Dr. Rashid Pelpuo
Roula Pollard: Dear Dr. Rashid Pelpuo, welcome to the SETU Poetry interview. You are a Ghanaian politician since 2005 when you were elected into Parliament and a highly respected poet. How do you combine both?
Dr. Rashid Pelpuo: I have come to appreciate that in both Politics and Poetry one needs to think constructively with the aim of impacting the lives of people meaningfully. It has helped me in dealing with the two situations of politics and poetry in a manner that enables me to translate my thoughts and reflections into action to deal with the daily lives of people and society. I come to terms with the daily struggles of people and I both give that a thought and practically try to address them to help address problems and impact thinking in a more productive manner. For me poetry and politics make an easy combine.
Roula Pollard
Roula Pollard: You are well known in Africa as a leading political figure expressing new ideas regarding immigration, political corruption and development. Please elaborate on your political upbringing.

Dr. Rashid Pelpuo: I come from a background as a leader of a youth group that sought to change the corrupt attitude of the Ghanaian.  At the time wide spread corruption, lack of accountability and inertia were seen as the new normal and political office was a place to amass inordinate wealth. As I matured into higher political office my whole idea was to improve the lives of people sustainably and to make corruption a high risk activity. I combine my speeches with my poetry. I was also sad to note the insatiable desire of the everyday Ghanaian to leave the country and migrate to Europe and America. I noticed much of it was because of bad leadership and chronic economic failures. My advocacy was for us to fight corruption and promote good economic policies. I wrote about these things and organised forums about the need to ensure sustainable development long before I was first elected into office. My idea was to promote these ideas to the rest of Africa. I wrote numerous commentaries which were read over the national broadcasters; radio and television of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation..   I continued on this line of thought when I was elected into Parliament in 2005. This may have been the catalyst to spur on my colleagues in Parliament to overwhelmingly elect me to represent Ghana at the Pan African Parliament in 2010. At the African Parliament I spoke at a wider forum and was one of eight Members who were selected to visit the European Parliament to under study how it operated.

Roula Pollard: Did you want to be a politician since childhood? You were very young when you became a minister.

Dr. Rashid Pelpuo: I did not start by wanting to be a politician. As a young person I had other ambitions. I wanted to be a teacher. It influenced my choice to read my Bachelor degree in Education and Economics. However, being a public spirited individual I joined many social groupings and at each of them I was elected as one of their leaders. As a member of the Democratic Youth of Ghana I was elected its regional President. As leader of this youth group I initiated and carried out many voluntary projects. As for example I organised free classes for drop out students to help them get back into school. I got involved as kingpin in offering voluntary work to construct schools and a clinic for poor and vulnerable people. Again, while I was in the University, I was president of the Current Affairs club which discussed Great revolutions, such as the French, Russian and American Revolutions, Marxist thinking, and how the current development issues are shaped. I was also the President of the Northern Student Union, a union that sought to draw attention to the lack of development in the northern sector of the country. I also joined the university drama and writers club and was its secretary. Besides I was President of the Tertiary Education and Institutions Network (TEIN), a Political Organization which formation I spear headed. All these introduced me to a drive to leadership thought. I never tried to enter politics immediately after my university education. My entry into the political fray was championed by a group of young people drawn from all walks of life agitating to have me elected as the Member of Parliament of the Wa Central constituency two years after I took up a post as director of a Youth Leadership, and skill training Institute at the National Youth Council.  I was not so enthusiastic about joining national politics. I loved my work as a trainer and a poet. It was not until seven years later, supported by a larger segment of society, when I came into the race and was overwhelmingly elected into Parliament in 2005 and became a Minister when my party won the 2008 election.

Roula Pollard: I will speak without deterrent. Politicians in general around the world are arrogant.  How and why you distain this political arrogance and substitute it with kindness and a humanitarian attitude?
Dr. Rashid Pelpuo: I have always loved to teach and help people. I dislike strong and influential people bullying the weak and vulnerable. I never fought in my life but for two situations when in school I tried to prevent stronger boys bullying and unduly punishing other weaker students. Whenever it's about fighting for justice for others I speak without fear and I do so forcefully. Not many politicians love it. I suffered a few knocks as a result. But I think it's coming from how I grew up. I recalled how my father brought me up along with my other siblings and many other orphan children and treated us with equal measure of love and care. Those children were two of my late uncle’s children who my father took in after their untimely demise. I also loved the house helps in my house and even as a child, will protest anytime my mum was mad at anyone of them. With this background I grew up knowing that other people will always need help and kindness especially if they are vulnerable. Thus I eschew arrogance in my relation with people in general despite my background as a person of royal birth in my part of the world. In fact in all my life I associate more with the weak and poor in society.

Roula Pollard: Do your radical political views and leadership abilities herald the content of your poetry?

