I didn’t know what to expect when I landed in Ghana. I came with no preconceptions of what the country is and it’s people would be like, and did not google or look up anything on Ghana on purpose, so I may learn as I go. So far, I have to say I am impressed by everything so far. The people are extremely friendly and will help you out whenever they can, the accommodations are similar if not better to my apartment in Monterey, and I often find more vegetarian options in restaurants than I do in restaurants in the United States.
So far, we have had a chance to meet some great people who work at the University of Ghana, as well as random strangers we meet and are fascinated that we are Americans. They love Obama, and have asked us several times to say “hi” to him. During our welcome dinner, we were fortunate to be at the same restaurant where a birthday party for a 75 year old grandma was being held (I swear she didn’t look a year over 50). We were invited to join in the celebrations, served cake and champagne, and danced with the family and grandma, who can still shake it at 75! I must say, best welcome to a country ever!
The following day we were taken on a tour of the city of Accra, which is extremely westernized and modern. Although the city is congested and industrial, it is educated and cultural – comparable to any western city. The people are friendly and welcoming, and everywhere we went we heard “akwaaba!,” which means “welcome” in the native language. As with any city, we were warned to stay away from certain places and certain people. During the tour of the city, we happened to drive by the US Embassy, which looks like a fortress, and has several signs which state that there is no photography allowed. After someone in the group snapped a picture (not me), we were stopped by two very rough looking Ghanaian police officers with very large guns and a short temper, who proceeded to check the camera they thought took the picture. Our local guide was finally able to calm them down and they let us go. Suffice it to say, it never ceases to amaze me how much of a target the Untied States has become due to our arrogance and meddling in world affairs. No matter where we are we seem to be in danger. We finished the day with another welcome BBQ where we enjoyed traditional Ghanaian dances and were even taught some moves!
We have had only had 2 days of classes so far, yet we have learned so much. Ghana is a unique country, yet it faces some of the same problems we face in the US. Political deadlocks, inability to rule, and corruption plague the government. Transnational corporations bribe and scheme to influence legislation that is favorable to them. The government is making strides to strike a balance between economic growth and environmental and social protection, yet much more needs to be done. The current government is taking a second look at energy leases that were signed during the previous administration, making sure that they are favorable to the people of Ghana. However, it must still try to deal with increasing domestice pressure to create jobs and provide incomes.
One thing I found interesting is that the State owns all minerals, even though the land on the surface is privately owned. The government has the authority to take over the land and lease it in order to extract the minerals. Although compensation is given, it does not take into account traditional land rights, and ignores claims of ownership that are often centuries old, but were never written down on paper. With the discovery of offshore oil, there is a fear that development of infrastructure for oil extraction will take away more land from indigenous populations, put further pressure on the limited in resources of an area to handle increased populations, and put traditional subsistence living such as fishing and farming at risk.
Up until today, I have learned so much, and I’m looking forward to learning even more. At the end of the program, we have been asked to prepare a policy brief on the current management plans for the various extractive industries in the country. My group has been assigned “forestry.” This brief will contain recommendations for reducing environmental and social impacts of the industry. It will be presented to appropriate government officials and the media.
Next week are off on a weeklong field trip around Ghana, visiting some open-pit gold mines, coastal areas slated for future oil development, and some beautiful natural areas, including Kakorum National Park. I look forward to it! Overall, Akwaaba to Ghana!!
P.S. the picture above was a sign “welcoming” people to Ghana at the airport. I had to share.