Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Why I Love Accra--Genesis

A&C Shopping Mall at day, East Legon Posted by Picasa

Being in Ghana, it is sometimes easy to forget that our next-door neighboursare not so at peace as this country appears to be. It was, for example, hard to believe that, as reported in the Daily Graphic of Friday 22 July, the so-called refugees from Sudan and elsewhere attacked our so-called "Ussher Fort", which is, um, named after the well-known R&B singer;-)


Ofcourse it isn't:-)

Point is: these putative, or so-called, refugees saw fit to attack the policemen, and break their mobile phones. Bad mistake -- anywhere!-- to attack policemen--let alone in Ghana!

In any event, the situation turned quite nasty, with newsmen and others callling fro police reinforcements.

This--in Ghana!

Ofcourse, that's a pretty naive taking of the whole thing; social unrest in a developing country is no indicator of the countr'y political climate. We live in a democracy--or so we are told by all and sundry--so a little discontent here and there, as long as it's well-managed by police, does little to disturb the prevalent peace in the country.

Incidentally, here's the cover of today's Graphic newspaper for good measure:

"Daily Graphic" banner title(27/7/05) Posted by Picasa

you may have seen that there are riots at Weija. You can read the story here


National Health Insurance Scheme ad in Daily Graphic Posted by Picasa

But on the positive side, almost every day, I am reminded of why I love living, working and, um doing naughty things in Accra.

For the past few weeks, I have done what is akin to extensive 'research', googling "ECOBANK" and "ECOWAS".

I have had the priviledge of doing research, lately, on the celebration --or lack thereof--of 30 years of the West African regional organisation, ECOWAS.

Ecobank, the West African bank! Posted by Picasa

Like ECOWAS, ECOBANK is, in effect, a trailblazer in Africa. It is the only bank in Africa that has thirteen agencies in 12 ECOWAS countries, including one in non-ECOWAS Cameroon. It has West African shareholders, and is operating at par with the British-owned Barclays, and Standard Chartered, which are two prominent foreign-owned banks in Ghana. They say the Brits save with Barclays and Standard Chartered. You tell me:-)

ECOBANK is the sixth largest bank in Ghana.

Their website, however, SUCKS big time. The last time it was updated was 2003. Though the information on their site remains rudimentary, and still useful, the two banks above put the ECOBANK site to shame. I have written, over the past two weeks, several emls to the webmaster to update, but nopthing has been forthcoming. As I am not one to give up, I will continue to hammer home the point of the site--even if I have to write a complaint to Graphic's letters. Now, that's an idea!

Ona more serious note, their inability to update their website may be seen as a reflection of their competence, which would be wrong, but in this 21st century, I am sorry, a website for a bank is primordial! Particularly for the competitiveness of the West African banking industry, it is paramount that they get their website in synch with Ghana of 2005 and the ECOWAS countries in which they are based.

For three years running, ECOBANK has won the best bank in customer service (see image of ECOBANK above), and ICT. They have ATMs littered over the country, and their interest rates are eyebrow-raising. I have certainly been waxing lyrical about them to many of my colleagues, and friends. Point is: they are a very interesting bank to save and manage your money with, and for me, ECOBANK is indicative of why West Africa has great potential--and would go far if ALL the ECOWAS neighbours consolidated political will in the West African regional efforts.

But, ofcourse, ECOBANK is a fraction of the reason why I love living and working in Accra. One of the reasons is that there is SO much to do here, plus the plush greenery makes people like myself appreciate the city even more. To be honest, another reason is the so-called A&C Shopping mall that has, as it were, hit the ground running since early June--in East Legon.

You will find a picture of it above this entry, but here's an idea of what they offer, seeing as it's difficult to read:

  • Textiles shop

  • Wine Shop

  • I-Net Internet Cafe

  • Computers & Electronics

  • Allure Beauty Palace [Hairdressing, massage, etc]

  • Body Shop

  • Shoes

  • Cards

  • Books

  • Men's wear

  • Boutique

  • Pharmacy -- hi-tech {US import}

  • Restaurant

  • Clinic (general practice}

  • Mobile Phones

  • Forex Bureau

  • Travel & Tours

  • Coffee Shop {pancake crepes at 20,000 cedis--yum!}

  • Children/Teenagers wear


  • Maxmart is also there (see below):

    Lebanese-owned Max Mart, A&C Shopping mall, East Legon Posted by Picasa
    The mall is owned, I hear, by a Ghanaian couple who lived and worked in the US, is on a beautiful compound, with trees and a modern carpark, with ATM and petrol station. Like any Western mall. Really classy.

