how do you unite a continent?

A term first coined by the African activist, Marcus Garvey, the United States of Africa is far from a new idea. As a staunch Pan-Africanist, Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, was a strong supporter of African unity. Now the push for “One Africa” is being lead by Liyba’s coup empowered leader, Muammar Gaddafi. In July of 2007 the African Union (AU) met to discuss the idea of one union government for the continent. Gaddafi traveled by land to drum up the support of the people on his way to the summit in Ghana. Countries such as Ghana and Senegal, symbols of democracy and stability, are in support of the idea. Among the supporters is another African leader with a reputation, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

In 2002 the Organization for African Unity (OAU) was rebranded as the AU, it has continued to struggle to be more than a place of all talk and no action. Most recently its inability to persuade any country other than Uganda to send troops into Mogadishu to patrol the streets and the lack of pressure placed on Sudan to end the Darfur crisis have weakened its credibility. The lavish sums spent by the rotating hosts of the twice-yearly summits have also done little to make the organization feel close to the 850 million ordinary Africans it is supposed to represent. Many leaders want to see African unity grow regionally before it is tackled as an umbrella political entity for the continent.

Gaddafi has been promoting the idea as the only way that the continent can deal with extreme poverty and a variety of other problems including the challenges of globalization. Supporters look to the creation of the European Union (EU). It took many years for the EU to form. If a United States of Africa is to be successful the continent will need key countries that are politically and economically strong with regional economic and infrastructure-building projects in place. The EU is a union of relatively wealthy and stable countries, as opposed to Africa where it is a continent of the poorest and least stable countries making the task seem to be much more daunting. However, many see signs of great hope with the increase in freedoms: expression, movement across the continent, elections, and the growth of democracy.

This coming March I will be Chairing a simulation committee on the African Union and the crises they face. From the economic crisis in Zimbabwe, to the on-going conflict in the DRC, child soldiers in Uganda, building health infrastructures, to the new US military presence through AFRICOM. In my opinion the United States of Africa will not work. In my limited travels of the continent I have seen so much. Africa is a land full of so much culture, so many peoples with so many varying l languages and traditions. In my six weeks studying in Ghana I traveled south, east, west, and central. Each time I embarked on those limited travels I was told that I would experience something that I had never yet seen in Ghana – and it was true. Even the small country of Ghana had so many differences. How can an entire continent be unified under one government? I would venture to say that Africa is far less homogeneous – in cultural, geography, religion, and politics – than either the USA or Europe. Nkrumah, Appiah, the Rastafarians, Pan-Africanists, and even the West would like to see Africa as one united entity. This idea could not be more rooted in imperialist thought. To quote John Ryle, “The very word Africa—that sonorous trisyllable—seems to invite grandiloquence.”

the chinese influence

The Chinese influence in Africa is a topic that I have been researching for a few years now. I have conducted most of my research by way of news sites and journals in the States and with the help of the internet, but now I have the opportunity to see firsthand the impact of the Chinese influence in an African country. This entry will follow my experiences and insights on how China is involved in Ghana.

The first thing that someone traveling in Ghana will notice is that there are so many Chinese restaurants. They are just about everywhere. Chinese food is almost as prevalent as Ghanaian food. Sadly, the Chinese food is not at all what you would find in America or for that matter China. The menus are often 15 pages long and with only minimally Chinese named dishes. Nevertheless, Chinese restaurants are everywhere. Also in the service industry there are a number Chinese themed hotels that host a number of Chinese tourists and business people. On our walks down East Legon we see them buying bread and other food stuffs at the market.

As some of you may know, China is currently one of the highest (maybe the number one) foreign aid provider. This is often called ‘rogue’ aid because it is not administered through an aid institution without any restrictions on aid usage. This aid is evident in Ghana with a number of projects sponsored by the Chinese government. One day on a tour of Accra, near the Kwame Nkrumah moselium a police escorted motorcade shot through the traffic with a handful of Chinese officials. The wonders of Chinese aid is prominently displayed in the construction of the National Theatre, it was completely funded by the Chinese government. I wonder if there is any linkage between Kwame Nkrumah’s administration and the remaining Chinese connection. During his rule Nkrumah often hosted Chinese officials and received help from China.

