Two Worlds, Same Sufferings, Different pains


The writer

It takes an average of 10 hours – depending on tailwind – for a typical Boeing 767 aircraft to fly nonstop from New York City, U.S.A., to Accra, Ghana, for 5,111 miles. On arrival the ambient temperature contrast between the two cities is huge. While Accra is almost always warm and hot with comparatively lower humidity, the same cannot be said of New York City, whose temperature is mostly season-dependent, not taking into consideration contemporary climatic changes.

Ordinary people in New York City, and by extension the U.S., are wholly different from those in Accra and Ghana. New York City is probably the most gorgeous mosaic of human culture in the world, that has created its own unique identity, traits, and culture. However,  it is common practice, even acceptable, to live in and within a neighborhood for decades without socializing with neighbors. Greeting one another is a rarity except when the immediate environment reflects a homogeneity of the people.  Similarly, one may commute on public transport for years with familiar people without the natural amenities associated with meeting people. Social interactions at work, church, and other events are at bare minimum for people of different ethnicity. That, to a great extent, is the result of years of inherent racial divide in the U.S.

In Ghana, greeting is an integral part of culture. It is considered uncultured and outright rude to not greet an encountered person. In fact, the etiquette of greetings is taught at an early age, and children are encouraged to cultivate the habit of greeting their elders. It was therefore a concern to neighbors when this writer, unknowingly and unwittingly, adopted the American way of “mind your business” when he settled in a suburb of Accra. It took a prompt from a nephew to discern that I had metamorphosed into a non-Ghanaian culture. That was a price to pay after staying out of Ghana for far too long. We call it Papa Samo!

On the political front, while it is easier to meet with a U.S. Congressperson or Senator, via an appointment, the same cannot be said about most Ghanaian politicians, not even those you thought were friends when they visited the U.S. while vying for power. It is a common characteristic for an aspiring Ghanaian politician to wine and dine people on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic and political ladder, but once (political) power is attained, artificial barriers are created and the distance between the two is widened and/or permanently shut.

This is understandably so, perhaps because in the U.S. it is mostly voters who finance and fund the candidate they believe can execute their mandates. In Ghana and elsewhere in developing nations, it is the aspiring candidate who usually buys his or her way to victory and power. Whether the politician can deliver upon assumption of office or position is immaterial to the bribed electorate. All that matters is to grease itchy palms with pittance of porridge, and voila…! In the U.S., political teeth are generally cut from the grassroots levels, and no political novice from the two main political parties jumps over the fence to Congress.

In other words, it is a herculean task to bribe your way to Congress when you haven’t been proven and tested from the district and state level. It is unsurprising, therefore, that Ghana has one of the most unconscionable, retrogressive, and dictatorial constitutions in Africa, and no government thus far, is willing to amend it because power is notoriously vested in its sitting president.

It is important to note that qualified Ghanaians Living Abroad who have the expertise, professionalism, skills, etc. to contribute to the development of the country are by and large sidelined by its constitution. Further, they face herculean task back home upon political appointment or when a decision is made to go solo in politics. For once, they have no known constituents to represent and have no interest whatsoever in bribing their way to power. If invited to serve in government, most face undermining, and shenanigans from within their own government.

It must be acknowledged that the current New Patriotic Party government under the presidency of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has appointed far more qualified Ghanaians Living Abroad – about 99 people and still counting – than any other government since independence. And they are performing with flying colors. Thus far, their work ethics accumulated after long years working abroad are open books for all to see. It is hoped that the bug of unpatriotic tendencies and lackadaisical attitude of the average Ghanaian employee does not bite them.

It is important to note that the Ghanaian mentality of entering politics to amass wealth is equally shared by some living abroad. It is therefore imperative for government to separate the “wheat from the chaff” when they come running to their political godfathers and family networks for appointments. Yet, there are several more Ghanaians Living Abroad who do not or may not want to relocate but are able and willing to share in their acquired experiences with government at no cost. After all, a substantial number of these professionals are on retirements and living securely and comfortably. What is fulfilling for them is shared experience and recognition by government. These are people government must endeavor to tap through Ghanaian consulates, professional bodies, and socioreligious organizations abroad.