    All A&C needs is a website!!!

    I write this like such things are, these days, rare in Accra.


    When I arrived from Brussels on 31 July, 2004 to start work on 2 August at my current workplace in this job, I would not know that Ghana's currency would remain so stable ($US1=ø9000}, neither would I know that Ghana would go through very peaceful elections in November 2004; nor that inflation would be stabilised, despite petroleum price increases, at around 15%-16%.

    My paternal grandfather, E.K.Bensah I, who opened the first motorway in Ghana (Tema motorway) (in his capacity as Minister of Works and Housing***), and one of the firsts in Ghana when Ghana obtained its independence from the British in 1957, must be turning in his grave with ambivalence.

    Ambivalence because though he was an Nkrumahist (Convention People's Party), which the incumbent New Patriotic Party (NPP) then tried so very hard to overturn, he will be happy that elements of the Nkrumahist tradition of Ghana continuing to be the black star, and leading in (West) Africa remains.

    It's definitely good to be back home!

    ***E.K.Bensah I being asked to remove a quotation from President Kwame Nkrumah's statue:

    OCTOBER, 2004
    429 There were a few occasions when the churches openly protested actions that
    they believed to be blasphemous, during President Nkrumah’s administration. In
    particular, the churches were unhappy with the messianic ascriptions that were used in
    adulation of the President. After his statue of about 20 feet had been erected in front of
    the Old Parliament House in Accra, with the inscription, “Seek ye first the political
    kingdom and all other things shall be added unto you”, the Christian Council, found it
    necessary to challenge this. This was because the inscription was an adaptation of the
    biblical quotation, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and
    all these things shall be added unto you.”
    The Christian Council of Ghana sent a
    letter, dated 28
    April, 1958, to the Minister for Works, E. K. Bensah, asking him to
    remove the quotation from the statue of Dr Nkrumah and substitute it with a non-
    biblical inscription.
    Threats were issued from the government that such an action from
    the Christian Council was an offence against the provisions of the Avoidance of
    Discrimination Act. The government further tried to silence the Christian Council by
    accusing it of carrying out a political agenda. On 1
    July, 1960, the programme for the celebration of Republic Day included
    the pouring of libation to solicit spiritual protection. The Christian Churches
    considered this as idolatry and unacceptable and therefore protested against it, even
    though Ghana was a secular State. The churches felt that if spiritual protection had to
    be sought, then it had to be according to Christian practice and teachings. There were many instances in which people sought to deify Dr. Nkrumah. In
    fact, there emerged a cult of President Nkrumah that was nurtured by the CPP. Part of
    the practices of this cult in its deification of Dr. Nkrumah was to ascribe several
    appellations to Nkrumah. Such appellations included “Osagyefo”


    Tuesday, July 26, 2005

    Why I Love Accra--Part I: The A & C Experience

    I-Net Internet Cafe @ A&C Shopping Mall, East Legon Posted by Picasa

    It's not just the air-conditioning (AC) almost everywhere that makes working in Accra interesting, but it's places like these: this particular Internet cafe at the ultra-modern A&C Shopping mall in East Legon. The computers here are very fast and I have just paid ç5000 (5000 cedis) or just under 1 dollar for thirty minutes at this very plush and posh cafe.

    There are about 51 hi-tech computers here (17 x 3), and you'd be hard-pressed in NOT finding a gorgeous Ghanaian lady sitting at the computer, or waiting to attend to your needs.


    There's another floor that leads to ???, but the place is spotless. I just also came from this other place right round the corner, called SCOOP parlour, or something. It's owned by a foreign couple: othe guy is from Florida, and the wifr from Bermuda.

    When you walk in, the first thing the cute girl says is "Welcome to SCOOP..." -- EVERY TIME.

