After pondering over pan Africanism and Black Solidarity these past few weeks, I am left to face the glaring reality of my confinement—Ghana.
This woman stood up and started talking about pigs. At a ‘pro-African’ conference hosted in Accra, last two years, pre-pandemic era, this woman, during the Q&A session stood up and passionately—a lump in her throat, tears in her eyes—began talking about pigs. Let me explain. I am listening to her—a recording of her, as I write. She is a farmer—holding over 600 pigs and 50,000 poultry. She is an inventor—nothing in her farm goes to waste, she says. From these animals’/fowls’ excrements, their bile, to their skin, everything in her farm has an economic purpose. Energy-wise: every waste possible (sewage, agricultural waste, etc.), she has converted to biogas. Beauty-wise: “Mr. Chairman, see this lip gloss I am wearing—made from my pigs. These fake eyelashes—pigs.” She wasn’t exaggerating when she said, nothing in her farm was wasted.
She’s got a plan. “Mr. Speaker, I have written all these in a business plan.” She wants an audience with policy-makers specifically, the Minister of—, and the Minister of—. “I don’t understand why I—a tax-payer, a farmer and inventor, a woman who returns home from the farm each day with baby snakes in her boots—cannot simply get a meeting with even one minister. Why should I have to be tossed about, made to make numerous trips to and fro my village and Accra, and never end up getting said meeting?” (Disclaimer: I do not know what baby snakes are called. As a massive ophidiophobe, I do not care to find out.)
To keep her quiet, perhaps, the chairman of the session passes me his card to give to her. Handing it to her, she and I exchange a knowing look, for we knew how it would end—a) she was not going get that meeting; b) should she z, it would amount to nothing.
A professor in the UK, a member of the Diaspora wanted to extend his knowledge and inventiveness of a cost effective and accessible means of providing potable drinking water to his home country, Ghana. He was to find after several attempts, navigating Kafkaesque bureaucracies, this same truth: it is mighty hard for a Ghanaian to be of direct help to their country, especially when governmental help or sometimes governmental ‘ear’ is needed. He went back to his host country, his inventive spirit between his legs.
An old landlord of mine, a borga, having come back home, did so with a dream. He too borga-ed his way right back to his host country, USA. “I cannot understand how, a village boy like me, had to smuggle my way into someone else’s country to be ‘made’. I find it silly that my own country couldn’t ‘make’ me; it had to take someone else’s. I find it even harder to swallow that upon return, I am met with numerous, robust walls of resistance against my plans of contributing my quota to the nation’s growth; that to be helpful I need, sometimes, be corrupt—be required to pay bribes here and there.
This gentleman I know, seemed to have foreseen the coronavirus pandemic. He had somewhere early 2019 showed me a brilliant initiative of his—a virtual university system. One that sought to provide a seamless solution to the issue of congestions in our lecture halls. One that would have been a ready and working solution to the distance learning COVID-19 has necessitated these past years. He spent countless days, weeks, months, chasing governmental ‘ears’, to no avail. I may just have to remind him that with such foresightedness he has demonstrated, he can always have a profession in the ‘prophecy’ industry. Prophet 1 could use a Prophet 2—monopoly is never a good thing, even in our Christian faith.
The Thief and the Child
This is not necessarily a present political, governmental problem; this is an ongoing sociological issue—a perception of self. The level of importance we attach to our capacities as a people is very low. We may cover this up with policies seeming to create an inclusive environment, but very often these policies ultimately end up lies, semi-lies, ‘white lies.’
We encode them in catchy phrases, we pledge on them continentally and globally. In the UN, we avowed to, in, SDG 8 “Promote… inclusive… economic growth;” SDG 9: “Promote inclusive… industrialisation and foster innovation;” SDG 16: “Promote…inclusive societies for sustainable development…” Within the AU, we swear to Aspiration 1 of Agenda 2063 to create “a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development;” in Aspiration 6, to build “an Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of the African people…”
That is a whole lot of swearing, yet what we have had in our Ghanaian context has been this: the populace calls the government thieves, they retort by calling the citizenry inactive, non-participatory—or at least, imply so. We may just have to, with a double-edged sword debunk both assertions, by first—with this article—showing that the private sector has, in fact, for years (to the best of their abilities, the education and training provided them, the business climate afforded them) been active and hungry to participate in national growth. We paint here a picture of the private sector running after the government offering their help, only to be met with indifference, and sometimes outright disregard.
It is quite universal for a people to be dismissive of their governments, but for a government to be this dismissive of its people—it is almost Ghana-specific. I hate stereotypes; this is not one. That sentence is not to be taken literally. It is not an indication of an innate, or biological flaw we alone possess, but rather a sociological one (again, not peculiar to us). I could have said Black-specific or African-specific, but that would be unfairly roping the entire Black or African race into our national conversation. So just as a citizen in the very cute, tiny Republic of Gambia may boldly say: “The world is—” using Gambia as their only reference point, I too have chosen Ghana as my only reference point in this sense. And so, I repeat: It is quite universal for a people to be dismissive of their governments, but for a government to be this dismissive of its people, it is almost Ghana-specific. Call this sentence hyperbolic, and you would be right.
