Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Best of the B.A.D: The coffee shop ambience arrives in Accra

Last week (29th September) was International Coffee Day. Days like that are important to me since I am a completely unrepentant coffee addict. I like my coffee daily, strong and freshly-brewed. One thing I have always appreciated about living in that ominous place called 'The West', was access to a plethora of coffee shops. In New York City, there is literally a Starbucks at every street corner. As a grad student in London, my heart would skip a beat every time I handed over precious pounds at one of the many coffee shop chains that were there solely to feed my addiction.
Coffee shop chains represent a dubious brew of globalization and capitalism with a hint of a country's growing affluence. My appreciation of these places has not only been for real coffee brewed to perfection but for their warm ambience. Coffee shops are likely to have comfortable chairs, sometimes couches, places to plug in a laptop and if one is lucky, free WiFi. For me they represent the perfect environment to catch up with friends or work for hours fuelled by caffeine. 

Although 'coffee shops' in the Netherlands mean something different and if you ask to be taken to a Dutch coffee shop and expect coffee and cake, you will be sorely disappointed. Instead you will be taken to a seedy, poorly lit place with few windows and people smoking marijuana legally. In the Netherlands, the right word is 'café' and they usually offer strong black coffee and a heavenly slice of warm Dutch apple tart. So much better than any Dutch coffee shop.

Alas, I digress, this was about Ghana not the Netherlands. When I
moved to Ghana back in the early 00s, there were very few coffee shops or cafés and few offered that charming ambience that I craved so much.  Things have changed and the inevitable force that is globalization has finally led to at least two new coffee shop chains offering brewed coffee and comfy seats.  I managed to go to 2 branches of my particular coffee shop 5 times within 3 weeks.  I did wince at the heavy amounts I parted with to get my fix but for me it was also about that charming coffee shop ambience that had finally arrived in town.

The coffee, the music and the cool people

PS: In the past 2 years, I have come to realize that the strongest and most delicious coffee can be found in East Africa. Places like Java House in Nairobi (that allows you choose the strength of your coffee) or Mokka City Café and Lounge in Dar es Salaam serve the most unforgettable cups of coffee on this planet.  One of the most delightful cups of coffee I have ever had was on a coffee plantation in Mbeya, Southern Tanzania. Their coffee foam patterns were amazing too.

Delicious coffee at Mokka City Café and Lounge
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Coffee at Utengule Coffee Lodge, Mbeya, Tanzania

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Best of the B.A.D: I guess that is what they call 'Inflation'

My bestest buddy El, who is not Ghanaian, occasionally sends me articles from high-brow financial journals such as the Financial Times or Wall Street Journal that chronicle the meteoric rise and fall of the African star that was Ghana. Rather than providing a cautionary tale for other developing countries, I am beginning to believe that financial reporters delight in a train-wreck or two. 
Back in the early 10s, Ghana was seen as the African 'wunderkind' by many economists. There was much talk about an economic boom which was being lubricated, literally, by the flow of oil. There was even the hasty re-classification of Ghana as a Middle-income country. Sadly, in a fate reminiscent of the Celtic Tiger of the late 90s / early '00s, economic boom was followed by bust.  

I should point out that I know nothing about economics. The one econ class I took in college for 'fun' ended up being an albatross around my neck. I digress, back in the early 10s, Ghana was the golden child that lost its shine very quickly. The nagging question, which is captured in an Oasis song NOT about Ghana, is 'Where did it all go wrong?'. The answer to this poignant question I will leave to economics types who know all about falls in commodity prices, huge wage bills, speculating, eurobonds, markets, borrowing, mismanagement, corruption etc. etc. 

However, what I do know is that my recent trip to Ghana provided some practical experiences in one important economic principle: Inflation. I am definitely the wrong person to attempt to explain 'inflation' but according to Google, inflation has something to do with a general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money. These sentiments are echoed in the dictionary screen-shot below: 

Back in 2009, I waxed lyrical about the things I loved the most about Ghana living. This was in post entitled Celebrating the best of the B.A.D. Included in this list was "Doing your hair for cheap".  It was as if Ghana 2016 read my post and decided to teach me a valuable lesson. To cut a long story short, the amount I paid for doing my hair in 2010 or even 2012 was the amount I gave out in tips in 2016. The exact same thing happened when it came to getting my troublesome brows waxed. Full prices in days gone by are now tips in 2016. 

