Category Archives: Ghana

Life imitates Art: Learning to like Germany through electronic music

(Dies ist ein Artikel, den ich größtenteils am 8.8.2014 verfasst, aber zu dessen Veröffentlichung ich mich erst heute entschieden habe.)

388215_310795265609323_301206739_nGestern bin ich aus Ghana zurückgekommen. Was macht man so, wenn man zum ersten Mal seit 11 Monaten wieder so richtig in Deutschland “ankommt”, ohne im Hinterkopf zu haben, dass man das Land ja sowieso bald wieder verlässt? In den Zug steigen, Laugenbaguette mit Salami essen. Kraftwerk anmachen. Nachdenken. Man verspürt einen gewissen Drang, eine harmonische Beziehung zu seiner Umgebung aufzubauen. Also für mich speziell, eine harmonische Beziehung zu Deutschland aufbauen.

Warum ich Deutschland bisher nicht mochte

376239_454639147891600_482806894_nUm ganz ehrlich zu sein, ich mochte Deutschland noch nie so richtig leiden. Die “Seele” Deutschlands war nach dem 2. Weltkrieg zerbrochen. Die Mentalität der Deutschen ist aus meiner Sicht seit dem vor Allem von Bitterkeit geprägt, und der Frage, wie man sich als Volk eine neue Identität geben kann. Bedingt durch die unterschiedliche wirtschaftspolitische Entwicklung sind dabei in Ost- und Westdeutschland verschiedene mehr oder weniger ausstehliche Ideen entstanden.

52560_170562779632573_7748489_oVor allem Westdeutsche aus der Nachkriegsgeneration, haben das s.g. “Wirtschaftswunder” der 1950er bis 1970er Jahre hautnah miterlebt. Sie sind in einem Deutschland aufgewachsen, das von Wohlstand und einem kriegsbedingten Vakuum nationaler Identität geprägt war. Für viele dieser Menschen entwickelte sich damit eine neue nationale Identität, die sowohl den übermäßigen Wohlstand, als auch eine neue, viel subtilere Form von Nationalismus legitimierte: Die Idee eines Volkes mit weit überlegener Arbeitsmoral. Die damit verbundenen Werte -Produktivität, Präzision  und Ernsthaftigkeit- sind sicherlich konstruktiv und sympathisch in dem Sinn, dass sie teilweise eine sich selbst erfüllende Prophezeiung sind. Viele Deutsche fühlen sich tatsächlich wohl, wenn sie sehr produktiv, sehr präzise und sehr ernsthaft sind. Mich eingeschlossen.

10496006_785076991514479_1282326350185411380_oSchade bis gefährlich ist es nur, wenn mit der Erfüllung dieser Werte die Selbstkritik durch eine selbstgerechte, konservative Trägheit ersetzt wird. Das ist der Hauptgrund, warum ich mich bisher in Deutschland nicht wohlgefühlt habe. Das kriege ich jetzt besonders zu spüren, wenn ich bei meinen Erzahlungen über die wirtschaftlichen Probleme Ghanas bei so manchem Gesprächspartner sehen muss, wie er/sie sich ein herablassendes Lächeln im besten Fall noch verkneift.

Die “Quelle allen Übels” ist hier wohl die Idee, dass das deutsche “Wirtschaftswunder” der Nachkriegsjahre und die sukzessive wirtschaftliche Dominanz Deutschlands in Europa und weltweit (Stichwort “Export-Weltmeister”) einer grundlegend überlegenen “Deutschen Arbeitsmoral” entsprungen ist. Hier möchte ich eine Dokumentation empfehlen, die letztes Jahr vom ZDF veröffentlicht wurde: Die Ursprünge des “Mythos vom Wirtschaftswunder” der BRD sind demnach weitaus weniger glanzvoll. Hier eine Kurzfassung:

  1. Überbleibsel von Ingenieuren, Nazi-Managern und Industrieanlagen aus dem 3. Reich waren ein Katalysator für die Industrie.
  2. Eine große Nachfrage nach Industriemaschinen in Folge des Korea-Kriegs beschleunigte den industriellen Aufbau
  3. Der Verzicht kriegsgeschädigter Nationen auf Reparationen (mit Ausnahme von Russland) erlaubte ungestört die fortgesetzte Nutzung eines großen Teiles der industriellen Anlagen.
  4. Und vor Allem: Allierte Propaganda. Diese hat dazu geführt, dass die Deutschen nun Ludwig Erhardt als den visionären Erschaffer der D-Mark und die Amerikaner als die “selbstlosen Gläubiger” im Marshall-Plan verehren.