The people, the aid, the food, the history is all here. There is a deep worry, that I often agree with, China is seeking to gain natural resources from African countries. They make a number of aid packages for ‘development’ and sign bilateral trade agreements, but what does it all mean? Is China’s motive in Ghana to reach a growing market economy? Is it to cash in on the mineral wealth of Ghana? It cannot be just to build a National Theatre and assist the Ghanaian government with ‘development.’ I really wonder what the specific trade-off for China is.

China is not the only big aider that I have noticed while in Ghana. Iran is sponsoring a number of projects and many of the government ambulances are donated by the Republic of Iran. I will touch more on this in ‘A Snapshot of Health in Ghana.’

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

for the love of america

Be sure to check updated Days 3&4.

Day 5
Lecture this morning was on indigenous slavery and the Trans-Saharan slave trade. All of this I have learned about extensively because you cannot study Africa and skip over such a subject. So that is why I began journal writing during lecture. As I said before it is great to be an Africa Studies major studying in Africa, but I want to learn what I do not already know.

I remember the other day our bus driver Eric was listening to the radio and there was a discussion of the importance of local chiefs. The discussion was on the need to unify the chiefs and include them in the political process because it would not matter if a policy was adopted if the local chiefs with all the power did not agree. There is no way to get around the chiefs or work around them because they hold such power at the local level. If the government is to work smoothly then they will need to include the local chiefs in the political process. Now this is the type of African Studies that you just can’t get in the classroom.

The traffic goes by outside, a car alarm triggers, I am sitting in a classroom listening to a boring lecture – it is almost as if I am back at MSU, the AC masks the intense humidity and heat. The only difference is that the professor standing before me is actually teaching in his home country. I have had a total of 7 professors from Africa in my two short years in college, so there is nothing new: traditional dress, accent, and use of odd American sayings. Professor Passah likes to preach his own ideology and views to us during lectures. Today he brought up the Iraq conflict (falsely called a war). He noted that the money spent on the conflict could work towards the development of Africa. Not just Ghana, but the whole of Africa. I could not have agreed more. He then went into how Ghana became a target for international corporations and NGOs. He noted how this is seen as no problem and makes him very happy because a Ghanaian gets a lot of money in his pocket. He said to not think of him as a bad man for saying that, but this is where I worry. So he is not a bad man, but a man blinded by the Western desires promoted and unaware of the possibly and often negative effects of a huge international involvement and presence.

At the end of the lectures we were again on our own until 2pm. We went to the internet café again to check emails and blog some more. No time to eat. The University is very interesting because there are houses, living complexes, dorms, a primary school, fields, horses, and more all within the campus grounds. It is like a small city in itself. We boarded the bus to have our tour of Greater Accra. Accra is the second largest city in Africa behind Lagos, Nigeria. Eric showed us all around Accra. This is when we got to see the more impoverished parts of the city; the slums and rundown areas, the wood scrap and sheet metal housing, the shirtless and hungry. As we neared the coast the poverty seemed to increase and the development decreased. The wide streets, colonial fortresses now used as prisons, and the old style colonial shops have all slipped in to decay and have been abandoned to ruin. The wealth and high class has left the coast of Ghana. We toured the private homes area with their western styles, gates, barbed wire, guards, and tennis courts. We saw the president’s personal residence – no pictures – and the palace. As usual there are hawkers everywhere. Later we returned to the art market to exchange money and met up with some of our old ‘friends.’ This time the hawkers calls were more subdued, but nevertheless relentless.

