As I wrote earlier, I will now be writing on issues and thoughts that come to my mind while in Ghana. This will range from day to day adventures to reflections to just plain critical thinking. I will still write about the numerous and various experiences and field trips that occur, but there will be less of the play by play of the day to day. In ‘The Village of Waiting,’ the author writes about the certain desire and longing to live in a developing country. I can completely understand what he means, however there is no way that I can verbally express that magnetism. I attempt here to give you a glimpse of my African experience, but it is just that a glimpse. The author goes on later in the book to discuss how Westerners and ‘white’ people will never be able to experience the true Africa. You can be a tourist, an accepted member of the workforce, and an honored volunteer, but you will never be able to step out of your skin – your permanent suit from your wedding day with your identity does not come off. And so with those thoughts in mind, here is what happens when I am in Africa, Ghana to be more correct.
While watching the Champions Cup match, at halftime the Ghana television channel took over the feed and displayed commercials to explain the new Ghanaian cedi. The commercials played over and over, repeating until halftime had expired. The commercials emphasized the phrase that we just can’t get enough of here in Ghana, “the value is the same.” Throughout the entire match the message scrolled along the bottom of the screen: “The new Ghanaian cedi and the current cedi will have the same value. The value is the same.” Up and down the roadways hawkers carry the signs to explain the new currency and to show the neat new bills and coins. We have seen these posters everywhere and even bumper stickers, it has become a running joke with our group now. The value is the same.
Next year the cedi is set to change. The value will be the same, but the numbers will change. Instead of carrying around a huge wad of bills you will have only a few to carry now. The 10,000 cedi note will turn into the new 1 Ghanaian cedi note. Joseph, at the hostel, explained to us that this was a political move since in the next few years there will be a West African Union established, like the European Union. The new West African Union will have its own new currency so it is completely unnecessary and frivolous to create a new cedi now. The politicians are using this new cedi as a push to emphasize their dedication to Ghana. Wouldn’t it make more sense to invest that money in the country’s infrastructure? To me this represents the complete disregard for the well being of a country’s people. Needless to say, the campaign has gained amazing ground and even we, who will be here for 6 short weeks, understand the change completely.
This is an important and potentially positive event in Ghana, but there is a question that will not leave my mind. Will the value of corruption remain the same as well? On the way back from the beach the other night, our taxi was stopped at the simple police check point of a section of bicycle fence across the road and a smiling policeman with his AK-47. We happened to have more than the acceptable number of passengers in our car, but the taxi driver told us not to worry. We pulled up and stopped, the policeman shone his flashlight around, he exchanged some words with our driver, and then the two men shook hands. However as they did so, a seemingly minor transaction took place. We drove off and the taxi driver explained that this happened often. He said that just about every policeman in Ghana could get paid off very easily. The economics of a badge and a gun continue. This seems to be a scene that is repeatedly described in developing countries.
Yesterday Kyle bought the Daily Graphic, the New York Times of Ghana. It has been the premier paper and also the longest running in Ghana. It was really a well put together piece of daily literature and the authors for their articles wrote compelling pieces. The most interesting to me was an article on the World Bank, Wolfowitz, and Ghana’s role as the chair of the African Union (AU). The president of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz is resigning under intense pressure. In the unwritten code of the development world the President of the United States gets to appoint the head of the World Bank. In its inception the World Bank was used as a US tool to aid the European governments in their reconstruction after World War II. The US used to be the largest development aider in the world and was owed much by Europe. Now China is the top aider and can easily match the World Bank in capacity to give aid, but China gives aid without requirements. The author of the article called for Ghana to use its power as the new AU chair to unite Africa and other ‘developing’ country groups to join in calling for a reform in the process of appointing the leader of the World Bank. Wolfowitz’s reign was marked by calls to end corruption and reform corrupt systems. Now there needs to be a push to reform the very processes that Wolfowitz championed in the most influential development agency. Does it make sense that a, possibly unqualified, American runs the world’s most important development group? Why would there not be a World Bank president from the ‘developing’ countries?
The value may be the same, but there is still a lot to do before values across the board will be the same. In the past few decades the gap between the Western world and Africa has grown exponentially. In our brief time here we will spend at least, or more than the per capita of the average Ghanaian. Per capita income is placed at $450, the goal is to have it be $1000 by the year 2020. Roughly 20 students from the States will spend well over the per capita income of most Ghanaians in a 6 week time period – this is a fact that I hope most of us will not look past when we return.