Sunday, March 08, 2009

America is to Opportunities as Ghana is to What?

Last Friday the 6th of March marked fifty-two years since Ghana gained its independence from the British. The day being a national holiday, I got to sleep in. But later when I tottered out of bed, showered and had half of a mfantse dokon and okra stew with crabs and fish and meat for breakfast – god, this blog is degenerating into a personal diary yikes! – then showered, Ghana style with a bucket (I live at Ashale-Botwe where our taps don’t flow), it was time to dress up. I wore my red, gold, green necklace and fashioned a headband out of a scarf coloured red, yellow and green with a black star in the middle, just like the Ghana flag. I was feeling very jiggy:) but when I got to town, I felt a little overdressed. It was as if no one else got the memo that it was Independence Day. I wondered if this was another case of the returnee trying to be more Ghanaian than everyone else as Mammie from motherhood: learning on the job says but I really felt like it wasn’t that I was being more Ghanaian than everyone else, but dammit, why did everyone else have to be so nonchalant?

Maybe Ghanaians don’t have to wear the colours of the country to show that they value what the day represents. Wasn’t I the same person who thought it unnecessary for Gey Hey Alumnae to display stickers on their cars? But it’s not the same thing. Or is it? I was a tad disappointed because It seemed to me that even though there would be discussions, and marching, and patriotic songs on tv, for the ordinary wo(man) on the streets, life was going on as usual. The street-sellers were selling, what did the day mean for them? When I start thinking like this, my thoughts go in so many different directions. Eventually I settle on a big idea, a question, usually philosophical.

Who are we as a people?

Yes, what makes a Ghanaian a Ghanaian, What makes Ghana Ghana? What can we claim? How would a person advertise Ghana? What is its unique value proposition? It’s all the same question. Essentially, what’s it we got that no one else has got? What the heck are we about?

When I think of America, I think...Land of Immigrants, Land of Opportunity. Whether these descriptors are accurate or not, at least something tangible comes to mind. Germany is known to have produced some of the finest thinkers, writers, philosophers and scientists. When I think of Germany, I think of Mann, Nietzsche, Kant, Einstein and order:) When I think of Brazil, I think of Football and Capoeira.

What do Ghanaians have? What do our children have to identify with? What would a person who is not Ghanaian think of assuming they were to think of Ghana? Man, even I who is fiercely Ghanaian cannot name a thing. This is fast leading me to the conclusion that Ghanaians don't have any obvious common values, ideals or spirit that binds us. We don’t even know the words of our National Pledge. Watch this simultaneously funny and sad you tube video that my friend sent me in which the Ghanaians interviewed could not say the national pledge.

I watched Oprah tell her life story once and she said America is great because "this couldn't have happened anywhere else in the world". I wanted to challenge that but the truth is, I can't say anything like that about Ghana. Even when I look at our heroes, I'm tempted to think they could have been greater elsewhere. Unlike Oprah who was made by America, sometimes I think being from Ghana takes away from us.

I'm positive about Ghana and want to rep it but that's near impossible to do when it seems there is so little to rep. Can we hope for change? If so, based on what would we hope? It's promise? As one of my friends noted, "it's been promising since 1957" but if I may quote Paa Kwesi Nduom, "we're still where we are". As we attempt to celebrate Ghana on this blog, i'm sometimes tempted to agree with one of my friends who said "all that holds us together is the heavy food that we keep assigning positivity to as we try and claim superiority from our history" which if I may add, we do not know. Where we are is not good enough.

Since I can’t think of anything, that binds us, I’m going to boldly assert that Ghana does not have a brand. If it did, I would know it. Having done that, we move on to do something about it.

What would make a nation great? I think it could begin with a big idea. For America, that idea may be just what Opera said “this could only have happened in America”. It’s a big idea. It means an American kid is going to hear that and think, man, I could be big, just like Opera and I am here, in the only place on earth where this is possible. Bingo! Inspiration!

For a country like Ghana that does not really have anything yet, we have to create it. Yes, us! We study the enlightenment era, the romantic era or the renaissance because someone or some people made it important. These eras are centered around ideas intitiated and lived by people. Great nations study themselves, write about themselves and forge identities around these ideas so that if you want to know anything about Europe, you're forced to read about these periods which often brought great advances in their performing arts, music, writings and lives!

