Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ghana 2015

Just like that it is 2015. I was in Ghana to see the end of the glorious year that was 2014 and the ushering in of 2015. I meant to blog earlier about my experiences since it had been two years since I had been to my beloved homeland.  However, I just could not blog. Anything I had to say would sound like a diatribe of what my ex-brother-in-law used to call "complaining music". Let us not even get started on the reliable internet connection issues I had. Also, I am still reeling from the shock at how much things had changed and often not in a good way. On the one hand, Ghana does the appearance of a vibrant, rich, capitalist country that is full of opportunities so well. At the same time, it is also doing an impersonation of a failed state recovering from a long civil war pretty accurately.

Here is my list of some of the goods and the bads.

The Goods:

1. The Police: They are young, sleek and visible. Over a two year period, our police force on the streets of Accra turned young, goodlooking, athletic and professional. Not only were they visible but seemed to have access to equally sleek looking vehicles. At first I thought this visible improvement was just by chance but apparently it is a new policy. Police are directing traffic, doing roundblocks at night and for the first time in my experience of Ghana, actually doing their jobs.

2. Road developments in Accra: Ignoring the abysmal mess that is Kwame Nkrumah circle, there are a number of impressive road developments. Suddenly, the Spintex Road bottle-neck has been eased. The parts of the Madina-Legon road that I saw were also looking good.

3. Malls, malls, malls: A number of new malls and shopping centres have opened since I've been away. There is the Marina Mall, Osu shoprite mall, Palace shopping centre, Nungua shoprite shopping centre....just to name a few. 

4. Complex housing complexes: Not sure this is a good but there are dozens of new housing complexes that are being completed. Sign of rapid development or perhaps indications of an economic powerhouse bubble?

Villagio at Airport Residential Area, Accra

The Bads:

1. The energy crisis: Probably the most frustrating aspect of my return was the energy situation. The lack of power in Ghana is at dire levels. We have had stringent loadshedding in the middle of the 00s but the present situation is like a cruel punishment the populace is being subjected to. The energy crisis just goes to show what happens when incompetence and mis-management go unchecked. The least said the better.

2. The water crisis: For the past 20 years, we have had a house in a neighborhood with constant, reliable water that was available daily. That has changed. It seems the way in which the Ghana Water Company optimized water supply to other areas was NOT to come up with ingenious ways of getting additional water supplies but by simply robbing Peter to pay Paul. So my neighborhood has suddenly turned into a dry area with an unknown water schedule. It does however seem to come on around 3am on inconsistent days.

3. Falling cedi and killer prices: Although I am away from Ghana now, I am still reeling from the effect of the falling cedi on prices across the board. Taxi rides that cost GHC 5.00 two years are now going for GHC 10 minimum. Someone has gone through all the restaurant menus at my favorite places and multiplied all prices by 2.5. To make things worse, salaries did not go up in the same way.

There are so many bads to list but really do not want to turn this into a huge bitter rant. In all, Ghana is still Ghana. The public's expectations of leaders are still low. Every public school building is still being used as a church venue. Kotoka International Airport's arrival terminal still has not changed (in my eyes) since 1985. There are still 100s of youth selling mobile phones without boxes at Circle. Some banks are still a hotbed of inefficiency and privileged people are still worshiped.  

In essence, home is still home. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Return

Picture taken at the Tetteh Quarshie Roundabout in Accra, circa 2009
It has been a while since I blogged. Since August, I have managed to learn a lot about myself, what constitutes family and friendship as well as managed to become a PhD holder. The past few months were harrowing at times, exhilarating, frustrating, joyous and sad. In a few days, I will be in Accra, the place I re-fell in love with in the early '00s. Living in Accra I was able to witness many transformations and changes. Back in '08, I started blogging about these. So much has changed in my life and in Ghana since then. I have not been back to Ghana since January 2013. I am therefore very curious to see the changes. Social media, family and friends talk about a Ghana that is frustrating, burdened with rising costs and a government that seems out of its depth.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Death of an Iconic Film Director: Lord Richard Attenborough 1923–2014

Lord Richard Attenborough
Source: The Times UK 
Back in my late teens in Southern Africa, my classmates and I had a rare opportunity. We had the chance to meet and interact with the director Richard Attenborough and his wife Sheila for at least an hour. He was a patron of our school which had a long history of a strong stance against apartheid South Africa. He was visiting the school for a meeting of the school board. In hindsight, we did not use our time well. Here we were given the opportunity to talk with the director of the iconic masterpieces Gandhi and Cry Freedom but all we wanted to talk about were seemingly petty school politics. Lord Attenborough was patient with us. He listened to our concerns and assured us that he would express our concerns to the powers that be. Nearing the end of the interaction he asked humorously "So there are no questions about movies?!!". The whole room erupted with laughter. If I had not been so shy, I might have had the courage to tell him that 'Gandhi' was the very first VHS tape that went into our freshly purchased VCR way back in the early 1980s. Of course I never did have the guts to say that but I did get an autograph from both him and his wife.

Thinking back, this was my first interaction with anything close to Hollywood movie-making glamour. Both Lord Attenborough and his wife did not fit the Hollywood stereotype. They were both warm, kind, down to earth, patient, wonderful people who seemed very much in love after decades of marriage. It was with a heavy heart therefore that I heard of Baron Attenborough's passing this morning. My thoughts are with his wife Sheila and the rest of his family at this difficult time. In the obituaries and chronicles of his life, may he also be remembered for his brave and strong stance against apartheid.  

Lord Attenborough, you touched many more lives than you may have imagined; Rest in Peace.