Socially, the U.S. pales in comparison to Ghana with respect to happiness. As much as the economy of Ghana and other developing nations basically depends on the economy of developed nations, the happiness of the average Ghanaian cannot be compromised. Here in the U.S., the strenuous and demanding nature of work leaves a tiny window of opportunity to socialize. The modus operandi to socializing is buried in weekend activities such as funerals, weddings, and naming ceremonies as well as religious services.

But on a typical evening in Ghana, one may experience social activities, for example at the busy Sunset Hotel in Kumasi, the serene hideout at Coral Gardens on the Adenta-Dodowa Road in Accra, or at the ever-jamming Daddy’s Bar in Koforidua. No serious working Ghanaian in the U.S. cultivates a habit of visiting a pub or clubhouse in a work week and goes to work the next morning half-asleep. In Ghana, lateness to work, especially in public institutions has become a norm rather than exception, while the reverse is true in the U.S.

The negative economic impact visited on nations of the world by Covid-19 and the Russian-Ukrainian war cannot be overemphasized. The inability of the world’s supply chain to function flawlessly put the world economy on a tailspin. While developed nations bore the brunt of COVID-19, the Russian-Ukrainian war has heavily impacted on developing nations. Even though the pandemic seems to have thawed, it caused much damage, and its ripple effect is still felt.

By virtue of mitigating measures instituted by the U.S. government during the peak of the pandemic, some friends and families encountered at social events have put on weight by being confined at home during the lockdown. Putting on weight is quite an easier task than shedding the extra load off. Ghanaian staple diets of fufuo, wokple, banku, kenkey are not to be eaten and confined indoors! On the other side of the coin, the average Ghanaian back home did not gain any noticeable weight during the pandemic, probably because Ghanaians are basically allergic to following simple rules and laws. People would simply not stay indoors, despite efforts by law enforcement officers.

But the raging war between the two former Soviet Republics is pinching Ghanaians more than the U.S. Granted that prices of commodities did exponentially rise in Ghana and the U.S., the latter is more apt to bring prices down when the economy stabilizes. In Ghana, prices do not come down easily once they go up.

Rapid fuel increases have negatively affected the supply chain in Ghana so much so that hauling harvested produce from farms to areas that need them most is a challenge. It is a step in the right direction therefore, for the current government to reinvest in railway as an alternative or supplement to highway roadways. In the U.S. more than 30% of freight hauls are by rail lines.

Ultimately, the strength of the dollar and possible manipulation of it in Ghana has woefully eroded whatever strength the Ghana cedi possessed. Thus, the current value of Ghana’s currency on the world market has translated into more pain for its people than those in the U.S. even though both countries suffered from the wrath of COVID-19 and the current war.

In retrospect, it must be emphasized that stress in Ghana is minimal as compared to the U.S., and health conditions associated with stress are well documented. Work commute, pressure at work, attention to details, parent/teacher association meetings, unyielding, swollen-headed, and undisciplined children who may not be easily punished, and stark racism may all contribute to stress and health hazards.

Stress may be minimal in Ghana, but frustrations abound everywhere. A simple office visit to collect or retrieve a document may not be easily accessible or forthcoming unless money change hands or a political godfather, influential official, or another person steps in. Artisans in Ghana add more to the frustration index than any other workforce. Not only are they at variance with the truth, but most lack expertise in simple work estimation and required skills for job execution. It is understandably so, because there are basically no licensure entities to qualify an artisan for skills.

Indeed, like all other countries, there are laws on the books of Ghana, but the laws have no teeth and barely bite! Many foreign businesses in contemporary Ghana prefer expatriate staff over Ghanaians – even for basic menial jobs – because of attitudes and ethics of work of the average Ghanaian. It would be unsurprising, that expatriates may in future be engaged to sit on government commissions or committees of inquiry for professionalism, work ethics, and/or fairness of work.

Notwithstanding, the Russian expression “It is good to be a guest, but home sweet home” is more relevant today after so many years of sojourning in a foreign land. Ghana, here I come!

Dedicated to my late father whose final funeral rites is scheduled for October 1, 2022, in New Jersey.

Posted by on Sep 28 2022. Filed under Features. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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