    I heard her say it about 5 times. Can be a bit nauseating, especially because she exudes such enthusiasm saying it--and one may not necessarily be in the mood for that type of exuberance. Oh well, it's great customer service, no?

    Also, as you leave, she says "Thankyou for coming. PLease come again!" --with an annoyingly huge grin. The guy with her at the counter just smiles. I did that too, and flirted an exchange smile with her. Only because she asked me whether I liked the music. Oh, the curves in her

    This is not the type of work she should be doing--or is it? Not for me to say is it?

    I've got some more waxing lyrical to do much later about this A&C place, but this is such a great place to hang out on a weekend. During the week will prove a bit difficult, and I daresay dangerous, as the time might just overcome you:-)

    But back to this cafe: the music is cool. They just finished playing a jazzed-up version of Dido's Thank you.


    Accra rocks these days!!

    Tuesday, July 12, 2005

    Burying the Hatchet with Saurkraut: I Stand Corrected

    Yesterday, I rather impulsively posted my comment on Saurkraut's website, without waiting to have her comment. I do think that was unfair. It was pure reaction, without rumination and reflection. Here is my response to her this morning:

    ekbensah ekbensah said...

    Saurkraut et al, I STAND corrected.

    I had not seen your post before I posted my entry. BTW, you saw that I have a few blogs--only two are really active--the one you posted on (Trials & Tribulation (which is more for an African audience!!) and Reflecting the Eccentric World...

    You didn't bother to check my Reflecting the Eccentric World... (more mainstream), which is the blog that attracts more of an "international audience":-)

    Doesn't that strike you why I didn't post it there? My Trials and Trib is for an AFRICAN audience--most people who visit it are of African origin, and I think they deserve to know what you said.

    AFter reading your post, I feel that I was rather impulsive in posting.

    I am a Christian and I was brought up to say "sorry"--so I will: I am sorry if I offended you.

    But, sometimes, being at the butt of racism for SO long, and working in a place where I am, I HAVE developed REVERSE racism. I don't like it, but it's rather ingrained.

    Please just accept the fact that if you were in my shoes, you might feel the same way I do.

    BTW, I DO think I am great:-) Ha ha...

    This post/entry should not be a reflection to you of who I am. We all makes mistakes, and we all get angry.

    I WAS angry yesterday. And I HADN't seen your post.

    I hope you can accept that.

    Your personal issues were not written in an attempt to sully you. I hope you saw that I commented on things like Bambi, etc..was there anything adverse in those comments?

    I LIKE your blog--I really do, and I think you're rather intelligent. BUT I disliked those comments you made. Thanks for clarifying in your post.

    I understand why you reacted the way you did after seeing my post--I probably would have reacted the same way.

    I WILL modify my commen accordingly when I get a bit of time...

    I think we are ALL biased to an extent.

    I agree with ron -- I AM a reverse racist. Make no mistake. If you had seen the prejudices I have seen, you may be thinking like me too.

    We complain a LOT about Africans over here--believe me! We have problems with Nigerians, whom we think are too brash, overwhelmed wiuth chutzpah, and too loud. And they are only next door!!

    Tabasamu, how would I KNOW you are black. You have to forgive me on that one:-)

    Look, bottom line is this: I PERSONALLY agree with a lot of things you say Saurkraut--really, I do. But it's the way you FRAMED made me FEEL you are a racist...

    I can see that you responded very intelligently, but I also saw that your response to Daniel HG was TOO candid for my liking: "I disagree with you, but I won't accept the fact that WB/IMF are also to blame"...

    To me, that's what it sounded like, and you know Daniel's site--I see your comments regularly. SOme very interesting ones, I might add.

    There is freedom of expression so you will, I hope, accept the fact that I made a faux pas in not waiting to get a response.

    I puit my hands up: I am sorry. I will continue to visit your site, because I think you are an intelligent lady. And if I might add, your "photo" reveals you to be quite an attractive lady;-))

    I have many white friends, whom I am still in contact with, and I know some of their views on their things, but I have come to realise that over all, Europeans are more open-minded about aid--that's why I find the US position no ennervating.

