17 August, 11:00pm GMT – Jamdede, Brong Ahafo Region
Over the course of the past few weeks, the volunteers have been discussing why Ghana isn’t more successful. At first I assumed it was the infrastructure, but that’s not entirely true, as systems like the chrochro and the Kumasi Central Market are built from the ground up with no existing infrastructure. Then, I thought it might be lack of resources, but Ghana has become very economically stable, attracting regular tourists and managing their natural resources well. There is very little corruption compared to other African nations, and the UN has ranked it the second most stable county in Africa (just after South Africa). Also, the education gap between boys and girls has been eliminated, showing that the country is capable of major education reform. So, how did we think Ghana could make itself more successful?
What Ghana can do:
1. Help its citizens gain an international perspective. Nearly everyone in Kumasi treated the obrunis like they were a spectacle. On one taxi ride, our driver had a station on where a pundit ranted about how “worm-eating Chinamen” were taking their jobs. This was difficult to accept in an otherwise friendly and hospitable culture. Racism isn’t going to go away overnight, but mutual respect is needed for any relationship to form.
2. Support small business. Almost every employed Ghanaian I met was a small business owner. Even the chrochro drivers are in charge of their own business, since their fares are their salary.
3. Improve nutrition and regular access to health care. The average life expectancy from birth in Ghana is 60 years, ranking them 150 out of 180 nations. Ghanaians should be encouraged to see doctors for vaccinations, teeth cleaning, and STD screening. In a country where every city dweller only drinks bagged water, you would think that diarrheal diseases would be minimal, yet it is the greatest killer, causing 12.5% of all deaths and putting Ghana at 2nd worst nation in diarrheal diseases. Ghana should aim to provide filters to rural residents to reduce this risk, and to implement better sewage systems to prevent children from becoming ill from water in gutters. HIV screenings and condom use should be free and encouraged. Finally, Ghana should encourage its farmers to grow a wider variety of healthy fruits and vegetables to bolster the country’s grain-heavy diet and prevent vitamin deficiency.
4. Keep building schools. Most rural villages we visited didn’t have a senior high school. Education opportunities in Ghana are far greater than they were at independence in 1957, but most children still only get an education because they can afford to attend private schools. Ghana should focus on building more public schools and providing scholarships for students in rural areas to attend local private schools.
What we can do (this applies for all developing nations):
1. Stop seeing Ghana as a charity case, and start seeing them as a partner. They need to be taken seriously and be trusted to handle their own business. A group of South African and Norwegian students made a good parody of this problem in their Africa for Norway campaign, where South Africans are encouraged to donate their radiators to the poor, freezing Norwegians.
2. Start reporting on more international news. TV journalism is fixated on US policies, European politics, and Middle Eastern wars. Only when we start reporting about the economic and political happenings in places like Ghana will Americans come to accept that these populations are important and have the same culture as we do deep down. When was the last time you heard a story on the news about a developing nation that wasn’t about violence in it? Could you relate to that country and its people, or could you only feel fear and disdain?
3. Supply for small businesses. A great system was set up by the mobile phone carriers, who distribute phone cards to vendors at a discount. We passed at least a hundred stands on our trip where people made their living off of selling phone cards alone; many others use it to supplement their business. This supply chain of goods from international companies to independent vendors has worked in Uganda with Living Goods and in Indonesia with Unilever.
What we both can do:
1. Build more jobs in rural Ghana. The fertility rate in Ghana is 6 children per woman, but there is a clear difference between the fertility rate in the cities (you won’t often find a vendor with an infant strapped to her back here) and in the country (where having eight siblings was common, and the women were rarely employed). Providing more jobs combined with family planning counseling could lower the fertility rate and improve the outcome for each child.
2. Accept our cultural differences and find a middle ground. As-is, Western companies may find it hard to establish their business in Ghana due to lack of infrastructure, lack of education, and Ghanaian Mean Time. Ghanaians may find it difficult to work with a Western company if the management put a cafeteria in the building rather than going out to buy food from street vendors, didn’t allow flexible work hours, or complained about lack of infrastructure rather than working around it. A recent study found that cultural fit is the most important element that determines whether a qualified candidate is chosen for a job, so international companies will have to bridge this gap initially. Ghana should encourage business investments with new infrastructure and on-time meetings with executives, and companies should build on their investments by accommodating for the hand they’re dealt. Companies providing skill training for Ghanaian employees and cultural training for the management they import, and should send ambassadors from their Ghanaian offices to their Western offices and vice versa to encourage cultural acceptance.