The Land of Gold

Rwanda is probably a stumbling block before me to say that Ghana is the best country in sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana is adjudged high on governance, peaceful society, independent judiciary and political freedom — hallmarks of democracy. This Anglophone country has a presidential form of governance, and the presidential election in 2008 saw the winner, John Atta Mills, scoring 50.2% votes against the 49.80% of the rival, Nana Akufo-Addo. Such a razor-thin margin of 0.2% in a presidential election is a perfect storm for upheavals and public violence in many African countries, but nothing of that sort did happen in Ghana. Nana telephoned John immediately after the result was out and conceded defeat. Such is the peaceful and matured democracy that the Ghanaians practice! It was not surprising to see that Barak Obama chose Ghana as the first African country to visit in 2009 after becoming the President of the U.S.A. Ghana owes this peaceful political order to one person, Jerry John Rawlings, Ghana’s first air force pilot who ruled Ghana from 1981 to 2001, first as a military ruler, then, as the democratically elected president for two terms.

Ghana got independence from Britain on March 6, 1957. The next 22 years saw politicians indulging in corruption and poor governance precipitating an economic crisis which forced a group of young military officers led by Rawlings to make a coup d’état in 1979. He ruled for two years, cleaned up the system and gave the power back to a civilian government. But things got back to where it was, and again Rawlings had to take the power back through another coup d’état. He ruled as a military ruler, cleaned up the system as much as he could, resigned from military in 1992, formed a political party: National Democratic Congress, contested and won the presidential election. He was elected again in the next election. As a democratically elected leader, he continued his fight against corruption and set a political order and governance standards that still continue in Ghana. After the constitution-mandated two terms, Rawlings peacefully handed over the power to his successor — a rarity at that time in Africa — and retired from politics. The Ghanaians and the international community hold Rawlings in high esteem and respect.

My first visit to Ghana was in 2004, and it is the country I most travelled to — more than 20 times spanning 16 years. During this period, I saw a lot of developments in the country: hectic construction activities, presence of international banks, many M.N.C.s, uninterrupted power supply, good roads and good public transport, etc. The signs of progress are strikingly visible in Accra. There are many high-rise buildings in Accra, which is fast-developing as a modem city, with many companies like Airtel basing their headquarters of Africa business in the city.

I am not sure if presence of K.F.C. is a sign of progress, but in Africa I had seen it only in a few countries like Kenya, South Africa and Ghana — all stand better-developed to their African peers. A welcome feature of Accra is that there are no beggars on the road unlike in some other cities. Ghana has a literacy rate of 79%. Osu is the name of the city center, and I always stayed at this area.

Ghana is a safe country. It is safe to walk around in Accra ‘without fear’ as I experienced it many times. At times past midnight, I never confronted any problems on the road, nor did anyone ever create any trouble for me. Another city that is comparable to this level of safety is Kigali, Rwanda. In both cities, one can venture out in the night without the fear of unknown.

A traditional dress shop at Osu:

Ghana is known as the Land of Gold as it has huge gold deposits and is one of the major producers of gold in the world. Besides, it is blessed with large deposits of diamonds, bauxite and manganese. It is the second largest producer of cocoa beans after Ivory Coast. A few years back, Ghana started to pump crude oil after the discovery of more than1 billion barrels of offshore crude oil deposit.

‘Let me have it’ instead of saying ‘give me’ is the way most people — be it a cab driver or a trader or in casual conversations — in Ghana negotiate or deal with. Are these two one and the same? Though both asks for the same output, they are different in their effectiveness in reaching to that output. ‘Let me have it’ is unobtrusively persuasive, soft-landing on the-other-person and at the same time without any tinge of plea; on the other hand, ‘give me’ is a plain-asking without any soft-covers. This is a learning for me: use ‘let me have it’ to negotiate or deal with.

Woman Power is all-pervading in Ghana. Many women are involved in business — my customers are women entrepreneurs — and they outnumber men as porters and hawkers at Makola wholesale market.

Ghana has borders with three countries and the Atlantic Ocean. A 4-hour travel by road along the lush green countryside of Ghana to the east will take one to the frontier with Togo. I undertook this travel many a time and experienced the panoramic rural environs of Ghana, and what attracted me the most was the abundant coconut trees.

From the Ghana-Togo frontier:

When I visited Ghana for the first time in 2004, the Ghana currency, Cedis, had an exchange rate of 8500 against US$. After a couple of years, it went up to 10000 against the greenback. The government intervened by removing 0000, came out with new currency in the same name and made it 1 Cedis on par with 1 US$. Today, Cedis has an exchange rate of 5.79 against US$ — close to 680% depreciation against US$ in 16  years. On the other hand, Ghana is the country where I saw maximum development and progress in sub-Saharan Africa during the said period. There are many macroeconomic factors like fiscal discipline, balance of trade, FDIs, FIIs, the Fed’s monetary policies, etc. that have strong bearing on the strength of a currency, and I do not have much idea where Ghana stands on these factors. Wherever it stands on these macroeconomic factors that influence the strength of Cedis, I am happy to see the progress made by Ghana, which is my favorite country in Africa! May God bless Ghana and the Ghanaians who are one of the most amiable peoples I came across.

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