Letter from Ghana and the making of its nationhood

Ghana is in the same league as Kenya. [iStockphoto]

Ghana is one of the friendliest countries in the world, right from the airport. The ordinary Ghanaian has time for you, contrasted with “sophisticated” Kenyans.

The capital city Accra is not as vibrant as Nairobi and its cranes. Nairobi’s skyline is always in a state of flux. Accra did not surprise me after five years. The friendliness of the country and the feeling you are welcome could bring in more tourists than the Big Five. 

But hawkers on the streets balancing their wares on their heads remind us that Ghana is in the same league as Kenya. And just like in Kenya, hawkers love traffic jams. The matatus in Ghana look older and are not decorated like ours. Even the shape is different. 

I got time to explore Accra. One thing that I failed to notice is the palatial homes found in, say Karen or Muthaiga.

The great divide between the affluent and the rest is not conspicuous in Ghana as in Kenya. That perhaps explains why Ghanaians look more relaxed and a complete contrast to Nigerians. I have nothing against Nigerians, I admire their entrepreneurial aggressiveness or abrasiveness and confidence. 

Ghanaian food is great, mixing traditions with modernism. Plantain is boiled or fried, and Yam chips are my favourite. Add kenke and fufu. Kenyan food has lots of catching up to do.  Yet lots of travellers and tourists love tasting new cuisine.

What does a mzungu think of Mukimo, mushenye or Kimanga? Injera? Muthokoi? I found tiger nuts on sale on the streets: it’s their mukombero.

Ghana has lately been in the news for defaulting its debt but I did not notice the anxiety among the ordinary Ghanaians. The commercial lending rate of about 35 per cent could explain why cranes are few. 

The base lending rate went up to tame inflation. Their currency is strong, going for about Sh13 to a cedi.  

Let me share a few other observations on my fourth visit to this country that pioneered African uhuru (independence). 

One is the great effort to rehabilitate their founding President Dr Kwame Nkrumah, now called Osagyefo, for saviour, I was told.

His monument and museum have been redone. His once official car is now housed, and polished. It used to be somewhere outside and dusty the last time I was there. Who are our national heroes? How do we recognise them? Do they inspire us? 

Two, the legacy of Britons is minimal in Ghana unlike in Kenya. I was told most left after uhuru. I did not find their former palatial homes in places like Jamestown, where Britons used to call home.

The old houses are being replaced by modern office blocks. The lack of grandiose houses in Ghana unlike those in Kenya’s Happy Valley seems to confirm that Britons were here to stay. The Portuguese and Dutch also visited and lived in Ghana before the Britons, but their influence was muted. 

Three, Ghanaians are proud of their culture. The recognition of chiefs and kings and their local languages in the constitution is a great landmark. The local languages like Akan and Ga, among others, are taught up to high school. Why can’t we do the same, up to university?

I rarely heard Ghanaians talking to each other in English! Four, the level of trust is high. Tell a taxi driver to wait for you. He will without demanding you pay him first. Take your luggage to the reception after checking out, no one gives you a tag!

Five, the focus on textiles and fabrics is admirable. Wearing their signature attire is standard. Kinte and kitenge are common on the streets. And lots of them are exported. Beyond gold, that’s one thing Ghana is famous for. What is Kenya’s national dress?  Six, American influence is strong in Ghana. It is still prestigious to study in the US. And finding American flags on private cars is common. No wonder Delta Airlines flies into Ghana. 

Seven, I found some refugees in Ghana, just like in Kenya. One group near a mall looked like a whole family. The taxi driver told me they don’t want to work because they pretend to be “whites.” They are probably Berbers from the Sahel. 

Eight, their beaches have violent waves. And lots of wooden seats for you. Entrepreneurs welcome you from the time you get out of the car to serve you drinks or food. I found horses by the beach, you pay for a ride. Our hotel beaches are something else compared with theirs. 

Nine, Ghana is a relaxed country, they are not on red alert like us. Maybe, their violent past with coups and counter coups has humbled them. It is a country where you relax emotionally. When do we ever relax in Kenya? 

Ten, I noted the rise of specialised universities like the University of Development Studies, the University of Education, the University of Mines and Technology, and the University of Professional Studies. I was told that does not stop them from offering other courses. And lots of new technical universities.

Plenty of feasting

Eleven, Rastafarians cover their heads with long turbans that make their head look oversized. I did not find Ghana as religious as Kenya, but was told lots of churches are businesses.

Ghanaians celebrate life literary in funerals with plenty of feasting.

I was told that’s also where suitors are got. The end of life marks the start of the other. Finally, I got the impression that Ghana’s national identity is stronger than ours despite their attachment to the traditions. Forging a nation out of so many tribes or communities has alluded us for 60 years. Would accepting our diversity be the first step in building the nation? 

Ghanaians and South Africans kept their traditional chiefs and kings. The void left by these traditional rulers has been our soft underbelly, exploited by power seekers. The death of traditional values, identity and now languages makes Kenya a paradise for capitalists and merchants of new ideas, not always in our interests.

One of Kenya Kwanza’s terms of reference is forging Kenya into a new nation. With our traditions gone or muted, making us all rich is the best way to forge a nation. Noted how the affluent are cohesive?  Ever heard of tribal fighting in Runda or Karen? 

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