I’ll have to think some more about what could be Ghana’s big idea but I really liked the Black Star Campaign which was launched by the Neo Africa Foundation in 2006. I thought it had a powerful message and played on something which Ghanaians are proud of – The Ghanaian soccer team, The Black Stars. It was also a nice reminder of our history and the national flag.

I’d be interested to hear if you readers think of anything else.

The tone of this post may be dour, but I’d like to conclude on a somewhat positive note. The wonderful thing is that we are alive, here and now. We can do something. See below for the words of the 2nd stanza of the national anthem provided by Museke which calls us to build our nation:

Hail to thy name, O Ghana
To thee we make our solemn vow:
Steadfast to build together
A nation strong in unity
With our gifts of mind and strength of arm
Whether night or day, in mist or storm
In ev'ry need, whate'er the call may be
To serve thee, O Ghana, now and evermore

It's our turn to create Ghana. We can be the icons, the thinkers, the greats! I truly believe that change begins with us, so...You be it!


  1. hmmm..interesting piece. I actually thought there might be lots of people in the National colors garb! Oh well! Maybe people wore traditional attire instead? Did you notice anything of that sort at all? When it comes to National pride and patriotism, I know America is number one in that.

    But I am proud to be a Ghanaian in the sense that in Ghana, you don't constantly have to live with the pressures of "having and obtaining the Ghanaian dream". I might have to elaborate a bit more on this later but the thought of going to work and forever being in debt 'cos I have a mortgage and a million other bills to pay is not my idea of the good life.

    I am proud to be a Ghanaian because I have friends and family who genuinely care about my well being and when they ask "how are you doing" they actually want to know how I am doing and don't rush off before I formulate in my mind exactly how I am doing.

    I am proud to be Ghanaian because whether I like it or not, whether I acknowledge it or not, it is an intrinsic part of my identity.

    Now you realize none of my reasons may necessarily pertain to some kind of National pride because at that level, our leaders, both past and present, have not all made me proud of my country...I don't think it is too late though. Hopefully,someday we will have leaders who have the nation and its people at heart instead of their own selfish ambition.We always wonder why power corrupts people, especially african leaders? Aren't these same people from our communities? And aren't the communities made up of families? What are we without our family values?

  2. Thought provoking piece, Esi!

    America is to opportunity as Ghana is to friendliness/hospitality, Cocoa and Kente!
    We are considered to be a friendly nation.
    We could build a brand as the the most hospitable land in Africa with a little bit of ingenuity. A great deal of improvement in the quality of the services in the tourism sector can do us a ton of good. The service is mostly atrocious and that is a big deal.
    Cocoa is another product that we could channel a lot of effort into to build a national brand. Where are the brand management specialists?
    Again bringing a lot more science and technology into the production and marketing of our kente and perhaps beads could also go a long way towards building a unique brand for Ghana.
    Can you imagine if every departing visitor to Ghana was given a beautifully-packaged present containing a bar of our delicious chocolate, a purse made from kente(a tie for men) and a beautiful neclace made from Ghanaian beads at the airport?
    We could build a powerful brand for ourselves throughout the world.
    I guess our problem has always been mediocrity.
    Ghanaians are known for cutting corners instead of carefully planning a long term project to brand Ghana as a unique land of bliss.
    Bless my sister!

  3. Esi, the only thing about being a Ghanaian I dislike is the arrogance that comes with it--that we are the best. It's like a mafia, especially when you go outside the country: you're proud that you have Ghanaians everywhere--even in Australia--yet paradoxically, you won't go out and make friends with them, or find out how both you and he/her can contribute positively to the nation. Off-tangent...

    One thing that needs must be said: "the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa." YOU're a member of the "I am an AU Citizen Group" on Facebook, right, but perhaps we can begin to ask what we have done to use Ghana as a springboard of ensuring equity among our AU states...

    I'm beginning to feel uncomfortable among other AU citizens whenever I mention Ghana. The arrogance over our "model" is excessive and over-pontificated over--in the very same way we pontificate over peace, yet are ready to back-stab our neighbour.

  4. I was here...
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  5. Interesting. In agreement with the bulk of what you said. We don't understand how important it is to have a "big idea" that serves to guide the development of the Ghana Nation; even when we take tentative steps in this direction, we tend to shoot ourselves in the foot when it comes to the execution of the "big idea".

    Some possible models: borrow elements from these countries (Switzerland/Singapore/New Zealand) and mix into a uniquely Ghanaian brand.

