Kristy, Gwen and I met them in Accra earlier this month, and we immediately sent them out to town to begin exploration. This was, perhaps, not fair given that none of them is working in Accra, and it really is a world apart from northern Ghana (where 14 of them are based). But they were very keen, and threw themselves enthusiastically into the transport yard near the hotel.
If you imagine any of the chaos I’ve described about Tamale, multiply it by roughly 20 and add in 6-lane roads, massive traffic circles, huge modern buildings, choking pollution, near-constant humidity, hoards of street vendors, beautiful cars, fashionable men and women, sprawling slums – then you’ll have some picture of Accra.
One comment several of our new volunteers mentioned is that they hadn’t realized how “modern” Accra looks – at least, parts of it.
From what I gather, African capitals almost always represent the disparity in wealth that exists in this continent. Huge, modern office buildings coexist alongside shanty towns in Accra. Certain neighbourhoods in Accra are indistinguishable from the nicest areas in Ontario. Others are unfathomable even in our poorest ghettos.
Money that makes its way into this continent (for instance, through foreign investment), and that is generated from within (for instance, in Ghana’s gold industry) proceeds directly along a hugely asymmetrical path, speeding past the poor, jumping over a non-existent middle class, and falling into the hands of a privileged few.
There’s a dual economy driven by these elite, as well as by foreigners: diplomats, business people and aid workers. Even Tamale has this dual economy, with several nice hotels and restaurants catering primarily to the ex-pat crowd.
Those who visit “Africa” and spend their time in the beautiful hotels along Accra’s beaches, who dine in the foreign-owned restaurants, who drive about in air-conditioned vehicles with the windows firmly clamped shut, will certainly not understand that just outside the city limits – indeed, often just outside the neighbourhood limits – the truer face of Ghana lies.
This face of Ghana is the millions living on less than a dollar a day. Of subsistence farmers who can’t get their produce to market because irrational, absurd and often vicious outside forces have conspired against them (e.g. trade barriers, foreign agricultural subsidies). Of the people whose lives are so intricately and delicately tied to the rains.
Too often foreign development workers and diplomats skip over this truer face.
I remember visiting Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkia Faso, last year. New ministerial buildings were being erected: huge, incredible-looking glass structures. This is in a country that is almost at the very bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index. I remember commenting to EWBer Guillaume Simard that I couldn’t imagine anyone governing a country from those buildings, given how disconnected they were from the realities of the country’s poor.
Guillaume responded that his bigger concern was for the children of the elite. At least the current ministers had come from small towns or villages, and had some conception of poverty. The children of these ministers, who would in all likelihood be running the country in a few years, had been largely born into this fantasy world in Ouagadougou. They would likely never truly know what the rural areas are like.
I’ll step down from my soap box now. In short: Accra is intense, and a reminder of the complexity of the system here. Africa is not uniformly poor, despite what World Vision television advertisements might imply. There is wealth; it just exists in incredible disparity.
This is just another one of the complexities that will certainly jump out at our 16 junior fellows over the course of their four months here.