“Have you gotten over the culture shock?”
We are about an hour into our drive to the city of Cape Coast, having woven through conversations about Ghana, Canada, and Sweden. Kwame picked me up from the hotel at 7:00 am before a quick diversion to another for Anna who had already been in the country for two weeks. The conversation flowed easily, questions and answers and observations, comparisons between Europe and North America and Africa, all of it in English. Today is my second day of sightseeing after six days of presentations and meetings, traversing between two hotels in Accra, and scooting off to the airport at 4:30 am for early morning flights to Kumasi and Tamale on Wednesday and Thursday. Kwame knows this trip is my first time in Ghana.
“Oh yes. I have been to the continent of Africa before. Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa.”
In asking his question, I expect Kwame is referring to the streets and living conditions for what appears to be the majority of the Ghanaian people. The roads lined with ramshackle shops or dilapidated shelters, small businesses offering common household necessities and the occasional luxury item amidst the dust and dirt of relentless traffic. People and goats and dogs meandering amongst cars littering the shoulders, weaving between the stalls and wares, children in tow, shopping and browsing amidst the honking and music and megaphone pronouncements of yet another one man church. A bedraggled man dressed only in a loin cloth, pulled up on an angle, stumbles across the road in front of us, his penis swaying with each step.
Each stoplight is an opportunity to scout the merchandise for offer by men and women, boys and girls, walking in between the standing vehicles, hankering for your attention, hawking water and fruit, belts and bras, maps and flags, toilet paper and towels; a cornucopia of products available for purchase by simply rolling down the window to hand over the negotiated amount of Cedis. You are confronted by beggars clamouring for spare bills, legless young men rolling around on skateboards, an old blind woman led from car to car, children pressing their faces against the tinted glass yelling for some attention.
These scenes reflect that of parts of Kampala, and Dar es Salaam and Johannesburg; and India and rural China for that matter. What culture shock exists stems from the comparison to my hotel with its outdoor pool and indoor sauna and beautiful people, buffet meals and craft beer and original artwork.
Money talks. Money screams. Money buys you dream machines……
The day before, my eyes were opened to the history of Ghana, it’s independence and early years, the adoration of the first President of the country and leader of the Pan-African movement, Kwame Nkrumah, a socialist and revolutionary. The tour included a visit to the home of William Edward Bugat Dubois, an American sociologist, close friend of Nkrumah, and noted Pan-Africanist civil rights activist, who became a Ghanaian citizen. My guide endearingly described him as a communist who was not born in Africa, Africa was born in him. Pictures lined the walls of Dubois with Mao Tse Tung, of Macolm X visiting; the library shelves stocked with the works of Marx, children’s books of Aunt Rosa [Luxumburg] available for borrowing, all around the corner from the American Embassy.
It is clear that we must find an African Solution to our problems, and this can only be found in African Unity. Divided we are weak; United Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world.”Kwame Nkrumah (quote on display in W.E.B. Dubois Museum)
When he became President, Nkrumah discarded the colonial label, Gold Coast, to rename the country as Ghana, the “warrior king”, with a Black Star in the new flag to symbolize the Pan-African movement. Little wonder he was overthrown by a military coup four years later, supported by the Americans, according to Emmanuel my Accra city tour guide..
I posit this belief to Kwame in our expanding conversation about the economic and political realities of Ghana during hour two of our drive. He goes further to explain the coup was supported internally by members of the original six, pointing to them on the 50 Cedi note, claiming the current President is the son of one member, and was now finishing the job economically by selling out to private corporations and state capitalists. The sale of rights to the Chinese government for the redevelopment of Jamestown harbour in support of foreign fishing trawlers was the latest example.
Money’s what it takes to make it rock…..
Kwame hesitantly gambles a conclusion with us, unsure how we will react.
“I think the rest of the world is exploiting Africa.”
Anna and I respond immediately in vigorous agreement. As we venture into political structures, it becomes apparent Kwame is not wedded to democracy as the answer to his country’s ills. He can even live with corrupt leaders as long as their cause is for the benefit of the people. And when I see a state where the rich natural resources are foreign owned; where western aid agencies lend large sums of money to induce crippling debt in return for nominal value; and where national leaders are educated abroad, indoctrinated with market ideology, I can understand the skepticism and the appeal of an alternative narrative. We reach our first destination and the conversation ends.
Everyone is a little tired on the eventual ride back to Accra as darkness descends over the long day, so there is limited pickup on the themes discussed earlier. At one point I comment, somewhat ethnocentrically, on the seemingly oblivious attitude of people to the danger of walking the busy roads without lights.
“They have become accustomed to it. What choice do they have?”
Don’t want a house, colour TV
Just let me shake that money tree
Because everytime it shakes