Topic novel by Ayi Kwei Armah that










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Contemporary African Literature

some of the most important themes in Ayi Kwei Armah’s “The Beautiful Ones Not
Yet Born”


The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968) is a
novel by Ayi Kwei Armah that explores the livelihood of an unnamed rail worker
who is coerced by his family and colleagues to accept bribes and corrupt
activities in order to smoothly afford his family with material goods. In this
scenario, life is prosperous for workers who willingly accept bribes. However,
the man and his family live a vulnerable life as he depends on his paycheck
powered by honesty. In the back of his mind, he considers himself as a moral
failure due to the inability to provide his family with material things and
money to achieve the beautiful things they have always wished. Due to his
honesty, he is depicted as a social misfit man who is truly alone (Armah, 1968).
While considering the life-cycle of the man, his family, and fellow workers,
the key focus of this paper is to explore the primary themes that Ayi Kwei
Armah expounded on.

and Corruption

Corruption and bribery are expressed as the primary
theme in the novel. Corruption runs from the leadership to the ordinary people
like the man and his co-workers. In entirety, successive governments create
promises that eventually channel opportunity for leaders and their kin to
enrich themselves with public resources. The exploration by Ayi Kwei Armah expresses
corruption as a virtually acceptable style of living which is primarily caused by
modernization, bureaucracy and underpaid workers. For example, in the novel,
Amakwa approaches the protagonist to have his timber transported from the
forest for a reward. This incidence is fueled by the bureaucracy that happens
in African countries. However, in Ghana, it has reached a time when no service
can be attained without giving out some bribes.  Regardless of the fact that the man refused
the reward, his co-workers came through and accepted it. This resulted to
Amakwa scorning him “You, you are a very wicked man. You will never prosper” (Armah,
p. 107).

Additionally, modernization is seen as one key
catalyst for corruption in African countries. Any individual who fails to take
bribes is despised as old-fashioned or traditional. For example, after the man refused
to take bribes and goes ahead and narrates the same to his wife, he is
sarcastically referred to as “Chichidodo”. Chichidodo is a rare bird that
declines excrement and feeds on maggots. In this case, the man is described as
Chichidodo because he refuses bribes, but a fellow worker accepts it. Bribes in
African countries are seen as cancer that halts the development and sustainable
utilization of resources. For example, if a man wins a lottery, he must pay
some amount to the officials so that he can get his money, failure to do this
result in entire loss of the won cash. While looking at all these instances, it
appears that corruption has been accepted as a social norm in most African
countries (Armah, 1968).


The corrupt mind in Africa is expressed through
rewards and resources which have a value for money. The issue of money and
specifically Ghanaian currency Cedi is first introduced in chapter one in a
scene where a minibus conductor collects the fare and ensures he gets the
largest share. In the bus, one rider gives a larger note than the actual fare; this
sets the conductor on a reflection exercise where he feels that the economy of
Ghana has eventually grown to the extent that a client can pay more and has no
business of asking for change. In his mind, he hopes that client will not ask
for her change back and which will lead him to get more profits. In this scene,
it completely appears that money is the root of all evils. People are striving
in all ways to ensure that they profit from any opportunity that comes along (Armah,

In a similar account where money appears as the root
and catalyst for corrupt minds in African countries is in chapter two in the
lottery scene. The messenger wins a lottery of about one hundred Cedi. He is
well assured that many people will be willing to jump in and help him use the
money. However, he is a worried man as many people have won and not given their
worth. Some advice from his closest friends suggests that he go to the police
and seek assistance. However, he is assured that going to the police will cost
him the more. Therefore, he decides to wait and see what happens. In entirely,
bribery and corruption in African countries through the eye of Ghana proves
that exchange of money acts as the fuel through which social mischiefs and overutilization
of public funds are founded (Armah, 1968).

of Public and Government Funds

As corruption and money exchange between different
players is happening in Ghana, Armah reveals the exaggerate life that
governmental leaders such as Abednego Yamoah, Koomson, and Zacharias Lagos enjoy
through the open embezzlement of government resources. For example, in the case
study of Koomson and Estella his wife, embezzlement of government funds has
enabled them but luxury material things such as furniture and cars. Following
this, their daughter princess now lives and behaves like the British. Additionally,
in the description Armah (page 130) states “Koomson himself looks larger than
the chair he was occupying”. In this case, Armah portrays Koomson as a
neo-colonial leader who has succeeded from the fruits of betraying his own people.
To the Man, Koomson is a good example of the African socialists, well perfumed,
fat and with a smooth ancestral softness of the chief (Armah, p. 130). At this
point, the man sees Koomson as an individual who is enjoying the fruits of
trading the innocence of his citizens. Through the embezzled funds, these
leaders are capable of sending their children to study abroad while the
vulnerable in the community live an impoverished life. To confirm this, leaders
see money as a non-issue meaning they can get any money to fund their luxurious
life. For example, there is a scene where Koomson tells her wife and Oyo “Money
is not a difficult thing. You all know the Commercial bank is ours and we are
free to do anything” (Armah, p. 136). In here, Koomson can afford to purchase a
private boat for the family.  While
comparing Man’s life and Koomson’s lifestyle, it appears that the rich and
affluent leaders are living luxuriously by manipulating the public funds. Furthermore,
it is evident that African leaders are in a position where they are free to do
whatever turns out as an advantage to them and their families (Armah, 1968).