    If it's not an attack on the UN, it's an attack on Africa, yet you have seen people like Danny Glover campaigning for people in Sudan, etc...because he is seeing, despite being Balck American and quite wealthy, that the incumbent US administration SUCKS.

    For all Sudan's internally-caused problems...

    My ex-girlfriend is Afro-American--from Baltimore--born and raised. I actually find Afro-Americans rather interesting, but for me, they have never been able to "empathise" with the Africans--and I don't blame them.

    Three years ago, the Ministry of Tourism here set up an "Emancipation Day" which attracted many Afro-Americans and white Americans to come and see the extent of slavery on the people's of Africa. Ghana is home to one of the notorious places (Elmina castle) where slaves were exported to work in the US. My house is in the same region as Elmina, and I am oft-reminded when I'm relaxing at home, and see a white man pass, with a group, en route to Elmina HOW painful slavery was. And we NEVER got reparations.

    yet, we have survived, despite the Mobutus, and Idi Ameens, to rise up the best way possible.

    SO, I can only reserve judgement on the reverse racism thing.

    For me, it is TOO ingrained--and being where I was -- diplomatic community -- exposed me to SOME serious pernicious racism by so-called white politicians who looked up their noses on our leaders by talking down to them like because they were giving us money, they had the right to SNUB us. That WAS racist.

    Long rant, Suarkraut. I am attemting to vindicate myself you see:-)) because I am but a mere ant in this big world, and I have always believed that if you don't stand up for something, you will fall for anything. I have bombarded Daniel's blog with such comments, and I am not about to stop.

    Hope to read your next entry. Have a great day.

    PS I love Americans for their sense of family--that's one thing the Europeans, especially the Brits, seems to have very little idea of.

    I don't hate Americans--believe me.


    PPS, Do you know that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is from Ghana? If ever you find some loud-mouthed African in the world, you'll be sure that it's either a Nigerian, a South African, or a Ghanaian:-)) out of the top 5...

    7/12/2005 06:10:00 AM

    All is well on the blogosphere front:-)

    Monday, July 11, 2005

    What Is This (Racist) & International-Relations-challenged Lady from Florida, US On About?

    I came across a post today that really irked me. It's by Saurkraut--a divorcee, with kids, from Florida, US. Her otherwise very interesting entries, in my opinion, were seriously sullied by this post here. Here's a quote:

    I am now listening to an African reporter who is telling Tony Blair that this African aid is really too little, too late. This is typical of the arrogant cheek which we face from these beggar countries. Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth! I am sickened by what we are doing. We are the English sheepdog, rolling over and fawning for a flea-bitten, mangy stray cur.



    Here was my response--I find it annoying that I always have to give my background to make a point. Totally unnecessary, and yet, without it, she won't give my comments much thought.

    Even so, I doubt that she will. You might want to check Daniel Hoffman-Gill's website (UK-based) and see his thoughts on such obnoxious people...

    ekbensah ekbensah said...

    Oh Saurkraut, oh saurkraut. I feel very sorry for you.

    You raise some very interesting points that merit scrutiny.

    Have you ever travelled out of the US? If I had some extra cash, which I HAD MADE FROM WORKING NOT FROM THE DONOR COUNTRIES, I'd invite you to visit my home country of Ghana.

    You see, as I type this, I am at work in an air-conditioned room. Outside, there aree people going to work -- some poor, some rich, some middle-class -- and traffic lights are working.

    Over the weekend, a public official came round to my house to fill me in on the newly-created National Health Insurance Scheme (not donor-funded, but funded by taxes from the population in Ghana) that will be operational in the next couple of weeks.

    He didn't wield a machete, neither did he have to come to my house in a tank.

    He walked, probably taking a taxi at a very affordable rate.

    Yes, I may make more than he does, given my profession, but he will go back home in a car and sleep peacefully. He will not be stopped by soldiers; he will not have to pay a bribe to get a taxi home.

    He would probably after go to Church, and prepare for the next week.

    He will not see ONE SINGLE SOLDIER in the following week.

    This is my country--Ghana. Ensconced in a rather turbulent West AFrican region, but at serious peace. The US embassy here praise my country for the very peaceful elections held here last November. Ambassador Mary Yates here in Ghana was sad to leave this country "as an example" for AFrica to follow.

