Saturday, September 17, 2011

Day 3 in Ghana: The Market, the Harbor, and Entrepreneurs

Blog Entry #16: Ghana Moves Forward I: Tourism and the Global Economy

Friday, September 16, 2011

We are at sea again, departing Tema Harbor this evening after four fascinating days in Ghana.  After the powerful but draining experience of the slaves castles, Pat and I had a relatively light Day 3: we “braved” the Accra traffic to head to the city center and immerse ourselves into the traditional crafts market.

Like many “two thirds” world “developing” nations, Ghana is trying to develop its tourism sector as a means of developing its economy.  We began our contributions to the tourist economy by going first to “Global Mamas”, a fair trade store that features stunning textile items made by over 400 women who work cooperatively to support their families.  Fair trade means they earn much closer to a living wage for their work, so though the prices are considerably higher than at the crafts market, one has to assurance that most of the purchase price is going to the artisan herself and she is getting a fairer income for her work.  After several purchases, we hailed a taxi (itself an interesting experience) and wound through a maze of crowded streets to the market.

Ghanaian market vendors are an interesting combination of laid-back and aggressive: one is surrounded by many new “friends” the moment you leave your taxi, each vying for your business, but it is also possible – and enjoyable – to engage in playful banter and conversation once you are in their market stalls.

Jackson, Accra Market
Hence after being talked into several purchases of wooden masks, kente cloth shirts, and various trinkets, our new friend “Jackson” escorted us to the drum making section of the market where rows and rows of different size traditional drums were being assembled.

Drumming Lessons, Accra Market
 Jackson and his friends are from northern Ghana, near the border with Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), and they gave Pat and me a 30-minute tutorial on drumming – quite delightful.  We finally escaped with a small drum that I plan to donate to my local Lutheran congregation outside Missoula.  If only I could bring Ghanaian rhythm with it to our worship!

After the Drumming Lesson -- and the Drum Purchase!
It has been fascinating being docked at Tema, Ghana’s working industrial port.  Here we see sides of the global economy I am usually only able to talk about in my classes.  As part of the conditions of participating in the HIPC process – the Highly Indebted Poor Countries program worked out through the International Monetary Fund, Ghana has been receiving debt relief on its large external debt in exchange for opening up its economy to the world market. 

Texas Rice Master
Rice from Vietnam
This has had dramatic effects on Ghana’s agricultural sector, particularly the rice growers, as Ghana now imports most of its rice from the international market and its domestic rice sector has largely collapsed.  Prices of rice are lower for consumers, but at the expense of an important part of the local agriculture sector.  It seemed about every third truck leaving the harbor area was stacked high with rice – from Brazil, Texas, Vietnam.

New Oil Drilling Platform and Rice Truck, Tema Harbor

Ghana today is abuzz with excitement over the recent discovery of a large oil and natural gas field off its shores.  Evidence of investment is everywhere, as large bank buildings and new hotels dot downtown Accra.  In port just down from our ship stands a new oil derrick platform, ready to be moved to the drilling fields.  Ghanaians hope that the oil will bring new jobs and income to the country, though they realize their dependence on outside transnational oil corporations to actually develop the resource.  Neighboring oil-rich Nigeria stands as a poignant reminder of how abundant natural resources can bring government corruption and social misery rather than develop; I hope Ghana can find a different path.

At the other end of the Ghana’s participation in the global economy is Ghana’s amazingly energetic entrepreneurial sector: everyone, it seems, seeks a small niche in the market economy here.  Ghana’s pervasive religiosity has fused with this entrepreneurial initiative in innovative and delightful ways through the names of local businesses that startle and amuse the unaccustomed Western eye: the “In God We Trust Tire Shop” sits down the block from the “Innocent Blood Fresh Frozen Chicken Parts” or the “Try Jesus Special Rice Shop.” 

The streets are crowded with “tro-tro” mini-vans sporting slogans such as “Jesus Never Fails,” “Heaven Gate No Bribe,” and “Pray for Drivers” (!).  One of our favorite keepsakes from Ghana is a book that collects these images, titled “Joe’s Hair That Talk’s: The Vibrant Sign Culture of Ghana.”  Here are a few of our favorites from the many we saw.

Our day ended with an agonizingly slow trip back to Tema through Accra’s congested streets; I gained a new appreciation for the phenomenon of gridlock.  Ghana’s upper 20% has benefited from Ghana’s participation in the global economy, and one result has been an explosion in private cars that the country’s overburdened streets can’t accommodate.  The price of rising affluence seems measured in part by many more hours commuting in these new symbols of wealth.

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