As someone whose impression of West Africa had been formed by a two-month exchange student programme to Nigeria, I’d never understood why Ghana was described as this region’s ‘golden child’. For me, West Africa was the wild, wild west: a land of extremities and orchestrated chaos. A recent trip gave me the opportunity to discover why for myself. It’s the people.
Yes, the heat was as I remembered — an almost suffocating embrace — and the hustle and bustle of families and friends meeting up with each other was a familiar sight. However, as my colleagues and I waited in disgruntlement after what seemed like eternity for our luggage to be released, it dawned on me that we were part of the only few who were evidently unhappy with the situation.
Our fellow passengers — locals — were only too pleased to humbly wait until the delay was resolved. Yes, that something mystically special about Ghana is her people.
What’s yours is mine
Historically, the cornerstones of Ghana’s economy include the manufacture and export of digital technological goods, automotive and ship construction, and the export of resources such as hydrocarbons and industrial minerals. These gave it one of the highest GDP per capita in West Africa and positioned it as 2011’s fastest-growing economy. The country’s domestic economy revolves mainly around the provision of services and agriculture.
With a stable political history dating back from Kwame Nkrumah’s notable rule from 1957 (shortly after Ghana reached independence) to 1966 when he was overthrown, Ghana has always represented a beam of light within Africa’s diaspora. With Nkrumah’s assistance in forming the Organization of African Unity to his strong pan-African values, it’s no surprise that Ghanians are such proud advocates for their country and culture. More than this, it’s evident that there’s a deep belief in the success of the country and each individual born of it.
Ghanaians emphasise communal values such as family, respect for the elderly, honouring traditional rulers, and the importance of dignity and proper social conduct. The institution of family and shared success really struck me, as it’s not only an idealised value but one that’s practiced among Ghanaians. Many of the locals spoke of moving to the city from the rural areas and sending for family members to come join them once they’d reached financial stability. These members would then do the same when their time comes and so forth.
Values as a currency
While one might argue that as people who’ve had to survive under the pressures of capitalism and imperialism, Ghanaians have had no other choice other than to band together and make do, much like South Africans have. Yet, there is a marked difference in how Ghanaians and South Africans have survived their transformations.
Heralded as the closest to first-world status as any African country can get, South Africa has allowed its people the luxury of embracing the idea that individuals can make it under capitalism and has provided its people certain advantages to do so. By contrast, Ghana and many other African nations suffer from limited access to any means of economic liberation. Still, they embrace value systems that have remained unscathed by greed and the need for individual glorification.
Learning from Ghana
I don’t mean to romanticise Ghana; a lack of social services, unemployment, inequality and patriarchy are problems that the country needs to address. But it has taught me that values are the glue that bind a society and the measure by which it can hold itself accountable.
It has made me realise the onus is on each society to define, own and implement these values. Consider the infinite possibilities that await this continent if attitudinal and psychological shifts were to take place, if we were to think and act like Ghanaians?
Nkrumah said: “The independence of Ghana would be meaningless unless it was tied to the total liberation of Africa.” Perhaps this is true; perhaps not. But one thing is certain, Ghana is indeed worth its weight in gold and its future is very bright.