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Ghanaian Mentality-Why Are We The Way We Are?

Let us start with the interesting notion that certain peoples or nations behave in particular ways that are distinct from others.  It is said that Americans are loud and arrogant (or confident, depending on whose view you are listening to), yet fiercely patriotic, that Italians are passionate lovers and fiery-tempered, that the British are reserved, the Germans are frightfully efficient and humourless, and that the Japanese are overly polite.

 

Of course all these are stereotypical views and do not apply to every person who belongs to these nationalities I have mentioned above. These views are therefore unsustainable. But is there a general truth to each of these stereotypes? How else have they gained currency over time? Most of us will evoke a certain stereotype once a country or race or profession is mentioned. How many people genuinely think lawyers are nice angels and not lying silver-tongued crooks that want to fleece you of every bit of money you have to your name?

 

Now, what is the Ghanaian national character? How do we differ as a people from, say Nigerians or Kenyan, Albanians or Peruvians?  There is this popular anecdote about a European man who had heard that Ghanaians were known for answering questions with questions. He therefore hopped on a plane to Accra to research this phenomenon and to see for himself whether this was true. On arrival at Accra’s Kotoka International and whilst being attended to by an immigration officer, he asked casually whether it was true Ghanaians always answered questions with questions. ‘Who told you that?’ came the quick reply. The European was said to have turned around and caught the return flight back home, for he believed his research had been completed by what he had just heard.

 

Is the Ghanaian character, whatever it may be, divisible along the various ethno-linguistic divides? How do these diverse groups, each with its own perceived character traits, blend together to produce a ‘national character’ that can be claimed as distinctly Ghanaian, if indeed it is accepted that there is such a thing a Ghanaian character, however loosely you define it? Are there common traits running through all the groups and threading them together?  . Mention a certain ethnic group and the words ‘braggart’, ‘money-loving’ and ‘funeral addict’, readily spring to the mind of many. Another group is feared by many for their supposed ‘magical’ powers but they are reputed to be excellent scholars and carpenters. Yet another ethnic group said to be bestowed with a sweet palate and therefore a preference for ‘building their houses in their bellies’ whilst their roofs leak and their buildings crack and wobble.  It also believed that the men from a certain ethnic group are lazy and prefer eating their mother’s food well into adulthood, whilst people from certain parts of the country are generally looked down upon the rest of the country as lacking basic understanding.  The list goes on and on.  The Akuapems are perhaps the only ethnic group in Ghana to enjoy rave reviews for their extraordinary politeness, flavouring every other sentence with ‘me pa wo kyew se’ (please) even when they are just about to insult you. However, it is said that their politeness is no licence for you to mess with their palm nut soup, for that would be tantamount to a declaration of war!

 

Of course all of the above are silly stereotypes. But nonetheless, they carry a great deal of force in modern Ghana and tend to influence many people’s decisions and perceptions in serious issues like political affiliation, marriages, employment and promotion prospects as well as economic activities like trading. This is because they have been around for so long that they are believed to be gospel. Perceptions are very important, even of dangerously so.

 

If someone asked you to describe Ghanaians in one word, what would you say? Friendly? Resilient? God-fearing? Peace-loving? Hard working? The defunct Ghana Airways went by the slogan ‘Africa’s Friendly Airline’. But wonderful as these accolades may sound, and true as they may in fact be, a further dig may reveal more unsavoury issues: our time-keeping skills (or lack thereof), attitudes towards ‘government’ work, the prevalence of corruption and lack of public accountability, and a shameful belief in the superiority of everything European over African, etc.

 

How do these attributes outlined above (both good and bad) impact on us as a nation? Is the Ghanaian character a good engine for economic growth? In what way? Do we need a paradigm shift in our mindset (if in fact there is such a thing as our collective mindset)? Has religion (both traditional and Christianity/Islam) got anything (whether good or bad) to do with our development as a nation? How have our traditional family set-up and philosophical belief systems shaped and defined our national character, and has it been for the good? How about our political and economic history, under slavery and then subsequently colonialism up to the post-colonial era? Has our mentality shaped the social economic and political structures we have in place today? Or is it the other way round?

 

Why, simply put, are we the way we are?

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April 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Global Crisis? What Crisis In The Village?