381878_305364289485754_575050699_nWas das für Implikationen in der Diskussion um die deutsche Schuld in der “Euro-Krise” nach sich zieht, ist sicher auch eine wichtige Frage. Aber die wichtigste Frage für mich ist nun: Wie kann man eine Nation, die von so viel Selbstgerechtheit geprägt ist, mögen lernen? (Vor allem wenn man gerade aus einem Land kommt, dass im wirtschaftlichen Vergleich zu Deutschland definitiv auf der Verliererseite steht.)

Gedankensprung: Kraftwerk und Roman Flügel

Ich denke, die Tatsache dass die Elektro-Musik-Szene in Deutschland so stark geworden ist, hat sehr greifbare Gründe. Die Gründer dieser Szene in der neuen Bundesrepublik waren dazu fähig, die neuen Werte -Produktivität, Präzision und Ernsthaftigkeit- nicht blind als Füllmaterial für das Vakuum der nationalen Identität zu nutzen, sondern in eine vom Nationalismus entledigte, nüchterne Ästhetik als neue Form von Musik umzusetzen.

981859_577608038928043_650572954_oDie wohl berühmteste Gruppe in diesem Zusammenhang ist “Kraftwerk”. Die Band wurde ursprünglich 1970 gegründet unter dem Titel “Organisation zur Verwirklichung gemeinsamer Musikkonzepte”. Laut Wikipedia bezeichnete die New York Times Kraftwerk 1997 als die “Beatles der elektronischen Tanzmusik”. Titel wie “Autobahn”, “Die Roboter”, “Das Modell”, “Radioaktivität” und “Computerwelt” zeichnen ein fast utopisches, von Technokratie geprägtes Lebensbild des Nachkriegsdeutschlands, auch vor allem weil die Original-Texte -und Titel- eben deutsch sind.

Dies ist für mich die politische Dimension elektronischer Musik, im engeren Sinne. Ein wichtiger Katalysator für mich zur Erkenntnis der oben beschriebenen Assoziationen war die Facebook-Seite von Roman Flügel. Dieser postete zur Ankündigung seiner Gigs immer zusätzlich scheinbar zusammenhanglose Fotos aus Deutschland.

 

Why I will leave Ghana: Telecommuting, the University of Cape Coast, Yandex and Natural Language Processing

As I just published, I am going to leave Ghana in August. I would like to explain the “Why” a little bit more.

Some of you know, that for the largest part of the past year I was very certain that I would stay in Ghana at least until the end of 2014. I went to some length to establish conditions that would allow me to do so: I struck a telecommuting deal with my employer in Germany whilst filling a temporary lecturing vacancy at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana; the combination of which would be reason enough to stay.

Over the past four months though, the bright outlook I saw in staying here transformed into a nightmare of power and internet outages, miscommunication and bureaucracy.

OneUniversity_of_Cape_Coast_(UCC)_crest[1] of my main conclusions is, that I was far too optimistic about promises made to me here. Primarily that goes to the UCC (University of Cape Coast). Prior to initiating the telecommuting agreement with my employer, I made clear to the University that the precondition for my lecturing there would be the availability of a secure work environment for my telecommuting job. It devolved into a bit of a carrot-and-stick situation: I was shown my office in the university, even temporarily holding the keys to it, and continuously promised that I would receive a contract for my work either tomorrow or next week.

Fortunately I learned through a series of happy coincidents that the program coordinator who originally invited me into the university was just a temporary fill-in for the actual guy, and probably didn’t even have the authority to create a contract for me. It is still puzzling me why he didn’t just admit that.

Now I got to know the actual program coordinator. He flat-out admitted that he didn’t have the authority to employ me. That left my dream of staying at the university shattered in pieces, until I had the idea of studying there. They would’ve actually permitted me to do a Master’s in Computer Science, which sounded nice to me. I wanted to stay in Ghana.

That was until I was contactYa logo 250ed by Yandex. Yandex is a Russian Company that operates, among other services, the 4th-largest search engine in the world. They picked up my resume on LinkedIn and invited me to participate in an interview for a C++ Software Engineering position in Berlin. I was really curious, especially because the job would have been about enhancing their maps service. I made it through the challenge tasks and the first interview, but didn’t quite make the second interview. Throughout the interview process though I came to peace with the thought of leaving Ghana for something that may not be as culturally demanding, but far more academically challenging (than studying at the UCC).

