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.

aid bureaucracy?

Recently I read an article on the African BBC News about the effectiveness of development aid. Experts are arguing that it is trade not aid that brings people out of poverty. With the time ticking down until 2015 when poverty is supposed to be halved, the debate is more than necessary. Some want to argue that more aid is not needed, but I would say these people are more interested in using their excess money for self-interest than to use it to help others. Trade and not aid? Trade is dominated by wealthy countries and the corporations within those countries, aid is also dominated by the wealthy countries.

A book released by an NYU economics professor, William Easterly, calls into question the role of international aid bureaucrats. Easterly writes that there are ‘searchers’ and ‘planners.’ ‘Searchers being the people who struggle and strive to make a living through the market and ‘planners’ being the army of aid bureaucrats such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), UNICEF, the World Health Organization *WHO), and various development banks.

These planners attempt to create ‘grandiose’ plans and try to do too much, which in the end leads to doing nothing. Easterly says that aid agencies should act more like private companies to satisfy their customers. These customers being the world’s poor. If aid agencies think of the those they help as customers instead of human beings in desperate need then I believe we are in trouble. Calling the world’s poor customers is taking away the basic human emotion and essential element of compassion. I feel that the real problem is bureaucracy. These large aid agencies are all in the business of setting regulations and standards which do more harm than good for the world’s poor and those most in need of the agencies help. However aid encompasses both large aid agencies and small non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Professor Easterly is less critical of the NGOs than he is of the aid bureaucracies. The key to aid development to to cut regulations and standards of large bureaucracies and governments. It has been proven to expand and foster dramatic economic growth. Isn’t there an old saying that less is more. Easterly says, “The best tonic for poverty is growth, and the growth has come where the government has de-controlled and allowed competition and enterprise to flourish.” I would also agree with Professor Easterly when he says that he would rather see rich countries give monetary aid to private NGOs and let them run effective programs than to see the rich countries give money to governments.

What is the underlying issue of aid? What is the real solution to the aid dilemma? I can’t say that I am an economics major or that I am an expert in the way of development for the world’s poor, but I can say that I have a fair understanding of how aid should be administered and where it should go. Through my experience I have found that small scale NGOs that work on the ground are key to creating growth and sustainable development of communities in poverty. Large aid bureaucracies are not concerned with people and are more concerned with presenting a false picture of real aid success when in reality people are not being helped. Those who are on the ground doing the hard work need to be funded properly instead of large aid agencies and governments because the small NGOs are the ones who will create the real and lasting change and will impact people in the communities that most need the help.