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.
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?