her raped, are women.  Adzei seem to suggest that men can be feminists (an echo of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) and that not all women look out for the good of their kind.

A weakness of the work is the introductory chapter. This chapter describes a huge flood from the overflow of the Bagre dam, which destroyed many valuables. This may be intended to foreshadow the destruction of the personal lives of many major characters and at another level, the destruction of the whole social essence. The description is, however, very lengthy, covered the whole chapter and made biblical allusion to the flood of Noah’s time. Being an introductory chapter, readers may expect an action-oriented narrative rather than a descriptive one. An action-oriented narrative serves as an appetizer to the readers and brings them to terms with what to expect in the rest of the chapters. Again, the author left the reader in suspense with regards to Mr Danfo, the (dis)Honourable Interior Minister. When and how will the laws of Ghana make him pay for his crimes? This suspense may, however, be a literary device or suggest a possible sequel. Also, the paper quality of the novel is of low standard and not very attractive. The cover design, however, compensates for this with a fascinating art work and a splendid color combination.

I highly recommend The Jewel of Kabibi to every lover of good literature because it brings a new perspective to narratives about post-colonial Ghana, her people, history and culture in different ways and highlights basic socio-economic problems that needs to be addressed before Ghanaians start thinking of going into space.

Mawuli Adzei in his office at the University of Ghana

Mawuli Adzei is a British Chevening Fellow and senior lecturer at the Department of English, School of Languages, University of Ghana. His books include Testament of the Seasons (poetry) (2013), Taboo (novel) (2012), The Jewel of Kabibi (novel) (2011; re-published in 2014 by Masterman Publishing Ltd) and The Witch of Lagbati (novel) (2014; Masterman Publishing Ltd). 


  1. In-depth review.

    I recently met the author at the 2nd National Poetry Festival held in Accra on 6th June 2015. Will look out for his works.

  2. Haven't read the book yet. Hopefully I should do so, following this review.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I would really love to read this book,where can i find one.