    So, please don't tell me ALL african countries are doing badly or riddled with corruption. Corruption is a serious canker--even more so in developing countries.

    But, you have forgotten: COLONIALISM. Go ask the British. PLUS it is now established--and even the US has confirmed it that the first president of Ghana in 1957 (when Ghana attained its independence) DR.Kwame Nkrumah was OVERTHROWN BY THE CIA. Yes, YOUR govt.

    SO please don't tell me your country doesn't have a role to play in helping poorer countries.

    Look at the AFrican continent and SOuthern America and tell me why AMerica is SO disliked.The Brits initially had this reputation, but they have TRIED to make good.

    SO Ghanaians PREFER dealing with the Brits, because they have a sense of compassion and fairplay--despite their colonialism over AFrica.

    I spent 24.5 years living, working, and studying in Brussels, BELGIUM (headquarters of Nato/EU) in a job that exposed me to the diplomatic community a lot. Not to mention the fact that my Dad was himself one, and I had ALL the comforts that MOST Americans will probably never see.

    We didn't own a home, we rented it--and it came from my Dad's salary. I went to British and US-style secondary school, and college respectively--all in Brussels.

    I am educated. I have no reason to go back to the "West" for any reason. I work and am happy in my job.

    Please don't insult my intelligence by telling me my country is not grateful for the money it gets.

    Truth is: I DON"T WANT ANY MONEY FROM THE US OR G8! I want my debts cleared and BETTER TRADE.

    Your country of the US is, according to the UN, the STINGIEST in donor assistance: 0.21 percent of your GDP.

    Your poor deserve attention--serious attention. From shows like NYPD Blue to The SHield, to LA.Law to The Practice, we have gained an insight of the US anad how it places CORPORATE interests over the poor. THAT is why the US poor are suffering--NOT because your country is giving my country money.

    NOT to mention drugs, which the CIA fabricated an ersatz, or fake war, to reap more money into the US--and what better place than COlombia--that is already unruly--or parts of the Americas -- in its own backyard??

    Saurkraut, please let me assure you that when I travel, I prefer to go to Europe than the US.

    There is a growing number of intellectual Africans out there -- some who are in the US and elsewhere -- who are re-channelling their efforts into making Africa a better place to live. I am but one of them in the macrocosm of this big, wide world.

    SO, please watch the space for more AFrican-Union led initiatives, AFrican efforts, more on Africa simply.

    We are big continent, and we are not about to go away. We want our independence from you. please get that straight. We want to start doing our own thing, because we realise you are either RACIST (Martin Luther King, 1960s, civil rights) or too corporate-minded.

    Remember Enron?

    have a good day...

    and if ever you are curious try visiting Ghana Web to check the latest on my country.

    Yes, we EVEN have computers, and some of us even have 24hr internet connection at work!!

    hugs from Ghana (a cool 20 degrees)

    7/11/2005 08:34:36 AM

    "My Africa"--Couldn't Agree More

    Two Sundays ago, not too far from where I live on the Spintex road, as I sat down to have dinner, three young people in a BMW saloon car would have just lost their lives after crashing into a carelessly-parked articulator truck.

    Here is a bit of the story from Daily Graphic online:

    Carelessly Parked Truck Causes Fatal Accident

    A BMW saloon car last Sunday crashed into a carelessly parked Leyland articulated truck loaded with sugar on a section of the Spintex Road in Accra, killing all the three occupants in the saloon car on the spot.

    The accident occurred around 9 p.m. at a section of the Spintex Road near the Manet Estate Junction.

    According to some eyewitnesses, the BMW car, with registration number GT 451 Q, was moving at top speed and ignored several signals to slow down, leading to the accident.

    The impact of the crash was so great that it left the saloon car mangled.

    Story by Edmund Kofi Yeboah

    Today, scanning articles from, I came across this article, entitled "My AFrica", which co-incidentally touches very much on the BMW and loss of life that affected the writer. Are the two related? The writer touches on G8, Live 8 and perceptions of Africa.

    I do know, my friends, that you are visiting this site, but, pray, why no comments?

    I would appreciate your thoughts -- on this, and the middle class story below. Thanks!