This is the exchange for a $100 bill into Ghanaian cedis. It is quite a stack of money:

After manuvering the thick traffic we returned to Catters Hostel near the village od Shiashie, which we have learned is not a road name, but a village that was engulfed by the growth of Accra. You can’t help but notice the signs on the corner of every intersection telling you of the direction of each embassy, organization, hostel, hotel, business, or resturant. The foreign investment is at a very high level. So much for fighting neo-colonialism.

Sitting in the courtyard, listening to the birds in the tree overhead, hearing the end of the day traffic go by, looking at the clouded over sky, and nearby hotels, enjoying a Star beer – life in Ghana could not be any more relaxing. No one here walks fast or runs, unless they are making a sale, no one is rushed and everyone is involved in the customary tradition of greeting their fellow human being. Everything runs on GMT (Ghana Maybe Time). This is Africa, this is life. Last night one of the hostel workers was hanging out with us as we sat. When someone asked what we were doing tomorrow he responded, “This is today, it is now today, you will know when it is tomorrow when it becomes 12 o’clock. Then it is tomorrow.” I could not have agreed more, live always in the present.

After relaxing and writing for a bit, Kyle and I left for Osu to meet the group. The gatekeeper, Stephen, has started helping everyone to get taxis so as not to be charged the Obrooni price. We were supposed to meet up at the Asanka Local Chop Bar. Asanka means bowl, and local means you will be only eating the local foods out of that bowl. The directions we were given were to head down the street from Frankie’s and turn left. So we walked ‘the strip’ of downtown Osu at night. Quite an experience, not bad at all. An Obrooni walking the streets is not bothered, but Obroonis on a University bus – target for hawkers. We ecided we had headed too far in the wrong direction and turned to go the other way. We really had no clue where we were going and finally a Ghanaian called out and we asked for directions.

Francis and Abraham knew exactly where Asanka Local was and took us there. Francis had a friend in New Jersey and Abraham and I listened to his MP3 player on the way. They joined us at the chop bar, where our friend from the market, GQ and the rest of the group was hanging out. The food was great and the servers were very nice. The chop bar closed and our rasta drumming friends met us outside to take us out on the town. We headed for the main road. Just as we turned the corner, one of the girls in our group tripped and disappeared completely from view. We all jumped to grab her and the drummers pulled her out of one of the ubiquitous sewage drains next to the roadside. She was soaked in sewer water and had some bad scrapes on her knees and arm, but was only a little shaken. She said as she fell she was on the phone with her mom, just as her mom said “hi”, she fell. Bobo, a drummer, wiped her down with his shirt and Akwesi said, “You have to be careful this is not america, this is Africa.” Jerod and I took her back to the hostel in a taxi.

She cleaned up and later laughed about the ordeal saying that it was an experience to remember. It was too late to drum so we practiced our Twi and learned some more. We had a great conversation with Richard and Joseph. It was great to hear them talk about their lives and how life is and should be. These guys are some very great Ghanaians. They are not looking to make a buck off of you and they do not want anything but to share experiences and be friends. These Ghanaians actually genuinely care about us and we care about them. However they had very skewed views about America. They could not believe that there was poverty, that you did not get shot on the streets for driving (as someone told them), and that we have very different city lives than Accra. Not bad assumptions, many people make them. They also said that Bush is their friend. They love Bush and they have no criticism of his ‘war.’ They like Bush because he acts like a man. I almost lost control of my body, but held back. Voice of America (VOA) is a highly publicized radio station. Kyle has this joke where everytime we pass the billboard he mockingly quotes VOA saying, “America did something awesome today.” VOA probably doesn’t help with the skewed view of America. Many of the popular radio stations here also play American top songs. We heard all the classic from our childhood on one bus ride. Many store owners paint the American flag on their shop and some taxi drivers have Uncle Sam stickers. Where does this unknowning love of America come from?

Everyone returned safely and headed to bed. All was well and we had an early morning the next day to leave for our Cape Coast field trip.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.