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.
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.