Friday, June 08, 2007

The Westernisation of Ghana: Modernisation vs Westernisation


Last week, I caught a taxi at the Tetteh-Quarshie interchange, which was going towards the Spintex Road. In it were two other men, and one woman who looked like a market lady. It was clear from the woman's attire that she was working class--it was a very paled dress--and she was crudely chewing gum. The other two men were a bit different. The one who sat next to me was wearing a tie, and carrying...a blackberry phone!.

Meanwhile, the taxi-driver was listening to a radio station--blasting contemporary music--from what looked like a rather swanky radio, with lights all over the place. I can definitively say that three of us in that taxi were carrying a mobile phone, and we were all heading towards a rather affluent part of Accra, which is what the Spintex Road is fast and furiously becoming.

As I plodded on home, I thought to myself, shaking my head in disbelief at the perceptions of affluence that one is bombarded with in this country. A blackberry phone?? and being used in a taxi at that?;-)

I wondered to what extent that suggested Ghana was being westernised--to the extent that some classes could use a phone like that to check their mail, by way of the mobile internet services available in the country, when there were plenty of internet cafes around. Even if it was the company's phone he was using--which I doubt--he must have been working in an impressive establishment, which some might consider rather modern.

But to speak of the modernity associated with this encounter--mobile internet; blackberry phone; affluent Spintex Road; swank car radio playing contemporary music; three out of four taxi users owning a mobile phone -- is not to say that Ghana has become westernised.

When I started thinking about this topic, I asked around, and some inter-changed modernity with westernisation. I do believe there is a distinct difference.

In my view, modernisation can mean good, tarred roads; access to latest mobile phones (with mobile internet access that is inexpensive); high-rise buildings; provision of social services; ample streetlights--to name but a few--but is that westernisation?

The reason why I would throw away the westernisation tag here is that even if Ghana possesses good roads, which we do and there are well-structured houses--both within and outside the Estate structures, as found in Manetville and Regimanuel, what proves Ghanaians have been westernised? Is it the life-styles and the attitudes taht are ever-changing?

You can pick an illiterate from the village, clothe him with either cheap (Chinese-made) clothes, or those from Woolworths; and put him in a fast-food joint like papaye. Would that make him Western or an illiterate in a modernised Accra?

Again, I belive that in any fashioning of a Westernisation argument, we arrive at a point when the critical and defining characteristic...starts with education--even a modicum of it--that compels the individual to make informed and discerning choices. As such, a greater acquisition of this education--or knowledge--would compel the Ghanaian to appreciate certain precepts and norms that the West has gotten used to. These include: self-discipline; implementation of laws by authorities; and regulation.

This raises another question: even if there is all of these in Accra at a rate that is acceptable to all, how far would it go in making Ghanaians westernised?

The quick-and-short answer to that, I would say, is that the three elements I have listed above would begin to mean something to Ghanaians once they started to become increasingly middle class.

Next week, I shall be looking at whether there is any self-discipline in Accra; whether there are implementation of laws by authorities; and the extent to which regulation works. I shall also look at whether there actually is a middle class. If so, are these the footsoldiers of what I'm calling a "westernisation" process?
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