Political Promise

Charles Maggs: My Summer in Ghana

In Charles Maggs on July 7, 2011 at 11:21 am

The word Ghana means “Warrior King”. Political Promise’s very own Warrior King Charles Maggs is working in Ghana this summer, and shares his account of his experiences so far.

I must begin by admitting that I may not be in the most impartial of moods, given as I am scribbling this first draft down on my notepad sat on my return flight home waiting to take off after spending the last 13 hours sat in Accra airport, one and a half of which was spent queuing to check in. A procedure that should take a matter of minutes.

The reason for the 13 hour wait in Accra was not due to a flight delay but due to the decision to get to the capital from Cape Coast (the capital of the central region & where I have called home for the past month) at the earliest opportunity due to the agonising unreliability of Ghanaian transport. After calling the local bus station last night to be assured that there would be a coach heading to Accra at 7am, only to turn up at the station to be told “no coach, no coach!!” and so instead took a ride in a ‘chro chro’ -essentially a mini bus to get to the airport.

But enough of my sleep deprived frustrations and on to the subject matter. This is my 1st taste of Africa and although it is cliché to say it, it was none the less unforgettable. Ghana is awash with natural beauty-especially at this time of year due to the lushness of greenery brought about by the rainy season. The potential of the country is mouth watering, even more so since 2011 is the first year of commercial oil drilling off its south-facing palm tree strewn shore and perhaps now it is finally awakening to that potential.

Ghana’s post colonial journey has not been a smooth one. It gained independence in 1957 after being referred to for many years as the ‘model colony’ and the transition at first appeared to be going well. They soon turned sour however after the country was lead astray by Kwame Nkrumah their first PM and in 1961 first President after declaring Ghana a republic and it soon slipped into despotism-a kind of ‘Mugabe light’. After Nkrumah’s toppling in 1966 the country switched between weak elected governments and military juntas with hyper inflation seemingly ever present until 1992 when Jerry Rawlings proclaimed a new constitution (after a commendably peaceful referendum) and since then Ghana has been at peace with itself and it’s neighbours.

The constitution is modelled much on the American system with a separately elected executive and legislature, elections every four years and each president can only serve a maximum of two consecutive terms after which he or she is forced to retire. And it has for the last 19 years stood up admirably to the challenges facing a developing nation. It has evolved into a three party system although two parties (the ruling NDC and opposition NPP) dwarf the third party. The judiciary has remained independent and the traditional tribal chiefs and kings, although still prominent, remain, on the whole, clear of party politics.

So on paper all would seem rosy. There is however, still a long way to go. I spending my first week here (all be it in a relatively dispensable role given my complete medical ignorance) helping a volunteer medial out reach program where basic medical care is given to children in villages in which decent nutrition and hygiene are often the exception rather than the rule. And without wishing to go ‘all bono’ on you, being told that a child of no older than 7  who’s temperature you have just read almost definitely has HIV due to an untested blood transfusion can’t help but knock you for 6.

The difference in infrastructure between that of the capitol city-a rapidly developing and lively hub-and the rural communities ofGhanaare great but it is easy to be critical when viewed from a western perspective. One should not expect miracles. Development needs to start somewhere and one of its keys is Ghana’s small but emerging middle class. Growth has consistently been between 5-10% over the last 10 years and its former President Kufour was this week awarded the world food program prize in recognition of exceeding the UN millennium development goals of halving poverty. Effectively a nod of acknowledgement of good governance from the established world order.

Although there may still be a long was to go for Ghana and its young democracy, its achievement are not to be sniffed at. The last 20 years has seen millions of Ghanaians pulled out of poverty and its democratic values have remained resolute despite many of its neighbours, most recently just next door in the Ivory Coast, having experienced violence and the ‘African disease’ of despotism. Others on the continent should learn from it’s past and also it’s current optimism becauseGhanais without question one ofAfrica’s great hopes.

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