    LAST Monday, I received a phone call from my mother as I was on my way to work. 'We've got some bad news,' she said. Mentally, I rifled through the possibilities encompassed within that sentence: death; disease; natural disaster. Even so, I wasn't prepared for what came next. 'It's your cousin Kobby,' she said. 'He was in a car accident. A truck ran into him. He's dead.' For a few moments I found myself gasping for air. Then I felt the tears well in my eyes. I talked to my mother for a while longer, hung up, and spent the rest of the day feeling dazed and numb. I mention this now for a number of reasons. The first is that my cousin Kobby and I were close. He was a dozen years younger than me. A 25-year-old who was energetic, ambitious and already successful enough to earn more money than his parents put together. The formalities of a eulogy demand that those who die before their time are described as having the world in front of them. But in Kobby's case it was true.
    I mention this also because Kobby was African. He was born in Ghana, where my parents come from, and where most of my extended family still lives.

    Africa has been in the news a great deal this past week. Each time I hear it mentioned I think of Kobby. And I do so with an anger and a sense of injustice that has nothing to do with his untimely passing and everything to do with the clichhs with which the continent is conjured in Western minds.

    It has been a strange, disturbing week. First Live8. Then the G8, closely followed by the bombs in London. And in between, the private tragedy of Kobby's death.

    Africa has been common property, but what a difference there is between Western impressions of the continent and the Africa I got to know through Kobby's eyes.

    For most of the politicians, pop stars and commentators who have been pontificating on the subject this past week, Africa is not a place so much as a problem a byword for disease, starvation and corruption. Watching Tony Blair pose with the other G8 leaders for their photocall on Wednesday, I thought of his description of the continent as 'a scar on the conscience of the world'. His words were supposed to bring a sense of nobility and moral urgency normally lacking at such gatherings. But to me they sounded like an echo of the old colonial notion of Africa as 'the white man's burden'. In both phrases there is an assumption that African people can't help themselves. That the only ones who can 'do something' about Africa are white Westerners.

    By comparison, Kobby's Africa was brash, dynamic and urban. He lived in Accra, the capital city of Ghana, worked at an advertising agency, drove a BMW and could rarely be separated from his mobile phone. And he was part of a generation of young people who had grown up at a remove from the upheavals the coups and skyrocketing inflation rate that afflicted Ghana in the 1980s. His generation believes in a future created by its own skill and enterprise. If Kobby had still been alive to watch the leaders huddle together last Wednesday, he would have mocked the gloom and pessimism with which they discussed his homeland. And he would have pointed out that he and his friends did not recognise themselves in such a view of the continent. This is not to say that poverty and disease aren't grave issues affecting Africa. Only that such a picture is not representative of the continent as a whole nor shared by those who throng the streets of its cosmopolitan cities.

    At the root of such an impression is the belief that civilisation has somehow passed Africa by. Following Live8 last Saturday, I clipped out some of the headlines from newspapers: 'Africa misses the beat as the world tunes in'; 'Plagued by disease and ravaged by war'; 'Two decades of despair'; 'Just do it for the children'. In all of these there is an assumption that Africa remains sunk in some primordial, tribal state, too backward and unsophis ticated to take part in a debate about its own future.

    The same rationale informed the patronising spectacle of millionaire rock stars singing for Africa without deigning to share the stage with any Africans themselves during the concert. Bob Geldof shrugged off complaints about a lack of African artists on the London bill by claiming he wanted headline-grabbing shows full of people who fill stadiums and arenas. Try telling that to the scores who watched Live8 on TV in Africa. Contrary to what he seems to believe, not all Africans live in mud huts without electricity or running water.

    The singular irony of such a misconception is that complex links of trade, culture and politics have been running between Africa and Europe for at least the past 500 years. If for a large part this has been an exploitative relationship, based on a Western hunger for the continent's natural resources, it is important to remember that it has never been a simply passive one. In 1601, there were so many Africans in London that Queen Elizabeth threatened them with expulsion from the capital for fear of their effect on 'native' English culture. Over the course of centuries, the identity of both Africa and the West has been shaped and reshaped by the result of such patterns of migration and commerce. Yet, in Europe, much of that history is rarely acknowledged. In its place is the myth of African primitivism devised originally as a moral justification for slavery and honed in the 19th century by explorers such as David Livingstone and Henry Stanley, with their Boy's Own stories of the 'dark continent'.