After I failed on the second interview with Yandex, I was obviously stuck with a very depressing thought: What if, even after getting a Masters Degree in Computer Science from the UCC, I still wouldn’t have the knowledge to make it through an interview such as the one I just failed?

This is not to discredit the ICT/Computer Science program of the UCC. But indisputably, I do have access to universities in Germany that have far more competence in the field. And also indisputably, Computer Science is one of my core interests.

ims-stuttgart stuttgartSo I started looking for academic “computer sciencey” programs in Germany, and actually found one at the University of Stuttgart that seemed to fulfill my urge for academic depth, especially towards creative algorithms and data structures. The program name is “Maschinelle Sprachverarbeitung”, translated to English  as “Natural Language Processing”.

This is a really important step for me. I had to choose between science and social engagement. After a year of social work in Ghana, I chose science.

 

Good bye Ghana

Ghana_Airways_VC-10_AMS_1965-8-1I now have roughly two weeks left until my departure from Ghana. On August 7th I will say my last “Yebeshia” – “We will see each other again”. I’m leaving with mixed feelings. I know that I learned a great deal about myself, but I’m unsure whether I have accomplished enough for the organization. I am loooking forward to visit Ghana again though. This amazing country is now a big part of my life that I am very eager to keep :-) .

Why I think that Africa will save humanity

Hello world!

last saturday, exactly three weeks ago, I arrived in Ghana. I would like to devote this blog entry to explaining some of my most significant impressions from living here. Although I’m giving my best, I feel like I’m trying to comprehend a forest by looking at a handful of dirt. Let me give it a shot though.

I think the first thing that jumped to my eyes coming from the airport and traveling to Komenda on September 7th were the remarkable effects of Globalization, at least on southern Ghana. I would tend to think that this applies to most of Africa though. Globalization for Ghana (as for most parts of Africa) started with British, Dutch and Portuguese colonialism, with the Brits getting the upper hand in the end. And it extends towards todays colonialism by transnational corporations. What used to be the British is now Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, Nestle, etc and China. (China kind of being a transnational corporation of its own.)

In my experience, Ghanaians themselves see all of this much less critical. Nowadays they mostly endear the British as bringers of progress, as much as they love Coca-Cola for its taste, contemporary pop music for its sound, and the USA for its general coolness. They don’t give as much a fuck about Racism, Monopolism or Imperialism as we do because they are not on the supply side of it. They love being cool and not giving a fuck. Feel free is the prevailing attitude, very much resembling what I got to experience in the US. Except when Ghanaians don’t give a fuck, it seems much more lovable and genuine, as opposed to ignorant. Because Ghanaians are not on the supply side of the problems they ignore, as opposed to the U.S. or Western Europe. To continue on the parallels between rural Indiana and Ghana: Southern Ghana is extremely Christian, (and Ghanaians eat with their fingers). Consequently, the US have a pretty good relationship with Ghana (another reason for the good relationship might be Ghanas political proximity to China, more on that in another post). Obama was here in 2009, and the USAID (see http://ghana.usaid.gov/) is contributing a lot to Ghana’s economy. Kofi Annan (Former Sec. General of the UN) and Mario Balotelli (Player in the Italian national soccer team) are good examples of popular Ghanaians in our western bubble.

The situation here, from my perspective, is not as bad as you might think:

  • There is a thought-through 7-layer universal healthcare system
  • There is primary and secondary education with mandatory enrollment (81% literacy). Ghana is pretty offensive in highlighting that its economy is very much pointed towards the digital future. ICT (Information and Communication Technology) is on the schedule in every high school.
  • Also people (usually) are not starving, and the economy is in pretty good shape (Ghana’s GDP growth of 14% in 2012 comes in second in the world after Qatar!)
  • Clean water supply is provided via un-recycled plastic water sachets. (Selling at about USD 0.10 per liter)
  • Transportation works through a pragmatic system of trotros (taxi-like vans with fixed routes) and shared taxis
  • Infrastructure is in ok shape, most important roads are well paved.