Furthermore, Abednego Yamoah is another case example
of a leader who embezzles government funds but ends up being praised by those
living near his quotas. For example, he sells off government petrol to himself;
however, everyone is left asking “why we are not like him (Armah, p. 96).
Historically, Africa is one of the richest regions in terms of minerals,
tourism, and reserves. However, regardless of the diamond mines, gold mines,
large coal deposits, National parks, and forests, they still lag behind in
terms of development.  The core reason is
due to the fact that African leaders are the primary beneficiaries of these
resources. They utilize them to develop their own lives while their citizens
are left vulnerable in the rural areas with poor living conditions, poor health,
and susceptible livelihood. For example, African leaders are the owners of
major timber mills; they harvest wood from major forests and end up exposing
the region to global warming.


and Despair

At the end of the book, Armah brings in another
theme of hopelessness and despair. In his mind, he hopes that things will
change for the better. However, he vividly confesses that there are no
indications that the future of independent Africans will be better. At this
point, it appears as if African were not liberated from the white exploiter
rather that was just an exchange awarded to the black exploiters in form of
African leaders who are ready and willing to take every available resource to
ensure that their livelihood remains stable in place of their subjects (Armah,

As the author notes, this form of African exploitation
by their leaders has resulted in alienation the people and the society. For
example, the lucky ones who included the political leaders, ministers, and government
officials are funded by the government budgets to do all sort of evils. They
are using the government resources to exploit innocent people in the society.
For example, African leaders are the primary cause of prostitution in the
region.  They are more concerned about
life pleasures and leisure. Through the life of Koomson, African leaders are
currently changing girls like clothes just because they have money. This revelation
is made by a pitiable woman who sells loaves of bread. She says “Have you
ever seen a big man ‘government leader” without a girl” (Armah, p.

In a similar case, Koomson lifestyle is surrounded
by the social evils where Armah says “Very young juicy vaginas wait for him in
some hired placed paid through government funds” (Armah, p. 90).  These two statements prove that most of the
African leaders have pressed hard on their citizens to the extent that they are
even preying on their innocence. Young girls are going the prostitution way to meet
their basic needs. Having authority, power and political will in African seems
like a gate pass to affluence as resources and people are there to manipulate.
As explored by Armah (1968), hopeless and despair even hits the moral as they
society reflects them as foolish. For example, the protagonist is insulted by
his societal members for not being corrupt. This proves that corruption is
acceptable as a social norm in Ghana. Corruption is expressed as a get rich
strategy. Therefore, all those who do not want to engage themselves in corrupt
deeds are alienated as people are not willing to be happy in life. For example,
the man and the teacher are two alienated people who live in despair and
hopeless from the forces in their communities. 
In one instance, the man finds the teacher alone sleeping naked while
listening to music (Armah, p.91). This shows that socialization with the entire
society is cut short for those individuals who are not willing to embrace
corruption and bribery in their lives. Similarly, Maanan through the
exploitation and neglect from the governmental forces eventually got into
insanity. Furthermore, another individual by the name Billy who lost his leg
accidentally was sidelined by the government and the society as a whole leading
to suicide. The life experiences of all these individuals have shown that they end
up living in a hopeless affair as the government in office does not mind about
their needs and livelihood. As a result, they endure a completely vulnerable
livelihood despite being in a region rich in minerals, national reserves, and
fertile lands.


From the exploration, Ayi Kwei Armah’s “The
Beautiful Ones Not Yet Born” explores the uneven development, individual
isolation, hopeless and despair, corruption and wasted potential of a region
that is well supplied with resources and natural wealth. Political leadership
in African has created the enormous gap between the haves and the have-nots as
money and power remain the key drivers of individual affluence in the region.
As a result, the hopelessness of the nation and its people is expressed when
the man completely feels burdened with the know-how that their future is a
sacrifice that is enjoyed by the few in the society. Nevertheless, there is
still hope expressed in the after coup scene where Man’s wife was initially not
supporting his idea of declining bribes, but after the coup, she now supports
the husband. Therefore, through the relationship between the man and his wife, there
are still hopeful that the beautiful one “non-corrupt and hope” will eventually
get born.















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A. K. (1968). The beautiful ones are not yet born. London:

A. K., (2002). The beautiful ones are not
yet born: A study guide. Bramley: Guidelines Study Aids.


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