 

The  FTSE Index. The Dow Jones. Subprime mortgages. Bank Bailouts. Credit Crunch… The list goes on and on.  Over the past few weeks, these words have been bandied about by a frenzied, mainly western media as financial Armageddon descends upon us. Investors are in panic, financial traders are in depression, hitherto great banks are in meltdown and savers are worried to death as to what happens next to their savings and pension funds. There are dark mutterings of a recession and a possible repeat of America’s Great Depression of 1929.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a deep-seated and pathological aversion to mathematics, economics, or anything remotely connected to the calculating of figures. In fact, my worst ‘O’level result in 1985 was a six in mathematics (i.e. a credit), and yet it was that result I was particularly ecstatic about.  I do not understand the global financial system with its impenetrable machinations. And I am not particularly keen to take a crash course on the subject, thank you very much. The sight of grown men on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, wearing variously coloured bright jackets and shouting themselves hoarse into telephones whilst waving their arms about like excited school children always makes me wonder what gets them so animated. As a new immigrant cleaning investment bank offices in London back in the 1990s, I would gawk at the array of bright computer screens with a million blinking figures and multi-coloured graphs, and then would wonder how they could make sense to anyone.

I have struggled to make sense of the current global crisis, yet I have given up already.  Reading and listening to all that jargon gives me severe migraine. All I can glean from the never-ending news coverage is that basically, the major western economies are in serious trouble, and it is spreading around like a nasty virus. I also know that this puts mortgages at risk, and that unemployment will rise as the global economy heads for a major recession (whatever that word means). That summary is enough for me- just spare me the gory details.

I am not too sure how many people in Ghana are directly affected by the credit problems in the western and Asian financial markets that are being described as ‘global’.  Global? I am yet to read anything about the crashing of the Ghanaian, Malian or Rwandan stock markets crashing and causing panic! In any event, I am sure many Ghanaians back home would agree that our economy has not been doing well for donkey years. We have a permanent credit crunch. After all, a man who is already down need not fear falling. I cannot imagine any Ghanaians back home lying awake at night worrying about the security of their savings in these financially unstable times for a simple reason: they live on a hand-to-mouth basis.

 My mind whizzes straight to my  uncle Agya Kwaku Agyemfra, who lives in a very modest, simple house in our hamlet back home (not mortgaged, of course), with his wife and six grandchildren. He does not draw a pension.  He lives off his small farm, has never held a bank account, and has never sought or been offered a bank loan for obvious reasons. Of course, all those other fancy financial terms do not mean anything to him, for he lives entirely outside the system. Since he enjoys no electricity, he has no TV or any other modern gadgetry, his major luxury being a constantly malfunctioning battery-operated transistor radio.  The concept of rising bills is therefore beyond his grasp. He only relies on a trusty, if rather charming, rickety bicycle to get along, so rising fuel prices are not much of an issue for him.

Of course, having been brought up in urban Ghana, and having lived abroad for longer than really necessary or prudent, my default position has been to see Wofa Agyemfra as deprived and to feel sorry for him. Yet whenever I have visited him, he has always exuded a certain amount of serenity, a man clearly at peace with himself and seemingly satisfied with his lot, without a care in the world.  There have been times I have wondered whether my uncle actually enjoys poverty.

And yet, during this financial crisis, I have actually found myself envying my uncle at times. Whilst I toss in bed at night and wearily haul myself through London’s bitter,  cold  streets to work during the day, I can’t help but worry about the security of my home, my savings and my job in these uncertain times- the things I have bent over backwards over the years for. Is everything going to be up in a deathly-pale blue smoke before one can shout ‘recession’? No wonder during recessions, marriages break down, people suffer clinical depression as they lose their jobs and businesses  and their homes are repossessed as their very lives crumple before them. Some even commit suicide. Bankers and financial in particular have this unnerving habit of flinging themselves out of skyscrapers during recessions.

My Wofa Agyemfra, on the other hand (bless him), continues to sleep soundly at night, I am sure. Of course he must have his own worries and problems. But if investment banks are failing, so what? Wetin concern am? As the former British Prime Minister Jim Callaghan was (wrongly) quoted during Britain’s Winter of Discontent in 1979, ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’

My friends, sometimes, as they say, ignorance is bliss. Wofa, I envy you paa.       

 

  

April 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments