Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Letter from a Nigerian Visiting Ghana

This email from a Nigerian visiting Ghana caught my attention, as it captured some of the fresh perspective that I get whenever I travel to a new Caribbean island, our third world country, or Latin American country, or any new country (I guess!)

For those Nigerians given to boasting about the alleged "dividends of democracy" under the present disposition, I recommend a visit to the neighbouring West African nation of Ghana. Their impression, I confidently predict, is bound to be at once sobering, eye-opening and humbling. I should know.

I arrived in Accra, Ghana, on May 17 to attend the 32nd annual conference of the African Literature Association jointly hosted by the University of Ghana and New York University. It was my second visit to that country in four years. This time, as in 2002, I came away impressed by the nation's considerable strides both in infrastructure as well as human development.

Ghana's Kotoka International Airport offers the first glimpse of a nation grounded in civic ethos. Both the immigration and customs officials treated you with a courteousness and cheer that was refreshing and reassuring. Emerging outside, one saw a crowd of people awaiting passengers.

Yes, some of them pressed forward to offer you taxi cabs or help with pushing your luggage, but you didn't feel an overpowering sense of danger. The retinue of would-be helpers retreated when I told them I expected a friend to pick me up. When I couldn't find my welcome party, a total stranger generously offered his cell phone to enable me to ring up my friend.

A few years ago, my wife's handbag had been stolen at Murtala Muhammed International Airport. The bag contained my wife's and son's passports, my green card, all the money we were going to spend on our vacation as well as more than three thousand dollars some acquaintances had asked me to deliver to their relatives. Executed with stunning speed and disarming efficiency, the operation left us at the mercy of philanthropic friends and relatives. One of them even replaced the money I had agreed to carry for others. Once preyed upon, I learned to gird myself around airports. Arriving in Accra at night, I saw a calmer, less chaotic scene than I was used to in Lagos. Even so, I didn't permit my attention to wander.

It turned out that I hadn't seen my friend because he had been caught up in a meeting and had, instead, sent his driver. It's become my wont, whenever I visit an African nation, to inquire about the state of power supply. I put the question to the driver as we drove to my hotel. His report was delivered in a dour tone. Power outages, the driver said, occurred once or twice a week. In the five days I spent in Ghana, I attended events in two hotels as well as the University of Ghana in Legon. I also visited a private home. At no time and in no place did I witness any power outage.

Not once did I hear the drone of a power generator.

Nobody would credit Accra with having some of the best roads in the world. But this much must be granted the city: Its roads are in far better shape than what one sees in most Nigerian cities. Even more impressive is the relative cleanliness of Accra streets. There were patches of eyesore here and there, but the city left the impression that its residents cared about the look of their surroundings.

On the third night of the conference, several hundred participants gathered at PAWA House, the modest quarters housing the Pan African Writers Association. The occasion was the bestowal of this year's Nichols-Fonlon Prize on Nigeria's own Femi Osofisan, one of Africa's outstanding dramatists. It was a stirring celebration, highlighted by Osofisan's acceptance speech, a compendious commentary on the challenges facing Africa's tribe of creative artists and scholars, and also filled with poetry and palm wine, dancing and laughter and good cheer.

The event lasted till late at night. Afterwards, a Nigerian-born businessman drove Osofisan, Biodun Jeyifo, Abiola Irele and me to our respective hotels.

There was nothing of the sense of apprehension, even of terror, to which one is accustomed while traveling at night in, say, Lagos.

Ghanaian police stopped us twice. They demanded and looked over the driver's documents. To my pleasant surprise, they conducted themselves in an entirely professional manner. There was no attempt to shake down the driver and his all-male passengers. There was no ploy to invent a "crime" and hoist it on the driver.

No appeal, direct or covert, was made for the driver to "drop" something in exchange for our freedom to navigate the streets.

This sense of professionalism pervaded every aspect of Ghanaian life. Immigration officers did not bear a snarl on their faces, ready to welcome you, not with a smile but with barks. Customs officers did not threaten to confiscate your personal effects unless you forked over some cash. When a doorman held the door for you at a hotel, he did not make you feel you owed him money for doing his job. When you used a bathroom, the janitor did not ambush you, metaphorically hanging on your shoulder, bowing his head obsequiously and wishing you God's prosperity, all in an effort to ensure that you "settled" him. It was a relief to visit a country where a smile was not paid for, where a bathroom run carried no price tag, where the police did not use their uniforms and guns to fleece innocent citizens.

Relevant Links

West Africa Nigeria Ghana

Ghana chastened me. It brought home the reality that Nigeria, with all its bountiful resources, lags tragically behind. It forced me to ask the question whether oil wealth has not, after all, been a curse on Africa's most populous nation. By most accounts, Ghana is a poor country, perhaps even poorer than the net worth of one or two of Nigeria's ex-military rulers. Why then is this nation able to achieve so much with its humble resources while Nigeria, exponentially richer, continues (in the inimitable words of Chinua Achebe) to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

Ghana has been led by a succession of educated as well as highly enlightened, even if imperfect, politicians. By contrast, many a Nigerian derides enlightened, morally astute seekers of elective office as not possessing "what it takes" to be elected. And what it takes, when you ask, happens to be a lot of cash stolen, in the first place, from the public treasury. Why do too many of us deify mediocrity, ascribing wisdom to men and women whose expertise is simply in thievery?

Ever ready to wallow in self-delusion, Nigerian officials routinely wax about producing another Nobel laureate in a few years or putting a Nigerian on the moon or rivaling China's economic strides. Dreaming is not only good, it is a concomitant of any real and substantial progress. But there's dreaming and then there's delusion. The two words begin with the same letter, but we must not confuse one d for the other. Until Nigerians realize that we must get the small things right; until it dawns on both the Nigerian leadership and citizenry that we must first strive to be like Ghana before we can hope to be like China; unless we humbly acknowledge that we are now in the bizarre position of looking up to Ghana, all this talk about adventuring into remote space and mass producing laureates and out-shining China is a whole load of (you fill the blank)!

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]


At 7/19/2006 12:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also visited ghana for the first time in june 2006. It is beautiful.

At 1/29/2008 8:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard and learnt a lot about Nigerians and Ghanaians and my pespective is that they are beautiful and its always a previlage to have one of them as a neighbour. Throughout most of my college years in New York, I have had a least one student in my class and a professor from either countries on campus and there is always something to learn from them. I'll visit Ghana and probably Nigeria in March 2008 with my two daughters and this letter has made the trip a definate one. Thanks and keep writing.

At 8/11/2011 12:28 AM, Blogger Jimmy said...

Indeed! Ghana is wonderful to visit. Not sure about how it feels living there, though!

call Jamaica


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