Dr. Rashid Pelpuo: I mostly write about freedom and liberation, corruption, peace, despair and social order. These have everything to do with my political views. Also although in my estimation I do not get enough support from many influential politicians, I enjoy a lot of overwhelming love and support from many grassroots people across the country. My political poems which appear as Letters from Overseas in my book; The True Meaning of Life, are examples of some of my political views that crystallized into poetry.
Consider these two poems I picked from two of such letters. The first talks about a symbolic politician who has ruled so badly and had to now face the people seeking reelection.
Political failure
At the few attempts he made
To explain away the vulgar parvenus
All over the realm of public life
He lost his calm
Especially when the crying children
And their mothers clad in rags
Waved their plight at him
He walked away head down into time.

Lamenting the deep seated corruption:
And we are drowning
In the proceeds of our avarice
And so if you hear that
Our politics is rebelling,
Don’t feel strange.
It’ll be sloughing off its old skin
To grow a new one, a better state,
To create certainty in our lives
To grow out of poverty
And to kill those rude passions
Awakened by the taste of people’s power,
Power by the people, on behalf of the people
Desecrated by its consumption

These two poems have a lot to do with my political views contrary to the expectation of the status quo.
However, I suppose that my style of leadership and my political ideas are accepted by the nation. This is born out of the general mood of the country when I was reshuffled as a Minister of of Youth and Sport. The country spontaneously exploded with disapproval and criticism of the President for a bad decision. I had to make a statement in Parliament to appease the many well wishers. 

Roula Pollard: Which were your childhood experiences and how did they influence your writing?

Dr. Rashid Pelpuo: Growing up everything and every situation I came into contact were a new experience to me and I had an idea of recording those experiences but did not want to record my thoughts in a dairy. Poetry was handy for me as soon as I was introduced to writing in verse. I plunge into poetry writing early in secondary school and have enjoyed it since. I love Shakespeare and I love African poetry and was greatly influenced with my early study of these works. Reading these materials was also an early inspiration.

Roula Pollard: Since when have you been writing poetry?
Dr. Rashid Pelpuo: My first known poetry writing was when I was in my second year in secondary school. I contributed the highest number of poems in our school poetry Magazine called the Phoebus. I was generally hailed by my teachers and fellow students. This is about thirty years ago.

Roula Pollard: Is poetry for you necessary to balance your political aspirations or is it more than a balancing act?
Dr. Rashid Pelpuo: Poetry comes to me naturally. For me there is no difference between my poetry and my politics. My politics manifest in my poetry and is generally to educate and to entertain. There is a balanced equilibrium in what I regard poetry and what my thoughts are. Some how it boarders on what I may regard as naïve in politics. In politics there's a lot of intrigue and mischief. In poetry there is purity of ideas based on an inner believe in what is true about life. I try not to play the intrigue and the mischief. I state the bare facts within the concept of our universal truth in poetry which is what my poetry is all about.

Roula Pollard: Has your writing and political theory been influenced by any poets, writers in particular or you never had time to read poetry?
Dr. Rashid Pelpuo: Three English poets and writers William Shakespeare; Thomas Hardy, and William Wordsworth and three African Writers:  Chinua Achebe, Ngugi Wa Tiongo, and Kofi Awonor have been a great influence in my poetic thought and my political theory. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Ngugi’s Petals of Blood for example have great influence on my political understanding of the reality of our human conduct.

Roula Pollard: I know you as a poet since 2016, from the “Africa-Ghana Pentasi B Poetry Festival and met you at the “Indian World Poetry Festival”, Hyderabad, October 2017.  Have your poetry style and ideas changed since 2016 and in what direction?
Dr. Rashid Pelpuo: Obviously getting to know people like you with very clear and inspiring ideas have an impact on my poetry. My poetry style has not changed but my ideas have been affected. I try to respond to my new environment which now includes the new ideas I accommodate.

Roula Pollard: What are your future plans as a poet?
Dr. Rashid Pelpuo: I plan to publish a bigger collection of my work. I also plan to do children poems directed at helping to promote peace and understanding in the world. I plan to promote my poetry in schools around the country.

Roula Pollard: How did the poet and politician Dr. Rashid Pelpuo foresee the future political and social developments in Africa and internationally?
Dr. Rashid Pelpuo: Africa is an enigma. It has all the natural resource capability to be rich and happy yet it's the poorest continent. Its environment is one of the friendliest but the people suffer from self inflicted pain. My thought is that there must be an intentional orientation of the African mind towards a peaceful more productive and orderly society. I see a future where Africa will awake to a new era in which citizens will be well awake to question their leaders and hold them responsible for leadership failures and corrupt practices. I also see a new African society in which leaders and citizens will ensure proper functioning of the laws in a sustained developed economy.. I see a future of Africa where the world will respect Africa for the generation of new ideas for development.

Roula Pollard: To my knowledge, you are the first politician-poet we interview by SETU. It has been a great experience to know you as Politician and Poet. You herald a new era of Hope and Progress. Thank you very much for this interview. From us all in SETU, I wish you success as a world leading politician and inspiring poet.

Dr. Rashid Pelpuo: Thank you so much. I am privileged.

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