    From Switzerland - peaceful, stable economic and political systems as that ensures safe haven for capital from Ghana, West Africa and Africa. From Singapore, efficient governance, transportation, port infrastructures as well as a strong law and order environment to ensure that we become the true Gateway to West Africa for business. From New Zealand, productive agricultural sector that is known globally for quality, premium agricultural goods.

    See my posting @ for more on this.

    Cheers and keep on writing!

  6. The big Ghana idea is right there in Kumasi--arguably the center of Ghana--self confidence! One could argue the Nigerian confidence tricksters have a much stronger hold on the confidence brand than any African nation/state.

    But it is not self-confidence to claim hospitality as our brand. Why? Because the so-called Ghanaian hospitality typically precludes fellow Ghanaians. If I a Ghanaian, arrive at Kotoka will I be presented with a bar of chocolate? Tourism--for who?

    The only reason we study the Enlightenment in our schools is because we have chosen to blank out on what our ancestors were up to in the same time. On Saturday I listened painfully to the guest speaker at an independence commemoration say something like the following "without English we couldn't talk to each other". Needless to say I was shocked, shocked, shocked! As if the option of learning each others' languages didn't exist--something our forebears did. How did the early Portuguese communicate with the people of Elmina? Somehow he thinks having 20-odd million people who have been led to believe they can't talk to each other without a 3rd-party is the best thing that happened to modern Ghana.

    There is probably not going to be a Ghana brand until a certain measure of self-confidence is projected by those who should know better. As Mr Bensah's comment notes--the Ghana boast is hollow. It's the boast of the chief beggar who lords it over the other beggars because he, as chief, gets to be first in line to beg (insert your favorite dehumanizing activity here).

    I like using language as a marker of self-confidence because it's an outward sign of an inner conviction. Parents who won't teach their children the language of their grandparents are simply communicating to their kids that 'hey, your grannies have nothing of value to say. Ignore them'. Then they act shocked shocked shocked if these kids rebel against them as well :) What do they figure they were teaching their kiddies--if grandpa doesn't know any better, how can you? :)

    Here's my idea of what it means to be Ghanaian (or human for that matter): This is to be (or strive to be)
    1. multilingual
    2. confident in your ability to improve yourself using precedence as a guide
    3. aware of your place in history and how each minute you live defines what your contribution is

    If prominent Ghanaians thought about these points they could lead the country in many inspiring directions and there would be much to celebrate on any given day without having to scratch our heads :)

  7. The fundamental question of who we are as a people can not be easily answered because we're a nation of many peoples who traditionally value different things.Some ethnic groups value financial success more, other value education more, others value non-financial forms of wealth and some people just want some peace of mind. This is not a bad thing- it makes life and dialogue more interesting.

    However to craft a national brand, we would have to look not to our pasts, but to our present situation and our ideal future. What would we want Ghana to look like now and in 30 years?

    Will we want to be a nation that's known for safaris,beautiful beaches, good food etc or a nation that's known for universal access to good health care, good education, safety, peace, good governance, tolerance- even genuine friendship- between ethnic groups and peoples?

    I think we stand to gain more if we develop our nation for our good and not so much for the sake of a "label".Then one answer would lie in our attitudes towards work, personal and cooperate responsibility, social justice, tolerance and the willingness to learn from other people, honesty, integrity etc.

    The problem is these things are all intangible, but if say we cultivate better work ethic and more innovative(even daring)solutions and ideas, then out productivity will increase,quality of life will increase and that in itself will be a powerful testament of what a nation can do. One of America's main strengths IMO is the innovative ideas and such that people can come up with and follow through on. We have people, we have innovative ideas- we can work on making all our innovative ideas a reality without compromising our individual or collective histories or uniqueness.

  8. I don't know - I love Ghana just because it is the land of my birth, it is my home. I don't care about any of its achievements (although I care very much that independence was bought with blood and sweat of our fathers - but then again, it's the same for all the earth's countries, so it's not that special) - I love that country and i go about proclaiming it as the best place on earth because it is home, simple. And for me the most important part of home is making it a better place, so my kids can have something to be proud about, too.

  9. As a Canadian obroni (who grew up around Ghanaians, married a Ghanaian, and has spent some time in Ghana) I think one thing I think you can pride yourselves on is your values.

    I have travelled a fair amount and the first thing I noticed about Ghanaians in particular is they seem to have retained the initial values that the larger, "developped" nations were initially built on (and have since lost).