The biggest and most obvious problem (in my view) comes from a missing garbage recycling infrastructure. Most Trash is undealt with and infesting everywhere.

money

“Little money”

Last but not least I would like to highlight the apparent insignificance of little GDP from my perspective here in Ghana. With an annual GDP per capita of about USD 6000, Ghana would be considered poor by most standards. That is a very limited perspective. Cash flow is (not yet) the definition of the Ghanaian culture (as opposed to western commercialized culture). The GDP is, for example, not able to measure the economic effect of privately owned and used fields or farm animals. It’s also bullshit because the local value of the currency is much, much higher. You can buy a bread for GHC 0,50 (about a quarter). You can get a haircut for GHC 2 (about a dollar). You can take a cab through downtown for GHC 1 (About 50 cents). It’s only imported goods that are expensive.

The agricultural, un-commercial orientation of Ghanaian society has a lot of invaluable benefits. For example, relative independence from western financial crises. Or relative freedom from individualistic pressure for economic success. And relative freedom from the cancer that is the western financial services and financing culture (loans, mortgages, economical dependence on financial services sector). If you look around here, the landscape is riddled with unfinished buildings, looking like it was hit harshly by the burst housing bubble. When in fact it’s the opposite: People here rarely take mortgages to build something. They just build it step by step, one paycheck at a time.

If you look for a solution to the impossibility of the indefinite economic growth, which we use to define our culture, take Africa as an encouraging (!) inspiration. If you are afraid of western society collapsing (for its general unsustainability), try to embrace a culture that survives off of a minimal fraction of the resources we consume on a daily basis.

I would like to make the cyncial statement that luckily, western financial capitalism is destroying a lot, but most of all it is destroying itself. Because it is built on indefinite growth. Be optimistic! Be aware, that the positive effects of Globalization (Sharing of knowledge and ideas, Political convergence, International collaboration) are not dependent on western financial capitalism, which makes up most of the bad effects.

Cheers!

 

Akwaba. Welcome to Komenda!

Hi everyone!

I want my first blog post to be about the beautiful city of Komenda where I am living in. Komenda has about 5000 direct inhabitants, and roughly 30000 people are living in its greater area. It is part of the K.E.E.A district (Komenda-Edina-Eguafo-Abirem), and the biggest town there. Situated directly at the coast of the Atlantic, fishing plays a very big role here.

The town is very rich in history and mystery. According to the legends it was founded by a man named Komen who came to the dutch side of Komenda and asked the Dutch for shelter. The Dutch though refused his bid, and told him to look for shelter west of the river that was the border of Dutch-Komenda. They warned him though that a monster was living on the other side of the river. The Dutch promised Komen, that if he was able to kill the monster, they would give him all of the land west of the river. So Komen killed the monster, and not only gave Komenda it’s name, but also founded British-Komenda, west from Dutch-Komenda.

That’s what the legends say. Who knows what happened. But one thing is obvious even from the legend. Komenda was very very much intertwined in the colonial fights between the Dutch and the British for Ghana. There are many remainders visible of that, most importantly the Komenda Castle. Although in really bad shape, damaged by war, age and careless treatment, a lot of it is still surprsingly intact.

Komenda has everything one can wish for in Africa. A central water supply, electricity during most parts of the day (especially at night), and cellphone reception from three different providers (MTN, Glo, Vodafone). Vodafone is even 3G, so I have a better internet connection here than in some parts of Germany, which is kind of amazing.

What gave Komenda most of its current status is a sugar factory that was in operation in Komenda until about 30 years ago. Nobody knows why it closed. A lot of excitement here right now is due to the fact that an Indian investor is planning on reopening the plant.

Enjoy the pictures!

Shout out!

http://mischverstaendnisse.blogspot.de/

I find it very hard describe all the experiences coming at me right now. I would like to refer interested readers to another blog, that of Leonie, a fellow volunteer from Germany working in Ghana as well, but about 2 hrs north-east of Komenda, in the city of Swedru.

She perfectly describes many of the features of living here.

There is one line I would like to highlight since I could very much relate to it. Paraphrasing from German:

You are probably going to do most things wrong anyway – and there’s nothing wrong with that. As long as I stay myself, at least I’m comfortable in my skin.

cat

Hello out there!

Hey everyone!

I finally got to create my blog. I’m going to use it to keep you updated on my stay in Ghana! I also want to use it beyound that to publish some of the projects I’m working on and give you some news commentary wherever I think its worth it.

Feel free to comment. I’m looking forward to your input.

Enjoy and have fun!

enjoy