    Perhaps it seems unnecessarily pessimistic of me when I suggest such attitudes still persist. But I've been witness to them on countless occasions. Not least while I was at school in Britain during the 1970s. I was born in London, but lived in Accra between the ages of two and five with my family. We moved back to London in 1974. As the only African children at our school, my brother, sister and I were a source of endless fascination to the other kids. They patted my hair for springiness and pulled its coils straight to test for tensile strength. Only my eyes and teeth would be visible in the dark, they'd insist, reaching for the light switch to confirm their theories. To their disappoint ment, I failed to turn up for lessons with a bone through my nose but, so far as the rest of my class was concerned, Africa was a land of mud huts and cannibals. And who could blame them for their beliefs when they'd grown up on Tarzan movies and television series about white adventurers in the bush like Cowboy In Africa and Daktari?

    Having an African background during those years meant being heir to an excruciating sense of shame. On one hand, there were the images of spear-carrying savages from Tarzan and Tintin In The Congo. On the other, there were the posturings of dictators like Idi Amin and Joseph Mobuto who summed up the worst venality and corruption of Africa's post-independence era.

    Despite its difficulties, Africa has changed for the better since the days of Amin and his ilk. It's more democratic, more prosperous and more optimistic about its future.

    This, anyway, is how Kobby helped me see the continent. Three years ago, I travelled round Ghana researching the material for my recently published book, Black Gold Of The Sun. It was the first time I'd been there since 1974. I carried with me the fugitive memory of sounds and smells from childhood, but I had no real idea what to expect of the place I'd briefly called home.

    Kobby took me under his wing. For two weeks, in Accra, he took me to nightclubs and bars where young people dressed in Ralph Lauren and Rocawear, and listened to Jay-Z and Beyoncc, and to restaurants and fashionable clothes stores where you could eat food from France and buy clothes from New York. He showed me where the gangsters hung out and where the wealthy lived. And he took me beyond the city, to the immense slave forts of Cape Coast and Elmina, where the exchange between Africa and the West had been at its most exploitative. Through his eyes, I came to see Africa as the place of diverse, contradictory riches it truly is. And I realised that nobody owns a monopoly on the story of Africa. It is told and retold every day by its millions of citizens who, as Kobby was, are interested in nothing more than making the most of their lives. It's presumptuous of the West to believe it knows Africa and can, therefore, solve its problems. The French talk of 'Les Africans' and that seems to me a far better way to view the most culturally diverse continent on the planet. Even so, each time in the past week that I've thought of that multitudinous whole, I have always glimpsed one face, one voice, that seemed to me, to sum up all the energy and hope of the continent. I'll miss you, cousin Kobby.



    Wednesday, July 06, 2005

    When a Radio-managed Event Turned Intellectual / Political

    CITI-FM has done it again!

    It has swung another first in the history of Ghanaian broadcasting excellence I say this deliberately to piss off those aficionados of Joy 99.7fm, which I used to be an avid fan of.

    Well sort of.

    I was never one to pander to populist sentiments, even if I did publicly confess to liking and enjoying Britney Spear’s Britney classic –One More Time”, but Joy99.7FM was a station we listened to if and only if we were in Ghana for a one-month break, and nothing better was on the radio—apart from the sexy-sounding voices of those female presenters on Uniiq FM (95.7 FM). One of the reasons why I enjoyed it back in 2000 so much was because the show was always prefaced with the 1996 “Mission Impossible” theme—which just rocked, I thought.

    In any event, sticking a thumb to Joy has never been my game, but I felt it behooved me to praise CITI-FM—for it warts and all.

    The object of the praise? It’s first-ever CITI Business Olympics!

    Mr. Magnus Opare Asamoah, Dep. Min of Transport presenting an award to one of the winning teams

    Can you believe that?

    An Olympics for over forty companies, including Ghana Civil Aviation Authority so that they could network. Far be it for me to start acting as the unofficial PRO (Public Relations Officer), but it was to be the summae ultimate, as it were, of the so-called Management month that began at the beginning of the month.