    I believe Ghanaians in general strongly value family, education, spirituality, and hard work. I think thats extremely important and although those may not be selling points on a tourist brochure, I really think those are important to pride yourselves on and hang on to.

    Ghana is also one of the most stable African countries and I believe they serve as a role model to much of the rest of Africa. I believe you guys serve as a beacon of hope and really help adjust foreigners ignorant myopic views of Africa. Overall, you guys have really come a long way, but slow and steady wins the race. Sometimes having no single claim to fame is a good thing- generalizations lead to stereotypes and sometimes cause you to lose sight of the "smaller" more important things. Like values.

  10. Hear, hear! I like the above post, Ghana may not necessary have a myriad of things that look impressive on a tourist brochure but we DO have a lot.

    Sometimes I think Ghanaians in Ghana do not seem to intrinsicly value being Ghanaian as much as Ghanaians abroad which is sad. We made a mad fuss about independence in the UK and from what I hear in other countries too.

    At my university when talking of African countries of note Ghana always gets a mention (even when I the only Ghanaian in the class desparately holds my tongue). We are known as peacable and peace seeking; friendly; hospitable; holders of high moral values and hard-workers. These are qualities I believe Ghanaians possess but which were proudly expounded in class by NIGERIANS and ZIMBABWEANS and a JAMACIAN too. Yet many Ghanaians seem to be ashamed of our very Ghanaian-ness instead wishing to behave as if they were from somewhere else. I think many of you forget that yes while the French, Germans, Yanks and Brits each have these 'great legacies' (often times based on dehumanising other parts of the world I might add...) most of them are proud to be where they are from because it's HOME.

    I am a British born (and raised)Ghanaian, I've never lived in Ghana but I love it. I speak decent Asante and have a relatively good grasp of Fante too. C'mon guys get a grip, love and be proud of your country....GOD BLESS OUR HOMELAND GHANA....who's with me?

  11. A lot of comments seem to respond to the question "why are you proud to be Ghanaian?" which I think is off-topic.
    I think the only thing one can really associate with Ghana is hospitality. But this "hospitality" sef we ,is not soo much to ourselves but to outsiders. So I am not too sure.

    I cant say Ghana is a land of culture/tradition either because half its youth speak LAFA and pretend to live in the Bronx or East London.

    That said, in my next life, I want to remain Ghanaian

  12. Ghana is to optimism.

  13. I would beg to differ i think Ghana's Brand is "HOSPITALITY" Ghanaian Hospitality to be exact

  14. The thing with Ghanaians not being able to clearly articulate what makes Ghana unique has to do with how much exposure one has to other places and cultures. And I don't mean moving to The Bronx and hanging out exclusively with fellow Ghanaians, because after all, you do need something to compare things to. This is the same with everything, if you've only had one job, you only see the things you don't like, if you've never really been exposed to other people's families you may never realize how brilliant your mother really is.
    I've lived in America; I have friend from Asia & South America; and I've dated people from Europe and the Middle East (and Ghana of course). So I can say with some confidence that America is to Opportunity as Ghana is for Openness and Acceptance.
    If you really think about it, we are a very diverse nation. We may look similar, but we all know the differences that lie beneath. But in spite of all the petty bickering about tribalism we hear from your leaders on the radios, individually, we've managed to master the art of learning to live with diversity. That doesn't mean we don't have our differences in values, opinions etc. However, in Ghana, we can all speak passionately about our ideas and feelings without anyone’s house getting touched, or someone getting shot at etc.
    This level of tolerance is fostered in our schools where an Ashanti who’s never left Kumasi is almost guaranteed to find herself sharing close living space with an Eve, a Dagbani & a Ga either at secondary school or University. You can’t go a day in Accra, Kumasi or any of the capital cities without having to interact with someone with more authority/expertise than you from a different tribe. And in spite of being the largest group, Akans know full well they still can’t get all the votes they need to run the country if they ignore the needs of the other tribes.
    That is a lot to be proud of, in my humble opinion. May the lord continue to grant us the humility to accept what we can not change!

  15. To be frank Ghana need to identify themselves with strong and creative brand because this is very essential for nation building.Secondly,from my experience as a Nigerian living here in Ghana I must say Ghanians lack alot of self confidence.
    When he sees a whiteman he can cut his head to please him or here,but when he sees a fellow african he is not that caring and generous person.It is a problem of inferiority complex,cowardice and lack of confidence.However,I must say I adore the enterprising spirit of Ghanian women.