Inflation was all around me. Another example was when I took a short mini-bus (trotro) ride and was literally laughed out of the vehicle by the conductor (the mate) after I proffered Ghc 0.20 in his direction to pay for the ride. The mate then explained quite patiently that short rides started at GHC 1.00. Let's not even get into taxi fares. 

Next up was the GHc 50.00 note. Back in the day, these notes were hardly used or even seen but now they flow like water through the system. 
Ghana Money
Source: wikipedia
Whenever a GHC 50.00 note was whipped out circa 2010/2011, it was sure to cause a slight panic at any reasonably-priced restaurant as the staff scrambled to find change for such a huge note. These days, GHC 50.00 can barely cover lunch for two people. I shudder to think what collection bowls in churches look like these days; seas of pink (GHC 1.00) are probably now seas of green (GHC 10.00) and purple (GHC 20.00). 

I probably retained zero knowledge of economics from my brief dalliance with the subject in undergrad but one of the best lessons I got was from my return home to Ghana. I finally got to learn, firsthand, what they mean when they say a country has been hit by inflation. Hmmm do they actually say that?

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Best of the B.A.D : The Commander in Swag

One thing is for certain in the Beacon of African Democracy, the President seems to have his pulse on the beating heart of the youth. In other words, 'he got swag'. Defining exactly what 'swag' means can cause one to run into numerous problems but it loosely means displaying a cross between uber-coolness and very hipness. In other words, someone who has swag knows what is hip, fresh and new.  

President John Dramani Mahama (in dark glasses; uber-cool as usual)
at the launch of his presidential campaign in
the Central Region of Ghana.
Source: Screenshot from a live Joy TV news broadcast

President Mahama is relatively young, good-looking and seems to have always been a youth magnet of sorts. Back in the 2012 election, he eloquently and correctly stated that he was born in 'Ghana' while his opponent Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo was in fact born in colonial 'Gold Coast'. These are undeniable facts. 

President Mahama proved just how much swag he had when he read his inaugural presidential speech on 7 January 2013 using an electronic tablet. This was around the time where that very election was being challenged in the Supreme Court. The young people on Ghana Twitter and elsewhere went wild: 
Twitter search of 'Mahama, speech, tablet'
Although programmes under President Mahama specifically targeting Ghanaian youth empowerment and employment such as the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Agency (GYEEDA) have been.....erm......less successful, our president has remained a youth champion throughout his tenure.

Sons of Anarchy poster
In June 2016, a curious thing happened that I can best describe as a Sons of Anarchy moment. This happening further proved we were still one nation under the Swag President. Speaking of the series Sons of Anarchy, I watched two episodes and was stumped by the appeal. But alas, I digress. We were talking about Ghana in June 2016. After heavy flooding in Accra, our president, like any super hero would, donned some cool clothes and headed out on a solo motorcycle ride across the city of Accra apparently inspecting torrential flooding. There are number of YouTube videos of this tour. My first thoughts were:
  1. Who actually does this?!
  2. Isn't it better to take a helicopter to inspect flooding?
Ghanaian social media on the other hand, was very much impressed. 
Screenshot from YouTube of some of the many videos of the
President's Sons of Anarchy moment 

Then came the Rio Olympics in August 2016. While watching the live broadcast, our President appeared to have been immensely impressed by Usain Bolt's amazing feats of greatness on the track. Being the P.R. guru that he is, President Mahama decided to release a photo with his swag credentials on full display. This time, Twitter was not so impressed. The general sentiment on the President's Rio gambit are best summed up in a tweet by a Twitter user named "Bearded Raiden"(tweet reproduced with kind permission of said Bearded Raiden
A rough translation of the tweet: It appears that President John Dramani Mahama is taking the upcoming Ghana 2016 Presidential election as if it were a Senior High School election. His actions seem to suggest that his motto is simply "Vote for me, I am a cool guy and I have swag".

Other comments on Twitter gently reminded the president that his mandate was in fact to fix the economy and create jobs rather than displays of swag... 
To borrow from young people lingo, this Bolt gambit appears to have been an 'epic fail'.  Could it be that our President is in fact all swagged out or just a case of swag overload? Stay tuned for more from the Commander in Swag.