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.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Best of the B.A.D: Kotoka International Airport enters the 20th Century

Kotoka International Airport, Accra
Some of us are old enough to remember Kotoka International Airport (KIA) back in the 1980s. Although quite young, I have a vivid memory of mid-'80s KIA being akin to a marketplace. My mind's eye tells me there was a lot of confusion, a never-ending stream of officials in plain-clothes opening our bags on arrival and there may have been some goats about. Actually, I think the goats were probably inserted into the memory from my imagination - we do like our goats in Ghana though. But I digress.....we were talking about KIA. Mid-'90s KIA was not very different from mid-'80s KIA. Outside the airport however, it was a different ball game. In the mid-'90s, Ghana was well into its triumphant return to multi-party democracy and that meant there was much more freedom. Freedom meant that outside KIA one was greeted by mobs of well-dressed youth who clutched on to your bags on arrival and offered assistance. I do remember some of them demanding "just a One pound coin" for basically touching your bag. Not sure why these young men assumed that every passenger was arriving from a place where pounds were legal tender. Besides, how does one change a one pound coin anyway? 
It always struck me as surprising that for a country that prides itself as being the 'Gateway to Africa', KIA changed very little over the years. Perhaps I exaggerate but as time went on, KIA to me was starting to look more like the gateway to war-torn Africa. You know, like the airport in a Hollywood production set in a fictional civil war-torn African country where everyone is gathered in a panic? 

Speaking of African airports, history and Hollywood, did you know that around 4 July 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Entebbe International Airport to mark the 40th anniversary of the (in)famous Operation Entebbe? Childhood exposure to some age-inappropriate films meant I learnt all about the raid on Entebbe Airport from the 70s film Operation Thunderbolt. Quick recap: in June 1976, a group of terrorists hijacked a Paris-bound plane that had left Tel Aviv. To cut a long story short, the plane was taken to Entebbe Airport in Uganda where the hostages were to be hosted by one of Africa's most regrettable sons: Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada.  This historical plot was literally the stuff of fiction and it culminates in an elite squad of Israeli soldiers storming the airport. The commandos were led by the charismatic, young and good-looking 
Poster for the film Operation Thunderbolt (1977)
Source: Wikipedia
Lt. Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu. *Spoiler alert* The end of the film left me bawling as a child since the hero Yonatan dies during the daring rescue. Interestingly, it was only decades later that I found out that Lt Col. Yonatan Netanyahu was the older brother of the current Israeli PM. I did not see that plot twist coming. Apparently, the death of his brother may account for some of Bibi's hardline views.
But seriously I digress, this was about KIA and Ghana. Over the years, as the airport hubs in other African countries expanded, Ghana's airport remained the same but somehow went from market-place to sheer embarrassment. So fast-forward to my arrival in Accra on 31 July 2016. I was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed back to a newly-renovated KIA. I swore I heard Osibisa's Welcome Home playing as the plane landed. Well, maybe that was another one from my imagination but wouldn't that have been great?

Mind you, Kotoka is not Bole International, Jomo Kenyatta International or Oliver Tambo International but it is getting there....slowly. It is finally entering the late 20th Century and somewhere down the line, I see the 21 Century. I was equally impressed by the efficient immigration lines. I would have taken pictures to document the swanky new renovations but alas, one policy remains unchanged: no pictures in the airport. What a shame.

Great to fly SAA for the first time in over 15 years
P.S. Post Number 300!