    The month?

    My God, how time effing flies…!

    The issue of CITI Bizness Olympics struck a chord at home among us about how increasingly the station is gearing towards the so-called yuppie route. Mum was so convinced.
    I, as per usual, tried to play the devil’s advocate by arguing that it was just trying to cater for the growing middle class (whatever that is) in Ghana.

    To tell you the truth, I do so hate the word middle class, but it’s better than upper class, which I am DEFINITELY not. I am neither poor nor rich, so instinctively, I am middle class?

    What’s that about, you know?

    Dad reckoned that there should be some UN indicator (there probably is) about what makes someone middle class.

    I went even further—I checked google the following day, and found the links here and found all these links What I thought best epitomized the middle class was this particular quotation:

    The Middle Class (pp. 20-28)

    The middle class is in the middle of the capitalist class on the one side and the working class on the other. The middle class is composed of three broad sections: small business owners; professionals; and managerial and supervisory personnel. As different as the individuals in these occupations can be from one another in the work they do, the income they earn, and the cultural and social life they lead, they share a common position in the social power grid we all live in. In one way or another, middle class people have some of the authority and independence typical of capitalists, but also experience some of the powerlessness, instability, and capitalist discipline more common among working class people.

    This juicy quote is just in from

    Encyclopedia4U - Middle class - Encyclopedia Article

    The middle class (or middle classes) comprises a social group once defined by exception as an intermediate social class between the nobility and working class folk.

    Since the working classes constituted the vast majority of the population, the middle classes actually lay near the top of the social pyramid.

    Modern political economy considers a large middle class to be a beneficial, stabilizing influence on society, because it has neither the explosive revolutionary tendencies of the lower class, nor the stultifying greedy tendencies of the upper class. /m/middle-class.html (239 words

    The family arrived at the conclusion that, to an extent, middle class encapsulates the notion of intellect. But that’s a bit of a specious argument in the sense that what do you about those who earn an income of a particular bracket, YET have little intellect?

    Far be it for me to say that Sir Richard Branson is stupid – he is far from it! – but the guy dropped out of high school around sixteen, yet he is, like, what…a big-wig, as it were.

    From Virgin Nigeria to Virgin records to other virgin stuff, how can we POSSIBLY consider this guy middle class? He shot up, from sheer luck and persistence, from an average working-class young man to a hot-shot business with his own brand…everywhere;-)

    So, yes, that argument about intellect is spurious.

    I’d like to hear what YOU think, please.

    Anyway, the discussion went on, and we kind of thought to ourselves—ruminating more than anything—who could possibly fit under the middle-class slogan in Ghana.

    Things have changed considerably in Ghana, and it was, to a large extent, refreshing to see a middle-class, but in the same vein, it made me feel uncomfortable.

    Short of sounding like a major wuss, my credentials are downright middle-class, but that, for me, is more applicable back in the West, where these distinctions are clearer to define.

    Here in Ghana, in particular Accra (I have found so far), to most people, you are either a "have" or a "have-not". Since I have a job that pays me a regular salary, I am definitively a "have".

    In the West, with the current salary I get, I would be middle class, but most likely, "lower middle class" because of the pay (high here, low up in the West) — till you got to my education. Then you’d think "no, something is not right".

    These things are rarely easy, but, for me, it just highlights the point that one cannot go around boxing people into categories.

    This is why we also arrived at an example of someone who lives in, say, Dansoman, or La-Paz, which is a very very busy part of Accra where you would typically find more working-class people than anything, yet who owns a car and has a good job, and has built his own house, maybe has a business.

    Is he also middle class?

    Yes, if the above is anything to go by, because he is part of the capitalist class without being a major capitalist, as in an industrialist: he OWNS a house, and possibly a business. That is SERIOUS collateral.

    Finally, I said that CITI-FM has made some bloopers, but, yes, they need to survive—and if the Business Olympics was one way of surviving and making their business sustainable, then very much good luck to them! Besides, no-one ever said that they had to be socially responsible; they have the right to be whimsical, whilst trying to offset the Joy-FM predominance, as well as raise their public profile—and raise they did!

    I, for one, am very happy for them.


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