Ghana, in this fast-paced, highly industrialised, highly globalised information age, does not have the option our White counterparts had centuries ago. We do not have the ‘option’ of poaching human resources from other countries and continents—against their will, I might add, and subjecting them to gruesome, devilish, unpaid labour—to build our country for us. Ghana’s building can only and truly come from within—our manpower, and most importantly our brainpower. This is true in theory, and truer still in practice. That’s a given, yet unfortunately our behaviours towards our own selves have shown that we are, when it comes to actions, oblivious of this fact.
Picture yourself in a position of power—governmental power. You find awaiting you a queue, seeking audience with you—business initiatives, proposals they each carry. In this queue of Ghanaian men and women, sits a lone White man. Now, you have one meeting to spare—you have to rush off to a certain meeting as ‘powerful’ people mostly do. Tell me: who, in this long queue of people, have you called to your office?
This may just be narcissism
I have always fancied Ghana some sort of Black utopia—a nation with a temperament for growth, I like to call us. I fancy as high atop any “most likely to succeed” African/developing nations list. And this is with good reason too. This is not just narcissistic gibberish, the country has the prerequisite political, cultural, sociological climate, all great foundations on which to build unimpeded economic growth.
Mentally, I proffer Ghana as solutions to frustrations communicated by say, our kinsfolk in the Diaspora. For instance, in the USA, there are countless complaints about wealth gaps; the lack of Black businesses, the low success rates of existing Black businesses, killing Black entrepreneurships and the culture thereof; lack of capital and financial support for Black businesses; racial biases—the view that Black products and services are inferior to their white counterparts’; pigeonholing of Black businesses as only serving the Black population, not the entire population, etc.
There have been endless campaigns to bridge the longstanding and monstrous wealth gap between Blacks and Whites. America is a nation with a population of about 330 million. Black people, the second largest racial group after Caucasians, constitute 13% of the national population—that is over 40 million people. Yet presently, there are just over 2.5 million black-owned businesses in the country out of the 19 million in total—the number of white-owned businesses stand at about 80% of the total figure.
In the job market: it is the lot of the African American to face unemployment, job instabilities, unequal pay (lower than their white counterparts), and all such extensions of systematic racism leveled against them in this nation of which they form a part. Socially, culturally, in their day-to-day lives, they are made to feel, overtly or covertly, like second-class citizens—based on the colour of their skin. This is a hurdle, pretty much non-existent in the Ghanaian context—for you may not have realised, we all are, even the fairest, different shades of brown, and black.
This may just be childish blabber
All this talk of an unequal playing field for our Black kin in the Diaspora, due to the fact that they mostly form minorities in their respective nations, makes this incessant ‘Ghana (and Africa)’ signaling—the call to ‘return home’ all the more prominent. Africa is the only continent on which Blacks predominantly form the majority. Maybe the problems of the ‘minority’ are solved when they are the ‘majority’. While some are off fantasizing about a fictional Wakanda, Africa has here, vibrant human and natural resources realistic as day, more so than ‘vibranium’—and an opportunity to use the former to convert the latter into internationally competitive goods and services, further enriching the African continent.
What we have in Ghana, is an equal playing field of a sort—as equal as a society can be. What we have here is a nation free from the neurotic, psychotic assertions of supremacy of the White folk (overtly or covertly) and the consequent systematic degradation of Black efforts. What we have in the country is a potential for unimpeded journey towards Black economic liberation, Black educational liberation, Black excellence on all fronts, a globally competitive Black race. A Ghanaian/African cannot be second-class citizens in their own homes—tell me if this isn’t Black utopia!
This may just be you talking
So then, why your answer to the ‘Pop Quiz’? You must have tried fighting it off; you must have said to yourself, “I would call the first person in line”; indicating that if it was the Ghanaian—fine; if a White person—fine. You would just call the first person in line! But why are you fighting this answer your subconscious seems to be signaling? Why does that white individual, in the company of your own people, your own kind, seem like a much more attractive option? You are not a mental slave—you love Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’. Anytime you have listened to it, you have pictured other Black people, culprits—but you, you are not a mental slave! But why was the ‘White option’ your first recourse as ‘right option’? There is a problem if you cannot admit the truth to yourself; there is a problem still even when you are frank. We each all exhibit signs of mental slavery, daily, in our national lives. And of the ills that could potentially cripple Ghana/Africa’s growth, this has got to be the most lethal.
Our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora have since they were forced to traverse the Atlantic, been relegated to the position of second-class citizens. The years have only served to wean of this fact in thin sheets—the problem still persists. We on the African continent, we Ghanaians have, on the other hand, with our own mentality, relegated our own selves to second-class citizenship. Governments are nothing but compositions of individuals, all very much like the average Ghanaian/African—thus they too suffer this bane of self-abasement.
It is important to tackle these flaws from the root; otherwise, what we are left with are phrases—nothing but soundbites, perhaps meaning what they stipulate, but only end up lasting 4 years, or if a specific government is lucky, 8 years. ‘Yes, we can’, when really, we cannot. “Changing lives; transforming Ghana” when really, we keep deep-seated problems same, unresolved. ‘Be citizens, not spectators’ when really we have necessitated a culture of spectatorship. The Ghanaian in many ways is forced into spectatorship—forced to take the backseat, watching on. With this much time on our hands, we begin to nitpick; we call all politicians thieves, sometimes, admittedly not bothering to look into the facts. Our leaders become to us, just a bunch of pot-bellied, belts-loosened, thirsty leeches—feeding yet another troubling stereotype, of defunct African government.