DionRabouin.com (sort of)

The Ghana Diaries: Day Eleven

Posted in The Ghana Diaries by dionrabouin on August 13, 2010

The traffic here is ridiculous. In Ghana they have these transportation vehicles they call tro tros – they’re basically just big vans that seat 12-15 people and operate like a bus, even though they also have buses here, and are really cheap to ride in – and coming home in one yesterday took literally two hours to get about four miles. It’s insane. They’ve supposedly got some highways in development, but it remains to be seen whether or not they’ll actually get developed.

The traffic made me think about Kwame Nkrumah. He was the first President of Ghana as an independent nation and the one who led the country to independence. He’s currently my facebook picture. The Nkrumah legacy here is strange because while he’s an icon of the country – there’s an Nkrumah mausoleum, the Nkrumah highway, an Nkrumah museum and he’s on literally all of the new money (Ghana changed its currency in 2007 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence and now everything operates more like the dollar or the Euro. It used to be about 6,000 Ghana cedis equaled one American dollar, now the exchange is about 1.40 cedis to $1, except that it’s 10,000 of the old cedis to one new one, so essentially the exchange rate is now 14,000 cedis to one dollar. What’s strange is now things are more expensive than when I visited here and the exchange rate was lower. That was a really long tangent, I would’ve made it a footnote if I could footnote on blogs) – Nkrumah’s a recent enough politician that people have a negative opinion of him.

My father’s friend Kwame Sam, who’s in the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party, the party Nkrumah started, was telling me that many of the politicians and academics in the country are trying to vilify and demonize Nkrumah. I couldn’t quite get my head around the concept because I can’t imagine someone trying to demonize or discredit George Washington or Paul Revere. Imagine hearing someone talk about how George Washington screwed everything up by not imposing higher tariffs or how Abraham Lincoln ruined everything by not properly building that damn continental railroad. It’s strange.

I suppose it makes sense in the context that Nkrumah was overthrown in 1966. Apparently, (this is all according to my dad, who knows his shit but isn’t exactly objective) the CIA was backing the opposition party to overthrow Nkrumah and when he went to China or Vietnam to aid the Vietnamese, there was a coup. He wasn’t even allowed to come back into the country and ever since then the people in the opposition party, which still exists under its original name and party ideology (for lack of a better word), have criticized everything that he did. What’s insane about that is that Nkrumah did so much. In addition to the whole getting the country its independence thing, he built the dam that still powers something like half the country and was planning on building another to power the rest of the country, built the highway that still runs through the country, built three universities that still exist, built most of the roads and infrastructure throughout the country, planned and built the largest man-made river in the world, created the Organization of African Unity that still exists today and planned an atomic power plant that would have been the most advanced in the world. Those are just the highlights.

My dad always talked about Kwame Nkrumah when I was growing up. I think that was a big reason he chose to move to Ghana after he retired. I was so full on Malcolm and Huey that I never really bothered to read about Nkrumah and I really wish I had now. I’m definitely going to start reading up on him once I get home. Like most figures who dared to suggest that socialist wasn’t really that bad, his legacy is shrouded in debate. Some people say he was the greatest thing to ever happen to Africa, while others say he destroyed the nation’s economy. Even our taxi driver last night had a completely uninduced opinion on him.

The whole Nkrumah thing got me thinking about J. Edgar Hoover and the CIA in the ‘60s and where we’d be as a people if Malcolm, Nkrumah and the Black Panthers hadn’t been taken out. I think today black folks need Malcolm X more than ever. Even in his old age, I think he would be the loudest critic of Obama and a lot of his policies and there’s no one around with the cojones to do that now. Conversely, it also made me wonder what the Cold War would’ve been like if George W. Bush had been in office then or if Obama had been in office. How much do leaders really shape what happens in a time of crisis? And how much is where black people are now, economically and socially speaking, a result of the people in power and how much of it is a result of us?

That’s one question that’s been heavily on my mind since I’ve been here because it seems like wherever we are, black people are on the bottom. You can look at any country around the world with a black population and they’re on the bottom of things. Even the countries that are almost entirely black are poor. Certainly there’s the slave trade, globalization, institutional racism, European hegemony, colonialism, neo-colonialism, the subconscious indoctrination of white power and a host of other systematic methods of oppression that have been used for centuries to “keep the black man down,” but seeing England and Antigua and Ghana and reading about Brazil, Iraq, Haiti and other countries, I have to ask, is it us?

Why are we the one group of people, across the board and across the ocean, who just can’t seem to get our shit together? Obviously, it seems strange to ask this at a time when a black man is running the most powerful nation in the world, but if you look at the rest of the black people in said nation where are they? During the last decade white people increased their wealth by something like 300 percent (I don’t feel like looking up the actual number, the Internet is pay by the minute over here) and black people increased theirs by 12. Twelve?! That’s pathetic.

I know we’ve got a black president and there are a million good, reasonable, legitimate and generally true explanations and reasons for us as a people to be behind, but at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done and we’ve legitimately been given every opportunity to succeed, will we?

Nkrumah was ousted and overthrown by his own people. Malcolm X was shot by his own people. Tupac Shakur (and don’t even get me started on Pac; I could write 5,000 words about why he belongs in this conversation) was gunned down (more than likely) by his own people. Yes, there were high-level US government connections assumed (and understood) with all three, but in the end it was a black man or black men that executed the orders. I say that to say, are we as a people so wholly concerned with our own self interest that we are incapable of fighting off the outside forces that will always be present to keep us from realizing our potential? So far the answer seems to be yes.

Also, Ghanaian food is really good and tilapia is so plentiful out here you can get it for like two cedis. They have this strange paste called benku or fufu depending on what it’s made with that they mix with everything. And the bread is typically made from sugar or flour, it’s almost impossible to find wheat or grain around here. The cooking usually incorporates a lot of spices.

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned the women yet, but they are amazing. Well, not all of them. Finding a beautiful woman in Ghana is like panning for gold. You have to wade through a lot of rubble to find what you want, but when you find what you want, you really, really find what you want.

All the girls have hips and…um…back out here. Like, all of them. They’re also built differently in general. Ghanaian women seem to gain their weight in the front instead of on the sides, so from behind they all look good. Women who look like Melissa Ford or Ki Toy aren’t average out here, but they’re not uncommon. I’ve gone months without seeing women with bodies like the ones I see regularly now. It’s really quite an experience.

I just wanted to include that so my diary wasn’t all me philosophizing about black nationalism or lack thereof.

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